Innovator hopes to reboot programming lessons in schools


Ms Mercy Ngoiri of the Warefab at their offices Kiambu Town
Ms Mercy Ngoiri of the Warefab at their offices Kiambu Town

When Mercy Ngoiri, a Dedan Kimathi University Mechatronics graduate, tried to teach a friend’s child how to programme two years ago, she was surprised how hard it was.

Computer programming, which came naturally to her, has a steep learning curve which put many people off, especially children.

So Mercy, alongside classmate John Muchiri and their friend David Kanjiri, formed Warefab, a company that seeks to popularise programming and electronics among the young.

Six months later, Scratch and Sketch, a credit-card sized, programmable computer component was born.

“Scratch” in the components name refers to the programming language aimed at children used on their product while “Sketch” hints at some of the capabilities of the kit.

“Children are being taught to use software instead of programming languages that create software. There exist simple programming languages like Scratch that can be used to ease children into higher level programming languages,” Ms Ngoiri said.

They already have the prototypes made and now the group wants to begin influencing how programming is taught around the country to children.

Scratch and sketch allows for use of drag and drop commands in coding which greatly simplifies coding.

The Scratch and Sketch kit is bare bones. It has no casing and is made up of a mass of pins to connect the various components, a micro-USB port to connect to a computer, an LCD touchscreen, an infrared sensor, several LED lights and sensors for temperature and light.

Users can write their own programmes for things like calculators or switches for connected lights.

The kit includes sensors to measure environmental temperature or brightness of a light source and produce an output of the readings.

Scratch and Sketch also allows users to hook up external components like motors and control their speed and operations from the touchscreen.

An ordinary remote control can also be hooked up used to control graphics on the screen or to play simple games.

The touch display also allows users to make drawings, create screen savers, and control brightness of connected bulbs or issue commands to a connected computer.

The Scratch and Sketch kit will come with a booklet containing a list of easy to write programs which users can start with before graduating to writing more complex programs.

Ms Mercy Ngoiri, John Muchiri and David Kanjiri of Warefab at their offices Kiambu Town.
Ms Mercy Ngoiri, John Muchiri and David Kanjiri of Warefab
at their offices Kiambu Town.

“You can learn simpler programming languages like Scratch and Ruby for those new to programming before moving on to more complex programming languages like Python and JavaScript,” Mercy, who is 26 years old, said.

“I hope to increase interest in electronics as well as programming. Programming should not only be left to Computer Science students it should be open to everyone. Also with the connection of various components to the kit an appreciation of computer hardware is not left behind,” Ms Ngoiri explains.

John hopes Scratch and Sketch will be a big hit with the young who are getting more interested in gadgets but do not learn what makes them tick.

“In the 21st century programming joins reading, writing and arithmetic as a basic skill that should be learnt by students,” John Muchiri Warefab’s cofounder said.

The Scratch and Sketch kit will go on sale for Sh3500. I ask whether her gadget could be used as an alternative to computers in classroom.

“Computers in classrooms will allow children to access information my kit allows them aims to help them program computers. It is more important for students to learn how to write software rather than how to use readymade software,” Ngoiri said.

“We made the prototype in Kenya from scratch, we now hope to mass produce units in China and import them,” David Kanjiri said.

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