By Janakie Karunaratne, Community Affairs Manager, Microsoft Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka, technology has emerged as a driving force in improving the lives of young people—whether in terms of addressing the opportunity gap faced by disadvantaged youth, or as a development tool to cultivate the next generation of social innovators. Yet, more needs to be done to provide youth with the platform to capitalise on the rich potential of technology to shape the future.
In October, Microsoft collaborated with UNICEF, Google, the Ministry of Education and the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) of Sri Lanka to hold the country's first-ever Children's Hackathon. The event was part of UNICEF’s campaign to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and to celebrate the Year of Innovation for Children, declared for 2014.
Our main objective was to inspire young technology enthusiasts to develop innovative solutions that address social issues faced by underprivileged children in Sri Lanka. Following rounds of intense competition, 10 student teams were selected to participate in the final event held in Colombo.
Team Miriswatta Maha Viduhala emerged victorious to become the UNICEF Innovation Champions. Hailing from the coastal town of Bentota, the students developed an educational app to teach mathematical basics. Each team member received a tablet, and their prototype was submitted to UNICEF’s Global Innovation Lab in the US for further development.
D S Senanayake College in Colombo finished second by creating an online platform to connect students with mentors. Viharamahadevi Balika Vidyalaya (Girls’ School) in Kiribathgoda placed third for developing a game app that promotes children’s online safety. Each school team was awarded a laptop for their ideas, and we hope to identify organisations that can help bring their ideas to fruition as well.
App development is still a relatively new concept to rural students in Sri Lanka, and we at Microsoft mobilised our student ambassadors to spread the word about the event at the provincial level. Our team of technology evangelists also conducted extensive training on the coding tools available, and mentored the students during the development of their solutions.
We received excellent feedback from schools about the hackathon, and we are greatly encouraged by the creativity and confidence displayed by the students. Building on the success, Microsoft will continue exploring new opportunities to support similar programmes and empower young Sri Lankans with technology—all in the spirit of innovation!