Turning Great ideas into Greater Apps at Sri Lanka’s Children’s Hackathon

Back in 2014, 25 teams of secondary school students from across Sri Lanka pitted their skills against one another at the country’s very first Children’s Hackathon for a common goal: to solve the issues faced by underprivileged Sri Lankan children through technology.

This year, the Children’s Hackathon was conducted a little differently. Wildly impressed by the breadth of creativity the students had demonstrated, UNICEF, Microsoft, ICTA and the Ministry of Education in Sri Lanka collaborated to conduct the Children’s Hackathon 2015 by bringing together last year’s top five teams. The event helped further develop their skills to take their winning projects one step further, transforming ideas into full-fledged applications.

To ensure that they would get the guidance they needed on their journey, the teams were personally mentored over three days by industry veterans with vast experience in the digital space—Andrew Jebaraj, the CEO and founder of ReadMe and other startups in Sri Lanka; Chamira Prasad, CEO of Arimac Lanka; Hemal Dahanayake, CEO of ChannelCert; Jeewaka Iroshan of TechSys; and Tharindu Dassanayake, CEO and co-founder of SquareMobile.

 Participants of the four-day event with the panel of judges: (from left to right) Mr Fayaz Hudah, Ms Kasthuri Chellaraja, Mr Niel Gunadasa and Dr Arjuna Samarakoon

Over the course of the mentorship programme, the mentors offered advice and brainstormed with the teams for solutions on how to improve their apps. The teams learned how to develop their apps on various platforms, from visual programming languages such as Scratch to software development kits. One mentor even brought his team around his office to give them a glimpse of what it’s like to be in a professional working environment.

The participants presented their apps to an expert panel of judges on Demo Day, the last day of the hackathon. The results of the mentorship programme were astounding. Although the panel believed that none of the teams’ apps were commercially viable yet, the judges were won over by the enthusiasm, creativity and innovation shown by everyone. The youth teams were encouraged to continue working on their apps to take them even further.

Eventually, it was the team from Kingswood College that won the award for “Best Presentation” with their app Amigo, which features an integrated talk therapy to help people suffering from mental stress issues. The teams from Miriswatta Maha Vidyalaya and Viharamahadevi Balika Vidyalaya were each awarded “Most Impactful App” for their respective projects: BattleMath, an app that helps develop mental math skills in children; and Lumashe, a game app played through social media that provides guidance and counsel for Internet safety.

 Kingswood College was awarded Best Presentation for their app, Amigo, which can help youth suffering from mental health issues
 A student from Miriswatta Maha Vidyalaya School presenting their app, BattleMath, which is designed to help children develop mental math skills

Here are the other winning school teams with their apps:

  • Dehiowita National School created BMI Calculator, an app that tackles obesity by enabling users to calculate Body Mass Index and suggests healthy meal plans
  • D.S. Senanayake College developed Mentaurus, an app that provides a mentorship platform to make quality education accessible to all children

“We were impressed by how these young students leveraged technology to address issues that are faced by their less fortunate peers,” said Neil Gunadasa, Director of IT at the Ministry of Education, and one of the judges of the hackathon event. “Furthermore, the fact that three of the five participating teams were from rural schools goes to show that students, regardless of their background, have the potential to make a positive change in their community, as long as they are given the opportunity to do so.”

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