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Kuato's JavaScript-controlled robots could help disengaged children build smartphone apps

Sam Shead | June 30, 2015
The venture capital-backed edtech startup is trying to get schools across the UK to try its coding games.

Disengaged school children with criminal records could soon be building the next generation of smartphone apps if one school in London has its way.

The Pavilion School in Barnet, North London, is home to 159 pupils that have either been excluded at some point in their life or are at risk of being excluded.

The pupils can be hard to teach at times, according to assistant head teacher Kevin Matthews, which means The Pavilion has to come up with new ways of keeping their attention.

"The vast majority of the pupils here have very poor attendance and real difficulties in engaging with a mainstream education," said Matthews. "Many of them work with a wide range of agencies, on issues including mental health, social care and family focus."

In a bid to capture the imagination of 20 key stage three students aged 11-14, the school is getting them to play an educational game called Hakitzu Elite, which has been built by venture capital backed startup Kuato.

The game aims to teach students how to program by getting them to enter JavaScript commands that control an on-screen robot.

"Giant robots and JavaScript are your weapons of choice as you program your way to victory in this strategic combat game," writes Kuato on its website, where the game can be downloaded for free. "No previous coding knowledge is required to crack the code as the game guides you from a beginner, to coder, to hacker. Let the battle commence!"

So far the students have only received a four-hour introduction to the game and how it works but the school said it plans to get them using it more regularly.

The introduction from Kuato, which was delivered as part of a 100 Hour of Code initiative, proved to be very helpful.

"They've got an understanding of algorithms which they had no understanding of before," said Richard Crick, head of ICT coordination at The Pavilion. "I'd given them the theory but they'd never seen it in practice."

A school survey at The Pavilion found that 70 percent of students are interested in building apps. "That's something they want to learn and a skill they feel they need to have," said Crick.

But one issue that the school wants to address is the lack of uptake from girls. Of the 20 students playing the game, only four are female. The school said it is exploring how to get more girls involved.

 

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