Tinkering with tech

Pravin Vaz spends his days immersed in digital technology and as natural as he may make it look, for him it’s about making up for lost time.

Pravin is the School of Engineering and Computer Science’s outreach coordinator, and spends his workdays providing students and teachers in the wider Wellington region with hands-on engineering experience. He is also working towards his PhD in educational robotics. Though his life is now based around teaching and learning, they are passions he has only discovered later in life.

“Every time I read something I feel like I’ve missed out on so much because I didn’t read much in my younger years. I was just playing football all the time. But now I love to study—I love reading, I love writing, I love gaining knowledge.”

Pravin has always had a natural inclination towards digital tech, but only developed a focus on the subject by chance. He studied marine biology before becoming a science teacher, first in Mumbai and then in New Zealand. When he was teaching science at Whanganui Collegiate School, he was asked to fill in as a teacher for a digital tech course.

“I’ve always loved computers. I was fixing computers for friends when I was 16. But teaching computers is a completely different set of skills. I didn’t know I was so interested in it until I started teaching it.

“It just took off from there. My next job was more focused on digital tech, and a few years later I gave up teaching science to focus solely on digital tech.”

Pravin then moved into his role as outreach coordinator, where he is able to focus his energy on providing subject area expertise to digital technology teachers, and project ideas, technical support, and guidance to NCEA Digital Technology students.

“My role also involves getting Year 7-10 students interested in digital technology. They’re just getting out and exploring the world around them. Some of them embrace technology right away, while others have some sort of aversion to it due to past experiences. Making it friendly and accessible is important.

“We understand that not everyone is going to end up as an engineer but being able to use and access technology is something that every kid should be able to do.”

A big part of Pravin’s role, he says, is ensuring all students are given equitable access to resources and outreach activity, and he focuses his time on schools that are traditionally under-represented.

Pravin is also passionate about music, and at one point managed to merge his love of music and technology by creating polyphonic ringtones for Nokia mobile phones. These days, with three kids under three, his musical tastes have undergone a bit of a change.

“I used to play in a band—we would play in coffee shops in Mumbai—but now all I play is kid’s music. But I do have fun playing music for the boys. I love pulling out the guitar every now and then and playing some music for them.”

In his spare time, Pravin salvages electronics with the aim of using them in the classroom.

“I tinker with electronics at home. I go to the tip shop and go hunting for old, broken electronics, then I figure out what can be salvaged and reused for teaching, and I try to rebuild them at home. I love salvaging Bluetooth speakers and trying to make boom boxes.

“There’s a lot of unfinished projects at home, let’s put it that way.”

Ultimately, the satisfaction Pravin finds on the job comes from the difference it makes to students.

“It’s a very fulfilling job, because you get to run some cool activities, and you can see the joy on their faces at the end. Success long-term is if I see students who I’ve done outreach with show up on campus as engineering students. But in the short-term success is if a student has left the activity happy and said ‘I’m interested now and I want to learn more.’”