Preparing kids for New Zealand's digital future
Mohammad Al-Rubayee and Cameron Laing are the pioneers behind Qisma Tech, a start-up determined to help young Kiwis develop the technological skills they need for a successful future.
Technology is an ever-increasing part of our lives so it’s important that children coming through New Zealand schools learn the skills they need to thrive in a technologically driven world.
Qisma Tech, based at Wellington School of Business and Government’s The Atom—Te Kahu o te Ao innovation space, are working with primary schools to help students develop basic skills relevant in electronics and software engineering—a skillset teachers often lack knowledge in.
How do they do this? Through games of course.
“We teach kids engineering concepts through games that encourage them to play first; learn second,” says Mohammad. “We’ve developed quite a few games so far, but two good examples include The Bee Game and Gizmo’s Obstacle Course.
“In The Bee Game kids learn about sequencing and get a very simple glimpse into the theory of debugging. In Gizmo’s Obstacle Course we have the kids get into two teams and try to get through an obstacle course with their backs turned with only the team leader telling them to turn left or right by using signs. This teaches the kids the concept of the if statement, but also introduces the valuable lesson of teamwork and having trust in your leader. An important lesson in any engineering team.”
Mohammad and Cameron developed QismaTech through the Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington Entrepreneurship Bootcamp in the summer of 2018/2019. Since then they have continued to develop their business and refine their programme.
“Presently we offer two main packages,” says Mohammad. “The first is a virtual workspace that enables students to play educational games, keep a journal of their progress, and read from a manual explaining the concepts. It also includes a virtual workspace for teachers so that they can be upskilled in tech as well.
“The second is what we call the Kakapo Package where we go into schools and play these games with a class as well as introduce the kids to industry people so they can see how these concepts can then turn into these massive commercial products.”
Since launching the business Mohammad and Cameron have hit a number of milestones, including their first trial run with over 40 kids, getting people and other businesses on board with their idea, and gaining a Marketing and Social Media Manager in Brenda Soung, but there have been challenges as well.
“The biggest challenge for us is keeping motivated and patient with the start up because you don’t really get any income until much later,” says Mohammad. “That has led us to slow down sometimes but then as we talk to our advisers, Michael Watson from StudySpy and Logan Elliot from Highly Flammable, about our progress they encourage us to keep going and we get that old spark of excitement again. Because it’s just the two of us, the more we talk to people about our progress in the start up the more we realise we’re getting closer to achieving our goals.
“Emily Sullivan from Wellington UniVentures has also been an incredible and inspirational support. From the moment we started bootcamp until now, she has always stood by us and given us any contact or resource that we needed to keep going. Without her, none of this would even be possible,” says Mohammad.
Although Mohammad and Cameron are in the early stages of their business, they have already learnt some valuable lessons that they will carry with themselves for life.
“I’ve learnt that everyone is willing to help you as much as they can,” says Cameron. “It can often seem scary to build a business but if you ask people for help more often than not they will help you.”
Going forward, both Mohammad and Cameron have grand ambitions for QismaTech.
“In the short term we want to bring Qisma Tech to all schools in the Wellington region and in the long term we want to launch it nationwide,” says Mohammad. “Basically, we want New Zealand to be prepared for a future that is built on technology and to be prepared and excited to pursue it. We believe Qisma Tech can play a vital role in that.”
This article was orignally published on #nzentrepreneur.