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Millions of Peruvian students have received virtual classes since the pandemic of COVID-19 forced to close schools. This situation has begun to affect their learning, according to experts, which exacerbates the problems that the Peruvian educational system already had.

SIGHT: Kipi, the robot created in Vraem that speaks Quechua with schoolchildren from Huancavelica

But there are some teachers who, despite the limitations, have designed alternatives to help their students in this context. One of them is Professor Walter Velásquez, creator of Kipi, a robot that helps minors in their learning process and is also capable of speaking to them in Quechua, their mother tongue.

El Comercio visited his laboratory located at the Santiago Antúnez de Mayolo school, in Colcambamba, Huancavelica. There he designed Kipi during the early days of the pandemic.

“In schools we have to start doing science, start designing, start investigating a little more”, tells us the renowned rural teacher who has received, among other recognitions, the Palmas Magisteriales from the Ministry of Education.

Professor Walter Velásquez and two of his students take classes outdoors with Kipi.  (Photo: Yerson Collave)
Professor Walter Velásquez and two of his students take classes outdoors with Kipi. (Photo: Yerson Collave)

Before Kipi had you already developed a robot?

My students, above all. They have won national and international robotics championships. That bottom prototype [señala un estante de su laboratorio] has been to Mexico. This is a machine that helps improve how chuño is made. It has been a prototype highly valued by the University of Guadalajara. Another robot that my students have made, considered the best in the region, is a cart that can be used in an earthquake; If there are people trapped, enter the cart, take photos 10 photos and send them to a cell phone.

I see you have a lot of prototypes in your lab.

Here some prototypes are mine, others of my students. But I’ve always seen that almost everything that has been generated in Peru remains in prototypes. We are good in Peru at prototyping, but not getting into actual execution. There are good ideas, but I think we have to do a lot, that’s why we have taken a risk with Kipi, who is no longer a prototype and works on the ‘court’ to help people. The pandemic has pushed us to that.

How did your taste for science and technology start? At what point in your childhood or adolescence?

I have a photo when I was little… At three years old I built my first robot, I didn’t realize it. We have built it with my dad, and it’s in the photo. But I think the main thing is that my mother has instilled in me the work a little more supportive and my father the more creative work. My mom has been a school librarian for 30 years; I have always been in the schools helping, distributing books, collecting, cleaning the library room. My dad is a math teacher, now he has always liked to build things for his studentsSo I was always on the side helping him. So that has a lot to do with it. Later, already in high school, a teacher complements it: he gave me an assignment to investigate the tumbo [un fruto nativo del centro del Perú] and I transformed it into what I came up with. So, that methodology of someone making you think, not giving you everything and you looking for the information, I liked. I even went to the doctor at the post office to ask him, I looked for other people… So I participated in science fairs and, well, mand I realized that a career indicated for me was one related to science, in this case to teach them. I studied at the Universidad del Centro, then I did a specialization in technology at the Nebrija University, Spain, and now I’m finishing one at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in the US And there everything is to solve problems, cases …

And perhaps the problem in the country is that science and technology teaching at school is very theoretical.

Science teaching is very theoretical, definitely. It should be read, of course, but science goes further. Science must be taught and studied by doing science. For example, here we have a vegetable garden where we investigate, we put experimental situations. The systems of transformation of matter are taught, for example, extracting oils, essences, distillates … This is more interesting. I think it goes there. In schools we we have to start doing science, start designing, start digging a little more.

“The student can achieve great things, it is not necessarily a limitation where you are born or how much money you have, but the teacher must give him the support and also the State”

Professor Walter Velásquez shows some of the prototypes that he has in his laboratory.  (Photo: Yerson Collave)
Professor Walter Velásquez shows some of the prototypes that he has in his laboratory. (Photo: Yerson Collave)

How difficult can this be to implement in every school? It’s kind of ambitious right now, right?

It is as if I said to you: “Let’s cook”, but there is no kitchen tool. Even if you have the will, you are not going to do it. I believe that it is essential that schools in Peru implement laboratories to promote science, technologies, from school levels. There is no budget to develop science and technology, no school receives a sun. There are teachers who do the same. The Ministry of Education sends us kits and modules, but I think we must reinforce it much more. It would be a great idea for teachers in Peru to present their creations; I know some who have done a lot, and we must use that bank of knowledge. Science is not only useful for careers in biology or chemistry, the investigative method helps us in history, in literature, etc.

Because it provokes the natural curiosity of children.

It is to train children, it is not that everyone is going to come to NASA, it may be that they do, but if they learn this method, they can apply it in their future jobs or activities. This must be cultivated from early childhood, it is already a bit difficult at 20, 30 to 40 years. That was one of the challenges when I came to teach here. I found students with low economic resources or in extreme poverty. Since we started working in this laboratory in 2009, we have achieved very good things: we have physics winners, we have chemistry champions, they have even gone abroad. That allows me to say that the student can achieve great things, The place where you are born or how much money you have is not necessarily a limitation, but the teacher must give you the support and also the State. That is the value of pedagogy.

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