05.03.2014

Public Initiatives to Teach Technology in Schools

Public Initiatives to Teach Technology in Schools

Photo: Popofatticus

Many governments brag about making great efforts of investing in education. And in fact, if we take a look at the figures from the World Bank we notice how – on average – a respectable percentage of the national GDPs is aimed at promoting education, even though of course it can never be really enough.

But we should keep in mind that the debate really is not about quantity anymore, it is about quality. Meaning the impact and improvements obtained for the students. From this point of view, the results of the great majority of countries are not satisfactory and there are only a few countries from the Asian-Pacific region (Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan) and Northern Europe (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Estonia), where students are obtaining good results in mathematics, science and reading, according to the PISA study from 2012 which was coordinated by the OECD.

Now of course, there are many important aspects to the field of education and it comprises many different subjects. Because of that, we should center our attention on technology education in private and public schools. Be aware, I am not referring to the use of technology for teaching contents, which is something entirely different and implies the use of technological devices and platforms (tablets, laptops, educational software) to transmit knowledge. On this matter various articles were already published here on MWC.

I want to talk about teaching technology (programming, circuits, IT, apps) to make stu-dents understand its concepts, make their own creations and learn how to make use of it. I want to turn those children into nerds that are excited about knowing how and why technology does what it does. They should not be merely superficial users of technology, we should try to wake a spark of creativity, of ingenuity in them and motivate them to further develop their talent and maybe even choose a career in technology; although cer-tainly not everybody is made to become a programmer or computer engineer, we should at least wake an interest in careers related to the world of technology. After all, the entire world is embracing technology more and more and not teaching the necessary skills or at least a small interest in this field could cause the technological competence gap to widen and cause our country’s wealth and technological development index to diminish.

It is quite common to teach the creation and use of technology on the college preparation level, especially in careers dealing with computer or system engineering. Examples for that are legion around the world. Technology education in secondary education is less common and in primary education it is something truly unusual. On these education lev-els there still are no more than a few cases. We have to keep in mind that education is a matter where conservatism is strongly rooted. Promoting change in this area is not an easy task due to the complexity of the subject, the different parties involved and the im-pact it has. This is why any structural adjustment of a basic educational program needs years to convert into specific measures.

Teaching Technology in Secondary Education

One example of technology being taught in secondary education is Catalonia with its mSchools program. We already discussed it on vari-ous occasions, which is why I will only mention the essentials in order to put it into context with other government efforts for teaching technology.

The mSchools program is not a purely a government initiative, in this case of the Gener-alitat de Catalunya and the Barcelona City Council, it was launched by the Mobile World Capital Barcelona foundation with financial support from the GSMA. Its goal is to pro-mote the use of mobile technologies and the internet among students in secondary edu-cation in order to improve their education and keep them motivated.

In this manner they are taught to create mobile technology solutions like apps, which im-plies writing code. For example, 6,000 children in Catalonia are already attending classes on programming apps. Another component of mSchools are the Mobile Learning Awards, which consist in a competition that awards the videos presented by students, teachers and schools that created an innovative mobile solution. You can find all infor-mation about the mSchools program and its different branches on mSchools.mobileworldcapital.com. We should also mention that the mSchools program was awarded a special prize at the Global Mobile Awards 2014, which were presented during the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona from Feb-ruary 24th to 27th.

Public Initiatives to Teach Technology in Schools

Photo: Mike Cogh

Teaching to Code in Primary Education

Recently, in the article ”Five Reasons why Children should learn to Code”, we talked about how some teachers with experience in programming pointed out “that students between 5 and 11 years have such tremendous capacity to learn about algorithms and computing that it would be a shame to wait until they are teenagers to teach them the basic principles”.

Various countries have adopted this theory and maybe the pioneer country in teaching programming at such an early age is Estonia, the country where Skype was created. In this baltic country schools were already connected online towards the end of the 90ies and have been teaching programming in secondary education for many years. The news is that now they are teaching technology in primary education as well and that this is already a reality in almost all public schools. The government program behind this initiative is called Tiger Leap (Proge Tiiger) and its launch
data de 1996 is supervised by the Ministry of Education and Science. You can find a lot of information about this successful and innovative project on the Internet.

It is true that the comparatively small size of this country (only 1.5 million inhabitants) and its basic education system (around 550 schools) are advantages for the implementation of these programs on a national level. But the risk of failure or mistakes is the same as for a bigger country, if we keep the proportions in mind. Estonia, also known as
Estonia, is no doubt an example to study.

Other similar efforts are made in other countries like in England, where learning to code will be mandatory in primary education from the end of this year, just like in Estonia.

Other countries are also starting to experiment with teaching young children to write code. Even though it is not included in the educational curriculum, in Canada they have Code for Kids, a program which was launched by the University of Ottawa. Children from 7 to 13 years can register with Code for Kids and they are taught the basics about how to code, as well as technology and design. And learning this they will understand how videogames, webpages and other computer software are created. Code for Kids already has offices in Toronto, Montreal and Kingston, apart from its head office in Ottawa.

Public Initiatives to Teach Technology in Schools

Photo: Qfamily

On the other hand, teaching students how to code is not all there is to do if you want to promote knowledge on technology among students. It is also important to make them familiar with electronic devices at a very early age and show them how much they can do, learn and/or create using them. We found an example for this -in form of a pilot project- at some public schools in Chicago, where children between five and six years interact with a computer running the software “Reading Eggs”, which was described extensively in an article in
The Economist on educa-tion and technology.

Education and Technology; a young marriage

Not only the governments are promoting and/or analyzing the impact of teaching technology at primary and secondary schools on children. From the private, social and academic sector, networks are created to exchange information on the subject. One example is the site EdTechnology Ideas. Another is Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. And one of the the most popular ones is CODE.ORG, which is supported by Amazon, Microsoft, Google, JPMorgan and others, and which promotes IT education among children and teenagers.

All in all, technology education is little by little entering the national education programs on the primary and secondary education levels, even though they are still far from reaching the same coverage and class time as art, science or the humanities. It is a comparatively new subject and it is complex on a pedagogical level. But sooner or later it will become just as important as the others.

The mSchools programme is a multi-year, multi-faceted mEducation initiative by the Mobile World Capital Barcelona. The mSchools programme is designed to lower dropout rates, improve student attainment in schools across Catalonia and throughout Spain and, ultimately, to better prepare students as they pursue further education and employment in today’s digital world.

For more information:

  • mSchools programme website
  • Articles related to mEducation
  • Please write us at <mSchools@mobileworldcapital.com>