In the modern world education is increasingly technological. From sophisticated robotics engineering to tablets in schools, all around the world teachers are upgrading their educational tools in order to give students the skills they will need later on. So how does this change things in the classroom?
Chalkboards and notebooks are increasingly giving way to PCs and tablets – even in developing countries. But how early do children need to start using IT? What if a child wants to become a robotics engineer? We look at how education is adapting to the latest technology in order to prepare students for the world of work.
Taking the tablets in Kenya
In some parts of Kenya education is still very basic and drop-out rates are high. But one project has found that investing in tablets and apps can be a way to re-engage students in their lessons, so they have started introducing them to schools. This has affected student attendance and performance.
E-limu is the Swahili word for education – and it is also the name of an app for schoolchildren. It was invented by a group of software developers who want to bring high-tech learning to one of Kenya’s poorest communities. This app is supposed to grab students’ attention and encourage them to learn.
In Kenya, almost half of school students drop out at the age of 14, with a very basic education. But Nivi Mukherjee, the founder of this pilot project, says that if learning is made more interactive and engaging. It might motivate children to stay longer in school.
“Now instead of just boring text books we have added animation, games, songs, videos and quizzes to make the entire learning process really fun, interactive and engaging for children,” she says.
The pilot project was launched in Kawangware, one of the poorest parts of Nairobi which is notorious for drugs, prostitution and crime. Most of the students here are lucky to be in school at all. Marceline Keyanda, who is 13 years old, is preparing to sit her final primary exams. She says that apps are more exciting and easier to understand than reading textbooks.
“Now instead of teachers coming with a lot of text books they just come with tablets. When you have a question, when the teacher is not around, you just click on the tablet and you get the question which you have asked,” she says.
There are many reasons why Kenyan students drop out of school early. The country’s education system needs 80,000 more teachers at the moment and students are crammed into tiny classrooms all competing for the attention of one teacher. Many students have short attention spans. E-limu hopes that by using interactive apps the children’s ability to concentrate will improve.
The pilot project is in its early stages. One teacher who has been using it in the classroom thinks the tablet is a success. He has seen students get better results and a significant improvement in attendance records.
“The tablets have given our pupils the courage and confidence to come to school. And that has enhanced performance and attendance, and the total marks of the pupils. In education as a whole they have helped the pupils score better,” says Philson Madegwa.
Nivi Mukherjee believes that the app has a wider relevance for society as a whole. It is not only to improve the school curriculum and the desire to learn: she would like to teach children about the environment, social justice, human rights and finance to make them better citizens.
“We want to teach children to grow up to be participants of the 21st century economy, we want them to be better leaders, to be smarter voters and hopefully in the future we would like to see children all over Africa and maybe other parts of the world using this kind of device,” she says.
Mukherjee hopes that this new app will revolutionise learning in Africa and bridge the gap between the continent and other countries’ standards.
So clearly technology has an important place in education. But how early do children have to start in order to learn programming? In Estonia it is very young indeed. The government has recently launched a nationwide code-writing scheme, aiming to encourage a whole new generation to get smart when it comes to using technology.
Estonia’s Tiger Leap Foundation has launched a programme introducing IT science and computer programming at schools from the first grade. Since the beginning of the new school year the programme has been used in many state-funded schools in Estonia. The designers point out that internet and modern technologies have become an integral part of everyday life and are as important for modern childrens’ survival as road safety rules.
“Our children start to become interested in smartphones and tablets very early on. Our use of technology has to be mirrored at school and it cannot be absent from primary school. That is why the involvement of primary schools is justified,” says the Head of Training Department at the Tiger Leap Foundation, Ave Lauringson.
In some Estonian schools the experimental IT science programme for first graders was introduced several years ago – with good results.
This year the decision has been made to introduce it across the country. Estonia needs a lot of qualified IT specialists.
The demand in companies is so high that they struggle to fill vacancies. According to the Estonian Development Fund, the country still needs up to 6,500 IT professionals – in the future probably more.
“We don’t have the utopian goal that we will fill all Estonia’s companies with programmers. The goal of the Tiger Leap programme is to give students a chance to get to know the computer from a totally different side, to not be a player but the creator of a game. The user of software becomes the creator of software,” says Lauringson.
During the first lessons the most difficult task the teachers face is to explain to children that the computer is not just a “playground” and to teach mouse and keyboard skills. At the end of the school year the children will know how to make animations, create simple apps and other computer programs.
“In the first and the second grades we are trying to teach them to work well with their hands – drawing, stamping and knowing how to use a keyboard. That’s the basics and of course safe log-ins and log-outs. But in the third and the fourth grades we try to deal with more complicated tasks like research and basic programming,” says IT teacher Kristi Saarpuu.
Estonia has a highly developed online culture that includes online voting, access to electronic medical records and some of the loosest content restrictions in the world.
So age is clearly no barrier to understanding technology. Even building robotic machines is a passion for many Japanese children. One Japanese professor who is famous for his robotic inventions strongly believes that robotics should be taught at a very young age.
Children at elementary schools have a fascination with the world of mechanical operations and a curiosity about how computers set things in motion. It is the magic of Robotics: a discipline that might encourage children to take an interest in maths, science and technology. They usually start building them at a very young age and then dream about a future working as engineers – and perhaps being as good as the master of robotics: Professor Shigeo Hirose.
He has 35 years experience and is renowned for his pioneering work on the design and control of robotic systems in his lab at the Tokyo Institute of Technology*.
“If you want to create a robot it is very important to think like an engineer. From a very early age you have to be able to combine the use of your brain and also the sense of touch with your own hands. That’s how I think future engineers will be able to create useful robots for society,” he says.
This includes robots that can support humans in performing dangerous tasks, like his most famous creation, the Snake robot. It is very useful in rescue operations due to its flexibility and ability to explore tight spaces. Thanks to this prototype some engineers call him the Snake Charmer. His students, almost 30 young engineers from different countries, have worked hard to be part of this robotics lab.
“We need a whole week to reach a certain conclusion, while Professor Hirose needs a day, or maybe three minutes. But, as the professor says, the truly important aspect is the act of thinking,” says student Hirotaka Komura.
Many students dream of building humanoids when they first come to the Tokyo Institute of Technology. But as soon as they arrive, Professor Hirose convinces them that other non-human shapes are more practical and useful. Hirose is, for instance, also involved in work with the United Nations to develop a remotely-controlled robot capable of clearing land mines. But there’s still a long way ahead for the students who want to do the same.
“The ones who come to our lab are the ones who like to create things, those who as a child made models, who had interest in creating things and participated in contests. These are things that you don’t learn in school, but that once you get in here are the most useful,” says Assistant Professor Gen Endo.
This new generation of young Japanese engineers is not just creating their own new prototypes but also keeping Professor Hirose’s legacy alive. This is the magic of Robotics
Some of Learning World’s social media friends are in favor of using technologies in education because they say it breaks down cultural and language barriers between students. What do you think? Your feedback would be most welcome.
KENYA: – The app was specifically designed with the entire Kenya Certificate of Primary Education, K.C.P.E, curriculum included. – Kawangware is a slum in Kenya. It is about 15km west of the city centre of Nairobi. It is between Lavington Estate and Dagoretti. It has hundreds of thousands of residents, many of whom are children. – Tablet maker Samsung has donated 11 devices for the pilot project in two schools
ESTONIA: – Tiger Leap (Proge Tiiger) foundation: The Tiger Leap programme is a national specific programme launched by the Estonian Government with an aim to increase Estonian school education quality utilizing modern information and communication technology. The programme is funded from the national budget via Ministry of Education. – Estonia has a strong information technology (IT) sector, partly due to the Tiigrihüpe project undertaken in mid 1990s, and has been mentioned as the most “wired” and advanced country in Europe in the terms of e-government. Tiigrihüpe (Estonian for Tiger’s Leap) was a project undertaken by Republic of Estonia to heavily invest in development and expansion of computer and network infrastructure in Estonia, with a particular emphasis on education.
JAPAN: – Tokyo Institute of Technology, informally Tokyo Tech, Tokodai or TIT is a national top-tier research university located in Greater Tokyo Area, Japan. Tokyo Tech is the largest institution for higher education in Japan dedicated to science and technology. – Shigeo Hirose, PhD (born 1947 in Tokyo) is an award winning pioneer of robotics technology and a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Born in Tokyo and attending Hibiya High School, he graduated from Yokohama National University in 1971 and received a Ph.D from Tokyo Institute of Technology in 1976 where he later took professorship. His works includes designs for robots capable of various types of movement such as walking, crawling, swimming and slithering. Specific designs include a “ninja-robot” capable of climbing buildings and a seven-ton robot capable of climbing mountainous slopes with the aim of installing bolts in the ground so as to prevent landslides.