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Innovation4Education — The initiative which would revolutionize education

Have you ever felt that something is missing in your public education system? Do you remember a fun class you had, and secretly wish all of your classes were like that? Have you ever seen a teacher giving their best and wish you could have that same teacher?

We are empowering educators to be just like that — to expose themselves to new ways of teaching and give young generations the childhood and learning process they deserve.

How are we achieving that?

Inno4Edu — The initiative which would revolutionize education

Inno4Edu is a visionary project, that aims to build a national web-based platform that will assist the improvement in the quality of teaching and learning through co-creation and innovation, involving teachers, parents and children. This platform will be a “nest” for educational materials where preschool teachers, primary school teachers, educators and parents will be able to find the necessary materials and inspiration for better implementation of classes and new ways of learning through play.

The Challenge — From falling behind to climbing beyond the imaginable

Our students have been learning in a system that is acknowledged as one of the lowest quality educational systems. The data from international evaluation of educational systems is ranging us almost last on the vast majority of lists. There are several reasons for weak performance of the education system in North Macedonia: educational policies do not rely on data and facts which greatly affect the overall results; the curricula are not upgraded according to the latest research and achievements in science and are often poorly implemented; low motivation of teachers also contributes to the low quality of education.

Furthermore, there is a great need to provide support to parents and teachers with learning materials for children, as well as to improve the collaboration between them to ensure correct and optimal development for all children. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that there is a need for more standardized and instruction-based materials to support the teaching and learning process, as well as to provide teachers and parents a “one-stop-shop” for education development and space where they can interact, share and learn from each other.

But on this journey, we must not walk alone. It is critical to engage target audiences and stakeholders as soon as the first steps of the project. An effective way of co-creating is hosting a hackathon, which will bring together everyone who is in one way or another affected by this.

We created exactly that! A hackathon with the goal of encouraging game-based learning, by creating interactive games for kids.

Hackathons are a great way to create new and innovative products in a dense period of time. And what is a more fun topic for a hackathon than creating games for children? Yes, games are proven to be an effective way of gaining knowledge. Children are quite inventive by nature. They like learning through trial and error, where they can see when they’ve made a mistake. They like to explore, to experiment, and to independently solve small problems step-by-step. With this in mind, games can develop some essential character skills such as honesty, empathy, teamwork, confidence, perseverance and patience. Games become fun and what is learned sticks, and that’s the best way to gain knowledge, though experience.

First-hand experience from primary school teachers has also been positive, as one primary school teacher, Ms. Marija Bikovska said:

“I’ve already noticed the benefits of game-based learning and I often use it in my classes. The children are more excited and interested when learning is facilitated through a game and when there’s a visual aspect to it. Teachers like using games in classes, but we are often limited with the technical resources. Despite all that, it is evident that children want to learn in a more exciting way, rather than in a traditional way.”

This brings up another opportunity with digital games and that is the lack of games available in the children’s mother tongue, Ms. Bikovska continued:

“This hackathon is pioneering in a certain way! Games have long been used for learning, they are familiar to children, and present an every-day habit for them. However, something that has always concerned me is that the games are most of the time in a foreign language, like English. Consequently, the kids start forgetting their mother tongue and often use foreign languages to express themselves. That’s why this hackathon is pioneering since we’re creating games that will be available in the children’s mother tongue, thus giving them the opportunity to strengthen their native language.”

It is evident that the need is there! We had to do something about it!

THE HACKATHON: 7 teams, 40 participants, 15 mentors and speakers, lots of creativity, 7 innovative educational games, and a lot of change!

40 highly motivated tech professionals participated in a three-day intensive hackathon, which took place from the 18th till the 20th of July. With the formation of 7 hard-working teams, comprised of graphic designers, programmers and teachers, the end goal was to create innovative and engaging games for children between the ages of 3 and 10.

Identifying that knowledge in education and hands-on experience in working with kids is critical for the development of these types of games, 20 mentors were there to guide the developers in creating games with proper didactical backgrounds. The educational mentors were there to fill in the gaps of didactical knowledge, thus complementing the technical skills of the team. Connecting educators, game developers as well as graphic designers, paved the way to a strong initiative for creating games for children who are in need of better education. Working in multidisciplinary teams gave rise to the “magic ingredient” we need in our education.

We received major acclamation from the mentors for the initiative of the hackathon.

As Ms. Vladanka Urosheva, a primary school teacher in one of the teams said:

“This is something new, something different. Even though we are of age, we the teachers, have always been creative and want to contribute towards something innovative. I like the fact that my team has young energy, young adults who can contribute in completely different ways than we can, since they see things from a completely different angle than us. We have our experience, they have their youth. The combination of the one and the other, creates something new and interesting.”

“As a mentor, I feel like a student among the young people in my team, whom I taught in primary school. I am happy to have my students working on this hackathon, but with switched roles this time. I am the student now and they are the teachers, when it comes to all the technical work.”

One of the younger participants of the hackathon, Hristijan, remarked:

“I will remember these 3 days and they will forever stay in my memory. I’m glad I got to know so many amazing individuals, creative people with so many ideas. This initiative is exactly what’s been missing in the educational system and I think it greatly improves its quality! ”

The Big Picture

This will be the first platform of its kind on the Balkan Peninsula and the entire methodology, which dates its beginnings since 2017 will be documented and hopefully replicated by either other UNICEF CO’s or Balkan countries; potentially also setting up a Regional Platform.

This hackathon is part of the project “Setting up an enabling environment for improving quality teaching and learning through co-creation and innovation” #Inno4Edu which is funded by the United Kingdom Government through the British Embassy in Skopje, supported by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, Ministry of Education and Science, Bureau for Education development and UNICEF, and implemented by SmartUp — Social Innovation Lab.

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