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Why students need the ‘skill of learning’ in the 21st century

Nenad BakicPhilanthropist and entrepreneur Nenad Bakić talks about the skills needed for today’s world and how his STEM projects have changed the Croatian education system

Nenad Bakić has transformed education in Croatia. The entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist is the founder of the non-profit organization IRIM (Institute for Youth Development and Innovativity), which aims to empower all children in Croatia and the region to develop STEM competencies by providing not only equipment, but also education and other activities. A former mathematician, Bakić is a special advisor to the President of Croatia for digital transformation and STEM.

IRIM has helped to develop the largest extracurricular STEM programme in the EU – the Croatian Makers movement. One of its flagship projects is the Robotics League, which enables wide-ranging inclusion of robotics, automation and programming in elementary school education. IRIM has donated more than 2,750 robots and has also helped develop similar projects in other countries in the region.

IRIM has also introduced coding to schools and in the community. Through its STEM Revolution and ProMikro projects, it has distributed 25,000 coding devices and 45,000 micro-computers—micro:bits—to educational insititutions in Croatia.

IRIM provided a network of 30 technology ambassadors to give training to teachers, the majority of whom had never, or rarely, coded before. The Croatian Employers’ Association financed the workshops and IRIM developed an extensive cross-subject curriculum.

We caught up briefly with Bakić, who is a keynote speaker at the IB’s European Education Festival on 4-5 April 2019 in Zagreb, Croatia. Its theme is ‘Leading and learning in the 21st century’ with a special focus ‘Developing responsible and impactful learning communities’.

What skills are important for students to have in today’s work market?

Instead of an ‘old school’ focus of only acquiring information and knowledge, we should be developing general and transferable competencies. The skill set that is important includes critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, communication and creativity, but most of all the skill of learning.

Even more important are character qualities like persistence, curiosity, initiative and cultural and social awareness. Obviously, ‘static’ knowledge needs to be the foundation, but it should be framed within the 21st-century context, as ‘literacies’ in various fields, not only classical and numerical literacy, but also financial, scientific, ICT and cultural literacy.

Why did you set up IRIM and Croatian Makers and what impact have they had on the Croatian education system?

When we started IRIM, Croatia was at the very bottom of the EU in developing digital skills, or using digital technologies in schools. We wanted to give Croatian—and later regional­—children the chance to become equal citizens of the 21st century.

In the meantime, Croatian Makers has become the largest movement in STEM in the whole of the EU, reaching more than 100,000 children and more than 3,000 teachers, changing the educational system’s attitudes to new forms of teaching and motivation.

How can we make sure technology is used responsibly in education?

Let us not forget that a pencil was a new technology in its time.

Read more about the IB European Education Festival