Author: Natalia GARAKHANOVA
At least 40 high schools in Baku have joined a pilot project launched in September 2017 by the Ministry of Education and international educational company Algorithmics (the developer of IT systems and programming courses for children). The objective is to teach the school subject known as Informatics in a different format, hence teaching children new technologies and digital skills in practice.
Initially, the project was launched in the fifth grade of two schools in Baku. Since November, five more schools have joined the innovation. Thus, the pilot project has covered about 5000 pupils in just half a year.
The Algorithmics platform is already successfully used in 35 cities of Russia and Kazakhstan. The first programming master classes were also held in Poland, Australia, and Israel. For each country, the developers translate user interfaces into the state language.
Conquest of Mars
The goal of Algorithmics is not to improve children’s code writing skills without improving their algorithmic thinking first. The main goal of the training is to form a way of thinking that will help to advance in such disciplines as computer science, mathematics, physics, development of project thinking and curiosity. Of course, the children also learn the basics of programming within the course.
The online platform will help children to get new knowledge. Each bloc of lessons develops a certain skill but all the blocs are combined under one plot: a launch of a spacecraft to Mars. To ensure that the training was simple and fun, the children are asked to program using coloured blocs. Thus, the pupils gradually make their first steps to the most demanded profession of a programmer.
The training program uses a blended learning approach that combines classroom activities with the teacher and individual work with an online simulator. Teachers and students receive individual accounts to work in a single IT system, which is accessible from any computer that has access to the Internet.
Thanks to the technical solutions of the platform, the students can be engaged in programs of various levels of complexity depending on their academic performance. The platform selects a unique program for them analysing which topics the student has worked out particularly well, and which ones require consolidation.
Teachers help the process run smoothly along the course. Algorithmics strives to work with teachers as much as possible. All of them have great experience in teaching and are trying to teach children to think and program logically based on individual approach to each student. The project leaders believe that for effective education the friendly relations between the students and teachers are very important. Thus, teachers act more as senior mentors.
“I believe that love and interest in computer science have reached a better level in Azerbaijan! It is not easy to convey everything to all children easily, so we try to help and maintain interest in the subject and encourage the efforts of our students. We believe that our five-year-olds are great fellows!” says the teacher of informatics at school no. 160 Novrasta Aliyeva.
Time to advance to a new level
“Since the launch of the project in Baku, we have been closely monitoring its development, analyzing not only how the innovation is developing in general, but also how it changes the surrounding environment. We have feedback from teachers, we study how the process of teaching, how quickly and easily they learn the material. Also we watch the development of a new form of thinking and its effect on the performance in other subjects. We have quite satisfactory results,” says the General Director of Algorithmics in Azerbaijan Renat Asadov.
According to Asadov, the project team maintains close contact both with the teachers and with the parents in order to reveal the positive progress of students.
Parents note that their children develop algorithmic, creative thinking. They look at the things they are used to doing, like cartoons, games, etc., says Gulnara Shahmardanova, a teacher of informatics at the Pishevari Humanities High School: “As teachers, we are very grateful to our parents. It is nice to see how children, through mastering the subject, develop not only thinking, but also the ability to interact positively with peers.”
“There is a term, digital inequality. Basically, it means that only a small part of population can take advantage of the opportunities offered by modern digital technologies. I am pleased to see how Azerbaijan successfully overcomes digital inequality and is taking steps towards the “1 student - 1 computer” training system.”
“Algorithmics is an excellent innovative product and a big leap forward, which will allow immersing the child in an interactive environment. In general, I think that we should not stop on interactive learning. We should try our best to make sure that not only informatics, but also all other school subjects are taught in interactive mode in that each student can use a personal tablet or computer at school, perform assignments, participate in educational research projects. This will be a big step towards new resources and new opportunities,” says Alexey Sleptsov, Director of STEP IT Academy Baku.
Thanks to the improved format of teaching Informatics, it is planned to significantly increase the level of computer literacy of school graduates, to attract the attention of students to high-tech occupations, thereby increasing the base of entrants for admission to higher education institutions in computer and digital specialties. At one of the presentations, the project manager Fahri Gurbanov noted that the popularization of programming and the increase in the number of qualified personnel would allow Azerbaijan to be more competitive in international arena, given that worldwide digital skills training becomes an integral part of the basic school curriculum.
As for the students, they seem to enjoy the process. As one of the pupils at school no. 160 admitted in a conversation with us, thanks to Algorithmics, much of what she has learned during the training has become so obvious to her that she cannot imagine how she would to do without this subject. Well, a good start for a good cause! We hope that not only Baku, but also regional schools will be involved in this effective program including the schoolchildren living in the countryside.