Ghent lab prepares kids for a high-tech future

Summary

Fyxxilab aims to provide schoolchildren with the technological skills to survive in the 21st-century workplace

Tech fix

You don’t need a crystal ball to know that a computer programmer or robotics engineer is more likely to find a job in the future than a woodworker or sales clerk. But in an increasingly technological world, schools are struggling to prepare their students. Ghent’s Fyxxilab offers a solution.

According to the government of Flanders – and most governments around the world – the future is Stem: science, technology, engineering and maths. Those with the right skills are becoming more and more vital to our increasingly technology-driven society.

With a detailed plan devised by the government, schools are taking steps toward stirring their pupils’ interest in technology careers from as early an age as possible. But most schools aren’t able to buy the materials they need to turn their pupils into whizz-kids.

That’s why, in 2010, the government set up the travelling tech laboratory Edufiks, to run projects using educative technology in a handful of schools. Expanding to include all schools with an interest, it landed at its current Ghent location in 2013 and was baptised Fyxxilab, which stands for “a Future for our Youth with XXIst-century skills”.

Wonders of technology

The invitation is open to all schools, teachers and pupils from kindergarten to the end of secondary school. Three years after its start, it has introduced 13,000 pupils to the wonders of technology. According to project co-ordinator Isabel Allaert, “each child who has been here has had a great time, boys and girls alike”.

At the lab, we interrupt 10-year-old Sander, who’s busy programming a race track. “These are mountains, there will be a bridge here, and then the cars will fall into a pool of lava,” he explains enthusiastically. 

Stem and Steam don’t work in a classic setting with a teacher in front of the class telling the children what to do

- Isabel Allaert

Classmate Freek, wearing large orange glasses, adds: “It’s fun, but you need a lot of imagination for these things. I don’t always have that.”

For Annika, a future gymnastics champion from De Pinte, this is her first time using the Scratch online creative learning community developed by the MIT kindergarten media lab. According to its developers, it should mimic the way toddlers learn about the world. “Everything you can imagine is there in a second,” says Annika.

On other occasions, children use Arduino, a microcontroller kit with which they can make a self-built Lego robot interact with the physical world. Some build new machines out of their old hard disks while others design and make keyrings on one of the 10 3D printers. 

Inspiration for teachers

Aside from school visits, the lab welcomes children on Wednesday afternoons or for several days during the holidays. “We just responded to what the kids wanted,” says Allaert. “After the first workshop in 2013, some asked if they could come back for a birthday party or for a camp. Some even said they wanted to come and live here. Apart from that, everything is possible.”

The lab also organises inspiration workshops for teachers and policymakers who want to know more about the educational aspects of the tech material. According to Allaert, while the lab started out to promote just Stem subjects, this quickly turned into Steam, with the A standing for art.

“Children come here to create, so there’s always an aesthetic component that can’t be left out,” she says. “At the same time, we’re promoting a new approach to teaching. Stem and Steam don’t work in a classic setting with a teacher in front of the class telling the children what to do. This is an experiment in the ‘coaching teacher approach’. Input is given by the children, and inforamtion is given at their request.”   

Photo courtesy Fyxxilab