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How Early Can We Prepare Our Children for STEM Careers?

July 2, 2015 by Susan Galer

A unique partnership between Wissensfabrik and SAP is proving children as young as kindergarten can begin learning the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills they need to help transform society in the digital era.

Translated to English as “Knowledge Factory,” Wissensfabrik is aptly named. This non-profit association of over 120 companies and foundations has provided education to 700,000 schoolchildren and 12,000 teachers in Germany. The current pilot program, developed with SAP and other member companies, targets children aged 9 to 16.

“As a global IT company, one of SAP’s major responsibilities is to help simplify the complex technology landscape for schools so teachers and students have the skills they need to meet the business challenges of the digitized economy,” said Christiane Bauer, Lead for SAP’s Young Thinkers program. “We have so much IT knowledge, and the best way to share it is by collaborating across a network of companies, universities, ministries and dedicated educators.”

Building a network of collaborative learning

SAP’s Young Thinkers Program is part of the SAP University Alliances community that’s long been dedicated to developing young talent and entrepreneurship. Over 2,100 institutions from 89 countries participate in SAP University Alliances. The Young Thinkers Program is injecting that same spirit of talent development into elementary school-aged children with 300 educational partnerships worldwide. While SAP identified schools from its Young Thinkers program to participate in its pilot, Wissensfabrik will match institutions that don’t already have private sector relationships with member companies.

“If you want to inspire the next generation of IT experts, you want to start early to reach students at primary school before they’ve made their career choices,” said Bauer. “This is why we’ve extended our program beyond higher education.”

Providing expertise, not funding

Technologies are changing so fast it’s difficult for teachers, let alone students to keep pace with the knowledge required to understand and apply innovations. That’s where Wissensfabrik comes in, providing the expertise of established innovators like SAP to educate youth and mentor startups.

“Instead of money, our organization of over 120 companies and foundations is helping prepare the next generation for the future,” said Annemie Diefenthal, head of Communications at Wissensfabrik. “We have the experience and best practices to get youth interested in STEM topics they may think are too complicated. We want to foster their interest in these careers by making it fun and interesting with age-appropriate projects both students and teachers understand.”

At the other end of the youth age spectrum, Wissensfabrik has also fostered more than 180 German-based technology startups, defined as companies less than five years old. Entrepreneurs can apply for mentoring, and participate in an annual competition to win an intense one-year coaching program with experts from private sector member organizations who provide business building advice from product development to marketing, sales and support.

Flexible learning materials

L to R: Franz Fehrenbach, Chairman of the Wissensfabrik steering committee, Gerhard Oswald, Executive Board member of SAP at Wissensfabrik’s 10th anniversary forum in Ludwighafen, Germany this year. Image via SAP  *** Local Caption ***  -copyright by : KUNZ, Stuhlbruderhofstr 5, 67112 Mutterstadt, Germany.  PSK 166623671,BLZ 54510067, Tel.+49-(0)6234-4530 , presse@foto-kunz.de

L to R: Franz Fehrenbach, Chairman of the Wissensfabrik steering committee, Gerhard Oswald, Executive Board member of SAP at Wissensfabrik’s 10th anniversary forum in Ludwighafen, Germany this year. Image via SAP
*** Local Caption *** -copyright by : KUNZ, Stuhlbruderhofstr 5, 67112 Mutterstadt, Germany.
PSK 166623671,BLZ 54510067, Tel.+49-(0)6234-4530 , presse@foto-kunz.de

Elementary school teachers participating in the Wissensfabrik program receive detailed but short instruction guides on each focused IT topic. Most important, they can select the curriculum best-suited to their knowledge level and the skill set of their students. Students gain expertise via a combination of lectures and hands-on experiences like building routers and web servers or coding.

“There’s a wide range of skill levels among teachers and students so we want to make the materials flexible from introductory to more complex information,” said Diefenthal. “Content also has to be adaptable to meet the decentralized educational regulations in Germany for each of our 16 states. Our members are located all over the country so we need to make sure learning materials can be made to reflect the curriculum of their particular state.”

Supported by experts at SAP and other Wissensfabrik member companies, the University of Oldenburg has developed learning modules including Understanding the Internet, Design Thinking, 3D Modeling and Printing, App Inventor, Wearable Computing and Explore Mobile Data. Following pilots in two schools from SAP’s Young Thinkers program in Germany, Privatgymnasium Schwetzingen and International School Heidelberg, Wissensfabrik will roll-out the learning modules in the partner schools of all interested members next year.

Networks are the foundation of the digital economy, making partnerships between the public and private sectors more valuable than ever. The partnership between SAP and Wissensfabrik is just one example of how businesses and educators are collaborating to deliver highly consumable learning curricula that starts early and stays focused long term to help teachers and youth gain knowledge for STEM careers in the digital age.

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