Surveying the edtech ecosystem in a seat of Latin influence.
GUEST COLUMN | by Raúl Otaolea
What’s happening with education and technology in Spain? The implementation of Computer Sciences in Spain is not as advanced as many of us would like. Recently, a consortium made up of Google, the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT), and Everis published a report on the matter. According to the report, one of the main hurdles they present for implementing Computer Science in public schools is an identity crisis. It seems that the educational community doesn’t fully grasp the differences between programming, computational thinking, and design vs. digital system development. Moreover, it’s common to also confuse Computer Science with digital literacy and digital competence.
We have a public education sector that is behind the times thanks to 30 years of political stalemate—yet a huge desire to change this reality.
Politics in Spain has also not helped, the Spanish educational system has undergone many reforms in the last 30 years, a result of the lack of understanding between the two main political parties who have dominated the political scene until now. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons for the delay in implementing more computer science in public education. As a result, individual initiatives come mostly from teachers in the public sector who are trying to introduce concepts and tools that make learning computer science and 21st-century skills into the curriculum.
Despite attempts in the public realm, private initiatives have proven the most dynamic for introducing Computer Science and STEM subjects to students of all ages. In the summer of 2016, for example, across Spain there was a boom in summer camp technology classes, where students learned robotics and programming. These extracurricular classes and workshops are becoming more common as a complement to public education.
One non-profit initiatives we are involved with is CoderDojo, a global network of volunteers who offer free programming classes. Currently, there are 14 Dojos in Spain that offer classes in Java, HTML5, Scratch, or WiMi5. This initiative peaks the interest of many young students to explore science and technology fields further, learning concepts that are not currently taught in public schools.
On the public side, the most ambitious initiative was launched before the 2008 crisis that hit Spain. Escuela 2.0 aimed to give students the tools and digital content to make learning computer science subjects easier. During this time, a great deal of interactive content was created to be shared on platforms like Procomún or Agrega, which is still active.
The pace of technological change
As technology rapidly advances, another large problem is that the content and teaching material created by previous administrations is falling behind today’s current formats. Most of the interactive content was created with Flash, an obsolete technology that is being phased out by leading technology firms like Google, it simply doesn’t work on tablets or mobiles. The problem is not exclusive to the education, but many industries that work with interactive content on the web, including video games.
One solution to this problem widely known in the technology world is using the HTML5 standard, which allows content that is interactive and rich in audiovisual media, like video games, to be created and viewed on any device.
However, as with any technological shift, there are a number of questions and uncertainties. One of these is the lack of publishing tools that allow interactive content to be created, both for entertainment and educational purposes, in an easy way.
Educational video games and Spanish startups go global
So what are we left with? In Spain, we have, on the one hand, a public education sector that is behind the times thanks to 30 years of political stalemate—yet a huge desire to change this reality, as shown by both public and private sector initiatives, along with teachers who are trying to introduce STEM into classrooms. And on the other hand, we have a profound technological shift in the way educational content is being created and consumed that is creating lots of uncertainty in the educational sector.
It is in this context that WiMi5 has found a niche, empowering teachers and students to create, imagine, and learn. The ability to generate educational content has shifted from the government and politicians, to teachers and students, turning them into independent protagonists in their own education, separate from the ideological and political winds that are blowing at any given moment.
Our startup allows users to create interactive video games and content without having to write a single line of code. It’s a tool that was conceived to democratize the production of interactive web content. Anyone with minimal knowledge of dealing with images and interactive creation can develop content for free. We’ve brought together over 20,000 registered video game developers and one of the most interesting and proactive sectors we have seen has been education.
There are examples from all over the world. In Bogota, Colombia, classes in WiMi5 have been taught at ViveLabs. In Northern Spain, workshops at BiscayTik have been given to teach STEM via video games to adolescents. In Hong Kong at the German Swiss International School, Professor Shuting Liu has used WiMi5 to teach programming to her students, aged 8-10s.
Personal stories about teachers and students taking computer education into their own hands have been one of the most rewarding results of our journey thus far. For example, there is the story of Patricia Zurita, a 15-year-old from Quito, Ecuador. She learned to use WiMi5 on her own, and created a video game that she presented in a contest held by the Latin American Society of Science and Technology. The project was among the finalists, and the young woman presented her game at the 2016 Genius Olympiad in New York.
Little by little, we are seeing initiatives driven by the private sector that are helping Spain recover the use of technology in the classroom. Some of this innovation effect is not limited to just Spain but crosses its borders. As an influential country in the Spanish-speaking world, there is still much more to do, and we see a huge potential to develop this market and support the educational technology sector so that it’s not left behind.
Raúl Otaolea is the cofounder and CEO of WiMi5, a Spanish startup that has developed an online tool to create web-based video games. Previously, he created two other video game companies, and he has also been the CTO of the leading online games portal in Spain and Latin America, between 2000 and 2005. He has ample experience in creating technology for video games and is a renowned professional in the Spanish video game industry. Raúl is also the founder of the Bilbao CoderDojo, one of the first CoderDojo centers in Spain. Since 2013, Raúl has been teaching young people technologies like WiMi5, Scratch, Java, and HTML5, for free.