“When my son Charles was in 2nd grade, I overheard him talking to his friend about computer games. The two of them asked each other the question’ where do they actually come from, and his friend answered with conviction with ‘Well, from the Internet!’ That was the initial spark for me to launch the MINT offering with the Calliope Mini at his elementary school, which was presented at the IT Summit Elementary Schools in 2016,” explains Heike Wilson, Managing Director of DUALIS GmbH IT Solution.
Heike Wilson felt that the existing all-day offerings at her son’s elementary school were only partially effective – especially when it came to acquiring digital skills. The entrepreneur says: “Digital competence will be essential for our future employees. It is therefore enormously important to lay the foundation in the first years of school. A programming course, for example, allows children to approach programming in a playful way and gain their first sense of achievement. Moreover, in addition to creativity, logical thinking is also promoted, both of which are important skills for the future.”
Even after her son left elementary school, Heike Wilson still holds the course once a week with children in the 3rd and 4th grades at the Benjamin Geissler Elementary School in Liebstadt, Saxony. She is convinced that in this way, the children’s fear of contact is taken away at an early stage. Girls and boys can thus gain their first sense of achievement, which will make it easier for them to access STEM offerings in higher grades. Since the program is readily available, the idea arose to scale it across Saxony together with other coaches, companies, supporters and interested elementary schools. The foundation stone for the PROGTA (PROgrammierenGTA) project, which has now been launched as a joint initiative of Saxony’s largest industry association Silicon Saxony e.V., where Heike Wilson as a member of the board is particularly committed to the topic of promoting young talent, and the Landesverband Sächsischer Jugendbildungswerke e.V. (LJBW) was laid.
Programming made easy for children
Central element of the MINT all-day offer PROGTA (“Programming with the Calliope Mini”) is a small learning computer. The “Calliope Mini” was developed for educational purposes and is intended to enable children to engage creatively with digital technologies. It teaches them in the first steps how to give instructions to a computer themselves using programming blocks. The teaching materials contain projects, experiments and games that are easy for children to understand and implement, such as the automatic scooter light, the mental trainer or classic games like scissors, stone, paper.
Marcus Kotte, executive director of the LJBW, says: “The LJBW is committed to equal opportunities for children and young people. Basic knowledge in programming is a step on the way to move safely and maturely in a world characterized by networking and automation. Programming with the Calliope Mini is literally child’s play and can therefore be learned quickly. Pupils are thus given the chance to benefit from an education in the digitally shaped world. And this is independent of their gender or the financial means of their parents.”
Matching platform to bring coaches and schools together
“The STEM all-day program is to be offered at 100 elementary schools in Saxony over the next two years. However, there is often a major shortage of teachers at publicly funded schools and a lack of corresponding IT specialists. The project is therefore to be implemented through sponsorships from companies for elementary schools. Volunteer coaches from Saxon companies are to be recruited for this purpose,” explains Lutz Hoffmann, who is responsible for implementing PROGTA at Silicon Saxony e.V. The association is recruiting coaches from its more than 450 members – which includes educational institutions.
“Together with our patron Heike Wilson, the idea was born at the beginning of 2022 to look for such volunteer coaches in the ranks of our member companies and to bring them together with elementary school. There is already close cooperation with the Dresden school authority, for example. But we don’t just want to establish the project in major Saxon cities, we also want to have a targeted impact in rural areas,” explains Katrin Meusinger, specialist advisor at Silicon Saxony e.V.
Dr. Katrin Düring, head of the Dresden Schools Office, says: “PROGTA is a project that enjoys my full support. It promotes in its work the so-called new competencies that are becoming increasingly important in our schools, such as communication, problem solving, resilience, collaboration, as well as the critical use of technology.”
New funding guideline enables implementation on a statewide level
The Free State of Saxony is also making an important contribution. This has adopted a new funding guideline at the end of 2022. The funding from the “Initiative Digitale Schule Sachsen” guideline can be used to support project ideas such as PROGTA for extracurricular projects. The aim is, on the one hand, to prepare students for digitization in working life and, on the other hand, to cushion the foreseeable shortage of skilled workers in the field of IT-related professions and motivate more young people to make a corresponding career choice in the future.
“Everyone is talking about digital education, but the great need will only be met in a timely manner jointly and through clever cooperation between schools and business,” explains patron Heike Wilson. So far, 10 Saxon schools, for example in Dresden, Bautzen and Görlitz, are already participating, and their offerings are covered by coaches from Saxon companies such as Carl Zeiss Digital Innovation GmbH, DAS Environmental Expert GmbH and Communardo Software GmbH.
René Reichardt, Managing Director of DAS Environmental Expert GmbH and Saxon Entrepreneur of the Year 2023, says: “As a company, it is also our responsibility to independently support children’s education. I would like to encourage everyone to participate in the project. It’s challenging and at the same time it makes you happy and satisfied.”
About DUALIS GmbH IT Solution
Founded in 1990, DUALIS GmbH IT Solution – a subsidiary of iTAC Software AG and part of the Dürr Group – specializes in the development of software and services related to simulation, process optimization and production planning. The product range includes the GANTTPLAN APS system, the Visual Components 3D simulation platform and the AREAPLAN hall planning tool. DUALIS products are integrated in numerous well-known applications in large-scale industry and in medium-sized companies in the production and service sectors. Consulting and services for strategic and operational planning round off the DUALIS range of services.
The Dürr Group is one of the world’s leading machinery and plant manufacturers with distinctive expertise in the fields of automation, digitalization and energy efficiency. Its products, systems and services enable highly efficient and sustainable manufacturing processes in various industries. The Dürr Group primarily supplies the automotive industry, producers of furniture and wooden houses, and the chemical, pharmaceutical, medical products and electrical sectors. In 2022, it generated sales of € 4.3 billion. The company has about 18,700 employees and 123 locations in 32 countries. The Dürr Group operates in the market with the three brands Dürr, Schenck and HOMAG and with five divisions.
– – – –
Photos: DUALIS and Silicon Saxony