There is a lot of talk going around for quite some time about how Taiwan’s test-driven education is not benefiting its youth, but efforts to innovate the system are scarce. Two British educator-turned-entrepreneurs decided to take a shot at solving the problem with the power of creative technology. They believe Taiwan is the right place to start their private academy as a way to test their new concept.
Situated at the heart of Tianmu, an upscale neighborhood in Taipei, Skyrock Projects is an educational technology startup that aims to accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies in mainstream education.
Originating from a conversation between Simon Thomas and Tony Cornes, two former high school teachers at the Taipei European School, Skyrock Projects aim to help students learn different skills and discover the creativity around them.
“Initially, we thought we would teach science and math in the most innovative way possible,” said Thomas. “But the more we looked into it, the more we saw a need for creativity. We hope to give students the tools to think creatively, and we saw it could include all of the fun stuff, the technology, art, and engineering. Science and math were just the core principles.”
Triggered by the lack of room for creative projects within Taiwan’s conventional education system, Thomas and Cornes said they have no choice but to look into the private sector for creating this model.
“One of the reasons why we are doing this is because we couldn’t do it within mainstream education,” said Thomas. “There is no room to maneuver within conventional education. Someday, we hope to create something that can be applied to conventional education.”
A Training Ground for Creative Technologist
Skyrock Projects offers a variety of creative technology courses through three different programs: Skyrock Mini, Skyrock +, and Skyrock ++. Each program exposes students to a range of core technologies, such as 3D printing, internet of things, as well as sensors and robotics. Right now, Skyrock Projects is running free summer programs for each of the core technologies for students aged 12 and up, as well as for adults and college students.
The courses not only introduce students to the basics of each core technology, but also allow them to develop their own projects based on the technological skills they have acquired. According to Cornes, the courses are meant to inspire students to combine art and design thinking into their technological projects.
“Students can build up a digital learning toolkit through the core technologies, which they can then apply to other projects,” said Cornes.
Thomas believes that after completing a series of creative technological programs at Skyrock Projects, students can achieve some fluency in the core technologies, and possess a creative portfolio featuring the projects that they have created. In other words, the experience will give students a more competitive edge and better ideas about their interests and potential in the future.
A Supplement to Education
To create a model that offers learning that is lacking in conventional education, Skyrock Projects designs their curriculum with the goal to accelerate the adoption of creative technology and interdisciplinary learning. To achieve that, they gathered a team of trained teachers, prepare curricula that are designed from scratch, and create the right learning environment that is optimized for creativity and original thought.
Even the classroom is designed as an open space, so parents can be part of the learning experience, and students are not confined into tight spaces looking up at the teacher at a traditional cram school in Taiwan.
“At the moment, our dream is to create this kind of micro-school, which is very different from the day to day school,” said Thomas. “It is a supplement to someone’s education, but not a substitute.”
With their model gradually coming together, Cornes thinks that Taiwan can benefit tremendously from a type of education that puts emphasis on creativity and critical thinking, instead of spending time in cram schools relearning the same material as during the day.
“Lots of students can be exposed to some cool creative thinking by doing, making and experiencing different parts of creative technology,” said Cornes. “With the exposure comes the skills and ultimately, they will learn about how these skills can really be applied.”
Thomas and Cornes plan to focus on community outreach and building partnerships with local schools during Skyrock Projects’ phase 1 development. They hope to drive the discussion about the future of education through regular meetups or breakfast clubs, while holding workshops with public schools to help them understand Skyrock Projects’ model.
“Schools can see how we do it and judge for themselves whether they think this is a model that they can adapt or not,” said Thomas. “We would like to show them what we can do instead of just telling them why they should do it our way.”
A City for Entrepreneurship
For entrepreneurs like Thomas and Cornes, Taipei is a city that allows them to grow their dreams while not having to worry too much about running out of resources. The affordable nature of Taipei gives them the space and time to think creatively, which is what they need to create the right model for Skyrock Projects.
“I think Taipei is great for entrepreneurship,” said Thomas. “It allows us to plan for the intermediate term and long term, instead of having to adopt short term thinking. Besides, nobody in this city is ever too busy to meet, whereas in other big cities, an appointment can be pushed back for weeks.”
For an entrepreneur who is building his second startup in Taipei, Thomas is glad to see Taiwan’s growing interest in building an ecosystem for startups.
“When I started my Dachi Tea Co. three years ago, the support system or events weren’t really there,” said Thomas. “There are now lots of media attention surrounding startups, and I hope all of these early stage efforts can come together to create a mature ecosystem.”
For now, he and Cornes will continue to focus on strengthening Skyrock Projects, while starting to think about their next step.
“We want to make sure that this center and the team we have here are absolutely perfect,” said Cornes. “And maybe we can think about the possibility of expanding to new markets, but for now, it is all about perfecting the model here. We will work very hard to make this an outstanding micro-school.”
(Feature photo of Skyrock Projects, by Ta Yang Hsu)
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