Fulltime HEL: Episode 7 - Mehackit
For those expecting this episode to air yesterday, sorry for the delay. For everyone else who’s listening to this podcast for the first time - welcome. The delay in production and release of this latest episode is due to my now daily language lessons.
In an effort to integrate more fully into Finland I’m learning both Swedish and Finnish. So I have Swedish five days a week and Finnish two. It may seem odd to focus on a minority language, but my wife is a native Swedish speaker, plus it’s the easier of the two. At the same time I’m also trying to learn to program.
Which brings me to today’s interview. But before that…
Welcome to episode 7 of Fulltime HEL, the podcast about startups, entrepreneurs, freelancers and co-working spaces in Helsinki, Finland. I’m your host Gregory Pellechi.
On this episode, Mehackit. Or teaching technology in high school.
I’m learning to program now, at the age of 31. I started last year with Python. Why? I can’t remember exactly, but a friend recommended an online course from Coursera which I subsequently completed. It was good. It was actually fun, and given the work I was doing at the time I could see the practical implications of knowing how to program.
Problem was, I’m discovering this 15 years too late. MeHackit, one of Finland’s most interesting startups, is trying to prevent a situation like mine from occurring in the future. Okay, maybe not prevent. But they are working to make technology, both software and hardware more accessible for students.
My family is very pro-technology, even the high school I went to was pro-technology. But there were problems with it. For one, the computer science/programming course was pushed as something math heavy it wasn’t presented as something open to all. And while I did okay in math, I was put off by the requirements. When my experience of programming so far doesn’t require extensive math skills.
We also had a technology class where we could create circuit boards from scratch, program robotic arms and do a lot of other interesting projects. Only it wasn’t available in the 11th and 12th grade because it wasn’t an International Baccalaureate subject. Students had to focus on physics and math rather than practical experience if they wanted to go into robotics, engineering or another STEM field.
Granted, things have likely changed in the 13 plus years since I’ve graduated high school. For one there are tons of available courses online at Codecdamey, Khan Academy, Udemy, the aforementioned Coursera and more. Finland even has its own options online. Right now I’m taking another course online to bolster my Python skills from the Open University and Metropolia. And as widely available as these options are, they aren’t always the best for high school students given their numerous other commitments. But things in Finland are set to change, and not just because of Mehackit.
Girls are the big thing in STEM these days, at least in the States. It seems that everyday you hear another call for more women in technology and science. And not just by making microscopes pink. Everything from how computer programming and chemistry are taught in both school and university, to the cultures surrounding STEM, and job opportunities is under scrutiny. So even though Henrietta was initially involved in Rails Girls in Finland, she didn’t seem to set out to create MeHackit with only girls in mind.
Mehackit doesn’t seem to be confronting gender and diversity issues so much as it’s getting ahead of them. By helping schools integrate technology into their lessons they show children and students that there are opportunities for them in these fields, that they aren’t just for men. And providing this training in their native language makes it more accessible then many of the other options out there that require a certain level of English.
I asked originally about languages because much of the technology and science world is conducted in English. Some schools teach various subjects in different languages in order to better integrate the students. So given Finland’s high rate of English speakers and focus of technology it seemed like the natural thing for Mehackit to do was teaching their courses in English. That as we heard will come, but so will much more as their program grows.
That hands on experience should be great for Finland’s future. Finns after all are a people inclined to do-it-themselves. Their resilience and self-reliance has gotten through tough times as a people and a nation. Mehackit is only going to add to the skills set. Plus with classes like the Arduino one, the police aren’t likely to get called to school just because a kid made a clock, like Ahmed Mohamed in Texas.