Koen Timmers is a man with passion for ‘e-learning’, his vocation. In 2000, he completed his studies by establishing his own online school: www.Zelfstudie.be. From that moment onwards he started to expand his online learning opportunities beyond the national borders. Connecting young people around the world and teaching them skills in a playful way add value to his role as a teacher. For two consecutive years, Koen was nominated for the Global Teacher Prize, an award given to the best teacher in the world.
Various projects putting in contact teachers and pupils from all over the world.
All too often, schools in our education systems focus on memorizing and passing exams, whereas too little attention is given to soft skills and empathy. By means of low-cost technology, Koen wants to connect classrooms from all over the world in order for pupils to learn from each other and gain skills from different cultural backgrounds.
I have always been interested in e-learning. When I graduated, I won the Digistudent Award for an application, which gave me the opportunity to make an educational trip to South Africa. It was the first time I had to take a plane and travel outside Europe. I saw a lot of poverty and started to feel a bond with Africa that would be important in my later decisions and projects.
Quality education in a refugee camp
Three years ago, I launched the Kakuma project. Kakuma is a refugee camp in Kenya hosting 200,000 refugees from Sudan, Congo, Burundi and other countries. After a skype interview with Moses, an employee in the Kakuma camp, I promised to help him raise the quality of education in the camp. Local teachers have to work with few resources: each class has about 150 to 200 pupils, and there is only one handbook for every five pupils. The infrastructure to realise the project was lacking, but I received assistance from FilmAid to supply electricity and an internet connection. I sent my own laptop and thanks to crowdfunding, I was able to send 20 more laptops, a solar panel and internet infrastructure.
The Kakuma project provides both material and educational assistance. By material assistance I mean the provision of textbooks, computers, etc. Educational assistance means that we provide lessons for the refugees via Skype, giving them access to quality education. Teachers from 45 different countries alternately skype twice a week with pupils in the camp to teach them mathematics, science, literature and religion. This way, the refugees not only learn basic skills, but they also exchange their experiences on customs, culture, religion and sports, thereby giving the international teachers a correct view of the young refugees’ lives. The project also inspires local teachers to teach more efficiently, for which they are grateful. For example, a Kenyan teacher borrowed money to pay for his plane ticket so that he could meet me in Dubai.
In the refugee camp Kakuma each class has about 150 to 200 pupils, and there is only one handbook for every five pupils.
Pupils worldwide in dialogue
The Climate Action project brings together pupils from 250 schools in 69 countries in order to discuss climate change. My starting point is that teachers should use more diverse ways to teach, that they should teach in a more innovative way. Climate Action draws pupils' attention to global problems and to the fact that these problems manifest themselves differently in each country. Global connection is the key element in this respect.
First, the pupils participate in all kinds of activities in their classroom: brainstorming sessions, games, searching for solutions to climate change... Then they exchange their ideas and results 'asynchronously' or 'synchronously'. They make a weekly video in which they present their views, and then I post it on the Climate Action's site. The different schools can watch each other's videos at any time (= asynchronously) and learn from them. The synchronous presentation takes place via Skype calls.
Prominent persons like Alexander De Croo and even the Dalai Lama support the project through their own channels. I then summarize this on the Climate Action website, quoting these people with regard to the project so that they can inspire even more children to pay the necessary attention to climate issues.
Climate Action draws pupils' attention to global problems and to the fact that these problems manifest themselves differently in each country. Global connection is the key element in this respect.
For two consecutive years, I was nominated for the Global Teacher Prize. In 2017 I was ranked among the top 50 best teachers in the world. Last year I even made it to the top 10. The one and only Bill Gates praised me as one of the ten best teachers in the world. At the award ceremony in Dubai, I had the opportunity to enter into a debate with the US Secretary of Education on whether or not Google is making us stupid. I won the debate.
I owe this unique experience to my projects and to the people who are doing their utmost to facilitate intercultural learning and development aid. If I ever end up winning the prize, I will invest the prize money to ensure the future of the Kakuma project and extend it to other refugee camps.