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Reconciling Tech & Education: Re-live the first morning of ICT Spring’s Digital Summit

How the latest tech trends can help advance access to education was the opening topic on the first day of ICT Spring’s Digital Summit this year. Local and international speakers pooled their expertise around the idea of “Reconciling Tech & Education” during the morning conference, which took place September 14th.

No challenge is insurmountable. This is the sentiment with which Farvest Managing Directors Margaux Vetzel and Charlotte Boutelier kicked off the 12th edition of ICT Spring. It was a fitting way to begin the international tech summit, which this year hosted the largest in-person event in Luxembourg since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

They then invited Master of Ceremonies Sergio Coronado (Luxembourg Tech School ASBL) to deliver welcome words to the group assembled both online and in-person. He kicked it off by asking how we can leverage tech for education. “It’s a big subject. We see how technology is moving fast, in cycles that are difficult to follow,” he said.

To provide some initial solutions, Christopher Davey (Senior Director, Solutions Architecture, WSO2) delivered a talk titled “Managed Crowd: The Future of Business as We Know It!”. The expert said in order to leverage today’s technologies we need engage a wider audience in the problems we’re trying to solve. He highlighted examples of companies that are utilizing the crowd, such as Kickstarter, Patreon, and Wikipedia, but even more robust platforms built on smart data are needed. He encouraged the audience to find ways to start these within their own organizations. “You need the right level of autonomy with the right governance to enable you to measure and deliver the benefits you’re looking to achieve. There’s lots of exciting capabilities today—how we pull them together with a core digital platform is something we need to all focus on,” he concluded.

Solutions to one of society’s deepest challenges was the focus of the next session, presented remotely by Chris Redlitz (Managing Partner, Transmedia Capital) and Beverly Parenti (Serial entrepreneur). The husband and wife team co-founded The Last Mile, a nonprofit organization in the United States which provides technology training to incarcerated individuals, preparing them for gainful employment once released. “There’s a vast community of men and women behind bars with hopes and dreams that represent an untapped resource of talent,” Redlitz said. Parenti added that educating these individuals to fill much-needed positions in the field of tech can ensure a more successful return to society and help break the cycle of incarceration. The organization developed a curriculum teaching both technical and soft skills, as well as a learning management platform which allows students to learn to code without an Internet connection. They were pleased to report that many of the program’s graduates have been hired at large tech companies, such as Slack, Zoom, and Dropbox. Redlitz said these graduates can walk out of prison with confidence and hope. “They will no longer be judged by their worst mistake.”

“A Digital Spring for Women Entrepreneurs” was the next topic, presented remotely by Cheryl Miller Van Dÿck (Founding Director, Digital Leadership Institute), one of Europe’s 100 digital champions. Her organization aims to increase participation of girls and women in digital transformation. She asked the audience, “Is technology living up to its promise to be the ‘great equalizer’?” She presented data to suggest that there is still work to do. While there is growth in the number of women with Internet access, it is growing at a slower rate than men, and female representation in tech careers is actually on the decline. Miller Van Dÿck cited figures from Eurostat showing a 4.3% decrease in female participation in the IT field in Europe. The COVID-19 pandemic intensified this trend, as child care and other domestic responsibilities forced more women than men to leave their jobs. “It’s shocking to me because as you may know the number of tech jobs in Europe going unfilled is pushing the 1 million number in 2021,” she said. However, with initiatives to help bridge the gender digital divide, Miller Van Dÿck said women could become “Europe’s secret weapon” for a tech-fueled economy.

Priscila Chaves (photo) (Tech Ethicist & Impact Entrepreneur) continued the discussion on the future of the economy with a presentation titled “Ethical Intelligence for the Learners of the Future.” She told ICT Spring participants, “The learners of the future are us and we are at risk of losing.” Chaves explained that Generation Z, those born after 1995, are learning collaboratively on social platforms such as Tik Tok. This generation, known as Zoomers or iGen, will push learning to become more democratized. The future of learning will be social, Chaves said, with a full menu of “micro-learning” opportunities that are highly engaging. “Traditional, sit-down learning is out. Experimentation is in,” she said. Chaves posited that societal shifts in automation and e-commerce will cause some professions to die out and others to be born, showing data to suggest that this tech displacement will most affect women, younger populations and ethnic minorities. The nontraditional education models spurred by Gen Z could support millions of people out of work, she said, asking, “Can business and governments work together to provide solutions?”

Zoomer Avanti Sharma (Pre-Teen Technology Specialist, Workshop4Me) then took the stage to  share her thoughts on how an iGen would implement the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals. Supporting the world’s most violent regions, setting specific targets to minimize food waste, reducing the use of chemicals in food, and foregoing traditional assessments in exchange for group challenge-based learning exams in schools were some of her ideas for better implementation. The 14-year-old said the new model should take her generation’s views into account because “we are the ones who are going to live through this.”

Carlo Thelen (Director General, Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce) then addressed the crowd, referencing the importance of innovation and talent competitiveness in Luxembourg’s digital ecosystem, before introducing Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who delivered his speech via live stream. Bettel presented his digital agenda: To leverage Luxembourg’s most powerful technologies to tackle climate emissions, with the participation of all citizens. “We need digital access for all and digital tools to combat our climate’s emergency. I count on all of you to help us with this process,” the Prime Minister concluded.

A fireside chat between Coronado and Nicolas Brien (Chairman of the Management Board, EuraTechnologies) brought forth a conversation on how to create European tech champions, and make startups a central part of the solution to solving our greatest challenges, like climate change. “Young people spend a lot of time on phones, but they don’t know how it is made. We consume tech but we don’t actually think about tech. Clearly the key will be education,” Brien said. EuraTechnologies supports a program at the Luxembourg Tech School that teaches tech skills to students as young as 6 years old. “You can do great things with tech education with young kids,” Brien said. Interconnecting the public and private sector to create a more robust startup ecosystem is another crucial task to our future digital development, according to Brien.

The morning session ended with a round table featuring Chaves, Sharma, and Miller Van Dÿck, in addition to Sunaina Aytan (Senior Cyber Security Specialist, a STEMettes Ambassador) and moderator Aida Nazarikhorram (Co-founder and CMO, LuxAI), who addressed the central question of the day thus far: “How can we reconcile tech and education?” Supporting women’s equality in tech is key, Miller Van Dÿck said, starting with supporting women and girls to change their attitudes around STEM careers. Chaves concurred: “We need more men to understand that there is no future without inclusivity and diversity. Women are not the ones who need to uplift women alone.” For Aytan, the reconciliation between tech and education will come when every child has access to a computer and the Internet, pointing out the lessons learned from remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic: “That wasn’t the case when we needed it the most.” Avanti said people in her burgeoning generation want guidance from adults on how the economy is changing and what they will need to know in order to prosper and thrive.

Article by Johanna Sorrentino (Photo Dominique Gaul)