School break at N-TIM Academy: How science, technology, engineering and mathematics can be fun for kids?

Why children like to spend their school breaks in school?

School break spent in school is not what pupils dream about, but 80 girls and boys who took part in N-TIM Academy in Milići, saw that learning as a hobby can be fun, even if spent in school. Even the children who reluctantly accepted to spend a part of their break in school, because someone had ”enrolled” them, quickly changed their opinion and became enthusiastic about N-TIM workshops. There are not many ways to entertain for the children of Milići and its surroundings during cold winter days, but these children quickly warmed up to robotics, wire-modelling, wood-working, and origami-kirigami. Parents were also positively surprised by the skills the children acquired at N-TIM Academy after five days of training only, as well as by their enthusiasm and desire to participate in workshops.

“Children are spending time together, developing their creative thinking, and my daughter was exceptionally satisfied. As soon as she first returned home from school, she said that she was looking forward for the next day to continue working in her workshop”, says Vesna Žugić, mother of a participant of the origami workshop.

So, what is it that attracts children to spend their school breaks at N-TIM Academy? N-TIM (in English STEM): is an acronym for the terms  Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. To bring the concept of N-TIM (STEM) to the children of Bosnia and Herzegovina, enabling them to attend its practical technical training that is free-of-charge, and to be able to play while learning, this Academy was initiated – as the hobby school organized during the summer and winter school holidays. N-TIM Academy is organized by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Istanbul International Centre for Private Sector in Development (IICPSD), and the Bursa Chamber of Commerce and Industry Education Foundation (BUTGEM). The first two cycles of N-TIM Academy were first realised in Srebrenica in the summer of 2016, while the third cycle was held during the winter school break in Milići. N-TIM Academy enables children to develop new skills through educational entertainment. Educational entertainment, or edutainment, is the basis of N-TIM (STEM) concept.

“Everything that differs from standard teaching process in school suits children and they love it since there is no pressure or grading, they are more open, free and more creative in their work so that they absorb knowledge easier,” says Jelena Stjepanović, professor of fine arts and instructor of origami.

At N-TIM workshops, children play and learn many useful skills and gain new knowledge: while creating origami-kirigami paper figures, they learn the basics of descriptive geometry without the trauma that the mathematics taught in school causes in children. During workshops of robotics they assemble robots capable of performing complex operations. Both girls and boys learn how to make a car using wire-modelling, or to handle processing wood tools, and thus they overcome prejudice about toys meant exclusively for boys and for girls. The focus of workshops is on practical work, using advanced equipment and machines adjusted for work by children.

“Based on the models they assemble, children could to see how things function and they were much more motivated than at school. This method is fun in itself, since everything we do here is perceptible, concrete and tangible”, says Miloš Miholjčić, teacher of computer science and instructor of robotics.

N-TIM concept, in addition to technical training, includes also social skills and teamwork. In addition to technical skills of working with different equipment and materials, by attending N-TIM workshops, children acquire the communication and collaboration skills, as well as self-confidence in solving problems.

„N-TIM Academy is an ideal opportunity for socializing and getting to know one another. In addition to technical skills of working with different equipment and materials, by attending N-TIM workshops, children acquire the communication and collaboration skills, as well as self-confidence in solving problems “, says Sanja Kabil, Head of UNICEF Education Program in BiH.

N-TIM workshops in Srebrenica and Milići

How N-TIM Academy contributes to elimination of prejudice about “male” and “female” job?

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Today, the majority of girls go to school, and gender parity has been achieved in the primary education in BiH, but girls still do not enrol with technical schools and engineering faculties in great number. In practice, it is these schools and faculties that would ensure better-paid jobs in future. This is why N-TIM Academy tries to change this trend and increase the interest in science and technology among girls. All instructors, as well as the representatives of public sector, have noticed that N-TIM Academy has contributed to “the elimination gender stereotypes and prejudice in terms of division to male and female professions.” There were many boys who attended the origami course, and many girls who enrolled with wire-modelling and woodwork courses. Their instructors say that “there was no question raised whether something is for boys or for girls” and cite examples of girls who made wire-models of cars, and boys who were “even more motivated and engaged than girls when making bags, dresses, starts and whirligig.” This shows that N-TIM Academy contributes to gender equality by eliminating prejudice about traditionally “male” and “female” jobs.

N-TIM gender equality

How N-TIM (STEM) skills can keep the door open for technical studies and a better job opportunities in BiH?

N-TIM Academy’s main goal is to increase children’s and youngsters’ interest in technical and scientific professions, and to raise parents’ and teachers’ awareness about the importance of these professions for the future. Furthermore, at N-TIM workshops children develop the communication and collaboration skills, and gain self-confidence in solving problems. So far, 240 pupils from the 3rd to the 9th grade from the primary schools in Bratunac, Srebrenica and Milići learned new N-TIM (STEM) skills that have significantly increased their interest in technical and scientific professions. These professions are in high demand at labour market and it was the motive for launching N-TIM Academy.

The person who initiated the realisation of N-TIM Academy was Alexandre Prieto, Head of UNDP Recovery Program in the region of Srebrenica, himself an engineer, emphasizes the importance of N-TIM skills: „Education of children and youth in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics is very important because BiH must give incentives for new innovation, research and development potentials, and that is why we want to raise the interest of children and youth in N-TIM - STEM skills that would open for them new prospects for education and employment“.

Around the world, people with STEM skills have greater chances for employment and for higher income, while their work is the backbone of technological progress and economic growth in every country, BiH included. Instructors at N-TIM Academy, who work as teachers in primary and secondary schools, point out that, immediately after these workshops, children asked them how they could enrol with some technical schools. Those who attended the robotics course were interested in electrical technical school, while those who attended the wire-modelling and woodwork courses, especially those who do not achieve great results at school, asked us about vocational schools, which indicates that N-TIM (STEM) training is of relevance for preparing youth to choose their future technical professions that are in demand at the labour market.

 “At the labour market today, people with technical skills are the least represented among the unemployed, because there is a constant demand for them - in BiH as well as in Europe and the world,” says Zajim Mahmutović, wire-modelling instructor who has the experience of working both in private and in public sector.

“I think that N-TIM Academy is great, because it helps children to realise what are their options when it comes to science and technology, and what are their the choices of future profession, once they finish primary school,” says Marko Savić, Head of General Affairs Department in the Municipality of Milići.

How to provide a free-of-charge N-TIM (STEM) education for all children in BiH?

One of the most important characteristics of N-TIM Academy is that it provides an opportunity to children from poor and socially vulnerable families, whose living in rural areas and those do not have access to similar educational initiatives, to participate in workshop free of charge.

 „There are already similar educational programs in BiH, but N-TIM Academy is the first inclusive concept that offers free workshops for all children who want to acquire STEM skills,“ says Prieto.

Inclusive approach has created new STEM opportunities for children from rural areas and vulnerable families, returnee children, children whose parents are unemployed, and for all those who do not have an opportunity to pay costly courses. Centers for social work are also involved in the process; they presented to the families of their beneficiaries the possibility to enrol their children with N-TIM Academy on a free-of-charge basis. That is why, in addition to an increased interest of children for technical sciences, the social and inclusive aspect of the Academy is of key relevance for the success of this educational initiative, because it gives equal opportunities and open access to science and technology to all children.

With the launch of N-TIM Academy, the first, but significant step was made toward development of scientific and technical potentials of the youngest generation in BiH, while the next steps will depend on the degree to which other donors would recognize the importance of development of STEM skills among youth, as the backbone of long-term development of human resources and economic capacities of BiH. In 2017, UNDP BiH plans to organise new workshops of N-TIM Academy in other towns of BiH, extend the training program to secondary schools and involve more actively the representatives od public and private sector in the continuation of the initiative. However, this will depend on the readiness of potential new partners to support free education of children and youth in key scientific, technical, engineering, mathematical and social skills that are of relevance for their successful future educational and professional development, as well as for the development of BiH as the society of knowledge and innovation. 


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