How Nenad Bakić Introduced STEM Revolution to Croatian Schools

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How Nenad Bakić Introduced STEM Revolution to Croatian Schools

Telegram brings a detailed story about how Nenad Bakić brought STEM revolution to Croatian schools.

"Revolution in Education", as Nenad Bakić calls his Croatian Makers project, started three years ago. This week, on September 6, it was announced that all six-graders will soon be programming using microcomputers, so on September 8, 2017, Telegram published a detailed story about how the project came to life.

Bakić's mission was a success. His plan to introduce digital literacy among children was supported by the Ministry, and CARNet is going to acquire 45,070 microcomputers, which is enough for an entire generation. Teachers will be given microcomputers and Bakić's IRIM (Institute for Development and Innovation Youth) will be in charge of educating them, funded by the Croatian Employers' Association. Microcomputer procurement will be financed by the Ministry of Science and Education.

Teacher told him to 'stop asking stupid questions'

The story actually began in the summer of 2014. Bakić was in Hvar, with his wife Rujana and two daughters. He was sitting on a terrace googling. On one page he ran into a semi-professional drone, DJI Phantom Vision 2+.It was a gadget that he had wanted for a long time. It cost about 10 thousand kunas. "I've always loved gadgets, but I wasn't able to afford them for a long time. When I was young, I did not have enough money, when I got older, there was no time," he says. On that day, he realized that such gadgets, which were used in military technology a few years before, became available to everyone on the Internet. He immediately ordered one. The drone arrived in two days from Germany to Zagreb, and it took five more days for it to reach Hvar. As soon as he unpacked it, he tried to fly it, but it wasn't successful. In that first attempt, the drone hit his leg. It remained undamaged, but Mr Bakić was left with a pain in his knee for days to come.

"Croatia has waited a long time to become part of a developed world. That day I finally became aware that this huge gap in technology and content has disappeared," he recalls.

Bakić was a very curious child. When he was in fourth grade, his teacher was telling them about the states of water. She explained that water turns to ice at 0 and evaporates at 100 degrees. A week later, the next lesson was the hydrological cycle. The teacher said that water evaporates from a river or lake and then goes to the sky. Little Nenad raised his hand and asked, "Teacher, I'm not sure I understand. How can water evaporate when the temperature in rivers does not reach 100 degrees?“ The teacher interrupted him and told him to sit down: "My god, Bakić, you are asking stupid questions again." Bakić says that this concept of 'stupid questions' is the biggest problem in today's education system as well.

The moment they saw the true potential of the project

Thirty years after this event, kids in schools are still being taught unnecessary material that they do not understand or can't apply in real life. "In the summer of 2014, Croatia was in the middle of discussing the poor state of education in the country. Everyone seemed hopeless as if nothing could be done about it," he recalls. In the meantime, the so-called Makers movement developed in the world - Bakić calls it the "21st century DIY movement” - which hasn't really caught on in Croatia. The Bakićs then came up with a strategy. Nenad sat down at his computer and announced that he was launching a new initiative on his Eclectica blog. "My idea is to fund and set up a number of youth innovation centres, for 12 to 18 year-olds, who would, with the guidance of experts, work on various projects, from automation, robotics, and avionics for which you can easily find ideas and blueprints on the Internet," he wrote on the blog.

He also invited all schools and associations in Croatia that deal with computers and robotics to come to contact him. He announced that he would donate programming equipment to them. He bought 10 thousand EUR worth of equipment. The following day, 20 people responded, mostly heads of associations who were already involved in robotics, who needed modern equipment to work.

The number of queries grew, as did the collaboration with teachers. In the fall of 2014, the Bakićs founded the IRIM association and defined the rules for conducting the association's projects and financing the equipment. That's how Croatian Makers came to life. When IRIM launched its first systematic project - Croatian Makers robotic league, in 2016, in addition to donating equipment developed knowledge and organisation, that's when the project started growing rapidly. It is imagined as a uniform and simple competition across the country, which takes place locally and is closely related to regular classes. Bakic was initially planned to donate 200 robots to 30 Croatian schools.

In the first two years, he bought 1200 robots for 220 schools

One morning at the end of 2014, Nenad Bakić was riding his bike in Zagreb when he had the idea that the money in his account is actually an abstract concept. As an entrepreneur and investor, he had enough funds to finance the project. "I knew that I would not become poor if I gave away HRK 200 thousand that I wasn't planning on spending on myself anyway," he says. In the first two years of the project, Bakić invested his private money in Croatian Makers, buying 1200 robots for 220 Croatian schools. Later, other donors joined the story.

The entrepreneur was aware of the risk. He knew that donating equipment to unknown people was a risk because there was no guarantee that they would use the equipment. They could have ordered it out of curiosity and then leave it on the shelves. However, almost all professors and associations recognized the value of the projects and started implementing them. The most significant program during the past three years was the Croatian Makers Robotics League. Currently, it has over 360 schools and other institutions from all over the country. IRIM has invested 1,800 robots, or mBots, in the project.

The second major IRIM project is the STEM Revolution. The goal of this project is introducing a microcomputer in all schools, and money was raised through a massive crowdfunding campaign. 2500 donors responded, collecting about $ 400,000 in 20 days. IRIM has developed a large network of lecturers who have had lectures across the country and introduced new schools to their projects. The association also came up with the STEM Car, a modern version of the former bibiliobus, in which instructors travel through Croatia and organize robotics workshops for beginners.

A teacher who learnt programming and robotics

It was the end of 2014 when a teacher from Rajić, near Novska, contacted Nenad Bakić's associate, Vlado Lendvaj. Ms Mira Čuvidić had admitted to Lendava that she knew nothing about robotics and programming, but she wanted to get her school involved in this project. In the following month, IRIM taught her and she started a robotics group. Her students soon developed a great project. They dressed a robot in folk costume, then programmed it to dance in line with children who also wore costumes.

She was sure they would finish last, but her group ended up winning at one competition they participated in. "The future has come to the village of Rajić," she wrote in an email to Mr Bakić.

Nenad Bakić was born in 1966 in Sisak. Soon he moved to Zagreb with his parents and brother, where he finished MIOC (a secondary school in Zagreb specialising in IT and computers), and then studied Mathematics. He continued working in the academia until he was 30 and spent a year in America. Then, very soon after the end of the Homeland War, he thought that the country would develop quickly, so he came back to Croatia. In 1996, he quit his job and founded his first company. It wasn't particularly successful, but he managed, and later, he founded MojPosao, an employment website.

In 2007, he sold MojPosao to Daily Mail and General Trust Group, which was the largest regional transaction related to an Internet business at the time.

Beginning of Croatian Makers League

After selling MojPosao, Bakić continued with his other two businesses; Selection for headhunting and Electus for temporary employment.

Bakić says that IRIM has had a surprisingly easy breakthrough in the country. The association's policy from the beginning was that they would not impose themselves. They always waited for schools and associations to apply for their competitions.

What the kids did with their micro:bits

Twin brothers Dominik and Mihael Lovrić made a model of a house and using micro:bits, they came up with an energy-saving project. Their mentor Hrvoje Ćosić explained the process: "They programmed the micro:bit so that it measures the temperature in the house, and depending on it, turns the heating on and off. Boys came up with a clever light switch for rooms such as a cellar or a basement."10 minutes after you turn on the light, there will be a sound signal that the light is still on. If you don't press a button within a minute, the light will turn off automatically and warn you that it is still on.

BM Wireless Association from Beli Manastir came up with an irrigation system. It works so that the micro:bit will send an impulse to the pump when the humidity of soil is lower than 40 percent. Students from Technical School of Bjelovar used micro: bits to design a smart greenhouse. The sides of the greenhouse are raised when the wind is strong and the light turns on when the system detects that plants need a certain level of permanent lighting. When the temperature drops so much that it can cause plants to freeze, the greenhouse will turn on the heating.

Vedran Menđušić from Zrinski primary school in Nuštar says the children's interest is huge.20 of them spend four hours at the school each Saturday to prepare for the Croatian Makers League competition. "They genuinely love it and it encourages their talent. It directs them towards programming, which has a future in Croatia," says Professor Menđušić. Describing the circumstances in which he works, he adds that 14 children left Bartol Kašić School in Vinkovci this year because they moved abroad with their parents.

Why he has no real estate and has an old car

For the past nine months, Bakić has mostly been focused on the STEM revolution, a project within which he plans to introduce microcomputers in all Croatian schools. Micro:bit , he says, is exciting, new, and inexpensive technology developed by the BBC, Microsoft and other partners. Apart from STEM, it can also be used in design, art and other subjects.

He calls STEM revolution a practical reform in the school system. He says that the state will have to pay 700 thousand euros for it. "It's more or less the same price as a large house in a good neighbourhood in Zagreb," he explains. He says he realised a long time ago that he did not want to invest in real estate, mostly because he wanted his family to be mobile. He also considered leaving Croatia, mainly because of the education of his two daughters, but also because of an unfavourable social climate. In addition, he has realised that a smarter way to invest money was equity and not real estate. That's why he still lives as a tenant.

He uses his bike around Zagreb and the family owns two cars, one is eight and the other ten years old. "Of course I can afford a new car or a house. But at one point I realized that my family lives well like this and that we can change a lot using our money," he explains. "I do not determine how much money I will spend on a project. I act as if I had an unlimited budget, but on the other hand, I consider how I'm going to spend every kuna five times. IRIM is not stingy but efficient," says Bakić.

His biggest business failure

He says that his biggest source of income in the past few years were investments in funds and big Croatian companies. He calls himself a long-term investor because he invests in companies in which he recognises deep values, regardless of their stock-market value.

On Tuesday it was announced that he drastically increased his shareholding in Đuro Đaković Group, which now amounts to 18.82 percent of the company. As his greatest business failure, Bakić cites an investment in Petrokemija. "Because of two bad politicians, primarily the prime minister at the time, who did not want to mess with a small interest group, the country lost about 500 million kuna," he claims. "It is not possible to avoid doing business with the state in Croatia, which has, unfortunately, cost me an arm and a leg."

His companies are currently managed by other managers, and, along with his blog, he has devoted himself entirely to the Croatian Makers project." Of course, I have also sought support for my project during several previous governments. Minister Barišić showed no interest, but Minister Divjak finally recognized our value," he says. In April this year, he was appointed Advisor to the President for Digital Transformation and STEM. "I do not have an office there, I only come when the president needs me to create opinions and communication in the area I'm in charge of," he explains.

'Only children can change the perspective of adults'

He claims he has no classical political ambitions. He refused an offer to join the Government at one point. "I do not want to have my own party. I have no formal political ambitions, but I find that my actions are still deeply political," he explains.

He calls himself a cultural entrepreneur who wants to change the country's mentality. "Adults in Croatia are hopelessly oriented to the past. First, we've all wondered where we were in 1991, and then we moved on to 1941. Only children, he thinks, can change the perspective of adults.

"The parents of children who are interested in programming will once ask where their children are going to end up in. Are they going to move away? Then they will finally stop dealing with the past and devote themselves to more serious topics, and the educational system of this country is the most important one."