Made for Kids: Enterprising Culture’s Tech Discovery Day Highlights the Future of Education

By Eric Weiss ● November 01, 2018 10:30

The third annual Enterprising Culture in Toronto on Friday, October 12 set out to explore the concept of wisdom in a digital age. Presented by the Canadian Film Centre ‘s Media Lab (CFC Media Lab) and the Cultural Service of the Embassy of France in Canada, speakers posed critical questions about hidden dangers in modern technology. They asked guests to consider the potential impact of new ideas, and address the challenges of finding broadly applicable and sustainable long-term solutions. If digital wisdom is the ability to use technology responsibly, how do we share those lessons to benefit society? How do we pass that wisdom on to the next generation?

These questions gave this year’s Enterprising Culture forum in Toronto a strong educational focus, and prompted a new addition – Made for Kids: Tech Discovery Day. On Thursday, October 11, a group of Enterprising Culture’s organizers and participating startups went to Gabrielle-Roy Elementary School in Toronto to showcase their latest projects for a group of grade four students. Like the conference itself, the Made for Kids: Tech Discovery Day gave its audience a chance to experience groundbreaking new technologies, and encouraged them to use that technology more humanely.

A man stands in front of a group of children sitting in a gymnasium. In the background other adults stand along the wall of the gym next to pull up banners and tables with monitors.

“Education is key for the development of a person. We should keep being educated all life long,” said Sauveur Menella, the head of brand and communications for BNP Paribas Canada. BNP Paribas is one of the partners who has been involved in all three Enterprising Culture forums, and who sponsored Made for Kids: Tech Discovery Day specifically. He saw the educational focus this year as an opportunity to expand the scope of the conference.

“We wanted to have more young people involved because they are part of the digital world,” says Menella.

Tiffany Fukuma, cultural attaché at the French Embassy in Toronto, added, “We had talked for a long time about opening the program to the public because we thought we were missing something, We needed to bring this to a wider audience.”

“It’s twenty-first-century education. We are trying to show kids the benefits of technology,” Karima Foul noted, the principal of Gabrielle-Roy Elementary School. “It’s like any other subject. If we teach kids how to behave, they will know how to use it and it will benefit them.”

Barry Patterson, the director of marketing and communications for Masterpiece VR, a software suite that allows users to collaborate on artistic projects in VR, attended the event. “People are going to create content and work together, so it’s important for them to be exposed to it. It’s already part of their language and how they interact in the world today. It’s a glimpse of what is happening and what will be their futures.”

A girl stands in front of a tv screen while wearing a VR headset. Another girl stands behind her and a man stands next to them holding a cord connected to the headset.

For the children engaging in demos first-hand, the immediate appeal of a Tech Discovery Day is obvious. They get out of class for an hour to draw and play video games in the gym. The recreational hook is precisely what made the demos so effective. They let the kids see how things that seem like fun toys can just as easily be used for more productive ends.

“It’s important for kids to be aware that new technologies are not just gadgets, but also tools,” Fukuma said. “They can be educational. They can access culture. France is a twenty-first-century country. We promote works done by women. We promote diversity. Maybe they will find inspiring works and become developers, designers, animators.”

The lineup at Tech Discovery Day featured several startups that exemplify that forward-thinking philosophy, like MasterpieceVR and Dowino, a French game developer that makes socially conscious games like Glucozor, which teaches children how to manage diabetes. Both are interactive attempts to prepare children for the world they will encounter as adults.

“They’re not just using the computer to play games or watch YouTube videos. They do that already,” said Ann Poochareon, CEO of Little Robot Friends, a company that uses miniature robots to teach children about computer programming and give them more agency in a digital marketplace. “Teaching code is the fundamental building block to that future.”

“We wanted to bring new technology to these kids to show them cool new experiences. We also wanted to open up the possibility of continuing this momentum beyond a single day with ongoing learning workshops. Little Robot Friends is the perfect opportunity for that," added one of the day’s organizers, Nataly DeMonte, the associate director of CFC Media Lab.

A group of kids sit along a purple table and in front of each of them is a laptop. One man stands behind of the table while a woman is at the end of the table talking to a girl.

Poochareon believes that coding will be an essential life skill that will allow us to maintain a vital human element in an increasingly mechanized society. “Our world is currently run by technology and it’s not going anywhere. Knowing how to code makes you a creator. If there are robots cleaning your house and robots driving the car, kids should not be thinking in terms of the consumer, but the creator. That’s how you get ahead of all of this impending AI doom, like robots taking all the jobs.”

“It’s important to understand how tomorrow’s generation is connected to these new technologies,” added Daniel Mamane, the head of digital development for BNP Paribas North America. “For us, it’s new. For them, it is not. It’s their day-to-day. These young people are focused on their gaming or learning about coding, and it’s reassuring.”

“When I was young, I was learning with a book and that’s it. Today they are learning with digital devices. We see the bridge between the startup ecosystem and the school. It’s important to understand that to understand tomorrow.”

In that regard, the transfer of knowledge goes both ways. The students get to see something new, while companies like BNP Paribas and startups like Little Robot Friends and Dowino get to see how people use their products. In the process, the latter get valuable user feedback that will allow them to build better, more responsive products. If you want to plan for the future, you need to know how the people in that future will navigate their environment.

Two pairs of children sit at a purple table. Each pair is looking at a tablet in front of them. A man stands between the groups.

“They pick up the technology faster, just because they have lived experience,” Patterson added. “It’s intuitive. Kids are not as bound by certain ways of doing things, so they’re the perfect audience.”

“Things have to be robust for kids,” noted Poochareon. “They teach us a lot about how they learn, and we take that into consideration.”

The outcome? A fun and informative day for kids and adults alike, who were able to witness a cool new piece of tech and the educational process itself. As Menella stressed, “Digital is reaching everybody. Young, old, each generation is impacted.”

“It’s amazing to watch a human being grow up and learn about the world,” concluded Poochareon. “We want to make sure these little humans get inspired.”

Pairing inspiration with ethical responsibility, the Tech Discovery Day gave kids a healthier, more constructive relationship with the tools at their disposal and highlighted digital literacy, suggesting that education can unlock wisdom for present and future generations alike. 

Three children sit at a table with laptops in front of them. The child sitting in the middle is smiling widely and the boy next to him is cheering with his arms in the air.

Photos by Brian de Rivera Simon.