Fun Academy’s Future Astronaut program has been shortlisted for the Rybakov Prize and we have asked our Chairman and Co Founder Peter Vesterbacka about his thoughts on this cool project. Why on earth would we want to train children like astronauts, Peter? But first a few words about what the program actually is.
Inspired by space
The project started with our collaboration with NASA when we were working with the learning component of the Angry Birds Space game at Rovio. We’ve always been very excited by exploring space and have sensed how space exploration is universally very inspirational. Many kids want to become astronauts or are intrigued by space.
The purpose of the Future Astronauts program is to provide a Fun Learning experience for children everywhere, using astronauts as role models. Also to show that astronauts – just like children – are people too. The aim is to help children believe you can do anything, and become anything.
Action starts with the mind
The composition of the program has been designed to support the fundamental areas anyone can practice to prepare for the unknown – the future. In the program children learn to practice their MIND (with mindfulness activities), they train their BODY and the children work on a weekly MISSION.
The mission is an activity that combines Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math tasks, like a small research or experiment resembling tasks performed on the international space station. Every week children also have a TEAM challenge, practicing different forms of communication and experiencing the various team roles.
The program is based on learning-by-doing, experiential activities, followed by reflection on the process, it is very hands on. The pedagogical framework of the program follows the Fun Learning approach that we have created in Fun Academy. Fun Learning is rooted in the Finnish educational excellence with more than 50 years of educational research as the foundation.
All children need astronaut skills
Peter explains why we have chosen astronauts as the phenomenon and theme of the program and why we start with such young children: “So basically as we all know early years education is the foundation of all learning. It has the biggest impact on your life and future career.”
“From the very beginning we want to help the children understand that there is no limit to what they become, astronauts, scientists, artists or even the president. There is no reason why not. The early development affects the whole future of the child and therefore also the future of humanity.”
Peter Vesterbacka continues: “We do not want all children to become astronauts. But all children need astronaut skills. Being an astronaut is about being a creative problem solver and taking charge of your life and destiny.”
“The program is available for all: we are offering it for free to the world. We are training teachers all over the planet to deliver the program. As an example from last fall we spent a Saturday training 500 educators in the city of Dan Nang in Vietnam, so that they can distribute the program in the city and later nationwide with local training support.”
Changing the world through education
Moving from games like Angry Birds to education is not actually such a big change for Peter as he has always believed in the power of education as a way to change the world. And he believes that all people and children can and should have access to high quality education and there are similarities in the mechanisms of distribution and development of the content, be it games or learning content.
High quality in education already exists in many pockets of the world but it is unfortunately not evenly distributed. This is a severe problem Peter is committed to work on: “We don’t know about the future. The nice thing about the future though is that it is wide open and undecided, so we can actually impact it. The most important thing is that we prepare our children for what ever may become. One thing is clear: we need them to develop life skills.
The only thing that is certain is that there will be even more opportunities to be anything based on your dreams and desires. Education needs to prepare the future generations to take advantage of the upcoming opportunities and to solve the problems and challenges together.”
Respecting the child
When asked about the role of reading in our current culture and life of the children today, Peter Vesterbacka replies: “Good question. Storytelling is actually ancient – putting stories in written form is a fairly new way of sharing them. On the other hand, research does prove that reading develops for example empathy and reading longer lengths of text is good for you. It’s definitely good to read, but at the same time it’s good to also acquire other skills in the digital world. It’s important to have a healthy balance in life and so we do believe reading needs to be promoted in a positive way. With the very young children, we must also remember that caring human contact is most important. It´s all about balance.”
Peter Vesterbacka concludes the interview with his thoughts on how the Future Astronaut program sees an individual child: “We need to meet the children with curiosity, respect and interest in discovering the person they are. In Finland we believe children are people too. You treat a child like any other human you meet. And talking about education, we can learn so much from children, as they are far better learners than we are and all children are talented, unique and important in their own way.”