Being authentic is the best way to connect and learn with the students, and don’t be afraid if they learn faster than you because many of them will.” – José Ignacio Fernández, Chile

This week, Microsoft and the British Council are recognizing three outstanding Young Education Leaders  from around the world who have contributed significantly to the development of globally aware, globally competitive young people through the innovative use of technology in education.

The award, which is being presented at the Education Leaders Briefing this Wednesday, is for individuals who have made an impact in solving a non-commercial problem within the education space, using technology not only within their institution, but also on a wider, more systemic level – either nationally or internationally. Today, I’m very proud to introduce one of those winners, José Ignacio Fernández.

Fernández, an informatic engineer from the Chilean capital, helped lead the development of a robotics championship for his country’s high school students. Starting with a few hundred participants in 2005, the program now boasts more than 1,200 competitors who form the national FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team, known as Corazón de Chileno. As the team’s mentor, Fernandez plays an instrumental role in promoting STEM education in his country, and in shaping the lives of future leaders.

A passionate proponent of STEM subjects, Fernández has used Kinect and other gameful learning approaches to spark excitement in his students. The results speak for themselves: Although many of the program’s participants are from economically disadvantaged households, 95 percent continue their studies at the university level after completing the program, and more than half of those go on to study in the STEM fields.

Here, Fernández shares what he’s learned over the course of his journey, and the important role students have played in what he considers his greatest achievements. Join me in celebrating Young Education Leader José Ignacio Fernández.

Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?

My professional achievements inspire me to be a better person and inspire my students to achieve more complex goals. Many of my professional achievements have been achieved with my students, and maybe that is the most innovative way to educate. For example, we built a robot that plays basketball, controlled by Kinect technology.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

The changes are in the vision of the students and the goals that they want to achieve after they complete the program. When you have students with self-esteem, bullet-proof from failure, you are changing the innovation culture and creating a strong community able to make the important changes that society needs.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

First, they must build a community. Without a community that behaves like a family, you can’t meet better and more exciting challenges. Second, focus the work on the effective learning process — not on evaluating the results. If we teach something that others can’t understand, we must adapt our teaching process to the learning process of every student. It is hard, but very gratifying at the end of the process. And third, attack every activity as a process, not as a state. We always evaluate the results, not the way that the students obtain those results, and for me that is more important.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

We use all kinds of technology, like Kinect to move a robot, sensors to evaluate the environments, 3D printers, 3D CAD software, programming software, etc., and we use them in projects that require multidisciplinary teams like electronics, mechanics, programming, 3D design, logistics, administration of resources, etc.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

The biggest obstacle to overcome is the mediocre vision of education authorities, parents and some educators.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

I am not sure if the region is doing well; the teaching processes are the same as 40 years ago and in technology fields, students learn outside the school. The real innovation is not inside the schools, and there must be places where students can start innovating and creating.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

The new kind of kids! They are technology natives and we must challenge them all the time. They are curious and have a good disposition to learn new things.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Be yourself. Being authentic is the best way to connect and learn with the students, and don’t be afraid if they learn faster than you because many of them will.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

The trend that I like is constructivism and if it is systemic, that is even better.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

Imagination. That is the unique tool that can give you everything!

To see more on team Corazón de Chileno in action, go to:

About José Ignacio Fernández

  • Birthplace: Santiago, Chile
  • Current residence: Santiago, Chile
  • Education: Colegio del Verbo Divino and Universidad Andrés Bello
  • Website I check every day: National news and finances pages.
  • Person who inspires me most: The students that work with me, mentors from FIRST Robotics Competition Community.
  • Favorite childhood memory: Not sure, I had a great childhood and many great memories.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): London, to the World Education Forum, and Los Angeles, to compete in the Regional Event of that city in the FIRST Robotics Competition. Both for work and both for pleasure.
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? I laugh all the time, especially working with technology to create new stuff that can help people to solve their (or our) problems.
  • Favorite book: I do not have any favorite, but the unique novelist that I like to read is Frederick Forsyth.
  • Favorite music: Latin music, like Cumbia, Vallenato, Sound, Merengue, etc.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: From my father: “There is always time for everything and for everyone, you just must to be ready for it.” He practices it daily, and I am still in training!

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One Response to Being authentic is the best way to connect and learn with the students, and don’t be afraid if they learn faster than you because many of them will.” – José Ignacio Fernández, Chile

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