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Nanolab VR Application Wins Education Innovation Competition

This is the first project in the five-year history of the competition that is not directly related to social issues. The project’s authors will receive a travel grant and the opportunity to present their start-up anywhere in the world.

This year, the final round of the Education Innovation Competition was held as part of the Open Innovations international forum in Skolkovo. 503 projects from 20 countries took part in the competition. The semi-finalists had the opportunity to upgrade and finalize their ideas at the Summer School of the Education Innovation Competition, where they could consult with experts in PR, marketing, education and business. According to Diana Koroleva, Director of the competition and Director of Centre for the Study of Educational Innovations, most projects in the competition are typically dedicated to continuing education. ‘Innovative projects demonstrate trends that exist today, they find hot spots and topical issues that are relevant to modern education,’ says Koroleva.

For the first time, the jury this year included international experts: Marques Anderson, founder and CEO of the World Education Foundation; Maciej Jakubowski, Director of the Evidence Institute; Gábor Halász, Professor at Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE); and Andreas Schleicher, Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Nanolab, a virtual reality molecular set project from Moscow, won the contest. This is a VR application that enables children or adults to assemble simple nano-parts and nano-devices from atoms and see how they work using the basics of chemistry and physics. Danila Medvedev, a futurologist who is the author of the idea and project manager, said that the project focuses on developing technical intuition in children and preparing future nanoengineers from school. ‘20-30 years ago, we all heard about the potential of nanotechnology. We were promised that hybrid nano- and bio-systems, nano-factories, and nano-robots would be created, but this has not happened yet. We decided to take a new generation and teach them to do it,’ says Medvedev.

The developers believe that the application can supplement school chemistry lessons, although even if it’s not included in the school programme, anyone can download the application and use it in their free time. Due to the universal nature of chemical science, the product does not require localization and can be issued in different countries.

A working prototype has already been developed and demonstrated to students, and the developers have reached an agreement with Professor Artem Oganov from Skoltech to work on the app and its application at the Institute laboratory. Members of the jury advised that the developers contact representatives of teaching universities to discuss the possibility of implementing the project in the school programme and to consider creating an offline set based on the application.

For the third time the Rybakov Foundation served as the competition partner and co-organizer. ‘We look forward to start-ups aimed at innovations in education, because it seems that such start-ups can make a qualitative leap that we all expect and that determines our future,’ says Ekaterina Rybakova, Chairman of the Foundation and one of the jury members.

In addition to many educational projects, the Foundation is developing the Equal Opportunities programme, which is intended for teachers engaged in inclusive education, and parents of children who require a special approach. Ekaterina Rybakova gave a special prize within the framework of this programme to the team from Ekaterinburg that is creating graphic design for teaching materials for use with children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They also received a special prize from Gábor Halász, Professor of the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), who remarked, ‘You work in a field where innovations can work wonders, so I’m glad that I’ve learned about your project and I wish you success in developing it further, perhaps by including digital components. I think you can make great progress in this field.’

Just before the contest final, during the project pitching, a session called ‘Synergy Model. Creating Innovative Education Environment’ was held. Russian and international experts discussed problems that start-up founders are likely to face in the future: how innovative projects and government structures interact, how to integrate into the existing education system and what conditions are necessary for the effective existence and development of educational start-ups.

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