David Oreshok, CEO of Digital Learning: “Our goal is to transform computer science lessons into modern IT education courses”

In December 2021, we visited the largest in Ukraine specialized educational conference, “Synergy 2021. IT Business & IT Education,” where the IT education reform was presented, discussed the current situation, challenges, and educational opportunities of the tech industry. 

Within one of the panel, Yurii Antoniuk, Vice President of the Association, Head of EPAM in Central and Eastern Europe, emphasized the importance of cooperation between educators and business. He also mentioned the success case of a modern educational project for schools Digital Learning that helps transform the computer science lessons into up-to-date IT courses for pupils. 

We talked to CEO of Digital Learning, David Oreshok, and explored how it works, the secret of efficiency and interest by a young audience, school administrations, parents, and the potential of countrywide scaling.

TechUkraine: How, when, and why was the idea of the IT education courses for pupils born?

David Oreshok: For more than 8 years, Lviv IT School has been educating IT professionals. For that time, the local community has developed from the thousands of alumni and hundreds of teachers; a common passion unites them for modern IT. 

Then their children were born, and they would like to teach them to use modern technologies. That’s how courses for children have appeared.

Unfortunately, not every child has an opportunity to learn IT with the help of paid courses. Among the main problems:

  • Logistics: not for every parent it’s convenient to get children after classes in the evening across the city
  • Occupancy: in our time, children are studying simultaneously at school, at clubs, and in extra classes, so adding IT courses into their schedule is not that easy.
  • Finances: though the price is not so high, not every family can arrange quality IT education for their children, where truthful IT professionals teach

 At the same time, both public and private schools have Computer Science classes, where a child should be taught to use modern informational technologies. Pupils must attend these lessons, complete tasks, and get a semester grade in the end. But mainly, Computer Science (CS) doesn’t achieve this mission. There are different reasons for that; most of them come from insufficient teacher training and the absence of quality content for providing lessons.

It is a problem that we started to solve 3 years ago. Our goal is to transform computer science lessons into modern IT educational courses, quality, up-to-date, and available for every Ukrainian pupil. That’s how Digital Learning appeared.

Our teachers are freelancers in IT. He’s a specialist who teaches children in the morning and works on projects at the international freelance markets. We realize that attracting high-quality specialists is complicated, so we try to maximize the motivation of our teachers and minimize administrative work for them at school.

We also tried to teach CS teachers by ourselves. More than two thousand teachers applied for a free course, and almost 200 completed training. But this idea has failed: for most of them, there wasn’t enough practical experience, motivation, and soft skills. So we started to search for freelancers and reteach them for school studying. 

The Foundation of our studying is a program that combines calendar planning from the Ukrainian Education and Science Ministry and programs of our commercial courses.

To combine them organically, we have our own methodological center that not only creates but updates study plans according to new tools and techniques.

 That combination of teachers and quality content helps us to provide children with the knowledge of modern IT. Our main areas:

  • front-end and back-end,
  • Python,
  • UI-UX design,
  • GameDev.

At the end of the year, every student should present their project and receive a grade. By the way, children also learn how to work by Kanban, cybersecurity, soft skills, and other skills that will be helpful for them in the future.

Today already 14 schools are cooperating with us, more than 1000 students are learning our programs in Lviv, Kyiv, and Rivne. It is essential to mention that most of these schools are public.

TechUkraine: Who is the core team of Digital Learning? Key departments and structure (methodology, etc.)

David Oreshok: We’re working as a startup: a minimum number of people, as the universal soldiers with a broad scope of tasks and can easily cover each other.

There are general departments:

  • methodological – preparing content for learning,
  • operational – handling all learning processes,
  • marketing – promo of the project, and selling commercial courses.

There are managers for every department to decide strategic issues – we’re gathering together and brainstorming how to implement any project or whether we should do it. We delegate to contractors some tasks, for example, legal – it’s cheaper than employing a person, and this is an opportunity to be flexible.

TechUkraine: What are the key features of educational programs, and why does it prove high effectiveness for children? Which courses are the most popular and unique, and why?

David Oreshok: There are many quality programs, for instance, about front-end on the market, but we were just able to integrate them into CS classes without losing their quality.

If we talk about other areas – commercial courses, there is the main complexity: combining fun things with content that we want to teach children.

For example, there is a camp about video making and drones: we’re teaching aerodynamics, managing aviamodels and drones, writing scenarios, filming videos, and editing awesome videos that you can search on YouTube. Most children don’t want to edit video, but they want to film and upload it to the network. Mostly they don’t like to learn aircraft physics but want to drive them. We combine these elements on the course, giving children relevant knowledge or a career.

For years we provided a complex course LITS4TEENS. It’s 9 months of studying divided into three blocks:

  • Children learn programming in different environments,
  • develop games,
  • and improve English and soft skills.

There are a lot of courses for children: from virtual reality to graphic design. But the point is not in specific technologies. The main thing – to teach something that will be relevant after some years, because after all, they will enter the labor market and earn on their knowledge.

Though we already have children making money for new gadgets as a freelancer from school age.

TechUkraine: Based on 7 years of experience, what are the most challenging aspects while implementing and providing the project?

David Oreshok: It’s IT education, more so at the public schools. The choice of technologies, HR process and supervising teachers, cooperation with the school system are all difficult. You don’t even have where to spy because we haven’t seen a similar project. But the result is worth it – the model is scaling up, and we teach IT to more and more children.

The organization of commercial courses is easier. Most of the processes are typical for the market: course concept, hiring teachers, advertising, teaching, and pitching students’ projects.

TechUkraine: Where Digital Learning is already represented, and what is the scaling-up strategy (Ukraine, globally)?

David Oreshok: Most of the schools are located in our home town Lviv, one school in Kyiv and Rivne. We’re focused on Ukraine because we know our IT market; we actively collaborate with IT and observe a critical lack of quality tech specialists. Basically, we have created a quality foundation for IT professionals since school.

Our homeland strongly motivates us to strengthen its potential.

We can enter the global market, but in Ukraine, there are thousands of schools where millions of students are studying. It’s logical to prepare professionals for the Ukrainian tech industry that conquers global markets.

We get requests from different cities: for instance, the Rivne IT community saw our success in Lviv and invited us to his city. Together we launched a study in a local lyceum. Right now, we’re preparing new schools to launch.

We’ve launched the part of schools in Lviv in cooperation with the Lviv IT Cluster, which was also interested in our experience. In addition, we were supported by the Education Departments of Lviv and Rivne City Councils. This support strengthens trust in us and speeds up the process of growing.

Now we can run quality IT education in schools of any type of ownership in any big city of Ukraine. On average, we need three weeks for preparation, including the hiring of teachers and coordination details. All that’s required is the desire of the administration of a particular school to implement our programs.

Based on my experience, I see the tendency that most parents want to give their children quality IT education.

TechUkraine: How to share the best practices, success stories like Digital Learning, on a countrywide scale?

David Oreshok: I do not really believe in the efficiency of governmental protectionism. Rather the cooperation of private and public sectors. It’s best when we help to achieve state goals by educating children. When our dependence is more negligible – it’s better. Memorandums of cooperation are the most convenient format for joint work.

It’s best when the parents are our clients – they will control the quality of education for their children. To say more about schools implementing our programs was demanded from administration by parents who heard from their colleagues about that opportunity.

That’s why the best way to scale this experience is to inform society about our successful cases. Then parents or advanced school administration will apply to us with a cooperation proposal.

TechUkraine: What should be done to develop IT/tech education in Ukraine to become the global tech hub?

David Oreshok: New generation – it’s different. It is necessary to change the educational paradigm. On the one hand, clipping mindset and struggling with the learning of fundamental sciences. On the other hand, we ensured they could do influential projects that you don’t expect from a child. We have a boy studying in 9 grade who created and now improving his own neural network.

This generation, unlike me, was growing up with a smartphone in their hands; they don’t understand the existence of the world with limited access to knowledge. Schools, courses, and universities compete with global educational leaders, bloggers, and specialists. Meeting the problem, modern pupils are looking for answers online. They’re searching for practical and straightforward answers in comfortable and quality wrapping.

And education should become like that: oriented on practice. Education should simplify the study process but not complicate it.

It is essential to remember why and what we teach children and which opportunities we want to create for them. From the state’s point of view, maximum liberalization is needed: partnership with private business, fewer restrictions, and administrative barriers.

And most importantly – cooperation with the IT sector, because these companies need quality specialists for their development and the development of Ukraine in general.

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