Please briefly present yourself.
“Briefly” is always complicated. I will try. My name is Ana Stamatescu, I am 28 years old and I have been volunteering and working in education and youth NGOs for more than 10 years now. I have a BSc in Automatic Control and Applied Informatics and a MSc in Business Management. My whole life revolves around technology and civil society and I wouldn’t have it other way! I love traveling, outdoor sports and I am currently volunteering for an NGO that protects and studies Romanian bats.
What is your expertise in the field of digital education?
In 2015, I was involved in the development and growth of a Romanian start-up that was focused on delivering online and offline education programs. The venture consisted both of an online store/marketplace and a software for creating your own multimedia content and e-learning courses. The next year, I took on a part-time role as an Ambassador for Europe Code Week, a grassroots initiative supported by the European Commission as part of its strategy for a Digital Single Market. Now entering in its 7th edition, Europe Code Week focuses on how programming and technology can boost creativity, problem solving skills and collaboration in any field and at any age.
Since August 2016, I can say I have truly found my dream job at Asociația Techsoup. Through our programs and initiatives, we create meaningful interactions with technology for youth and educators and we strive to offer as many technology-based tools as possible to boost the amazing civic work Romanian NGOs do. Currently, I manage NGO Online: the first digital school exclusively created for NGO employees and volunteers, and Meet and Code: a micro-granting program for NGOs to help them build technology and coding events during Europe Code Week.
What do you think is the level of digital skills among young people in Romania?
If we are talking about big urban areas in Romania, I think the level is improving (I wouldn’t say just yet “good”), but in small urban and rural areas, the level of digital skills among young people is low because of a mix of reasons. Among these reasons: language barriers (as a lot of resources are in English), lack of specific trainings and funding in schools (the first stage where young people start acquiring digital skills) and also old school mentalities.
Do you think that teachers and youth workers are fully equipped to integrate ICT tools in their work?
First of all, I think no one can be “fully” equipped in a world where technology evolves and changes so fast. Between teachers and youth workers, I would say that teachers are the least equipped to integrate ICT tools in their work. A lot of attention is being paid to students, what they learn and what they do, but too little focus is put on what teachers have to learn and the need to adapt their way of teaching. For example, although the computer science curricula in Romania was changed and upgraded in the past 2 years for the 5th and 8th grades, the government failed to also train teachers to implement the curricula. A very insignificant number of teachers (compared to the total) actually received some kind of training. The good part is that more NGOs are starting to address this issue and provide alternative solutions and resources to help teachers.
Based on your experience, what would be the biggest obstacle for the youth workers who want to exploit all the potentials of digital education?
I think that nowadays you have most of the resources you need just some clicks away, on the world wide web. The problem and biggest challenge in my opinion would be time: how you manage your time in order to find and reach those resources that best fit your needs and learning objectives. After finding them, making the time to understand and apply them in your work, seeing what works and what not and iterate again. I often find myself feeling sad whenever I hear: “I don’t have time to do that.” (“that” being something which would bring great value and benefits). I truly believe that one should have their priorities very clear in mind and make time for learning, exploring, networking and exchanging experiences: digital and non-digital.
How is the digital „revolution” affecting youth organizations and youth workers in your opinion? What is the future of NGOs from this perspective?
I think digital resources and technology in general are starting to be seen as more and more accessible and much needed in youth organizations and by youth workers. And that is a very good thing. You couldn’t say that some years ago. I see this shift mostly through our programs at Asociația Techsoup. For example, the number of enrolled NGO employees and volunteers (from a very wide range of domains) in our digital trainings that don’t necessary have a technical background has gone up visibly. The interest in our main program for NGOs that provides professional software and cloud services from global tech partners has also increased in the past years. So the future looks good: Romanian NGOs are using digital tools to improve their projects’ management, communication, funding and capacity building. Of course, there is constant work, outreach and awareness to build and to do.