This computer science teacher is bringing 250 schools together to learn about climate change

Microsoft Innovative Educator Koen Timmers speaking on stage.

There’s a global issue currently at the top of mind for Koen Timmers, rising above the many projects you would expect one of the world’s top 50 teachers to be juggling. His latest labor of love is the Climate Action Project – a digital group project where 250 schools in 69 countries work together to learn about climate change.

As they work on the project, students rely on a couple of Microsoft’s educational tools to explore and share their knowledge: They create videos in Office Mix, presentations in both PowerPoint and Sway, and sharing their findings about climate change with others across the world with Skype.

“This way, students will not learn about important Sustainable Development Goals by textbook, but directly from each other,” says Koen, a Belgium-based computer science teacher, educational philanthropist, and one of 150,000 Microsoft Innovative Educators (MIEs) working to educate and empower the world, one student at a time.

Koen’s project was recently awarded at the HundrED summit as one of the global 100 best educational innovations, and he puts much of its success down to tireless help from his MIE community.

“Many fellow MIEs were part of this journey,” he says. “Having daily conversations via Skype and email we try to support each other, constantly keeping in mind how to get the best out of our students and even trying to make the world a better place.”

Koen, also a researcher at PXL University College, Hasselt, recently added to his accolades by becoming a top 50 finalist in the 2017 Global Teacher Prize. If one were to use the term ‘global teacher’ literally, Koen would certainly fit the bill.

In 2000, he launched Zelfstudie.com, an online school with 36 courses and 20,000 students. Five years ago, he discovered the MIE program “after receiving a newsletter and actually reading it – which almost never happens!” But he says it was a particular session at his first E2 Conference in Redmond, Washington, that truly changed his life.

“During an emotional call with an outreach officer in the Kakuma refugee camp, some people promised to have regular Skype with refugees in Kenya,” he says. “What we didn’t know then was that this refugee camp houses 200,000 refugees studying in schools with no power supply nor computers. But a promise is a promise.”

And so Project Kakuma was born.

The first, not-so-simple step of the project was getting computers into the camp. Since then, it has turned into a growing community of more than 100 educators across 40 countries, offering free education (using Skype) to refugees who fled from war and hunger in Somalia, Burundi, DR Congo, and Sudan.

“Skype allowed me to bring change in education on global base. It allowed me to connect refugee students to teachers and their students around the world,” he says. “It is not only about offering knowledge (we teach math, science, literature, etc), but we talk about habits, sport, religion, culture and offer the right perspective into the refugees’ lives. This way we fight misinformation and polarization.”

The UNHCR and the Kenyan Ministry of Education both support Project Kakuma. It also earned Koen two nominations for the aforementioned Global Teacher Prize, widely recognized as the Nobel Prize for education.  It’s no wonder Koen’s now setting his sights on educating students from across the world – about the state of the world.

Learn more about the Climate Action project and Project Kakuma before joining us next month for the return of an exciting global collaboration between classrooms: the third annual Skype-a-thon.