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Piet Grymonprez, co-founder and director, MyMachine Global Foundation

MyMachine is an award-winning education program that sees students from elementary school through to university collaborate to create the machine of their dreams. Its founder, Piet Grymonprez, tells The PIE how the program works – and why creativity fits into every education system.


"MyMachine is not yet in India, but we are talking to people who are interested"

The PIE: How long has MyMachine been going?

PG: MyMachine started eight years ago in Belgium and we started the international side three or four years ago, branching out as a non-profit organisation to different regions and countries. We are trying to grow the model because we want to have an even bigger impact than we have today.

It is a very simple question: “what is your dream machine?”

But once you start answering that question there is a whole world opening up about the importance of bringing ideas to life, talent development, respecting each other as peers.

“It is a very simple question: ‘what is your dream machine?'”

We need young people who are ready to be creative and are convinced that they can be creative. As Sir Ken Robinson said, unfortunately, ‘we are educated out of creativity’. We want to bring back a solution to the education system where you can actually stimulate creativity again and show to people that having ideas is important, even if at the start the idea sounds challenging it is important to take it seriously and develop it.

The PIE: You also won a United Nations Award…

PG: We won the United Nations World Summit Award and that was a revealing moment because we just thought that we wanted to do this in Belgium, it sounded like a really cool experiment, but what United Nations brought to us was the perspective that this has international potential and that is how we started as a non-profit organisation looking for partnerships.

“It is crucial for young kids to understand what it takes to bring an idea to life”

The PIE: How do you find partner schools?

PG: In every country look for a strong partner that is capable of mobilising an education network at all levels. This is unique, nobody else in the world is doing this, where all educational levels collaborate as peers. We are now in eight countries.

For example, in the beginning, we start with early adopters; we start with teachers and with professors who say ‘it sounds crazy enough for me to do, so let’s do this’. But later it attracts the attention of many people, and so year after year many more schools and professors and teachers are interested in joining. Now in many of the countries we have to run a call for application and it is because there are too many schools that want to join.

The PIE: Is the program state funded?

PG: It changes from situation to situation. In Belgium, we started with private funding from companies that wanted just to support this because it is talent development. It is crucial for young kids to understand what it takes to bring an idea to life. What they learn is that to bring an idea to life you always need to collaborate with other people, to respect each other’s talent – and not to give up because of a setback, but to look for different angles to make it work.

The company said “we want that kind of people with that kind of attitude, with that kind of open mind, to think about possible solutions”. In the Belgium case for example, later on, the government stepped in. It was not the Department of Education, it was the Department of Economy and Innovation, and up until now it still is a combination of private money and later public funding.

“It is very important to leave the question open”

But, for example, MyMachine in Slovakia is run by the Carpathian Foundation, which partners with us, and they are running the program with private money. It depends, country to country, where the money comes from, but you don’t need that much money to make MyMachine happen.

The PIE: How do children develop their ideas?

PG: We don’t impose a certain theme. It is very important to leave the question open so that the children can actually respond with what is important for them at that moment in their life.

Some kids respond with an idea which is very personal. For example, there was this young girl that said: “I want this machine, it needs to create happy homes”. Of course, it gets deep sometimes. You know something is going on in her life. She was, unfortunately, suffering with the separation of her parents.

And other kids respond to that question with an idea that is beneficial for lots of kids or even humanity and that would be ideas like “I want a machine to have clean water”.

PIE NEWS: How many machines have you built?

PG: A lot already, thousands. This is not really about the MyMachines, the products, but more about the process. We create an exhibition in each country where you see everything: the drawing of the child, the small mock-ups of the university student, and then the real thing. And kids can test their prototype. In the end, the working prototype returns to the elementary school that joined.

“You will ask them to draw the dream machine…we are not sure that is going to work!”

The PIE: How does MyMachine fit into different education systems?

PG: As an example, we are talking to people in India. MyMachine is not yet in India, but we are talking to people who are interested.

They said that elementary schools in India are different because there would be a teacher in front of the classroom saying, for example: “three + three = six,” and the whole classroom needs to repeat that out loud. So they said: “well in your model… you will bring a blank sheet of paper and ask them to draw the dream machine, and we are not sure that is going to work!” And I told them: “why not put me in front of a classroom and simulate that step number one in different schools?”

The first school was on a Sunday morning, there were 70 kids in the classroom between the age 8 and 10 years old, and the only thing I did was saying “I am from Belgium, I am a bit of a nutty professor and I’ve been assigned to create new dream machines, but I don’t have any ideas and people told me to go to India because the young kids have a lot of ideas.”

And that was the only thing I needed to do.

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