Meet the Ambassadors: Kostas Karpouzis, Greece

Over 70 EU Code Week Ambassadors from 34 countries are helping us spread the word about #codeEU throughout Europe. Who are they and why did they get involved in Code Week? We’ll be running a series of interviews and get to know them better. Our previous interviewee, Lieke Boon from the Netherlands, interviewed Kostas Karpouzis from Greece.

 

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Kostas, who are you?

I’m a computer engineer, doing research on affective computing and serious games at the Institute of Communication and Computer Systems in Greece. I was the Technical Manager of the FP7 Siren project, which produced a serious game on conflict resolution for young children; the game was voted Best Serious Game of the Year in 2013 by the Games and Learning Alliance.

How does your country deal with this idea of code learning?

Computers are mostly used as a tool in Greek schools, which means that elementary and secondary school students are trained and encouraged to use them to retrieve information about and write-up projects and maybe draw and process images or create simple, static web pages. An increasing number of IT teachers try to integrate Scratch in the curriculum, especially in afternoon classes where curriculum restrictions are generally looser, but this is as far as it goes, in most cases.

A few secondary schools, mostly private ones, follow up on this by introducing lightweight robotics (e.g. Mindstorms), but again this is restricted in visual environments such as Scratch or Lego’s proprietary software and stays well within the ‘algorithmic thinking’ territory. For older students, approaching their university entry exams, the situation is the same: their book is outdated, written in 2000(!) and is most informative and does not require or encourage coding skills. At the end of the day, most students eager to learn and try coding on their own, are self-trained.

On the positive side, the number of school teachers who motivate their students to delve into coding is rapidly increasing! Greek schools finished 4th last year when it comes to total participation to the Hour of Code and the number of events for the EU Code Week has already tripled from 2013. In addition, Greek teams participate and do well in robotics competitions and an IT project has won the Local Prize for this year’s Google Science Fair.

This progress is supported by the promotion of game development as a possible career for young Greek coders, thanks to the Greek game development association and a corporate cluster which they have formed. This is also the case with mobile app development, where ‘success stories’ are quite often in the media, motivating both students and adults to experiment and advance their skills.

Why are you involved as an EU Code Week ambassador? What do you expect from it?

In robotics, there’s the concept of the ‘uncanny valley’, where (in a nutshell) the increasing realism of a humanoid robot creates discomfort and hampers its acceptance by the general public. In Greece, the ‘uncanny valley’ means that most schools and parents reduce mobile phone and tablet usage to Facebook, privacy concerns, and time lost from studying and coding to a ‘geek activity’.

However, the ‘success stories’ I mentioned above are all over the news! This means that coding already gets excellent publicity from people who managed to turn their hobby to a profitable profession and it’s up to us to motivate students and adults that they, too, can try building their own web page, web service, mobile app or game.

Do you have a hero or someone that inspires you (can be a hacker or not)?

The teachers who stay long hours after school to create Scratch exercises for their students, regardless of salary reductions and added teaching hours; the school and university students who stay awake designing and developing their own games, en route to becoming the next Rovio. Despite the large number of CS graduates, there is a vast shortage of skilled coders in Greece. We are the European champions in unemployment right now and creating your own job or putting together an impressive portfolio of apps and services is the best ticket out of this.