The CEO of education tech provider Tynker tells Moneyish about his partnership with doll owner Mattel and the secret to getting more women in STEM
Barbie no longer needs male technical support.
The most iconic of American dolls came under fire in 2014 for a book titled “I Can Be A Computer Engineer” that was mocked as being “almost laughably sexist.” But under new management and in a more woke era, franchise owner Mattel now is working with education tech startup Tynker on a Barbie-themed curriculum to teach kids programming.
The initiative, which will be released this summer, allows Tynker users— the basic app is free — to learn programming by role-playing characters like robotics engineers or astronauts alongside Barbie. Through these free mini-courses, kids learn big-picture concepts such as stop motion graphics, game design and digital music creation and will eventually be able to create a project of their own. Along the way, they’re also trained to understand concepts like algorithms and conditional statements.
“By exposing kids to STEM experiences on Tynker through Mattel characters they know and love, they may develop a passion for science and computing that could lead them to a career in a STEM-related field,” said Sven Gerjets, Mattel’s chief technology officer, in a statement.
That said, Tynker works with the intention of helping kids aged 7 to 12 learn a life skill rather than making them potential startup founders overnight. “There’s the minute details of coding, but the higher level concepts like learning to make an animation or telling a story through coding are more important than the skill,” says Tynker co-founder and chief executive Krishna Vedati in an interview.
“You have to make it cool for them in context of what they want to create and then go backwards from there. Maybe they want to create their own robotic controller or mod [popular game] Minecraft,” he adds. “Kids tend to find certain interests through play. We let kids explore on their own most of the time. They’ll fail, [but later] understand the concept.”
That model has served Mountain View, Calif.-based Tynker well. The five-year-old company claims an audience of 60 million young learners worldwide, with a third of schools in America using it. It’s partnered with the likes of Apple and Mattel in the past to create courses for kids on its app. The privately held company, which says it’s profitable, offers much of its curriculum for free, but also charges schools and parents for subscriptions if their kids want to delve deeper into hard skills like Python.
Tynker doesn’t track the gender breakdown of its predominantly young user base, but says it echoes general school enrollment. The collaboration comes as everyone from White House advisor Ivanka Trump down tries to increase accessibility to STEM education for girls in hope of preparing them for well-paying jobs. (Mattel’s new CEO is an alumna from Google.)
“Barbie’s an iconic brand that a lot of girls play with and we wanted to connect that to STEM,” says Vedati. “There’s a big movement going on out there to empower girls based in STEM. All kids are smart and we want to make it fun.”
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