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The Quest for STEM Education in Pakistan

SAMAA | - Posted: Sep 11, 2017 | Last Updated: 4 years ago
Posted: Sep 11, 2017 | Last Updated: 4 years ago

“Everybody here is working together, loaning each other batteries, tools, helping each other fix programming issues to lift each other up,” Participant, First Global Challenge 2017.

Imagine a world that is not divided by politics, hatred and war…. a world where every nation helps its neighbors, and a world where we realize that our common interests greatly outweigh our differences.

It might seem like a Utopian dream but Segway inventor Dean Kamen made it possible even if only for a few days when almost 850 students from 160 countries gathered at DAR Constitution Hall’s auditorium in Washington D.C to take part in the First Global Challenge 2017 (FGC2017).

Politics divides the world; technology can unite the world” – FIRST Global Founder Dean Kamen

FIRST Global hopes to inspire young people to get interested in STEM education so that the deeply intertwined subjects… Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics… can be applied to seek solutions to real life challenges that plague our world today.

Each year, FGC will focus on a different theme selected from the 14 Grand Challenges of Engineering. They include many pressing issues such as public health emergencies, better urban infrastructure, identification of efficient energy sources, cyber security, recycling waste and global warming. For 2017, the theme was access to clean water named “H2O FLOW”.

 “We can empty half of all the beds in all the hospitals in the world by just giving people clean water.” – Dean Kamen

According to UN, more than one billion people in the world do not have access to clean water and over half of them are children. As a result of climate change and population growth, WHO estimates that half the world will live in water-stressed areas by 2025.

Closer at home, it is women who in many parts of Pakistan bear the responsibility of gathering water, and have to walk miles to find a water source. Access to clean water is a huge problem that will only exacerbate in coming years unless our future STEM leaders learn to work together and seek ways to improve life quality for all. And that was the mission of FGC2017.

“Our team is honored to represent Pakistan on this international stage and to show that Pakistani students have a passion and an aptitude for solving problems through robotics,” Team mentor Ali Syed.

So how does this event relate to things back home? Many people might not know but Team AlphaBots comprising of six bright and talented students from EMS High School Islamabad, went to Washington D.C to represent Pakistan in this prestigious event.

When asked about the challenge, 15 year old Team captain Hamza Arshad Bhatti explained, “Each team was given a robot kit by the First Global. The game field was designed like a river. We had to design a robot that could collect and sort blue and orange plastic balls which represented clean and contaminated water, respectively. The goal was to score the most points by depositing the balls in separate repositories within the allotted two-and-a-half-minutes. Our team won three out of six competitions.

“It was a great honour to represent Pakistan on global platform where over 160 countries were contesting. The diversity of talent, culture and languags at DAR Hall was amazing,” says the team’s spokesperson, Maryam Ahmad Kiyani. “We gave our best, and we can proudly say that we presented a very good image of Pakistan on international stage.”

“If the future STEM leaders learn to communicate, cooperate, and work together they will create a more truly global community.” Dean Kamen

Muhammad bin Mohsin [15], Ahmed Waheed [15], Dawood Ahmad Kiyani [16] and Syed Suleman Ali [14] also talked enthusiastically about the tournament. “We got the opportunity to meet many students from around the world. We learned from the challenges, how to work with teams as alliances, time management, working under pressure and accepting defeat gracefully.”

“We stayed at George Washington University dorms and shared information about our culture. We exchanged cards and chocolates with other team members, took lots of selfies and have made many new friends.”

“A project like this can change your academic path, your career plans and your whole life,” Participant of First Global Challenge 2017

In developed countries science is considered as the ticket to explore and unravel the mysteries of the universe. In Pakistan sadly, it means cramming notes to pass an exam. While some individuals and institutions are working tirelessly to bring STEM education to Pakistan, we still have a long way to go.

Elaborating on the hurdles that Pakistan faces when it comes to STEM education, Ms Aisha Zaidi, the Vice Principal of EMS High School who accompanied her students to US stated, “There is a great dearth of qualified teachers in Pakistan who can inculcate a sense of curiosity or infuse the passion for practical, real life uses of technology in their students.  Our students grow up with “memorize to pass the exams mentality” with little room for out-of-the-box thinking, creativity and imagination. Another big hurdle is lack of fully equipped labs where children can experiment and develop critical thinking and exploratory skills. They also need more exposure to competitions, both local and international, to develop the necessary skills to compete on bigger platforms.

However, it is time we stop bemoaning our lack of resources or government apathy. At First Global we saw teams from remote islands, war ravaged countries and even refugee camps that performed brilliantly. We need to learn that with hard work, commitment and perseverance, there is no challenge we cannot surmount.”

STEM education is critical for our future success. Our corporate sector needs to invest heavily in youth just like YesBank and Tata ClassEdge invest heavily in STEM learning among India’s students. We need to take a leaf out of FIRST Global and form alliances that will spell a better future for Pakistan.

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