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Start 'em young: Engaging future engineers in science, technology

Posted: 27 Oct 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share


We are in probably the most exciting period in human history for science and engineering. From flexible displays to smartphones and watches, and even medical electronics, advances in knowledge and technologies have created mind-boggling possibilities the next generation of engineers should be taking advantage of.

[See also: Gold mine for start-ups: Tech inventors take to Kickstarter]

In many parts of the world, initiatives are underway to engage future engineers and innovators in science and technology.

In UK, for example, students as young as 5-year-olds are now learning coding as part of their curriculum. According to Relaxnews, the government overhauled the country's computing curriculum to arm the kids with skills they need to compete in the 21st century.

The subject, of course, is being taught in a fun way. Inside of the nightmarish images of lines and lines of text running on a computer screen, the kids use basic animation software that has a choice of command phrases that they can arrange in sequence to make their characters come to life.

In Asia, there are plans to see the theoretical approach to science teaching in action. Singapore's Nanyang Technological University recently partnered with the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) to create mini-laboratory kits for students in developing countries.

The kit will be developed using state-of-the-art 3D printing for intricate equipment that could not be made using conventional manufacturing methods.

"With these mini-lab kits, schools without proper laboratory facilities will be able to conduct classroom experiments for the very first time, and provide their students with important hands-on experiences in science," said Professor Teoh Swee Hin, director for NTU's Renaissance Engineering Programme (REP).

"These microchemistry kits would provide a hands-on approach to teaching young students. They are cost effective and safe, in so far as pupils never need to use more than a couple of drops of chemicals for experimentation," said Dr. Gwang-Jo Kim, director for UNESCO Bangkok. "Many countries still took a purely theoretical approach to science teaching, not out of choice but of necessity. They simply could not afford the exorbitant cost of equipping schools and universities with laboratories. Through this collaboration we expect to break that barrier and try to produce science experiment kits micro-scale in size as well budget for the same."

NTU and UNESCO will run the programme for three years. The pilot phase will target one of the countries in the Mekong region before several thousand kits will be distributed to the wider region such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

The mini-lab kits will include booklets detailing experiments, along with a variety of scientific equipment and tools which allow students to conduct work in biology, chemistry, and physics. The kits will be prepared in dual-language, English and the relevant local language.

"By involving our students in the development process of the mini-lab kits, they will not only learn how social entrepreneurship could be used as a tool to improve social equality, but will also have a hands-on opportunity to positively impact our world," said Associate Professor Cho Nam-Joon, Deputy Director for REP, who is leading the project's implementation.

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