Students urged to embrace STEM through Sagicor Competition
An attempt to use garbage to improve the teaching and learning of numeracy and literacy is being embraced as the local education sector teams up with the Sagicor Visionaries Challenge, a move which is fully endorsed and supported by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) and the Caribbean Science Foundation.
According to Science Coordinator and Country Representative for the Caribbean Science Foundation, Ms Petal Punalall-Jettoo, this ambitious initiative is geared at having students be enlightened about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
“Imagine we are taking two problems and we are using one to solve the other through innovation and that is what STEM does,” said Punalall-Jettoo as she made reference to the fact that the local garbage situation can be addressed even as teaching and learning is improved.
The Sagicor Visionaries Challenge is characterised by an inter-school STEM competition design. Those schools whose projects are the most outstanding will see them being duly rewarded at the national level and then being able to participate at the Regional level with even more intriguing rewards being at stake.
As such, each participating school is allowed to envisage and put into action various STEM-driven project ideas. It is expected that both teachers and students work in close collaboration in order to derive the desired result. However, the collaboration is further extended, according to Punalall-Jettoo, who revealed yesterday that “each project idea comes along with an entrant teacher and a group of students who work together and beyond that they are supported by mentors from universities from various parts of the world, even from as far as South Africa and San Francisco Bay.”
Local mentors include Mr Phillip DaSilva from the University of Guyana’s Berbice Campus, who has been working along with some of the participating students.
Even as she emphasised that the expertise involved in this initiative goes beyond that obtained locally, Punalall-Jettoo said that such exposure is excellent for students. Expert consultation in this regard has seen students being supported by a South African-based mentor to bring into being a solar powered e-library, while another is supporting the garbage project.
Currently the competition has seen a total of 12 entries from schools across the country with the exception of those from the hinterland Regions. However, workshop materials were sent out to all schools with kits that would carry the instructions for the challenge, including workbooks and tutorials.
Working together with the Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, and the Director of the National Centre for Educational Resource Development, Ms Jennifer Cumberbatch, the Caribbean Science Foundation and CXC were able to develop the Sagicor Visionaries Challenge. It was launched in High Schools across the Region last month and is a competition which is aimed at engaging students working in groups to solve challenges facing their schools and communities using STEM.
Following a national competition, the winners of the respective Caribbean territories will each be judged to produce an overall winning regional team, which will spend a week in the United States visiting NASA, scientific and science fairs, and interacting with science mentors.
“This is what it is all about; the main goal is to encourage students to embrace and understand careers in STEM to create innovation for national and regional development…This is why CXC, particularly with the Science Foundation, have come together with the Ministries of Education to support in a big way, financially and morally, the motivation that comes from Sagicor,” Punalall-Jettoo asserted.
Ahead of the start of the national competition – which has a submission deadline of February 16 – there were two Sagicor-coordinated local sensitisation workshops to enlighten those within the education sector on how to fully embrace the relatively new initiative which targets students of forms one through five.
This was undertaken by Sagicor Manager, Marlene Chin, and Guyana-born Professor Maya Trotz of the University of South Florida, an old student of Queen’s College, who is tasked with being the main Coordinator for the Visionaries Challenge within the Region.
According to Punalall-Jettoo “she (Professor Trotz) is very vibrant and highly motivated and pushes the use of STEM by High School students, because she sees the value and we all see the value in this project, as it helps to create the link between having science done on a chalkboard in a classroom, far removed from what is happening around us in our environment.”
Moreover, the local Science Coordinator noted that the competition will bridge the gap between the manner in which something is learnt in the classroom and how it is applied to solve a problem facing a school. This in essence will pave the way to utilise knowledge to make human existence a little better, Punalall-Jettoo opined, adding that Science should be seen as a means to help improve the quality of life.
According to Sagicor’s Manager, Ms Chin, who yesterday ended a visit to Guyana to oversee the progress of the competition here, the vision of Sagicor, which is in fact a Group of Companies, is to improve the lives of the people in the communities in which it operates.
“It is important that we ensure a sustainable future for all of our territories of the Regions,” said Chin, even as she alluded to the genesis of Sagicor.
She revealed that moves were made to review the quality of CXC results and it was discovered that “we were on the decline.” Moreover, she said that there is a need for proactive action in light of the fact that “we have the resources, we have the land, the minerals and so on, but it means nothing if we cannot transform those into our everyday life; sustaining our livelihood.”
Sagicor, according to her, has a history in investing in children, since it sees them as the creators of the future “…so it is a natural fit and people may say it is an insurance environment to an investment company.” As such, she noted that Sagicor has long recognised that using the disciplines of STEM is what will take the Region towards sustainable programmes that ensure a better tomorrow.
Apart from CXC’s CEO and Registrar, Dr Didacus Jules, the initiative is also fully embraced by Professor Cardinal Warde, a professor of electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who is considered one of the world’s leading experts on materials, devices and systems for optical information processing.