How robotics is inspiring these young people to dream

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The world is improving, everything is becoming computerised, so why can’t we be involved with such things? Now, we can programme robots and make them do whatever we want and that fascinates me. Programming a robot is fun as well as educational.” For Raha Islam and her schoolmates at Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed (SKBZ) Bangladesh Islamia Private School, robotics was never an option, as it simply didn’t exist at their school.

But thanks to the kindness of other Abu Dhabi students, they were able to discover the benefits of robotics and even compete in a global competition.

The opportunity came from RoboCorps, a student-led initiative started by Jaafer Saadat, a tenth-grader at American Community School (ACS).

An avid fan of robotics himself, Jaafer wanted to see more opportunities for other students to get into robotics. So when his school’s robotics group upgraded from LEGO NXT to the newer EV3 kits, it sparked something new.

Jaafer donated the older kits to two non-profit schools, including SKBZ Bangladesh Islamia Private School.

Taking his initiative one step further, Jaafer formed RoboCorps with fellow ACS schoolmates, including Noor Aysha Saadat and Carter Chartier, and committed his free time to helping the students from the other schools set up their own robotics clubs and meeting up to help them work through lesson plans and answer their questions to help them progress.

He then raised money to buy newer EV3 kits and laptops, allowing students like Raha to discover the benefits of robotics in their free time and learn to work independently.

Shortly after forming their first robotics club, two teams from SKBZ Bangladesh Islamia Private School found themselves competing at the 2016 World Robotics Olympiad, with one even making it to the semi-finals.

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Earlier this year, two more teams competed, with the boys’ team, comprising Jushan Abdullah Babar, Osama Bin Absar and Saidul Islam Sakib, winning the bronze trophy in the Open Category.

The team’s winning robot, which was designed, built and programmed after a challenge to create a robot for sustainability, tackled the concept of sewage in slums.

“We didn’t expect to win,” admits Osama. “We learned many things about robotics; that was new for us because we didn’t know about it, but now we know about programming also.” Saidul adds, “We learned a lot about friendship and teamwork as well.”

Teamwork is one of the main skills imparted through robotics, but there are many more benefits, according to the club’s organisers.

The school’s robotics coordinator, Anita Saun, says, “The education council insists on robotics because it promotes 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and independent learning. This is broadening the curriculum as well and gives them opportunities for independent learning.”

For the group’s mentor and the ACS robotics club coordinator, Adila Saadat, it’s a win-win situation that’s bringing out the best in all of the students, helping to grow their confidence and instil lifelong skills that they will take with them to university.

As we watch the students during one of their get-togethers testing and tinkering with their robots, which they are trying to programme to move when it senses certain colours, it’s clear how valuable these skills are.

“See: they troubleshot it, figured it out and now it’s working,” Adila notes.

“That’s part of the lessons we try to give them, it’s a lifelong lesson: troubleshoot. Whatever you come across that doesn’t work, keep working until you solve the problem. When it does work they feel so happy about it and they take that lesson forward; it really helps them in university.”

She continues, “It’s learning on both ends, not just one way. The ACS students learn in the process so that’s really nice.”

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“It’s a lot of dedication on all the students’ part; it’s a lot of commitment.” Continuing the circle of teaching, learning and sharing a passion, the winning team members from SKBZ Bangladesh Islamia Private School, who will graduate next year, are now passing down their knowledge to the next generation of robotics students, in the hopes they will hone their skills and continue to represent the school on a global platform.

As Jaafer and his fellow RoboCorps team members also prepare to leave for university, it’s time for a new generation of thinkers to take the wheel and perhaps create more opportunities for other students themselves.

WORDS Rachael Perrett 

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