UAE pupils test Stem skills at World Robot Olympiad

Pupils drive their robots to complete tasks. Teachers have noticed a growing interest in the contest due to the curriculum reforms. Ravindranath K / The National
(Pupils drive their robots to complete tasks. Teachers have noticed a growing interest in the contest due to the curriculum reforms. Ravindranath K / The National)

More machines and their teams are on the march at the World Robot Olympiad this year, thanks to the Ministry of Education’s curriculum reforms.

The number of entrants from public schools using the curriculum that competed in this year’s annual robot programming and design challenge rose to 53 from last year’s 31.

Teachers and officials have said pupils’ growing enthusiasm for the competition could be credited to recent and continuing reforms in the ministry’s public schools curriculum, which includes an emphasis in Stem subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths.

The curriculum applies to public schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

“It has played a big part in the students’ lives. It has made them more motivated to study, it’s got them a lot more excited,” said Sarah Fay, who teaches Grade 7 boys in a government school in Ajman.

“It allows them creativity. It allows them to get up and use their own ideas and their own initiatives.”

This year, the ministry opened extracurricular robotics labs in public schools to encourage pupils to build and program competition-worthy robots.

It also included more lessons in technology and design in its curriculum for Grades 6 to 12. Pupils in Grades 6 to 9 study design and technology for two periods a week, while those from Grades 10 to 12 learn creative design and innovation.

Ibtikar Edu Tech Solutions, a Dubai company, is working with the ministry to supply classrooms with new learning tools, such as 3-D printing technology, microprocessing kits and programmable robots.

The company also provides training for teachers and gives insight into curriculum development.

“The Ministry of Education is investing in a huge way to really strengthen not only the teachers who have a technology background and sort of a keenness for this kind of approach, but they are also revising their curriculum and their resources,” said a company spokesman.

The curriculum has activities for two or three periods a week, with a basis in programming and manufacturing through 3-D printing and electronics microprocessing technology.

As the pupils collaborated in teams to build and program Lego robots to complete tasks, Moza Al Zaabi sat in the stands of Ipic Arena quietly cheering for her 11-year-old daughter, who came from Ajman to compete for the first time.

Ms Al Zaabi said her daughter joined the robotics lab launched by the ministry and trained after school and on weekends to perfect her team’s robot.

“She always wants to work on it,” said Ms Al Zaabi, adding that parents often sat in on the after-school training.

“For us, the parents, we can stay with our kids and we learn with them. We are pushing our daughters to think big and become bigger things.”

The two-day competition, which is organised by the Abu Dhabi Education Council, attracted 400 teams comprising 1,200 pupils from public and private schools across the country.

The top teams will be chosen by Adec to represent the UAE at the World Robot Olympiad International Competition in Costa Rica this year.

“Our students are so passionate about attending this competition,” said Dr Najla Al Naqbi, Adec’s innovation and e-learning programme manager.

“Even though it is almost examination time, even though it is just before Ramadan, they are really willing to come and participate to show their capabilities and skills.”

Source: The National