Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and education for people with disabilities regularly top the agenda of the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Doha.
This year is no exception. In this edition of Learning World, we look at two WISE Awards winners, who have been singled out for their successful work in these areas.
Al-Bairaq: promoting STEM education
Some studies show that Qatari students lose interest in maths and science at high school, leading to low academic achievement.
But the Al-Bairaq project in Qatar is aiming to boost interest in these STEM subjects.
Researchers deliver hands-on lessons at state-run secondary schools. Fatima Nabhan is among them.
“We want them (students) to understand that it’s very important to pursue a scientific degree.
“Instead of getting people with expertise from abroad, we want local expertise that can start in secondary education.”
One part of the project is called “I am discovering materials.”
Through this activity, students investigate key features of materials and design their own product.
“From this experiment, I’ve learnt that we can make soluble materials, which can replace insoluble ones we use at home,” said Hilmi, a student, “this can solve many problems.”
Al-Bairaq was launched in 2007 to support Qatar’s national development strategy, which aims to promote innovation and help build a knowledge-based economy.
The project was created by a team from Qatar University and boasts different elements to try and engage students in STEM subjects.
“Al-Bairaq is a comprehensive programme. The student takes part in several stages, including practical workshops, practical experiments,” explained Amira Nasr, an Al-Bairaq research assistant.
“And then there are competitions to encourage and motivate students. They do presentations for their projects and products.
“They use social media as well to spread the word about sciences.”
Using Qatar University facilities, and with the help of its professors, there are lots of opportunities for hands-on research.
“To attract students, we’re trying to find an easy way to teach them what’s going on here, what they are doing, what the research is,” said Nesibe Gozde Ozerkan, Assistant Professor at Qatar University.
The project is run throughout a whole school year and culminates in different competitions – which are judged by a jury of experts.
And those taking part appear to be gaining a lot from it.
For some, it has started to influence their future aspirations.
“I learnt from the ‘I am a researcher’ workshop, how university life would be and how scientific research would be with university doctors and professors,” said Ghanem, one of the students.
“I’ve discovered new sciences and degrees at university, which have made me change my mind about my future.”
More than three thousand students – boys and girls – have already got involved so far. And the project aims to reach many more in the future.
Videobooks open new chapter in communication
For many deaf children, communicating can be a struggle. If parents and teachers can’t use sign language or lack access to suitable equipment, it can lead to illiteracy or social exclusion.
But a project in Argentina, “Virtual Videobooks:“https://www.wise-qatar.org/videobooks-for-deaf-children-argentina may have hit on a solution with an innovative idea.
More than 90 percent of deaf children have hearing parents and teachers who don’t communicate with them effectively, causing cognitive and language difficulties.
Luckily, this was not the case for Melany, who was born deaf in a hearing family. Since she was little, she was curious about books, but she wasn’t able to read them.
Melany went to one of the few schools in Argentina which adopts a bilingual model – Argentina sign language comes first, then spoken Spanish second.
It was there she first discovered Videobooks – and became the first child to appear in them.
“When I was chosen to star in the video books of Canales, I didn’t know what a video book was,” said Melany.
“I thought it was silly, but at the time it was very important to expand it out to all of the children.
“I felt it was too much for me, I was scared, embarrassed.”
The Canales civil association is behind the Videobooks project, which encourages sign language through reading, not narration.
It also connects deaf children with deaf adults and gives teachers a powerful educational tool to promote learning, using common references.
Having voice-over means the video books can be shared between deaf children and hearing families – helping to break down communication and emotional barriers.
Videobooks are created by a deaf and hearing specialist – and it’s recognised there is still work to do.
“We realised that it was not only a need of children, but also of young people who had not passed through reading experiences as a child,” explained Julia Valmarrosa, Coordinator, reader and adviser for Canales.
“Then we searched for age-appropriate stories and interests of young people, as we couldn’t offer them stories like Little Red Riding Hood.”
This year, 11 short stories were launched for teenagers – on top of the collections for children. And further expansion is planned.