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Finding success with STEM

Published: 
Thursday, May 24, 2018

The fourth revolution (4IR) has started and it is already changing the way of life, work and how people relate to each other. It’s characterised by the fusion of technologies that’s blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological.

That is why there is an urgent need to reshape T&T’s future by putting people first and empowering them, and it must begin with critical thinking. The innovators are the ones who stand to benefit the most.

According to economist Indera Sagewan-Alli, 4IR is “mobile supercomputing, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, neuro-technological brain enhancements and genetic editing.”

She explained: “It’s significantly changing the way we do business and therefore our understanding of competitiveness.”

The concept was unveiled when Shell T&T in collaboration with the Ministry of Education hosted the first national consultation on STEM (Science Technology Education and Mathematics ) at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain.

“The 4IR is evolving at an exponential rather than linear pace, and in so doing, disrupting industries globally and transforming entire systems of production, management and governance,” Sagewan-Alli said
She gave the example of Professor Klaus Schwad, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, who had warned that it is still unknown how 4IR will unfold and advised that the response be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from public and private sectors to academia and civil society.

Good and bad

Giving an analysis of the 4IR and its potential impact globally, Sagewan-Alli said this includes a rise in income levels, improving the quality of life, increasing productivity through technological innovation, reducing the cost of transportation and communication, making logistics and global supply chains more effective, diminishing the cost of trade, opening new markets and driving economic growth.

However, there are negative consequences as well.

“At the same time, the revolution could yield greater inequality, disrupt labour markets as automation substitutes for labour across the entire economy, exacerbate the gap in returns to capital and returns to labour due to net displacement of workers and machines” Sagewan-Alli said.

She warned that inequality represents the greatest societal concern of the 4IR, adding that the largest beneficiaries of innovation are the providers of intellectual and physical capital—the innovators.

She said one of the greatest challenges of new information technologies is privacy. 

Karen Lynch, principal consultant at market research entity, Sacoda Serv Ltd, zeroing in on STEM described the programme as a tool for social change, one of the cornerstones of human capital development and one of the pillars for economic recovery.

She said STEM in industry is not new to T&T as the approach has led to successes in oil and gas, in the aviation industry and the Point Lisas monetisation of gas.

What is different now, Lynch noted, is the rapid pace of change in technology and increased requirements from the labour market which has placed further demands on the systems.

When Shell introduced the STEM programme for schools, it was born out of 21st century challenges as requirements of the information age are accompanied by greater demands from the labour market. Life skills, creative thinking, problem solving and teamwork are now key elements of workplace survival.

STEM provides the framework for the transformation the educational system needs to respond effectively to labour market requirements.

“Students are prepared for the labour market through partnerships with stakeholders in industry and tertiary level institutions,” Lynch said, adding that 8500 students and more than 60 teachers have benefited.

“Mathematics as the language of STEM is no longer abstract but embedded in all aspects of the programme delivery,” she explained.

Other outcomes are exploration of new areas of learning in subjects not taught in any great detail in the school system, including petroleum geology, geographic information systems, seismology and aviation.

“Our future expectations are that we will achieve greater success at the national level by expanding our talent pipeline through the creation of work ready graduates who can innovate.

“This, in turn, will lead to diversification, economic growth and transformation as well as a place in the fourth revolution which is already upon us,” Lynch said.

T&T to benefit from NXplorers

Shell, together with the UK-based company Shaping Learning, has developed NXplorers, a unique educational programme offering young people, future scientists engineers innovators and leaders, a fresh way of thinking and an opportunity to develop a transformational skillset.

T&T is the latest country to benefit from this programme during which teacher training programmes have already begun.

“The methodology is designed to develop what we have termed as the STEM ‘habits of mind.’ These are vital skills our scientists and engineers need such as systems thinking, problem solving, critical thinking, communication, team working and complexity analysis,” Tariq Hussain, STEM manager, ER Social Performance Centre for Excellence, Shell International explained.

NXplorers is a facilitated programme that can be run in schools, universities and learning centres. It is open to young people at various stages of their education or professional development.

“The methodology is founded on research and integrates systems thinking to explore the issues, scenario planning to create possible futures and theory of change. It is based on the principle that if you want to teach people to solve problems and become agents of change, give them the tools to help them.

“The tools and methodology can be applied to almost any challenge which is complex or not. The methodology is underpinned by a fresh way of thinking, what we call NXthinking,” Hussain said.

NXplorers is being rolled-out in several countries including Brazil, Nigeria, Egypt, India, Oman, Australia and Kazakhstan and has also been piloted in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Singapore and Russia.

“Our goal is to impact more than one million young people around the world through participation in NXplorers by 2020,” Hussain said.

He said Shell and other related industries need talented people equipped with relevant STEM knowledge and skills, as science and technology are key to successful economic and social development of the society.

“As we take on the emerging grand challenges, including eradicating poverty, a lower carbon future, a liveable climate, and complex issues such as the food water and energy nexus, not only do we need the skills of all of our scientists and engineers, but we need all people to be able to think like scientists.

“We take this very seriously at Shell…we support education in several countries where we operate. In 2016, our education social investment spend was over US$25 million in 18 countries,” Hussain said.

He said Shell’s goal is to create shared value for society by delivering enduring social benefits and supporting host country aspirations towards a knowledge-based economy. This also provides access to opportunities for fence-line communities, help drive greater youth employment and create a pathway for social mobility.

In this era of change, Hussain advised, it is becoming more and more difficult to predict the nature of the jobs of tomorrow. Skills such as complex problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity are becoming increasingly important.

A report by the World Economic Forum in 2016 confirms that employers are citing these as the top skills needed in the future.

“These higher level skills are so important as they underpin the ability to innovate and adapt. In many regions, it’s the lack of these skills that account for a significant proportion of skill-shortage vacancies.

“Our goal is to help young people develop these vital skills that STEM employers are increasingly demanding but often see lacking. We want to help equip them for the jobs of tomorrow and enable them to prepare for and adapt to a rapidly changing world.

“We believe the question posed to young people should not just be ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ but also ‘what problem do you want to solve,” Hussain said.

Add Math successes

Derrick Phillip, principal of East Mucurapo East Secondary School, described the marked improvement in his students via the Shell programme. He said, passes in disciplines such as Additional Maths and Physics were previously “unheard of.”

“It’s beyond our wildest imagination. Because of the programme students are encouraged to come to school and actually learn,” he said.

Education Minister Anthony Garcia said STEM education infiltrates every aspect of life.

“A STEM-educated workforce is needed to stay competitive in today’s global society. Most inventions, creativity and innovations involve STEM and their development,” he said.

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