The Way Back To Self-Confidence
Implementing a wealth of ideas
Promoting science ideally starts in school. In southern Upper Egypt, an association is making just that possible, with success. An article by two students as part of the youth media project Bashkatib.
“If we are to support young talent in science, we must close the circle between students at secondary schools and at university, we have to foster exchange between them,” says Muhammad Othman as he draws a small circle in the air. He is a team leader and Smart Learning representative at the department for education at Intel in Aswan and founder of the association for the promotion of gifted and creative students. The association was created in 2014 to support high school and university students’ scientific ideas and their implementation.
How “ISEF” began
At the end of 2009, the Egyptian Ministry of Education partnered with the Technological Development Centre Aswan, a governmental support center for the people of Aswan, to develop a program to promote the scientific skills of students. In the context of this program, Othman trained 25 educators to teach their students the concepts of scientific research. Following this training, 17 of the participating teachers’ students were selected to conduct seven scientific projects for the first Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Aswan, short “Intel ISEF”. ISEF is the only international science competition for high schoolers that covers all biosciences. These seven projects made it to the final round in Cairo’s suburb “6th of October City”.
Even before the association was founded, Muhammad Othman and his team used the event as an important platform for their cause - to stir young people’s interest in scientific research. Othman’s work is based on three pillars: foster scientific thinking, offer elaborate projects, and encourage social participation. In 2010/2011, the team mobilized the authorities of the Aswan governorate for their project. This allowed Othman and his team to implement their first pillar, fostering scientific thinking. 155 students participated in 45 scientific projects.
“For me, that was proof that we had gotten through to society. By educating students about the significance of science, we were able to get them excited about research,” Othman explains. Othman stresses that the concept spread throughout the Aswan governorate in the following years. The number of participants grew rapidly: In the third year, 212 students conducted 105 projects, and by year four, 421 students participated with 239 projects. The number of preparatory science fairs, where projects are selected for the final round, had risen to five. In the academic year 2010/2011, some projects also qualified for the Pan-Arabic Intel ISEF in Dubai. In the following year, 15-year-old student Mayar Mamduh al-Amin also made it to the Dubai competition with her project “Personality Pills”: She concocted a blend of natural herbs to make pills that are supposed to target the energy centers of the human body and influence a subject’s moods.
The objective of the association is to support the students’ wealth of ideas and the successful implementation of their projects. According to Othman, this could also help relieve the workload of the Ministry of Education and involve society as a whole. He explains: “Someone who participated in research projects as a high schooler can later help mentor younger students or serve as a science fair judge after graduating from college.”
A lack of participation hinders progress
After six years of experience in promoting scientific talent and creativity, Othman has come to the realization that strengthening social participation, in particular, is difficult to achieve. As soon as high schoolers are off to college, they stop participating in ISEF. Othman admits that this gap irks him. Students often move to other governorates when they enter university. While the high schoolers have the drive and the necessary persistence to learn, discover and conduct projects, all this enthusiasm drops sharply as they transition to college. Othman believes that the solution to this problem is communicating with students after they start university. In addition, college students must be involved in social activities.
Othman does not want any university professors to get involved with the high schoolers and their projects: “The age difference is too great, there is a gap that can’t be bridged.” He believes that the first step must be to get former project participants who are now in college to attend the science fairs so they can share their experiences during high school - when they were where the current high schoolers are now.
The association is facing other obstacles, as well. For instance, they owe their offices to the support of an educational institution. Now they need other partners to help set up a computer lab that will allow students to access computers and online classes provided by association members for their research. “We already contacted the Ministry of Communication for help,” says Othman. “But we are still awaiting their response.”
A glimmer of hope
Olivia Adel, second-year student at a secondary school, has been interested in research since she was twelve. She is one of those gifted students the association wants to support. She is currently working on her project “Egyponics” (which is a portmanteau of ‘Egypt’ and ‘hydroponics’). Her research focuses on raising interest in farming without a need for large agricultural surfaces. Egyponics delivers material gains and helps save the environment through the optimal use of small surfaces and low-maintenance cultivation techniques. Solar cells and drip irrigation save energy and water.
The association kicked off the year at ISEF with a lecture on presentation and safety guidelines by two female college students who were once participants in the science fair, back when they were in high school. This was followed by a lecture about critical thinking by Nesreen Balieg, administrative board member of the association and Intel partner for educational materials.
Othman hopes to improve contacts with university students. “What I would like to see is that they don’t view their scientific projects as a passing phase in their lives or an insignificant hobby. I want every single high school student who participates now to join the ISEF team later.”
This article was produced in the framework of the project „Future Perfect“, a cooperation between the Goethe-Institut, the foundation „Futurzwei“ and (name of the newspaper).