Tue | Jul 23, 2024

International firm offers robotics training to students from across island

Published:Thursday | June 20, 2024 | 12:51 AMAinsworth Morris/Staff Reporter
Vikramjeet Singh (right), from Zebra Robotics in Canada, explains how a robot operates on the board once it is programmed properly to Marsha Smith (left), minister of state in the Ministry of Education and Youth, during the official launch of a robotics su
Vikramjeet Singh (right), from Zebra Robotics in Canada, explains how a robot operates on the board once it is programmed properly to Marsha Smith (left), minister of state in the Ministry of Education and Youth, during the official launch of a robotics summer camp at Jamaica College in St Andrew yesterday. Looking on are Salish Thiyagarajan (second left), Zebra Technology, Canada, and Wayne Robinson, principal of Jamaica College.

In an effort to give a boost to Jamaica’s underperforming students by providing them with more critical thinking skills and creativity as well as fostering an appreciation for science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM), at least 100 students from across the island are to be offered robotics training from international firm Zebra Robotics.

The training is currently scheduled to commence on July 4 at Jamaica College, Hillel Academy, Bishop Gibson High School, Wolmer’s Boys’ School, St Hilda’s Diocesan High School, and Munro College.

The robotics and coding classes, and camps, will also be conducted under the Zed Jamaica Robotics Summer Camp and in partnership with Zed Technologies and Zebra Robotics.

Present to deliver the keynote address during the launch event, which took place at Jamaica College yesterday, was Marsha Smith, state minister in the Ministry of Education and Youth.

Smith said robotics as a subject area is interdisciplinary and builds on the STEAM culture the Government is promoting among students.

“All of this is about building all our young people up. Some would say that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’, and I think some of us who are adults are in that category, but I love to think of myself as a lifelong learner because one of things that the Ministry of Education and Youth wants to encourage is that education does not stop when you leave the classroom. It’s an ongoing process,” Smith said.

“School is about teaching you the skill that you will need to make that learning lifelong, so I don’t consider myself an old dog who can’t be taught a new trick,” she said.

Smith hopes this initiative will improve student outcomes and higher job-satisfaction levels for teachers.

She said the demonstration of the robots on location reminded her of her childhood with toy remote-controlled cars and transformer dolls, which were really automated and based off robotics.

“At the end of the day, what robotics does is to solve problems faced by a particular community, and it would be good to see what would come out of the camp. I’m hopeful that the students of the schools and the principals will take on board having students, having that local parish, national, and eventually international, competition as a way of motivating the students to see beyond themselves and to see that anything is possible,” she said.

Solution to many problems

Before closing, Smith noted that she saw STEAM as part of the solution to many problems in Jamaica.

“We need to stop talking about the problem, and we need to be a part of the solution, and our sponsors, you showed a commitment to stop talking about the problem and being a part of the solution in creating a space where this camp can be sponsored to allow for children across the island,” Smith said.

Satish Thiyagarajan, chief executive officer, Zebra Robotics – which is headquartered in Cary, United States, and Mississauga, Canada – agreed with Smith that robotics is an interdisciplinary tool.

“Robotics is a great tool. It is an interdisciplinary programme. It a great tool for teaching kids what they are learning in school in a hands-on way,” Thiyagarajan said.

He started investing in robotics 10 years ago because that was where the interest of his children lay, and he now wants to take the knowledge around the world and to Jamaica.

Thiyagarajan said more than 75 courses all the way from grade one to grade 12 will be available to interested students, and his hope is to see Jamaican students from the training programme participating in 2025 international and national competitions.

Wayne Robinson, principal of Jamaica College, was elated that the launch took place at the institution he spearheads, whose old boys in New York were the first to bring robotics to the forefront in Jamaica.

“We were the original winners who went to five world championships, and now, we’re being beaten by people who we have taught,” Robinson said, jokingly.

“And that is a part of growth. A part of growth is making sure that you’re doing it so well that your students do it better than you,” he said.

For Carlos Smalling, electrical technology teacher, Pembroke Hall High School, this camp will serve as a good opportunity to develop his student, Demarco Palmer, who attended the launch and is eager to immerse himself in robotics.

“I think that this initiative is very great. It will introduce students to the new developing technologies that are around, such as AI, and also improve their critical thinking skills and also their creativeness as it relates to technology,” he said.

In November 2023, he said that Pembroke Hall High was the winner of the Evergo Secondary Schools’ Robotics Competition.