By Telesha Ramnarine
AT least 60 children with disabilities stand to benefit from a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Robotics Programme that was launched on Tuesday, with authorities hoping that this pilot project in four special needs schools will be shifted to all others across Guyana.
The concept of STEM for children with disabilities in special education needs schools, was developed a year ago, but could not kick off because funds could not be garnered for implementation.
Through networking, the Guyana Council of Organisations for Persons with Disabilities (GCOPD) approached ExxonMobil for support and the company agreed to fund the entire initiative.
While Public Telecommunications Minister, Cathy Hughes, had assisted by providing tablets to help with a major component of the project, it was difficult for the GCOPD to find funding for trainers, robotic kits, and other related costs.
With ExxonMobil on board, the disability body also partnered with the University of Guyana’s (UG) Computer Science Department (Robotics Club) to have members be part of the training team to work with persons with disabilities in the four schools, namely, the David Rose School, Diamond Special Needs School, Saint Barnabus Special School, and Open Doors Vocational Training Centre.
“We hope that these four schools can be the pilot and we can replicate the project in other special needs schools across Guyana,” GCOPD Programme Coordinator, Ganesh Singh, said at the National Library launch on Tuesday.
The UG team has been able to develop a curriculum to guide the implementation of the project and each school would have a robotic club established so that the trainers can visit once a week to work with the students. The intention is also for the Information Technology teachers to be part of the club so that they can sustain the project upon its completion after six months.
Head of Computer Science Department at UG, Penelope DeFreitas, offered that a dynamic team and enthusiastic group of students are on hand to kick off this project, and that staff from the computer department will be overseeing the training.
According to her, the first five months will be spent helping the participants to hone their skills in problem-solving and critical thinking. Effort will be placed on building foundation skills so that concepts in science can be developed.
Minister Hughes offered that initiatives in STEM have taken children to a whole new level of learning, and that children with disabilities should have the same access. “Innovation is a key ingredient to the success of the next generation and we must all be able to harness it,” she observed.
“I wish to take a moment to thank Exxon Mobil for fully funding this initiative and congratulate you for being a leader in ensuring that your corporate social responsibility includes genuine consideration for persons with disabilities in Guyana. Our government is well aware of the difficulties that persons with disabilities face every day, and we have been working ardently in our commitment to improving their lives.”
The minister said such efforts include the establishment of a website that serves as a hub for information for persons with disabilities, the provision of house lots for them, training IT professionals in making government websites more accessible, and providing tax exemption policies for them when purchasing vehicles and smart phones.
Senior Director of Public and Government Affairs at ExxonMobil, Deedra Moe, referred to STEM as one of the company’s corporate responsibility focus areas. “As STEM education gains momentum in Guyana, it is great that the concepts are being adopted by teachers and students. The more accessible this type of teaching and learning, the better the development of critical thinking skills and problem-solving strategies in our young people,” she expressed.
One of the reasons STEM robotics is such an effective tool, Moe observed, is that it provides hands-on learning experience while promoting interesting and fun activities in the classroom.
United States Ambassador to Guyana, Sarah Ann-Lynch, acknowledged ExxonMobil’s role in funding the project and for their “thoughtful approach” in involving the GCPOD as a key partner in the development of home-grown science and technology skills.
She said she was very impressed by all the partners that this project brings together, and that robotics clubs are an excellent way to introduce students to programming, and engineering and for training their minds for inquiry and innovation. “Guyana needs scientists, engineers, and innovators,” she noted.
Chairman of the Board of Industrial Training, Clinton Williams, recalled that the body has trained in excess of 400 differently-abled persons in a number of skill areas, and noted that he was happy and excited that funding was received for this new project.