Youth engineering competitions: The answer to our skills shortage? Featured

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Despite the dismal state of STEM education in South Africa, there’s no shortage of competitions and events to encourage the youth to look towards engineering and technology as career choices.

Youth engineering competitionThe awards ceremony for the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists was held recently, with a new batch of innovations being introduced to the world. Past winners have come up with life-changing inventions, like the system that helps Alzheimer’s patients remember their medication created by last year’s winner, Gabriella Fedetto, and this year’s young scientists kept up with their peers.

Matthieu Louis Arthur from Pretoria Boys High School came up with a mobile suitcase/baggage security device; James Manelisi Silinda from Steenbok High School designed an innovative shopping trolley solution that reduces queues and Christopher Colin Baumgart from Hoerskool Waterkloof created a mobile app that regulates your mobile phone call time.

The innovative thinking South Africa’s youth are capable of will also be showcased at the Shell Eco-marathon. Organised by Shell South Africa and the University of Johannesburg, this is a global competition that challenges high school and university students to design, build, test and drive the most energy-efficient vehicle.

This year’s event features a number of other engineering and energy initiatives. The CO2 Dragster Challenge provides learners with a challenge to design and build a race car from a block of wood and a carbon-dioxide canister, while participating teams will use a hydrogen fuel cell to power a Lego-built car over a distance of 10m in the Lego Challenge. The Shell Eco-marathon will also showcase three of the most successful and innovative energy-related programmes implemented by learners.

The event coincides with the First AfrikaBot competition to take place in South Africa. A robotics challenge hosted by the University of Johannesburg’s Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, AfrikaBot allows teams from government and high schools from across the country that have built and programmed their own robots to vie for top honours.

Dubbed “the world’s most affordable robotics competition”, the South African leg of the competition has seen the university’s TechnoLab, which falls under the School of Electrical Engineering, reducing the cost of getting involved in robotics for disadvantaged teenagers. This has allowed teams from underserved communities to enter. The University of Johannesburg has also partnered with the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers, which has provided funds to purchase some of the parts that the TechnoLab cannot make for the underprivileged participants.

Much has been written about the fact that more engaging activities are more likely to get students to participate in (and learn) subjects such as science, and events like these not only offer kudos and prizes, they create an incentive for learners to want to get involved in STEM. Perhaps the answer to South Africa’s shortage of engineers is more of these types of competitions – enough that every high school student with an interest in the STEM subjects can be exposed to the exciting opportunities available to them in the future.

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Copyright: nd3000 / 123RF Stock Photo

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Crown Publications, one of South Africa’s largest business-to-business publishing houses, came into existence in 1986. Since then, the company has grown from producing a single magazine, Electricity SA (renamed Electricity+Control), to publishing six monthly magazines, three quarterlies, and a number of engineering handbooks.