Commentary

Inspire the young with Stem's power to create

Science Bob, an American science presenter, entertaining children at a science carnival at VivoCity in July. The event kicked off this year's Singapore Science Festival.
Science Bob, an American science presenter, entertaining children at a science carnival at VivoCity in July. The event kicked off this year's Singapore Science Festival.PHOTO: SCIENCE CENTRE SINGAPORE

A recent employment survey by recruitment consultancy Kelly Services found that there is growing demand for jobs in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) fields.

As Singapore advances towards becoming a Smart Nation and strives to develop as a hub for various Stem-related areas - aviation and biomedical sciences, for example - this need for trained professionals will certainly not abate, and demand for cutting-edge innovations will endure.

I have always believed in "Stem: The power to create". This accentuates the idea that when equipped with relevant Stem knowledge, we can create solutions and innovations to address local issues and even global challenges, such as climate change and food security.

But to groom local talents who can innovate to resolve challenges, it is essential to ignite a passion among Singapore's young in these areas and to inspire a lasting interest.

Stem promotion is always high on the agenda at science centre conferences and companies that rely on Stem talent often see science centres as effective platforms for grooming future employees.

The Association of Science-Technology Centres, which has more than 600 members in nearly 50 countries, has formed communities of practice so that members can exchange ideas about how to excite students and share know-how in equipping the young ones with skills necessary for pursuing Stem fields.

Among popular trends around the world, we have witnessed the rise of initiatives that encourage the use of Stem to create impact, stimulate a do-it-yourself culture and shape science education.

INSPIRING POSITIVE DIFFERENCE THROUGH SCIENCE FESTIVALS

One effective platform for spurring young people along the Stem path is science festivals.

These events take and highlight different perspectives of science and technology to the public, allowing us to appreciate the benefits to our society.

There has been a steady increase in science festivals since the 1990s.

Renowned ones include the World Science Festival (United States), Edinburgh Science Festival (Britain) and National Science Festival of Thailand.

China also inaugurated its Science Festival last year, with support from Science Centre Singapore (SCS).

Singapore was among the first countries to have a science festival. The Science and Technology Fair was initiated in 1979.

From 2010, this has evolved into the Singapore Science Festival, a collaborative effort between SCS and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).

An annual event, the festival celebrates the dynamism of science, engineering, technology and biomedicine.

The 2015 edition allowed more than 177,000 residents to interact with changemakers in the Stem community through more than 50 events and activities, inspiring our young ones to make a positive difference through science.

MAKER MOVEMENT CATCHING ON IN SINGAPORE

To effectively make an impact through science, Singapore's young must be able to deliver physical solutions.

The maker movement is gaining momentum around the world.

This drive encourages the man on the street to do-it-themselves, to become independent inventors.

To date, makers have created innovations such as the Arduino microcontroller and personal 3D printing.

As consumers pool resources to empower themselves and find better solutions, the maker movement could drive innovation in manufacturing, education, retail and many other industries.

In 2012, SCS hosted the first Mini Maker Faire to allow Singapore residents to experience what they can create through Stem. We had just 2,000 participants then.

Within three years, this movement accelerated and grew to become a full-feature Maker Faire that welcomed 12,000 participants in July.

One of the celebrated maker-inventors is 33-year-old Kiki Tay, a local magician. With his love for science and technology, he has created laser displays and electronically controlled LED jackets using embedded microprocessors.

I believe more Singaporeans will follow this path to become inventors.

•Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng is the co-chair of the Singapore Science Festival 2015 organising committee and chief executive of Science Centre Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2015, with the headline 'Inspire the young with Stem's power to create'. Print Edition | Subscribe