“STEM is Difficult But STEM is Really Interesting and Can Make Our Societies More Developed”

By Ravy Sophearoth

March 2, 2018 PHNOM PENH —How can space research and space activities contribute to the improvement of lives and our society on earth? This was a question addressed during a video conference at the YSEALI STEM Education Regional Workshop by Professor Danielle Wood, director of Space Enabled Research Group, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who spoke on the topic of “Space Activity in Emerging Nations”. The last day’s theme focused on Innovation in STEM Education, and Professor Wood’s presentation aimed to inspire our participants. One of her messages was that space study is for everyone, and is not necessarily constrained to only those in the developed world. Afterwards, the participants also heard a presentation by Dr. Gail Dickinson, Associate Professor in Science Education, Texas State University, on “Inquiry Teaching Approach to STEM”, which allows participants to look at teaching STEM in a more engaging and less traditional way.

YSEALI Participants viewed the robotic competition during the “Science & Engineering” festival

The day also included  field visits, one of which was to the New Generation School, an example of the Cambodian government’s effort to promote STEM education. The participants had a chance to interact with the students at the New Generation School and shared  their STEM projects and approaches that they were working on in their countries.

Throughout the workshop, participants were divided into small groups and worked with mentors to design projects that addressed three STEM Education challenges. The challenges include how to encourage low-cost STEM learning, how to increase women and girls in STEM fields and how to narrow the rural urban divide in STEM education. It was inspiring to witness the power of collaboration as these YSEALI young leaders worked late into the night to address some of the most common challenges in STEM education.

After working in teams for three days, the participants pitched their solutions to a panel of 4 judges. It was a competitive pitching session, and three groups were selected to receive small seed funding to implement their projects when they return to their home countries. For Gabriel Joachim Perumal, a 25 year old participant from Singapore, the workshop offered something that he couldn’t learn from school such as project pitching and working with other young leaders from different countries to achieve a common goal.

“I think it is very good initiative by YSEALI to bring 10 different countries from ASEAN together to participate. Even though there’s a lot of cultural differences, we came together to promote STEM, to help the young generation to do more things and exchange their ideas,” Gabriel continued, “now we have to work together for execution. We have ideas how we could bring it to reality so we still need mentorship from YSEALI to make it possible.”

From left to right, Ms. Sophie Nop, Gabriel Joachim Perumal, Lisma Lapasi, and Keo Daramongkol play with the Makey Makey technology.

The workshop closed with a Gala Dinner, where participants performed beautiful performances showcasing ASEAN’s rich cultural heritage, shared meals and laughter. Hopefully, the participants not only learned about STEM Education, but also built friendships that will last long into the future and that will help them to collaborate with each other to address common STEM education challenges.

Dressed in Laos traditional custom , 18-year-old Antyka Xayaphone, from Laos, said that “The most unforgettable [experience] I learned from here is I know STEM is difficult but STEM is really interesting and makes our societies develop more; Also, I made a lot of friends here.”