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Opinions of Friday, 7 June 2019

Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah

Perseverance: The lesson from Ghana's robotics champions

The eleven girls from Methodist Girls Secondary School (MEGHIS), Mamfe-Akwapim, who won this year’s robotics Game competition in the USA have emphasized the need for regular learning to ensure success.

There are seven competitions/events at the Robofest including Game, Roboarts, Roboparade, Exhibition and BottleSumo.

The MEGHIS students came first in Game, a contest designed to “Accomplish robotics missions using fully autonomous robots. Robofest Game especially puts math skills to the test,” read a statement on robofest.net.

Teams compete at three levels; junior (grades 5-8), senior (grades 9-12), and college.

At the Kotoka Airport in Accra on Friday 24 May, 2019, to welcome the girls from the US trip, was a delegation from the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Ghana Education Service (GES).

Benjamin Kofi Gyasie, the Chief Director of the MOE who spoke on behalf of the Minister of Education said the ministry believes the emphasis on STEM education had contributed to the success of the girls.

He further stated that the success of MEGHIS has no doubt challenged the MOE to place additional resources into STEM [Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics] education which has now been upgraded to STEaM with the addition of Art.

Barbara Juliet Takyiwaa, Assistant Headmistress and 17-year old Adom Adwoa Antwiwaa, a final year student who is the president of the joint (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) STEM and Robotics Club shared their experiences.

The assistant headmistress said that the girls practice STEM and robotics after prep hours, that is “after 9:30pm when the school is quiet and the majority of students are asleep”.

“They practice only for an hour every night from Monday through Friday,” she explained.
Antwiwaa added “Saturdays are open; there is no time limit”.

But here is perhaps the interesting part.
“What do you expect to see in a robotics coding lab,” the assistant headmistress asked me. “Computers and tables, right?”

“But there is nothing like that in our school,” she explained. “We use the same audio visual equipment that many schools use for English orals and Geography”.

When you enter the lab you only see a screen. When a Geography teacher wants to show students types of mountains, they come to the lab and see it on the screen. When an English teacher wants to emphasize how to pronounce words, they use the same equipment.”

In other words, if your school has just one computer and a screen, you can still learn robotics coding.

Adom Antwiwaa is a final year Science student who has been in the STEM Club for three years but this January their supervisor suggested that she joins the Robotics club in addition. That is how she became joint president. She is scheduled to travel to Belgium in August to participate in another robotics quiz.

At the STEM Club they have fabricated a prototype of a heat producing machine that destroys bedbugs.

Bedbugs are a big menace in Ghana’s boarding schools. She explained to me that the best way to terminate bedbugs is through heat technology that kills the eggs of the bedbugs.

“The chemical sprays only destroy the immune system of bedbugs without affecting the eggs,” she explained.

The assistant head and her students hope that through this story many more schools will be encouraged to follow their example.

The 2019 robotics competition winners comprise ten first and second year students, and an eleventh girl, now a former student, who contested in a robotics quiz last year; she returned to inspire her juniors.

There are many girls in the MEGHIS joint STEM and Robotics Club – numbers vary due to student interest but the enthusiasm is there, despite practising with only one laptop (jointly funded by Ben Amoako, the robotics supervisor and some parents) most of the time.

So what are the important lessons for students going forward? What can institutions do to help students realize their dreams and passion be it in athletics, STEM, literature, composition writing or Visual Arts?

The assistant headmistress explained that at MEGHIS, right from the first year, the authorities identify those who are good in Math and put them into the Robotics Club.
Parents, employers, teachers and guardians can do the same for those under them.

Without a question, true teachers can and will always offer knowledge and guidance, but the student must be ready to put in repeated efforts that result in excellence.

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