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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Engaging young minds is key to our future prosperity and security

Science-based events across the Middle East offer solutions to critical issues like water scarcity and food security

Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, president of the Jordanian Royal Scientific Society, gives a speech at the opening of the eighth World Science Forum in Jordan
Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, president of the Jordanian Royal Scientific Society, gives a speech at the opening of the eighth World Science Forum in Jordan

The owners of the tiny hands building robots from magnets or spraying graffiti with water guns will almost certainly not be aware of the significance of their child’s play. But as they participate in the seventh Abu Dhabi Science Festival, engaging their interest from a young age is a key factor in addressing a critical need for more scientists and engineers across the region. It is a key focus, too, of the World Science Forum In Jordan, where high-level delegates and government officials from more than 120 countries are gathering over four days to solve a crucial issue in the Middle East, which is hosting the biannual event for the first time: how to encourage young minds to think of science as a way to look for solutions to pressing issues in the region, such as water scarcity, energy and food security, rather than seeing it as an agent of war?

Under the banner science for peace, Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, the brother of the late King Hussein, says there is a danger of conflict-ridden countries in the region witnessing drones fired from thousands of miles away and only experiencing science as an agent of destruction, with computers replacing humans. Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, the chairwoman of this year’s forum and the president of the Royal Scientific Society in Jordan, summed it up best when she said: “We feel the pressures on our planet more acutely than many and we know the solutions we seek are above politics and beyond fear.” Knowledge and homegrown scientific expertise and technology, she added, were vital to the security of the region.

The number of institutions offering scientific advancement and education in the UAE and beyond is burgeoning. The government’s adoption of an artificial intelligence strategy and appointment of a cabinet minister is recognition of its role in the future of the country. The newly opened Mohammed bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences, with world-class facilities, will graduate its first batch of medics in 2022. The eager young faces gawping at the wonders of science and getting their hands dirty with more than 70 activities in Khalifa Park and Al Ain Zoo are still a long way from deciding their futures. But it’s a good place to start persuading them how important their contribution could be one day.