x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Future of science needs youth of today, say UAE academics

The Think Science Competition encourages students to consider science as a subject in higher education and possibly as a career.

Sultan Al Kendi, an engineer with the plastics company Borouge, chats to students during the Think Science contest in Dubai yesterday. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Sultan Al Kendi, an engineer with the plastics company Borouge, chats to students during the Think Science contest in Dubai yesterday. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

DUBAI // More needs to be done to encourage young people to pursue careers in science, academics say.

Raising awareness of the opportunities in scientific fields and making the subject seem more exciting were among the suggestions from experts.

“About 20 per cent of students currently take up science in the UAE and that is something we need to increase,” said Sami Issa, the executive director of the Technologies Ecosystem unit at Advanced Technology Investment Company.

“As part of the 2030 Vision, this country needs to have more scientists in the long-term from an economic point of view.”

Mr Issa said many young people were inspired to seek careers in business thanks to high-profile corporate figures such as the late Apple chairman, Steve Jobs.

He was speaking yesterday on the sidelines of the Think Science competition in Dubai. The three-day event was organised by the Emirates Foundation and aims to provide the country’s most talented young minds with ways to develop their scientific skills.

It features 160 projects and inventions by more than 400 Emirati students from schools and universities across the country, in fields ranging from chemistry to civil engineering. Organisers hope to inspire young people about the possibilities of science and provide them with a route to further training and potential employment.

“We are starting at a low level in terms of the number of young people taking up science but this is not something that is limited just to the UAE, but is an issue that affects countries around the world,” said Maytha Al Habsi, the chief programmes officer at the Emirates Foundation.

“But the determination and desire to get more people involved is there, both from us and the Government. We need young people to get out of the mindset that science is just about people in white coats using test tubes.

“There is more to it than that, ranging from aerospace to engineering, and it’s something that you can make a career from.”

The UAE needs thousands of scientists in sectors such as aerospace, energy and information technology, said Mrs Al Habsi.

The winners of the competition will have the chance to learn new skills by attending international conferences and taking up internships with private companies.

“We will be looking to monitor how successful the scheme is and will study how it affects the numbers of people going into the sciences.” said Mrs Al Habsi.

Kay Zwingenberger, the chief executive of Siemens UAE, said young people show a huge interest in science but that it must be nurtured correctly.

“This is not something that can happen overnight or in a month, but takes years of developing an infrastructure that allows young people to fully develop their scientific skills,” he said.

Siemens is working with schools as part of its dreambox initiative, which helps children to learn about science in a fun way.

But many are put off studying science and are unaware of the many career options it opens up.

“They think that by taking up pure sciences such as physics or chemistry at university they will end up becoming teachers,” said Omar Adwan, a physics lecturer at the University of Sharjah. “No disrespect to teachers, but once people graduate they can go into different careers in the market.”

He agreed the number of science students was relatively low but said events such as the Think Science Competition could change that.

Maitha Nasser Khoori and Aysha Al Khazraji, from Dubai National School, were exhibiting their invention, a vibrating bracelet that can help deaf people by synchronising the sound of doorbells or alarms to the device.

“I think most young people are more interested in business subjects than science because they think it’s difficult,” said Maitha, who wants to pursue a career in forensic science. “More people would do it if they were aware of some of the amazing things you can do with science.”

The Think Science competition is at Dubai World Trade Centre until tomorrow.

nhanif@thenational.ae