Robotics training: raising the Middle East's new generation of inventors

Children as young as five are using Lego parts, gears and wheels on a course in Dubai that aims to build careers in cutting-edge technologies.

Dana Dias, 7, enjoying a robotics course in Dubai. It is hoped the course will inspire the next generation of inventors and technicians. Sarah Dea / The National
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DUBAI // Children as young as five are being taught to build robots in an effort to nurture the region's next generation of inventors and technicians.

A sign outside the Children's City classroom urges children to "be the next Einstein", while classes aim to show them how - by designing, building and programming their own robots using Lego parts, gears, wheels and other components.

By teaching the children to build anything from a stationary owl to miniature vehicles, the Robotrust programme aims to encourage the children to pursue technical careers.

The programme was designed by Robotrust, but is being administered as part of a public-private partnership between Dubai Municipality and Provectus Middle East.

Zack Abdi, managing director of Provectus Middle East, said it provided a fun way for children to learn geometry, kinematics, statics, dynamics and control.

"All teachers love to teach. But teachers also need a curriculum that can create interest among the children. Teachers need teaching aids. Plain chalk and talk does not suffice."

Encouraging children to study technology makes them employable and able to fill the country's growing need for such skills, added Mr Abdi, who is also an executive committee member and policy adviser at World Green Citizen.

"A quarter of people in the UAE drop out of high school. How many Emirati audio-visual technicians do you know? Chances are, not many. It's not a highly qualified job but most hotels need two of them, for events and conferences. If there's 5,000 hotels in Dubai alone, that's 10,000 jobs that could be occupied by Emiratis.

He added: "On top of that, by between 2015 and 2020, the South Korean ministry of communication has estimated most households will have a robot. By 2018, the South Korean government said robots would routinely carry out surgery.

"The UAE is fifth in the world for ICT [Information and Communications Technology] usage. It is a commercial hub, a logistics hub. Robotics is important, as it will create peer pressure from friends, school and family to push people into studying ICT."

Female students in particular are being encouraged to get involved.

"49.8 per cent of Emiratis are female. Most study social sciences like management or philosophy. It's very rare for Emirati women to work in ICT or GenNxt sectors. We are encouraging them to go into technical areas," Mr Abdi said.

The programme also caters for children with special needs.

"For autistic children, we let them work at a much slower pace - and work their way up from building very basic, stationary animals," Mr Abdi said.

Naila Al Mansoory, head of Children's City, said the Robotrust programme was simple, comprehensive and practical.

"Hands-on projects, team activities and competitions are used to provide a fun-filled educational environment in this course. The programme also helps to enhance their creative skills, problem-solving ability, logical and analytical thinking and collaborative skills. It provides experiential learning."

Parents can book 10-hour packages, in which children are taught to build seven robots, for Dh375. Alternatively, 20-hour packages teach children to build 14 robots, and a year-long package teaches them to build 50 robots.

Children on school trips can purchase a one-hour introductory workshop. Dubai government employees receive discounted rates.

The course is open to all ages from five to adults.