Young Emiratis said they believe nothing is impossible after being selected for lessons at one of the world's most prestigious engineering colleges.
A small group of teenagers with outstanding academic scores were chosen by the UAE's education authority to attend the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi last month.
The institute will open its first overseas college in the UAE next year and has organised summer maths and science programmes and university admission test preparation in Abu Dhabi for select Emirati pupils.
Visiting lecturers from India are now teaching a group of close to 100 Emiratis advanced maths and preparing them for college admissions to top global universities, with practical laboratory sessions held at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi this month.
Opening in September next year, the IIT-Delhi Abu Dhabi campus aims to attract the best young minds in technology and engineering.
During a recent visit of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the UAE, a formal agreement was signed between the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), Sunjay Sudhir, India’s ambassador to the UAE, and IIT Delhi.
Start with a small idea
Fatima Al Jneibi was among the pupils chosen by Adek to travel to the IIT Delhi campus for a 10-day engineering programme and is also taking part in the month-long learning sessions in Abu Dhabi.
The 17-year-old, who plans to apply to US universities, will now add IIT-Delhi Abu Dhabi to her list.
“I have always regarded Harvard as a dream college and to be taught by IIT professors who have taught at Harvard and MIT is amazing to me,” the Grade 12 pupil told The National.
“I’m learning a lot. I have faith in myself but I feel they made me believe in myself a lot more.
“They kept telling us 'nothing is impossible’ and that we can start with a simple idea and move on from there.”
The UAE pupils met IIT alumni and students who have launched successful technology start-ups.
“It was truly inspiring,” Ms Al Jneibi said.
“We met students and professors who have set up multiple projects.
“They all said the same thing – they started with solving a little problem and developed a solution.
“I learnt a solution does not have to be a big one.
“As long as you have the idea, you can propose it to someone who could support you to do more.
“I really loved how they inspired us to be like them and even better than them.”
The three-week summer programme in Abu Dhabi focuses on boosting the skills of Emirati pupils in Stem subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths.
The high school pupils required a high GPA or more than an 80 per cent score in science and maths to qualify.
“It’s a tough programme but really interesting,” said Ms Al Jneibi, who plans to major in environmental sciences engineering and sustainable energy.
“This is more advanced than our studies in school.
“We are going deeper into maths with this programme.”
The outreach programme covers advanced calculus, probability theory, robotics, drone engineering and design with practical experiments.
There are 23 IITs in India and the institutes are famous for a rigorous education and research programme that has produced well-known alumni such as Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive.
Regarded as the MIT and Harvard of India, the acceptance rate is only 1.7 per cent – with only 16,600 places available and more than 900,000 students vying to get admission.
Tanmay Bunkar, chief executive and founder of BotLab Dynamics, a drone technology start-up from IIT-Delhi, held workshops, where teenagers could examine drones and better understand the technology.
“We are trying to familiarise students with drone technology,” Mr Bunkar said.
“It’s great to see a majority of girls in the sessions, where we talk about putting a drone together, operating and flying it.”
The company has a focus on swarm technology, which enables many drones to fly autonomously and simultaneously.
Ms Al Jneibi was among pupils who watched a drone display on the IIT Delhi campus, featuring more than 250 flying in formation to depict a girl in an abaya and the flags of the UAE and India.
IIT-Delhi graduate Mr Bunkar believes the new UAE campus will have significant long-term benefit.
“Once you establish an IIT in Abu Dhabi and train students here, they will come up with solutions suited for unique local needs,” he said.
“A lot of technology used in the UAE is not built here. This presents a big opportunity for students – instead of importing they can create it themselves.
“This will be a unique centre for education that will also encourage students to come up with ideas.”
The IIT-Delhi Abu Dhabi will offer bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees and operate research centres related to sustainable energy, climate studies, computing and data sciences.
Courses will cover energy and stainability, artificial intelligence, computer science, engineering, mathematics, sciences and humanities.