Satellite and space industry must promote Stem subjects in UAE schools

Schools can help to inspire young Emiratis about astrophysics.

Claire Raftery, Erin Wood, Minoo Rathnasabapathy and Amal Ezzedine, left to right, discuss ‘the Next Generation’s Role in Research and Innovation’. Delores Johnson / The National
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ABU DHABI // The UAE must create a platform for collaboration between the government, industry and academia to drive research, development and innovation in space.

Amal Ezzedine, the head of government services at the satellite phone provider Thuraya, said the industry had a responsibility to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) education at very early levels in schools to inspire young Emiratis to become passionate about space.

“We’ve created an innovation department in the past year and we believe that innovation doesn’t just take the shape of technology,” she said. “You can do it in your processes, there are many ways to innovate.”

She said innovation drives economic growth – a vital point to highlight to young people.

“They should create trends, not just follow them,” Ms Ezzedine said. “We need a platform with collaboration from the government, industry and academia to drive research and development to lead to an innovative programme for the country.”

And, more guidance is needed in schools.

“We can’t expect people to go through high school and think they want to become an astrophysicist,” she said.

“We need to have a lot of awareness programmes running to steer these people to find out what they’re really passionate about and how to inspire them to become passionate about space.”

The UAE Space Agency is on the right track.

"We're working closely with Sesame Street, targeting ages 2 to 7," said Sheikha Al Maskary, the agency's director of innovation and chief corporate officer. "We're also working closely to target ages 8 to 17 with our Little Engineer Workshop using Lego blocks and programming them to move from one place to another. We are also working with Khalifa University."

Minoo Rathnasabapathy, the executive director of the Space Generation Advisory Council, said innovation was crucial to progress in the industry, but not alone.

“It’s not the only thing that will grow a space sector,” she said. “You need outreach activities and awareness from the public, and that in itself needs to be innovative.”

Attracting youth towards a science education will require engaging teachers.

“Giving them a real-world experience using data and hands-on activities are the tools we need to inspire students to pursue a career in space,” said Erin Wood, from the University of Colorado, in the US. “It’s through discussions with younger generations that bring these innovations to the table and any time you don’t involve young people, you stagnate.

“Without that steady stream of students coming in, you won’t have that so you have to inspire them at a very young age and we hope the UAE is able to emulate some of these things as well.”