How do you cultivate the Albert Einsteins and Marie Curies of the future here in the UAE? Abu Dhabi school initiative Lema? - the biggest of its kind in the region - is running interactive and fun science workshops in the hope of doing just that.
Lema?, which means "Why?" in English, is the brainchild of Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge and sponsored by state wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company.
It was piloted in 2012 and, since then, more than 200,000 primary school children have benefited from the travelling science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subject workshops.
Fatima Al Zaabi, special project programme manager at Adek, said of this year's tour: "I am very pleased to say that this has been another highly successful tour for the Lema? programme. Having spent six weeks travelling the emirate, we have connected with over 15,000 pupils in Abu Dhabi, almost 5,000 in Al Ain and over 3,000 in Al Dhafra. We are greatly encouraged by the reception our new show has received."
“As the programme continues to grow, we hope to reach even more young minds in Abu Dhabi to inspire them to one day play leading roles in our Stem industries and represent the emirate and the UAE in a competitive, globalised economy.”
For six weeks three times a year, a team of three science communicators visits schools across Abu Dhabi to interact with and inspire pupils. They also keep look for promising students, alerting schools to the fact that they could be nurturing an emerging talent.
Ahmed Saleh, 30, has been a science communicator since 2014. “I heard about Lema? from my brother, who joined them for one tour. Since then, I have been with them on every tour – I loved it,” he said. “I love interacting with the students. My favourite part is watching the pupils benefit and learn. They are the future, and I am happy to be a part of that.”
Despite the technical nature of Stem subjects, the school shows are designed to be entertaining for young audiences thanks to an engaging and comedic take on the field.
On a tour of Baniyas International School, Mr Saleh and a colleague show pupils how sound is carried by radio using Chinese whispers to demonstrate – a group of fifth grade girls crack up into laughter. "When I was young, the education system was nothing like this. I wish we had this option available.
“After the workshop, the pupils always ask me to come back again,” Mr Saleh said.
Science communicator Ahmed Al Bloushi, 25, who has been with Lema? for four years, said the workshops have “changed a lot of young minds”.
Although they are scripted and well-rehearsed, the events always improvise. “Every classroom is different,” said Mr Al Bloushi. “With some classes you can’t be very funny because they (the pupils) won’t learn anything and just want to laugh. It is important to get their attention, but also that they learn.”
Fares Al Nadim, a Grade 2 student from Al Maali International School, said: “I liked the show; it was funny and educational, and what I liked most were the actors and how funny they were.”
In autumn, Lema? added the Energy Futures Show to its line-up. Attended by more than 8,500 pupils in six weeks, the show introduced pupils to the science of energy and the advances made towards achieving energy sustainability.
Other highlights from the 2017 programme included the Radio Studio Workshop, which immersed pupils in the science of sound, and the Secrets of Space Show, which charted the vast expanse of the universe within an awe-inspiring mobile planetarium.
Fatima Al Marzouqi, vice president of education and training, aerospace, renewables and ICT at Mubadala, said: “The primary years significantly influence a child’s learning journey. For that reason, it is essential that we spark and encourage interest in Stem subjects through hands-on, interactive educational experiences from a young age.
"This will help pave the way for young people to discover their natural ambitions, which they can then use to guide decisions relating to higher education and future career opportunities.
"Lema? is harnessing the energy of our nation's most important asset, the talent that will power the UAE's future knowledge industries."
As the new year arrives, Lema? will continue its workshops with more topics.
Ms Al Zaabi said: “Not all schools have science clubs and those that do might not have enough time so Lema? delivers.
“We don’t promise more innovators, scientists or physicists but we ensure that if we see talent, we will give them the tools needed to develop their skills.”