Empowering Girls through Girls in Engineering, Mathematics and Science

Throughout human history, we are always influenced by our friends, our family and the cultures around. Much of those we took to be our innermost desires and expected selves comes externally – how social upbringing shapes us. Girls might grow up to be a housewife because that role is seemed to be the destined position and that is how others define success for a girl. Too often we see women doubting themselves of the ability to lead and have wild dreams. Undeniably, the long-lasting stereotyping has made women feel like they are not as valued as their male counterparts. Fellow Prof. Datuk Dr Halimton Hamdan from Academy of Science Malaysia (ASM) once stressed the gender stereotyping fact on our roles in the society which is making women less confident on their qualification for roles in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Interestingly, even though we have less female role models in this field, girls and women in Malaysia are unstoppable in pursuing their dreams in STEM. We see an emerging young leader Jinny Saw Zhi Ying where when she was at her age 16, she developed a deep passion for robotics and later aeromodelling which paved her way into flying and drone racing. She has represented Malaysia at the recent FAI (Federation Aeronautique Internationale) World Drone Racing Championship in Shenzhen, China. We are also extremely proud of Nur Adlyka Ainul Annuar who was part of the team to discover evidence of a supermassive black hole back in 2017. Malaysian girls and women are pushing the boundaries of STEM and we wish to inspire more girls to envision and unleash the endless possibilities they could have with STEM. More than too often, girls turn down the opportunity even before giving it a try. Hence, we see the importance for girls to have early access and exposure to STEM.

Having that cause to fight for, GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Mathematics and Science) has been a permanent programme in Arus since 2017 to empower more primary school girls in robotics and technology. To date, GEMS has impacted 46 girls from primary schools around Alma, Penang. In this programme, students go on an adventure with the Rero robot to solve challenges on planet Cytron. One of the favourite adventures is where planet Cytron is suffering a drought and all the robots are affected. Then, the teacher introduces how the first-ever, zero electricity air conditioner – Eco-cooler helps to cool down the hot weather in Bangladesh. This demonstrates how a simple scientific principle can help to solve a big problem. Students are then challenged to control the robot to collect as many plastic bottles as they can so that they can build eco-coolers for planet Cytron too.

Towards the end of the 40 lessons, students went through Design Thinking processes, defined a problem statement to address a real life challenge, built a robot prototype to solve the challenge and presented their ideas creatively during the Showcase Day to the public. One of the student groups came out with “Love myself” robot which aims to protect students from getting bullied in the school. This robot will be placed in the classroom and every time if there is a bully case, a student can press the button on the robot and the robot will go to teacher’s room by following lines on the floor. When the button is pressed, it also activates the alarm and it will keep on playing until the teacher comes to stop it. With that solution, students believe that they will be more daring to voice out when they get bullied and teachers will have to make an intentional effort to recognise students’ needs and provide them with a healthier and safer learning environment.

Girls are often seen to be emotional and through GEMS, we want our students to know that having emotion is not a negative thing but in fact, having emotion is powerful. We emphasise on character building throughout the programme as we know that to go far in STEM, girls must first believe that they can be a leader. Putting character into the measure, we compiled students’ self-assessment score and assessment scores from teacher and friends on statements such as “I am a leader” “I take the initiative to solve the problem” “I understand and respect differences among my friends” in the beginning, middle and end of the programme. We made them aware that scoring high in all statements above is not crucial but fluctuations may reflect personal development as character building is a lifelong journey. From a class of 12 girls in Arus Academy@Alma in 2017, GEMS has now expanded into schools increasing our outreach to 26 girls in two different schools in Alma which are SK Macang Bubok and SK Kampung Baru.

We believe that greater heights await them as the girls grow stronger, braver and more confident with themselves.

This is the first batch of GEMS students in 2017.
Students are waiting for their turn for competition.
“Let me program the robot”
“hmmmm… how to make human robot move?”
“Hold it for me, I’ll teach the robot”
“I can do this!”
Students are testing their robots on the game field.
“Is it correct to teach the robot like this?”
“Where is my friend… I am not sure how to do…”
This is the second batch of GEMS students in 2018.
“Are you sure?” “Hehe…”
“Let’s move it, move it”
“Ok, show me how you do it”
End of programme closing reflection
“Yes! my robot is going to knock down the water bottle!”