We would like to invite you to stand up and join us in applauding a small group of smart, enthusiastic youth, who recently visited Mexico City, Mexico, to proudly represent Antigua and Barbuda and participate in the FIRST Global Robotics Challenge. The members of Team DADLIBOTS, were Qadash Charles, Nico Matthias, Alise Joseph, Joshua Langford and Elijah James. Now that the formalities are over, we are going to be honest and say that we are giddy with excitement and joy. This is a feel-good story about youth and education, so we love everything about it. It once again reminds us that the next big thing can come from our bit of paradise, because with proper support, our youth have the intellectual capacity to hang with the best in the world.
The FIRST Global Robotics Challenge brought together high-school-aged students from more than 160 nations for a robotics competition. The goal was to promote science and technology leadership and innovation in young people through the sport of robotics and cooperation. As said by Ricardo Salinas, founding member of FIRST Global Robotics, and chairman and host of the 2018 FIRST Global Robotics Challenge, “This is the best demonstration that this world can become a better world if we all work together.”
Not to bore you with details or shift the focus away from this group of go-getters, but the format of this challenge is fairly unique, and understanding it will improve your appreciation of these young people’s achievements. The focus of the challenge for 2018 was “Energy Impact, in which shifting alliances of three nations competed to fuel power plants, initiate renewable energy plans and build a resilient transmission network in a simulated exercise using robots.” That is a mouthful in itself but it is important to note that success at the event required not just teamwork at the DADLIBOTS level, but at a combined, multi-team, multi-national level which changed constantly. According to the press release, “The event highlighted the importance of various energy sources and making them more sustainable, excited students to learn and discover STEM through robotics, and inspired students and adults alike on the importance of collaborating across places of origin, creeds, religions, and races to build a better tomorrow.”
Now that is powerful stuff. That is next-level education and we are sure that the experience will leave a positive impression on these kids for life. We realise that we can be overly passionate about education (in relative terms, of course) but it is because education simply does not get the attention that it deserves, and it is the key to our future as a small island state. Often, the achievements of our young people on the international stage are focused on sports. For a variety of reasons, sports are just considered ‘cool.’ As kids grow up, the focus and praise is centered on the ‘jocks’ and less on the so-called ‘nerds.’ Never mind the increasing sentiment in many circles that, “The nerds shall rule the world!” Athletic pursuits just seem to take a priority over academics, and children recognise this early on and adapt to what a goodly section of society praises and wants.
That said, this is not a lobby for less attention for sports; it is a lobby for more attention for academics. Sports play a very important role in education, but the reality is that academics have a greater role in life. Brilliant minds have the potential to reshape Antigua and Barbuda in ways that we can only imagine, at this point in time. Technological advancements are making the world smaller every minute. With crowd-funding and other support, there is nothing that prevents a brilliant idea from an Antiguan and Barbudan from becoming a global phenomenon.
The keys are attitude and support. We, as a society, must change our attitude towards education. We must also change the way we educate our young minds so that they can face the challenges of tomorrow with confidence. We must genuinely support their efforts towards innovation and encourage them to go further than any previous generation – ensure that they do better than we did.
This requires the entire village to contribute, not just the government and teachers. It calls for family support and corporate support because the links to a brighter tomorrow are only as strong as the weakest in the chain.
Of course, education is not cheap, but much of what we are promoting does not come with any heavy expense. In fact, it is the type of stuff that should already exist but is sorely lacking. Plus, much of it is simply a change in our attitudes. We know that many people abandoned this piece near the beginning, but if you have reached this far, then it is very likely you share our vision for education, the youth and our future. We hope that you will help spread the word to those with a more lethargic attitude, and with any luck, the change that we hope for will begin to materialise.