More than 50 Qatari students in grades 5 and 6 got hands-on experience with scientific experimentation and engineering design last week through the Young Engineers and Scientists programmes hosted at Texas A&M University at Qatar.

The half-day learning sessions were an extension of the Engineering Leaders Conference on Engineering Education, for which Maersk Oil Qatar is exclusive sponsor and industry partner. Top students from independent elementary schools were invited to the university with their teachers to participate in problem-based learning exercises that integrated science and engineering design with experimentation and testing.

The activities were led by Dr Johannes Strobel, director of educational outreach programmes at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, USA, and a leading international researcher on pre-university engineering education. Strobel said the students adapted easily to the challenges they were given.

Strobel, who is editor of the prestigious Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research, said:

It was interesting to see how quickly they were engaged and curious to try out new approaches and to innovate in their designs.’

During last week’s Engineering Leaders conference, international experts highlighted the importance of early integration among STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math — to stimulate student learning and encourage pursuit of advanced education and careers in those fields, which are essential for Qatar’s development of a knowledge-based economy.

Conference speaker Dr Bal Raj Sehgal, professor emeritus at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden and a member of the elite US National Academy of Engineering, highlighted the importance of engineering education and emphasised the need for innovation in education and collaboration on innovative projects, especially among young people.

He said:

The future young leaders have to learn and to train to be innovative in thinking and in working together.’

Texas A&M at Qatar partnered with Maersk Oil Qatar to bring in leading researchers to facilitate activity sessions for young Qatari students. The activities incorporated learning modules developed through extensive research about young students’ attitudes toward science and engineering.

At the end of the activity sessions, teachers were given learning modules to take back into schools for further experimentation and learning with a wider audience of students.

Mona Zeitoun, academic vice president and professional development supervisor at Al Huda Independent Primary School for Girls, said:

The workshop was beneficial and engaging. Our students enjoyed hands-on activities which added to their knowledge in math and science and made them understand how important are technology and engineering in their real lives. We are thankful to Texas A&M at Qatar and Maersk Oil Qatar as they brought in the right expertise to involve students in these learning modules and help them change attitudes toward science, technology and engineering.’

Strobel said the students’ performance is encouraging for Qatar’s future.

Many students had intuitive ideas about how to improve their design. They were ahead of the lesson, and their ideas, engagement and performance are equal to American children I work with on a regular basis. These young Qataris are on a pathway to higher learning in STEM areas, and if nurtured correctly, they will be leaders in STEM disciplines for Qatar’s knowledge-based economy.’