Young, bright minds create better world

Compared to adults, children and teenagers have more active imagination as they are less constrained by their own prior patterns of thoughts

by AZALEA AZUAR / Pic Source: Yayasan Sime Darby Facebook

WHEN children today are busy playing “Among Us” and “Hide-and-Seek” with their friends, little Zyson Kang Zy Shun has made headlines nationwide with his incredible idea.

The nine-year-old Malaysian has been crowned the champion of NASA’s Lunar Loo Challenge 2020 (Junior Category) by coming up with a “Spacesuit Lunar Toilet”.

This solution creates a vacuum to suck up liquids through working around microgravity in space and it can also fit easily into an astronaut’s spacesuit.

Kang’s creative idea managed to beat the rest of the 897 participants from 85 countries. Though the idea was originally meant to help astronauts in space, the nine-year-old prodigy also hopes it will eventually be used in other fields.

Such a good example of its application is in the medical field, especially during this pandemic period where medical frontliners are working non-stop.

Putting the lives of their patients above themselves, doctors who need to attend a medical emergency would have little chance of going to the bathroom, especially those treating Covid-19 patients and fully covered in personal protective equipment (PPE).

The task of removing the whole equipment is not just difficult, but also dangerous as they also have to do it carefully in order not to be infected. Hence, a spacesuit toilet would make it convenient for these medical workers during these trying times as they would not need to change their PPE very often.

Compared to adults, children and teenagers have more active imagination as they are less constrained by their own prior patterns of thoughts.

Adapting and understanding how life works is a key part to growing up and when we become better at these, we would develop habits of thought that would serve us well.

Which is why when we were younger, we could come up with such brilliant ideas.

Helping One’s Self

Recognising the potential ability that young people have, Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) has founded the Sime Darby Young Innovators Challenge (SDYIC).

The programme is held annually to promote the cultivation of innovative mindsets among Malaysian youths between 13 and 17 years old.

The participants have to develop smart and innovative solutions to help the local communities that are currently facing challenges.

The young participants also have to utilise different open-source hardware and software platforms that would help them create functional prototypes. At the same time, it aims to help these school students develop important 21st century skills.

SDYIC held its fifth edition last year with the theme “Help A Person, Change the World” which highlighted innovative ideas in solving real-life problems for the community, starting with helping one person around the students.

Fifteen teams were selected from 610 teams from 406 schools nationwide. They were evaluated based on their scalability, targeted impact to the community, regulatory compliance and implementation of their prototypes.

The final teams were also qualified to be given a month’s worth of training and exposure in the SDYIC 2020 National Camp.

This camp enabled students to hone various fundamental innovation skills, along with comprehensive guidance sessions. At the same time, they were taught on how to develop a good pitch to effectively communicate their innovative ideas.

At the completion of the camp, the teams had to pitch the potential impact and outcome of their community adoption projects during the SDYIC 2020 Grand Finale in December 2020.

Only three top winners received innovation grants worth RM60,000 and they would stand a chance to further refine their prototypes by working with targeted communities before implementing their inventions to solve the communities’ issues and challenges.

One of the solutions that the participants had come out with is “The Beep”, which was aimed at reducing traffic congestion at schools via a device which notifies students of their parents’ arrivals.

The idea was brought up by a team of three students from SMK Lutong, Sarawak, and they believe it will benefit local communities in Lutong. Starting January this year, there would be 100 prototype units targeted for distribution to both parents and students of SMK Lutong.

YSD CEO Dr Yatela Zainal Abidin said the SDYIC is an initiative held close to their hearts as it aims at providing local youths the exposure to practical innovation skills for creative solutions. These skills are in line with the Industrial Revolution 4.0.

“Students will be able to collaborate and discover innovative, creative and actionable solutions by honing design thinking, innovation, leadership and entrepreneurial skills,” she said.

“Moreover, the SDYIC also provides the two groups of mentors with learning opportunities — a one-of-a-kind training that improves pedagogical skills with innovative teaching methods for the secondary school teachers, and an opportunity to enhance technical and soft skills for undergraduate students.”

They are also proud to support and unite national and state education agencies, universities, the community and members of the technology industry to celebrate the talent, creativity and inventiveness of Malaysian secondary school students.

Going Digital

This year’s SDYIC is different compared to other editions as it is focused on empowering existing technology and digital capabilities to introduce virtually innovative workshops, programmes and competitions.

In its efforts to provide STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) training at schools worldwide, YSD has joined forces with Chumbaka Sdn Bhd, a social business start-up that provides training approved by the Ministry of Education and endorsed by Malaysia Digital Economy Corp.

The programme’s new online platform was planned in 2019, even before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

Participants were able to experience exclusive online sharing sessions with more than 30 industry professionals which include experienced Sime Darby employees and innovation officers for SDYIC 2020.

They also had the opportunity to attend virtual feedback sessions with innovation mentors and former SDYIC winning teams, as well as being equipped with online self-learning materials.

Empowering through Education

Since the programme’s inception in 2016, 1,224 secondary school teachers and 935 undergraduate students have been trained to apply design thinking, gamification of learning and prototyping using the Arduino platform through its annual “Train the Trainer” programme.

It allows teachers to continue guiding secondary school students with these skills even after the programme finishes.

YSD has also allocated over RM4.28 million to SDYIC under its “Education” pillar.

YSD chairman Tunku Tan Sri Imran Tuanku Ja’afar was touched at seeing many bright and innovative students participating in the programme throughout these years.

“This initiative will further nurture students with sought-after skills, such as critical thinking, communication and problem-solving. To date, YSD has supported four winning ideas that have been developed into working prototypes that stand to benefit the local communities,” he said.

Tunku Imran expressed his gratitude to have so much talent among our youths. Hence, YSD shall continue to assist them to uncover their aptitudes for the good of society and the world.

In the future, SDYIC hopes to have more female students who hail from rural areas as participants as they strive towards nurturing the inventive spirit in the Malaysian youths.

Past winning prototypes were “Robin Food”, “Mykroskope” and “D-Monitor” in which local communities were able to benefit from them. “Robin Food” connects supermarkets with surpluses of food to NGOs and charitable organisations, “Mykroskope” is a portable and affordable microscope created to address the insufficient number of microscopes in schools, while “D-Monitor” is a project which monitors drain water.

YSD hopes to continue its efforts in empowering Malaysian youths to innovate towards problem-solving while promoting capacity-building and development of technical and soft skills for both undergraduate and secondary school students.