Leading Environmental Change: Children and Youth Inventors


Leading Environmental Change: Children and Youth Inventors

E-STEM Stories: Branching Out shares stories of innovative E-STEM work from around the world. E-STEM engages students in meaningful, real-world environmental problem-solving that integrates science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). 

This post highlights STEMIE Advantages, a 2022 recipient of a Pratt & Whitney E-STEM Award. These awards, which support both new and established global E-STEM initiatives, are made possible by Pratt & Whitney and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).

Written by Nancy Soon and Amanda Ng of STEMIE Advantages, Singapore

What would our world look like if every child had the tools and opportunities to innovate and make a positive change in the world? 

Our Organisation and Our Commitment to Environmental Education 

At STEMIE Advantages, we use STEM and invention education to guide children and youth of underrepresented communities to solve problems that they care about. We believe that introducing environmental issues and encouraging innovation at formative ages will ensure that they grow to be agents of change for a sustainable future. 

All of our students experience the invention process, which accelerates the learning of many important life skills. To start, our students learn to identify and frame problems. This critical skill empowers them to anticipate challenges and act in a timely manner. The invention process also encourages students to practise compassion and creative problem-solving. Importantly, inventing nurtures perseverance—our students are reminded to never give up on solving a problem, even when they face challenges.

Students using reconfigurable materials in the prototyping process. Photo credit: IDE Academy.

In our workshops and classes, we introduce and start conversations about environmental issues that are especially prevalent or relevant to our students. Our classes serve as a safe space for students to explore, discover, and brainstorm sustainable solutions. Many students are ultimately inspired to innovate solutions to environmental problems.

With that being said, we never assign our students to particular issues and challenges. This vital principle undergirds our programmes. We’re training our students for an ever-changing future. That means enabling them to anticipate, identity, and scope problems; not just solve them. In fact, when our students identify problems that they wish to work on, they take ownership in solving these problems.

An Unlikely Story of Innovation 

Note: This anecdote contains sensitive information about one of our students. We have used a pseudonym and left out details that could identify her.

Sharon is a timid and soft spoken young lady with a brilliant solution that would preserve life on land. Her invention, the Autobin, promotes clean public spaces such as parks and nature reserves by ensuring that throwing trash away is convenient to individuals. 

Sharon built her prototype from scratch, receiving little help from her busy parents and having no school teachers to consult. With our guidance, she completed her project, presented her idea to judges at the Singapore Invention Convention, and won multiple awards for her invention.

With little access to a social support network or formal guidance, Sharon would not have been able to participate in school-wide events, let alone national events. Stories like hers drive us to push forward in our journey to enable more inventors regardless of their gender, sociocultural background, or learning abilities.

Expanding Our Programming Through the Pratt & Whitney E-STEM Award 

With the E-STEM award, we can expand our reach within the local scene. This year, we’re equipping female youths in STEM-related diploma courses with the invention process, so that they can lead their peers and share their skills with other students. 

We are also able to offer scholarships to students who might otherwise be “Lost Einsteins” like Sharon. Ingenuity does not discriminate—every child should have the opportunity to experience inventing a solution to a problem that they care about. We hope that the scholarships will open this opportunity up for families who can’t afford enrichment programs and students who do not qualify for school-organised innovation activities. 

Make a Difference for That One 

Remember that we all have the ability to make a difference in this world and to shape the future! Like us, you might be a small team with limited resources. When we ran our pilot workshop, we had only 18 students. Today, we’ve impacted more than 1,000 students and families. While we’re putting our best foot forward, we know that we’re only making a dent in our society. But even though we can’t save every starfish, if we’ve taught one student to innovate for a sustainable future, we’ve made a difference. That young inventor will make a difference in their life, and hopefully the lives of others. 

Pilot run of the Youth Invention Sprint in collaboration with community partners. Photo credit: IDE Academy.