Like in most countries, robotics in Mauritius is used daily for the most common tasks. The fast-growing influence of AI in every aspect of our lives raises the question of whether our education system caters to understanding these changes and if young Mauritians are adequately equipped to contribute to this field.
To answer these questions, this article provides an overview of robotics at primary, secondary and tertiary levels.
Robotics in Private Schools
While computer classes have been part of the curriculum in both private and public primary schools, some private primary schools have taken a step ahead in the robotics field. For years, these schools have altered their programmes to include Robotics classes. An example lies near the western coast of the island. Like most private schools in Mauritius, this school follows the British curriculum. They have the means to afford hi-tech, children-friendly robotics equipment, and there is not much internal bureaucracy.
Hence, they have been able to start their programme quickly and make whatever changes to make it more efficient. A teacher has been trained to teach Robotics to children. Each key stage 2 class has an hour and a half of Robotics class each week. Children aged eight to twelve learn how to build small robots, assemble wires and batteries, and learn basic programming to make their creations work. Since they already know robotics and computer programming, it is a smoother transition to learn complex programming in secondary school.
Robotics classes from a young age result in different advantages. With AI taking up the world quickly, such courses allow young children to keep up with development. They understand where the world is heading and will already have the basics as they learn more about the subject.
Likewise, it is an additional field apart from core subjects in which children can shine. It is very different from classic Mathematics and Grammar classes, and some kids struggle with traditional learning methods. These kids, however, can be very skilled in Robotics. Hence, they get the necessary support and materials to cultivate their talent.
Robotics in Public Education
Public primary schools are different. From the Ministry of Education website, it can be understood that computer classes are part of the curriculum, but there are no Robotics. For years, public primary schools have been teaching computers. However, the curriculum for this particular subject has not been updated. There is also a feeling that computers are not given as much importance as core subjects. This is a problem as computers are everywhere nowadays, and understanding how they function from a young age is quintessential.
Re-structuring the ICT programme will give young children a better insight into new technologies. Since primary schools are already equipped with computers, costs will not be as much as implementing a new program.
On the other hand, public and private secondary schools have well-structured computer science classes that prepare students for the Cambridge examinations or International Baccalaureate. Around 2014, the Ministry of Education changed the programme and rebranded it from Computer Studies to Computer Science. While Computer Studies focuses mainly on designing and analysing hardware and software, Computer Science focuses on creating programmes and operating systems that will do what one wants, creating algorithmic processes. This change in the syllabus has allowed computer science students to understand Robotics better, as programming is crucial in this field.
Robotics as Further Studies
Interestingly, both Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Diplomas, Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, are prevalent in universities and schools around the island. The demand for these types of courses has skyrocketed alongside the fast-growing influence of AI globally. As a result, the choice of courses fitting in this field has grown. It should be highlighted that although AI and computer science courses are available in local universities, the number of students who go abroad to pursue such degrees is still high. For example, a popular choice among Mauritians is the Asia Pacific University (APU), located in Malaysia and well-known in the Southeast Asian region for its AI and Computer Science courses.
YUVA’s Robotics Initiatives
YUVA has been paying much attention to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) curriculum. Under this curriculum, these four subjects are combined and taught in a way that is more adapted to a world driven by new technologies than the traditional methods applied in most schools. YUVA Academy provides training and much help to young Mauritians selected to represent the country at the FIRST Global Challenge, a STEM competition.
This year, the competition will take place in October in Geneva, Switzerland. Fourteen members represent Mauritius. The competition will be face-to-face after two years as due to Covid 19, the last two competitions were online.
YUVA’s contribution to the robotics field is essential. It gives young children a better insight into new technologies and provides them with life opportunities. Numerous children rely solely on the Mauritian education system to learn, and several parents do not have the means to provide their children with materials and other resources to understand robotics from a young age. Through organisations such as YUVA, those children are not left behind. As such, they can benefit by participating in other competitions organised by the ministries or private companies rooted in the software development field.
The AI industry is very unpredictable and is developing so fast that there is no doubt it will be even more present in different aspects of our life in the coming years. To be able to adapt to these changes, educating our young generation about this sector, its advantages and limitations are of paramount importance. But relying on schools alone is not enough, so having NGOs (Non-Profit organisations) such as YUVA and other institutions contributing to achieving this common goal is essential.
Zahraa Patel, BA (Hons) in International Relations from the University of Nottingham, and MA International Programme at Nottingham Trent University