A group of girls chat quietly as their nimble fingers work on colourful plastic pieces. This is not your typical girly girl get-together as mechanisms and motors are being incorporated in the objects these girls are creating.
“I love working with and building robots,” says Nadine Fanous (11) who is busy preparing for the First Lego League (FLL) competition with eight of her colleagues.
The girls busily working here come from different schools and diverse backgrounds. They meet twice a week at the International Robotics Academy (IRA) to spend a couple of hours building robots. “We work on one project with a specific theme, tasks and missions –it’s so much fun!” exclaims bubbly Zain Khalaf (13) as she fiddles away.
Nadine specifically mentions how she loves the “thinking together” process when building robots, arguing and “expressing our feelings and ideas to each other.”
Collaborative learning and creative exploration
IRA provides girls and boys with materials they need to make their own experiments and be as creative as they wish, says Lama Sha’sha’a, IRA Chairperson.
So what do these girls learn at IRA? “I’ve learnt about programming and new thinking skills through the projects we work on,” says the outspoken Abeer Jabi (13) with a wide smile.
IRA’s courses are not about competition, but about collaboration and complementing each other’s work to get the best result.
“Research and communication skills are part of what I have learnt when I built a robot,” states the shy yet self-assured Seema Rida (12).
This group of mature girls agrees that in this field being a girl or boy does not make a difference; they are all given the same things to do and research.
“Experimentation not only teaches these kids about themselves and their competencies, but also how to analyse and solve problems and the difference between quick and convenient solutions, regardless of gender,” Sha’sha’a stresses.
Stretching creativity beyond conventional limits
Parents feel that robotics give their children the chance to stretch their creativity beyond the norm. “Coaches here really focus on the personality of each child,” says Dina ‘Abdeen, mother of one IRA member who has been at the Academy since its inception in 2014.
At home, she sees her child reflecting patience, a team spirit, discipline, creativity, independence and respect – “the list is endless,” she laughs.
“My friends and I have different opinions but somehow we always end up agreeing,” explains an excited Salma Abu Dahab (10). This girl’s personality is just as sparkly as the diamond headband she wears. She has come a long way – whereas she used to be very shy, she is now outspoken about her opinions.
At home, Salma who has three brothers, and due to the technical knowledge she has gained at IRA, views items technically. She tries out the skills that she has gained and “now I can fix mobile phones!”
According to Sha’sha’a, girls can’t be empowered if they are not exposed to knowledge and the sciences. It is clear that given equal opportunities as boys in this field, “there is little that these girls can’t do,” points out Sha’sh’a.