The Malta Independent 25 September 2022, Sunday
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What we do today has a large impact on the future of business

Owen Bonnici Friday, 29 January 2021, 10:36 Last update: about 3 years ago

That is why we have to encourage the upcoming and present generation to embrace STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education.  In a changed, digitally-reliant world there is a clear link between the success we want to continue to have as a country and the need of encouraging students towards STEM subjects.

There is a twin peak in all of this: on the one hand we are seeing a considerable growth in high-tech jobs and work and on the other we are continuously being told that companies are not managing to find enough qualified people to meet this demand.

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Statistics and research show that in the past years the number of people working in STEM occupations in the European Union grew by three times as much as total employment in the whole block.  Of course, this trend will continue to pick up in the upcoming years and the forecasts are incredible.

When we say "we need to catch them young", it really means that we need to catch them young.  Experts in childhood education tell you that learning to program at that tender age is like learning to speak a second language.  This is important: after all it is the upcoming generation which will be tasked to use quantum computing, machine learning, AI and Internet of things to solve the main challenges of tomorrow.

On our part, at the Ministry, we are doing our share.

Last Tuesday,  together with the Executive Chairman of the Malta Council for Science and Technology Dr Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, I had the honour to launch the first edition edition of the National STEM Awards, which will be hosted at the Esplora Interactive Science Centre.  It is indeed an interesting development as we are seeking, for the same time, to acknowledge and honour the contribution of Maltese or Malta-based professionals to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and to society at large. These Awards are an initiative of the STEM Engagement Working Group chaired by Esplora and follow other successful models utilised elsewhere in other sectors, such as the arts.

I truly believe that it is our utmost duty to recognise and honour our professionals for their contribution they give in the fields of STEM subjects in the field of education, the industry and the community at large.  By honouring them, we are also bolstering their visibility, putting their efforts on a national platform and at the same time incentivising more and more professionalisation.  I remember when I had started the National Cultural Awards back in the days when I was in charge of Culture and immediately we realised that that one single decision helped a great deal to improve the quality of the cultural scene.  Similarly I believe that these STEM awards will help pushing the standards higher.

I agree with Dr Pullino Orlando when he remarked, there is an obvious skills gap in certain sectors, particularly those related to STEM. Through initiatives such as the National STEM Awards, the Working Group is playing an important role in stimulating public interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, thus contributing to addressing this phenomenon. These awards ceremony will be held biennially and is a platform to acknowledge and honour the impeccable and tireless work of professionals working in different fields of STEM - ranging from education, the economy and society at large.

It is good to note that the 2021 National STEM Awards will be awarded for the following categories : Best Primary Class Teacher for Inspiring Children in STEM, Best Secondary School Teacher for Contribution to STEM, Lifetime Contribution to STEM,  Young Researcher, Engaged Researcher, Women in STEM,  STEM Ambassador, Best STEM Employer, Best STEM Community Project and Best STEAM Project (People's Choice). This award has been designed to encourage, honour, and promote excellence in projects marrying STEM subjects and the Arts as perceived in the excellence of the artistic values of the project and their collaboration with other disciplines.

This is a People’s Choice Award, meaning that the evaluation panel will shortlist the five best candidate projects that will then be submitted to public vote. We want to empower these people who give a lot of hard work, dedication and passion in STEM.  Indeed,  through this national awards project these individuals and organisations become visible local role models, representations of a deep connection with the STEM subjects they chose to follow, embrace and ultimately convey in their very own way.

Every Award Category has its own Evaluation Panel composed of at least three independent experts in the particular field targeted by the Award. All evaluators have signed a confidentiality and conflict of interest declaration.

Evaluation and ranking of candidates will take place in March 2021, while the National STEM Awards ceremony will take place at Esplora on 14th May 2021 upon invitation.

Those interested in nominating themselves or a STEM professional/project/entity of their choice, are kindly asked to send their nomination by 15 February 2021 via the online form available at the following link https://esplora.org.mt/national-stem-awards-guidelines-for-nominators-and-nominees/ which also includes information about General Conditions for Nomination and Eligibility and Evaluation Criteria.  Kindly note that supporting documents will be requested from candidates/nominees.

Also, a STEM Career poster exhibition featuring local STEM professionals is being displayed at Esplora from January to March: this exhibition contains real-life picture of men and women working in the fields of STEM-related places of work. Furthermore, a series of 4 videos and a digital booklet featuring local STEM professionals have also been produced and are available for free download from esplora.org.mt.  I am informed that literature will also be distributed amongst school children in order to keep raising the awareness.

Let’s make this first edition of the STEM Awards memorable. Let’s be pro-active and encourage these professionals to help in the innovative change that the country is passing through, without us sometimes noticing or realizing. These professionals are contributing to the research of new innovative ways which contribute towards a better and qualitative society through the subjects mentioned earlier.

I am very proud of this iniative and look forward for it to take place.

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One of the speeches which struck me as being very – but very – unorthodox was one delivered by none other than the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the UN General Assembly back in 2019.  The readers might recall his late night intervention wherein he spoke about tech and the future, - the pink-eyed terminators and limbless chickens speech. 

“In the future," Johnson had said, "voice connectivity will be in every room and almost every object: your mattress will monitor your nightmares; your fridge will beep for more cheese.”  That is not all: according to Johnson a future Alexa will pretend to take orders. But this Alexa will be watching you, clucking her tongue and stamping her foot.  Also, the British Prime Minister said that you may keep secrets from your friends, from your parents, your children, your doctor – even your personal trainer – but it takes real effort to conceal your thoughts from google.  

“AI – what will it mean?" he had asked.  "Helpful robots washing and caring for an ageing population? Or pink-eyed terminators sent back from the future to cull the human race?”  He then turned to synthetic biology: “What will synthetic biology stand for – restoring our livers and our eyes with miracle regeneration of the tissues, like some fantastic hangover cure? Or will it bring terrifying limbless chickens to our tables?”

I was left flabbergasted listening to this dystopian speech but to be entirely honest I was amused as well by it.  I thought Johnson delivered it to distract the international community from troubles he was facing at home back then.

Why I am referring to this strange speech by PM Johnson?  Because, my thoughts went back to it while reading about the investigations the European Commission opened in google's adtech practices.

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