The youth of today consume technology more than any other generation prior. From one screen to another, innovative seamlessly functioning products entering the market in abundance and Apps demanding their attention, the consumption of technology is endless amongst the youth. The Makers Hub, sought to change this, by founding a series of programs that equip the youth with the necessary skills to produce and build technologies to solve their daily challenges, rather than solely consuming, without question, what is handed to them.
BDD’s team sat with Engineer Sabine El Kahi (SE), Managing Director of The Makers Hub, to discuss how we can create more engaged, enlightened and innovative generations, with the right skills.
BDD: Why was The Makers Hub founded?
SE: The Makers Hub was founded based two essential needs. Firstly, at a time where youth are given technology products ready to be used or are perfectly engineered to work well, they rarely get the chance to conceive technology as a tool to build new products and solutions to solve their daily challenges. We end up raising generations who consume technology rather than use it to build innovative projects and products. With the fast development of open source technologies, it has become easier for innovative minds, if equipped with the needed soft and tech skills, to contribute in the tech field.
Secondly, one of the main challenges for the educational sector, is using technology as an integrated tool to reach the learning objectives while giving the space for youth to tap into their creativity, innovation and arts (STEAM education).
BDD: So what does The Makers Hub offer, to bridge this divide?
SE: The Makers Hub is a concept and program that caters to the youth, starting from 7 years of age and up to 25 years of age, to develop tech skills and access open source technologies in the fields of design and manufacturing, digital fabrication (3D printing and CNC machining), electronics and coding microcontrollers, as well as metalworking. With that, The Makers Hub is a community of young makers who actively use technology and build new solutions. Through our licensing model for schools, we help them effectively adopt STEAM education and empower innovative thinking among youth while meeting the curriculum learning objectives.
BDD: What are the main milestones or achievements of The Makers Hub since it was founded?
- We have already established 4 makerspaces in collaboration with partners in different areas of Lebanon: Tripoli with Ruwwad El Tanmiya, Tyr With Imam Sadr Foundation, Beirut our main makerspace at Beirut Digital District and at the Refugee camp in Burj El Barajne with Fraternity Association.
- We have worked with more than 30 private and public schools and collaborated with NGOs through designing and implementing educational hands-on programs for underprivileged communities and school dropouts. I can name Techwood program with the Lebanese League for Women in Business funded by UNICEF and the Solidarity project with AICA and funded by USAID.
- During the COVID-19 lockdowns, we launched our online courses under “Young Makers” project which resulted in the submission of 90 projects (a dozen of them are potential marketable products) and the training of 240 participants.
- In total we have worked with more than 3000 youth from different socio-economic backgrounds from private schools, children no longer enrolled in school, students with disabilities, refugees and underprivileged communities. These beneficiaries learnt about The Makers Hub either through STEAM sessions at their schools or by joining our extra-curricular activities and tech camps or by benefitting from programs designed for them and funded by a third party.
BDD: What tangible results do you see amongst children that have been part of The Makers Hub programs?
SE: Tangible results observed amongst kids and youth are what motivate us at The Makers Hub. We see kids feeling more confident using tech tools. They find The Makers Hub as their space to express their creativity and develop their maker spirit. Many of them also move from a consumer behavior to a member of the space who brings broken toys/products from home to fix them. Many show an obvious improvement in motor and dexterity skills in addition to the perseverance and focus to finish the project that they are building.
As for teenagers, we have got many testimonials stating that our courses opened a new horizon for the participants and made them realize that they can themselves be builders of technological solutions too. As an example, a girl who wanted to be an architect because she likes drawing, after joining our electronics and coding microcontrollers course decided to go into computer science as a specialization.
BDD: Have you seen growing demand for the courses and workshops that you offer? And has this increased during COVID-19?
SE: Back in 2014, when we started under Kids Genius program (for a younger age group), we were aiming at raising awareness about this need in society that our kids lack a space where they deal with technology and sciences while being creative and productive. With time, the awareness and demand for our courses started increasing especially after we moved our makerspace model to Beirut Digital District, the hub and welcoming community for tech startups. Due to COVID-19 pandemic, we launched our online courses in November 2020 and since then we trained more than 220 participants aged between 14 and 45 years old on open course technologies in the field of 3D design&3D printing and electronics&coding microcontrollers. Due to the current economic crisis in Lebanon, developing maker skills can help citizens to be more resilient and survive the tough times in the most efficient way through creating their own practical and tech solutions or repair defective parts. In fact, our students and team are fixing many defective households using 3D printing and electronics. Their previous behavior was to throw away what doesn’t work and buy a new one.
BDD: What skills do children need to thrive in the coming years and when they enter the workplace?
SE: Resilience, perseverance and being a self-learner are the skills that will help children thrive in their future and professional life. These are characteristics of a maker who is in continuous exploration, learning by doing and trial and error phases to bring his/her project to life.
Of course learning tech skills such design and manufacturing, coding, open source electronics are additional important skills that will allow the kids to be more resourceful in their future and know how technology can serve them to reach their goals or create innovative new solutions. Most importantly for me is to build a maker character, a maker personality, enjoying the entrepreneurship journey every day in the company they work at or in their own startup.
BDD: What role do parents and schools play to advance children’s’ skills in STEAM? What more can they do?
SE: I have met many parents who are aware of the necessity to develop their kids’ practical and tech skills and give them the chance to spend more time interacting with materials and tools, away from tablets.
Parents can help their kids further by:
- Choosing the right gifts that require some focus and time spent to build a project.
- Instead of buying new toys when a child breaks them, to rather sit with the kids and think together on ways to fix these toys.
- And to enroll them in programs that can teach the kids the needed tech and maker skills through a structured manner and where they can get the support from experienced instructors in case they want to build their own dream project, and meet other young makers.
As for schools, many of them are including some STEAM afterschool activities and very few are integrating robotics classes in their educational program as a separate session from math or science classes. Most of these schools’ main motivation was the participation in a robotics competition. It is a good start but through observation, we see kids enjoying the robotics class but hating the math classes. Kids are seeing technology at school as a cool product that they can play with and not realizing that based on the advancement in science and math that technology has reached that far. A better integration of STEAM education is by teaching kids Science and Math through hands-on sessions where they get to use or prove concepts that they learn through building a project or a toy.
BDD: How important is it to be part of an entrepreneurial and innovative community, such as BDD?
SE: As mentioned earlier, the demand for our courses increased when we moved to BDD. Being in an entrepreneurial and innovative community helped us in our marketing efforts and in being more exposed to the right audiences. We feel we are part of a family of innovators and ambitious people, seeing the opportunities in the challenging times. In addition to that, the BDD management team is very supportive and making sure that the startups in the BDD community have access to the resources and infrastructure they need to thrive and grow, such as fast internet connections, electricity, services… These are becoming critical issues during the crisis that Lebanon is facing and being at BDD is helping us focus more on our programs without worrying about these issues. We are grateful for being part of the BDD community and thankful for all the efforts being done to ensure the best environment and culture for startups.
BDD: So what are the workshops or camps that are coming up that kids can participate in?
SE: Currently we have our weekly summer program during August for students aged 7 to 11 and 12+ years old. In October, we are launching our second batch for our online courses in 3D design&3D printing and electronics&coding microcontrollers while at our makerspace in BDD, our afterschool programs will start for the new educational year.
Let’s hear from some of the children who joined The Makers Hub programs:
- “I didn’t know that I could build my automated products at home.” Since then this young girl and her other friends who joined the course are developing controlled systems for their schools’ events.
- Another student’s words: “Whatever I will be doing in the future, it is thanks to the course I joined and the team of instructors.”
Learn more about The Makers Hub here: www.themakershub.co
Or visit their social media channels on Facebook and Instagram: @tmhchannels