Fanning young scientists’ curiosity

In Summary
  • The global pandemic did not stop them from inventing and collaborating. It did not stunt their ambitions nor stymie their creativity.
  • This was resilience in action and the Embassy of Ireland was very proud to support their journey. 

Irish poet WB Yeats said “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”.

Creative sparks flew last week as Kenya’s bright young scientists gathered for the third Young Scientists Kenya National Exhibition. President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Patron of YSK, officially opened the exhibition on Tuesday, telling the competing high school students that “there is no limit to what you can achieve”.

Despite the challenges of Covid, more than 120 students from 22 counties took part in the innovative science competition which showcases the next generation of scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators.

The exhibition was held digitally in response to the pandemic and the public was invited to log on to view the students’ projects which applied cutting-edge science, technology and maths to infrastructure, irrigation, digital technology, healthcare and agriculture.

The global pandemic did not stop them from inventing and collaborating. It did not stunt their ambitions nor stymie their creativity. This was resilience in action and the Embassy of Ireland was very proud to support their journey. 

On Friday we came together for the awards ceremony, gathering online to celebrate those who participated and presenting scholarships, an overseas trip and a range of prizes to the winners. It was a day to celebrate the innovation and dynamism which powers Kenya and recognise the ingenious young people who are pushing boundaries.

As Ireland’s Ambassador to Kenya, I was honoured by the enthusiasm with which Kenya’s government, academia and private sector grasped the opportunity of YSK to embed science, technology, engineering and maths skills in schools nationwide.

There is a growing recognition worldwide that in order to succeed in this information age; to thrive in our globalised world, young people must be equipped with the STEM skills and confidence to tackle the challenges facing their families and communities. To succeed we must innovate; we must build our entrepreneurial ecosystems; we must empower the next generation. This is the mandate of YSK.

The original Young Scientists competition was pioneered in Ireland 55 years ago and has proven critical in Ireland’s transition from a relatively poor country, suffering  deep unemployment and economic migration, to one of the world’s most open and globalised economies.

It was part of the reckoning that our people are our greatest resource and we could reshape our country and secure our future by developing a highly-skilled and adaptable workforce and encouraging innovation.

Developing this STEM expertise has allowed us to attract many of the world’s top technology and life-sciences companies; to incubate successful Irish enterprises and develop a world-class university and R&D system.

Take the example of Patrick Collison, the 31-year-old CEO and co-founder of the financial payments company, Stripe, who spoke to the YSK students last Tuesday. In 2005 at the age of 16, he won Young Scientists Ireland and went on to found Stripe, a company whose value is projected to reach $100 billion.

While Stripe didn’t grow directly out of his winning project, he told students that his work as a 16-year-old high school student in rural Ireland laid the foundations for his later success and he reminded them that they can do meaningful scientific work in high school. He pointed out that in the history of the world, political scandals fade, there is much that never makes the history books. But the great inventions – the steam engine, vaccines, the internet – are what matter.

Mathematics powers our world of information. Technology shapes our futures. His message was simple: there is no more important work!

This is why Ireland is sharing our experience of the Young Scientists and supporting Kenya to harness STEM and the brilliance of your young people as Ireland has done. We’re very proud to walk this journey with you, stepping in footprints of the Irish missionaries who came first, offering quality education to many Kenyans, who still speak with respect and fondness of these teachers and mentors.

YSK is a true partnership between the Embassy of Ireland, the Ministry of Education and many generous partners and sponsors. lt is built on the hard work and commitment of many brilliant Kenyan teachers, mentors and judges who fan the flames of the students’ curiosity and ensure the sparks of creativity burn bright and long.