In our rapidly changing world, the use of technology is not only on the rise, but is essential to participation in the knowledge society. On 20 October 2019, over 150 members of the Jamat attended the Ismaili Centre, London, for the inaugural Science Fair – part of the Aga Khan Education Board (AKEB)’s effort in the UK to promote interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

The AKEB STEM agenda enables young members of the Jamat to experience, discover, and be inspired to adapt to shifting trends in the world; today, and in years to come.

The science fair was first conceived during a conversation with children at the Diamond Jubilee Celebration in Lisbon, about the focus of the different Jubilees. What if the focus during the next Jubilee was on science?  But why wait until then?  “We should have a Science Fair!” said the children excitedly. And so the idea of an Ismaili Science Fair was born.

Dr Jess Wade, a physicist at Imperial College London, began the day with a talk about what science is, the importance of diversity in science, and what to do if a child wants to be a scientist.

Jill Hodges, the CEO of Fire Tech and one of the Science Fair judges, highlighted how science and technology are important in areas where we historically did not expect them to be. Take agriculture, for instance.  One would not traditionally think that science and technology would play a part in this field. Yet modern day agriculture cannot work effectively without it, with farmers using drones, GPS, and tools for data analysis.

The participants then tried their hand at various experiments, and judges observed the experiments, projects, and inventions submitted by children in the Jamat as part of the competition. We went from seeing erupting volcanos to flying balloons to how climate change is affecting the world. The Jamat also learnt about prominent Muslim Scientists and their achievements – teaching us that science has played an important part in Islamic history.

Soon after, attendees heard what it is like to work in science and technology from Mathematician Nahid Walji, Forensic Scientist Farhana Nanji, and Customer Experience Optimiser Shahina Meru. Chaired by Dr Hassan Chagani, the panel discussed how they entered into their respective fields and offered advice on how young members of the Jamat can join STEM fields. They were advised to explore and discover our world, and that science is one way to do it.

Gulzar Kanji, an expert in Early Childhood Education and Development, gave an overview on how parents can support their children to build their science and technology skills even at a very young age.  She highlighted the need to develop their curiosity and to ask questions, and gave advice on how this can be done in the home environment.

The day concluded with judges reviewing the science experiments, projects and inventions entered into the competition. All entrants were highly praised and after long deliberation, a number of winners were announced for projects in health, circuits, optics, and coding.

Not only was the quality of all the projects of a high standard – demonstrating just how innovative the ideas really were – but the confidence with which the children described their projects was inspiring.

This is one part of AKEB’s wider agenda to develop the skills needed for our children to succeed in an evolving future, and to open their minds to the range of possible future careers. The Science Fair is one of AKEB’s initiatives to develop children’s STEM capabilities. Other activities include “Tech Jams” – a two-day hackathon, a Space Camp, and Coding Clubs.

In today’s world, our discovery and understanding of science is evolving rapidly. Days such as the Science Fair open children’s minds to STEM, ultimately enabling them to stay at the forefront of these fields in this rapidly evolving world. We have already entered an era where science and technology is all around us. The need for the future generation to be familiar, and moving with it has never been more critical.