Why we must champion innovation and invention-based learning

“Providing students with the opportunity to step outside the comfort zone of a classroom and work on inventions with a trial-and-error approach encourages them to take risks”

Providing students with engaging opportunities to explore, discover and grow is something all educators aspire to achieve. Yet, this is often difficult when the majority of teaching is done in traditional classroom environments, says Aysha Al-Mudahka from Qatar Foundation.

For STEM learning in particular, it cannot be neglected. It is essential that schools equip the next generations with engaging experiences that teach practical STEM skills if we are to encourage and prepare students to pursue careers in science and engineering-led industries.

Key to this, and an area where I believe we can expect to see considerable growth in the coming years, is maximising innovation and invention-based learning.

At Qatar Foundation, we have been striving to support STEM learning and founded the Qatar Academy for Science and Technology, a dedicated school that enables students focusing on topics like computer science to participate in research projects with industrial organisations where they can get hands-on experience.

Recently, we expanded opportunities for invention-based learning at our Education City campus, partnering with Conoco Phillips and the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center’s to bring their experimental learning program Spark!Lab to Qatar. The program provides children and young people with opportunities to invent and design solutions to real-world problems, taking a collaborative approach.

Built on experiential learning, Spark!Lab offers a fresh approach to often-monotonous learning methods such as reading and writing. Our Qatari pilot of the program saw brilliant engagement from the young people participating, as well as some amazing, inventive solutions to real-life challenges.

The success of the first program made it clear to us that invention-based, hands-on learning has a major role to play in inspiring the next-generation of leaders, and we are now looking forward to welcoming our second edition later this year.

As programs like Spark!Lab continue to develop, we hope to see experimental and innovation-based learning adopted more widely.

Diversifying syllabuses to incorporate these types of programs creates a positive and entertaining experience for students, making them feel like they are playing an active part in their own growth. It’s a chance to nurture students’ curiosity and provide opportunities for them to take their learning into their own hands. As well as making the experience more rewarding, this also increases information retention and encourages young people to want to continue and learn more.

Honouring this curiosity and encouraging students to take ownership of their own education is especially important in STEM subjects, where the subject matter is so extensive and the possibilities for development are endless. It will surely encourage learning at a quicker rate and ultimately foster morepassion for STEM subjects amongst students.

Innovation and invention-based learning also supports personal growth. Providing students with the opportunity to step outside the comfort zone of a classroom and work on inventions with a trial-and-error approach encourages them to take risks. As well as supporting their technical knowledge, taking these risks equips students with vital analytical and self-reflection skills. On top of this, it builds confidence and resilience – two important character traits for their future careers.

The collaborative and solutions-oriented nature of this type of learning further develops students’ practical understanding of the world around them and helps them build the skills they need to operate in team-based environments. The challenges that the world faces today – from climate change to health concerns – are complex and will not be solved by one person alone. The next generation of leaders must be taught to think on their feet, but also learn the value of teamwork and the importance of sharing expertise, if we are to set them up for success.

Looking towards the future, it is certainly an exciting time for schools and we are likely to see various new pedagogical approaches implemented. I hope to see more schools recognising the invaluable role of experimental programs such as Spark!Lab in shaping the next generation, and introducing these programs as a priority. Given the challenges facing the world, now more than ever, we must ensure we are equipping the next generation to meet the needs of the future.

In Qatar, we are lucky to have a local and regional ecosystem that supports innovation at all levels. What is amazing about this ecosystem is that it includes not only large institutions but also private companies that aim to educate young people and other innovators to take their experiential learning to the next level.

About the author: Aysha Al-Mudahka, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Partnership Development at QF CEO Office.