Adventures in Education

CHIT YAN SHUM

CHIT YAN SHUM

Chit Yan is the co-founder of Tech Cubie, an innovative STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education program for primary school students. She graduated from HKUST with a BEng in Computer Engineering in 2000 and an MSc in Investment Management in 2014. After 10 years in the investment banking industry, however, she wanted to try something different.

The idea for Tech Cubie came when she was chatting with fellow HKUST alumni, Connie Wong and Wilson Shum, both passionate about education. "We decided to start a new venture together," Chit Yan explains. "And we knew we had a lot to learn. Although we were well experienced in various areas of technology, we also needed to excel at STEM education for the business to be successful."

They began by holding private classes for friends' children in their homes, which gave them the insights needed to form a curriculum. "Now, we've developed a year-long course, plus summer programs and one-off day camps," says Chit Yan. They've also hired three HKUST students, Maple Wong, Jacky Wong, and Daniel Hui, to assist as part-time teachers.

"At Tech Cubie, our vision is to empower the next generation with computational thinking and technology competency. If we want our children to succeed in the digital economy, we need to teach them these skills while they are still young," she says.

Chit Yan and her team take a creative approach to teaching. "We use a mix of hands-on activities, fun outdoor games, parent engagement, and a variety of tools, from complex electronics to simple pieces of paper."

Tech Cubie is unique in several ways. Firstly, students learn through trial and error. "In my classes, I give students a task like,'Get this robot to run a square on the floor' without telling them how to do it. I'm always amazed at their creativity: a class of six students will often come up with four or five different ways of achieving the same goal. This teaches them that there is no one right answer in life -it's about finding what works for you."

This teaches them that there is no one right answer in life – it’s about finding what works for you.

- Chit Yan Shum

"That's one of the most rewarding things for me: seeing their excited smiles when they succeed," Chit Yan smiles. "It's also enormously rewarding to coach students through their failures, reassuring them that it's ok to fail and helping them find the strength to persevere."

Secondly, students learn in daily life, not just in the classroom. "I get them to question the things they see every day, like automatic doors. How does the door open when someone comes near? Is it an infra-red or ultrasonic sensor? Then I teach them the science, engineering, and coding concepts behind it. But most importantly, I guide them to think about what problem is it solving. This is the true power of STEM education."

Once the students see how technology solves real needs, Chit Yan challenges them to think in reverse. "I start them with a problem, such as,'Your grandmother needs a cane to walk. How can you use technology to help her?' At HKUST, I learned the importance of centering technology around the community. Unless it solves a human need, it is useless."

Thirdly, Tech Cubie encourages students to build things with their own hands. In the first Mbot class for example, they are given all the parts of the robot and asked to assemble them without seeing the robot first. "It's a lot of fun, as many have never used a screwdriver before. Plus, it teaches them important hardware skills."

One of the greatest challenges the trio faced with this new venture was finding a convenient, safe, and affordable venue. "As a start-up, you have to keep adapting your vision to work around obstacles," says Chit Yan. So, instead of opening a center, the trio came up with an innovative solution. "We partnered with different organizations around Hong Kong, and tailored our curriculums to suit each venue."

As a start-up, you have to keep adapting your vision to work around obstacles.

-Chit Yan Shum

For instance, parent-child day camps are held at Noah's Ark Solar Tower in Ma Wan, with outdoor games in the morning and island-themed tasks in the afternoon. The outdoor enviornment provides numerous opportunities for students to observe and create. "One student built a model of an automatic barrier for cars entering the island, complete with an electric motor and a light sensor - in only three hours!" By tailoring their classes to different locations in this way, the team has transformed an enormous challenge into a unique advantage.

Another challenge facing STEM educators in Hong Kong is educating parents on the importance of the subjects. "We found that including parents in our day camps was the best way for them to experience the benefits of STEM education. They often enjoy it so much, they forget to let the kids have a turn!" Chit Yan laughs.

Encouragingly, the government is directing more funding towards STEM education and many schools are equipped with the latest technology. However, the training required to utilize it fully is still lacking. "It's not about what gadgets you have, it's about how you use them," Chit Yan explains. "Take this Mbot for example. Teachers who are not trained will only use it for four or five classes. Actually, it's possible to create a 30-hour curriculum based on just this robot!"

Chit Yan and her team believe the key is teaching students to integrate technology into their daily lives and create solutions to problems they encounter. "We need to teach kids to explore more, try more, challenge the status quo, and connect with society."