03rd April 2019

For some time developed countries have focused on the advancement of STEM subjects in their schools. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. This focus has served these countries well and they have produced top engineers, designers, computer scientists, creators of software and biomedical experts to name a few.

For reasons too vast for a brief overview, it became evident to educational researchers that while the emphasis on STEM was fulfilling an important role, the need for better collaboration and creativity were lacking in the STEM model. To this end Somerset College, like some other schools around the world, have added Art into the STEM model creating STEAM as a focus. Somerset College has also added Entrepreneurship into its teaching curriculum as it is abundantly clear that to flourish in the new world, an entrepreneurial spirit is also vital.

In addition, and importantly, the educational drivers at the College are fully aware that unless a student has self-esteem they are unlikely to flourish in the world. The play on words therefore is obvious: ESTEAM. ESTEAM represents an opportunity for young people to find a niche of excellence and to learn to collaborate with others who have strengths they perhaps do not have.

Why do ESTEAM?

The principles underpinning ESTEAM aim to help students learn that they do not have a deficit if they cannot excel in all aspects – they will flourish if they have opportunities to collaborate and value the strengths that exist among those around them. ESTEAM allows for and encourages collaborative learning and entrepreneurial thinking but also understands that sometimes students need space to work through concepts in silence and solitude.

To drive the concept of ESTEAM effectively and seriously, Somerset College has built an ESTEAM Centre, which will be a space that is dedicated to innovation, particularly in Science, Technology and Engineering (with a specific focus on Robotics and Coding), Art and Maths. At Somerset College, the vision for ESTEAM is applied to all learning from pre-preparatory ages to school leaving since innovation, solution finding, critical and analytical thinking and entrepreneurship are key to being relevant for this fast-changing world.

The world has entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Information Technology has become critical. Solution finding and critical thinking have become inextricably linked to being able to model outcomes and to code concepts. Robotics will become an inevitable aspect of many jobs and it is essential for young people to know how to code and to programme and to think scientifically and mathematically if they are to flourish and respond to the world they are now entering.

It is therefore incumbent upon cutting edge educational institutions to prepare students appropriately for the path that they will traverse for the next quarter of the 21st century. Not to do so is to fail our children. Indeed, it will have serious ramifications for the entire country if we do not move fast in this area.

To build a centre that allows students to experiment, not only with Physics as they currently know it but also to be able to innovate, make mistakes, code, programme for robotics, and integrate these concepts with Art and Design, is to prepare them meaningfully and creatively. ESTEAM will produce entrepreneurial thinkers and people equipped to manage in a modern world completely different from our current reality.

ESTEAM and the wider community

Somerset College believes that one of its core values, Contribution, is best practised by sharing privilege with the wider community. The College has a well-established social responsibility programme and, while there is always capacity to be involved in much more because the needs in South Africa are so great, the College encourages all students to contribute time and effort in spaces beyond their perceived places of comfort. Furthermore, through the Acorn Bursary Trust, the College has a bursary and scholarship programme that affords previously disadvantaged students an opportunity to attend the College.

In our initial roll out of ESTEAM within the curriculum, students were offered the opportunity to join a Robotics Club. These students, together with the relevant instructors, now share their newfound skills with students from less privileged areas who attend the Imibala Programme in Somerset West. Also through the connection with Imibala, our students and Art Teachers also engage with students who wish to develop their Artistic skills. Furthermore, each week, children from Macassar Primary School attend Mathematics lessons at Somerset College. The students at Somerset College are involved in many more social responsibility initiatives.

Now that the ESTEAM building is in place, we will share it with the wider community and offer courses in Coding, Robotics and Mathematics to those from less privileged environments who wish to learn new skills. These are opportunities that will upskill others and by implication support job creation.

What is in the ESTEAM Centre?

The ESTEAM Centre has been designed by Michal Cohen, a South African architect now living in the UK. Michal specialises in educational architecture having recently completed commissions for renovations to some of the UK’s iconic schools including St Pauls, Marlborough and North London Collegiate. Together with her business partner, she was also the UK’s female architect of the year in 2012.

The very design of the Centre reflects innovation and the opportunity at once to innovate, collaborate, design, solution find and to think analytically and so it has:

  • A large innovation area housing computers for design and a 3D printer, a sewing machine, specific tools and other relevant machinery for designing, proto-typing, coding and creating.
  • A design space, which will double up as a display area from time to time. This is required for larger projects.
  • A Physics Lab (hopefully one day hosting a wind tunnel).
  • A Robotics space – a clean, dust free space with relevant robotics kits
  • A Solutions room specifically equipped for collaborative problem solving and solution finding.
  • An Art Theory room.
  • Three Art Studios for both senior and prep school use.

A reflection and research space to consider solutions and entrepreneurial concepts.