Students in STEM skills challenge build system to curb illegal parking in Hong Kong
Form Two pupils win best presentation in smart city contest and say they hope city officials can develop their project
It’s been nearly four hours since classes have ended at United Christian College in Kowloon East, but a group of Form Two pupils are still in their classroom, hovering over a desk and having an intense conversation.
The four girls are putting the finishing touches to their latest invention: a smart street sensor that can detect and adapt to the movements of roadside cars to tackle illegal parking.
“We have embedded six ultrasonic sensors in closed-circuit television systems to collect and send information,” Bethany Ip Hoi-kin, 14, says. “These will be handy in monitoring the roadside traffic in Kowloon East.”
The devices are for installation on buildings along streets, and can sense the height from their perch to the road surface. If a vehicle parks illegally in the area, sensors pick up the change in height because that portion of the road is now covered by the car’s body.
A timer kicks in, and if the height difference is still registered after five minutes, police would be notified, with information obtained from the accompanying surveillance camera, Odelia Wong Sze-wing, 14, another of the group’s members says.
For the past three months, the group has been putting together the notification system piece by piece under The Schools Challenge, a programme seeking to inspire students to apply STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) skills to solve community issues.
The challenge is organised by Junior Achievement Hong Kong – an NGO empowering young budding entrepreneurs – and investment bank JP Morgan.
Last Saturday, about 100 students from 12 secondary schools in Kowloon East showcased their projects and the girls from United Christian College won best presentation. Although they have no plans yet to promote their system, the group said “it would be great if the government could pick it up”.
The theme of this year’s competition centred on initiatives for Kowloon East, a pilot area to explore the feasibility of developing a smart city. Student teams were challenged to use STEM principles to develop innovative solutions.
After months of observation and research and with the help of mentors, students targeted several urban issues such as traffic congestion, illegal parking, unauthorised displays of bills and posters, as well as illegal dumping of waste.
One of the mentors, Kenneth Lui Kwan-kit, 35, praised the efforts of the youngsters.
“At first, they seemed to shy away from speaking out and offering counterarguments, but along the way, I saw their efforts in really taking part and expressing themselves,” Lui, who is vice-president of listed structured products for sales in Asia at JP Morgan says.
“It’s exciting to see our colleagues come together with school students to tackle issues that affect us all in the community,” Kam Shing-kwang, head of JP Morgan Hong Kong says.
Kwan adds that the event is part of the bank’s broader commitment to economic inclusion and social mobility.
“We are inspired by the creativity, energy, talent and host of scientific and technological skills the participants have showed throughout this programme.”
“The real challenge in this experience is for participants to take a break from their textbooks to immerse themselves in the community to help solve social issues that are close to their lives,” Garrick Lau Gar-tsun, CEO of Junior Achievement Hong Kong says.
“I want the students to understand that there aren’t always model answers for all problems. I hope they’ll discover that there’s never a limit in how creative they can be.”
Sophia Leung, Asia-Pacific managing director and chief information officer of JP Morgan, says students must realise the importance of STEM in a city known for its status as a financial hub.
“It’s widely acknowledged that STEM disciplines will be increasingly essential in the future. We have to equip our young with such skills because while we may not know exactly what their future careers will be, the fact is that these skills would be relevant regardless of the fields they choose.”
According to Leung, educators also need to have an understanding of the importance of STEM.
“A lot of people in the city think the [most high-profile] careers are in finance, business and accounting or sales, but I think the future will be very different from today, especially with emerging technology.”
Leung adds that she was impressed by how students in the challenge displayed their technical skills and applied them to livelihood issues.
“This is what I wanted to see – for them to stay open-minded about a topic because sometimes, they may be [put off by the technicalities] of science.”
She concludes that if children can be motivated through such challenges to apply their skills to everyday settings, it would raise their appetite for learning.