Over 1,300 schoolchildren from 70 primary and secondary schools in Cork, Limerick and Waterford are going head-to-head at the biggest ever national final of the Dell EMC VEX Robotics tournament at CIT.

The 1,000 primary school and 300 secondary school pupils have spent the last six months planning, designing and building their robots under the watchful eyes of their teachers and mentors from Dell EMC, Lifetime Lab and CIT.

The Dell EMC VEX Robotics programme, which is in its fifth year in Ireland and now supported by Science Foundation Ireland, promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning and engagement, as well as critical thinking, teamwork and presentation skills, among primary and secondary school children.

Pupils will remote control and program their robots to perform various tasks, like manoeuvring, lifting, pushing and throwing objects into a scoring zone. The winners of the national final’s overall ‘Excellence Award’ will qualify for a place at the VEX Worlds in Louisville, Kentucky, on 19-22 April.

Participating primary schools will also be judged on a special STEM research video presentation made in advance of the tournament in which pupils were asked to examine the impact of robotic technology on society. Winners will be announced on the day.

Martin O’Flaherty, Principal Program Manager, Dell EMC Ireland and head of the Dell EMC VEX team, said: “Attendance at this year’s event has completely defied our expectations. 2017’s final will be our biggest ever, and it’s a testament to the energy and enthusiasm from primary and secondary pupils, as well as the support from their teachers and parents, that this momentum continues.

“The Dell EMC VEX programme has proven itself to be a fun and stimulating way for kids to take a more active interest in STEM learning, preparing them for advanced study at third level and a career in the field. Ireland’s tech, engineering and pharma sectors are among the biggest in the world, and there’s a constant demand for highly skilled graduates with specialist knowledge. It’s crucial that our economy is able to supply them.

“The local community has provided phenomenal support over the last five years—it’s thanks to them, their advocacy and support from our partner organisations that we’ve brought VEX to counties outside Cork for the first time. We’re excited at the prospects of bringing the opportunity to even more students in the years ahead.”

Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Strategy and Communications, Science Foundation Ireland, said: “Science Foundation Ireland are delighted to support the VEX IQ project where students and teachers gain hands-on experience of robotics, and ICT and research skills, with support from industry mentors. The project also offers peer-to-peer learning, teamwork and communication skills which are necessary tools in any STEM career. Industry increasingly needs graduates with STEM skills, and the VEX IQ project is an important element in our mission to increase the number of STEM graduates.”

Professor Hugh McGlynn, Head of School of Science and Informatics at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), said: “CIT is again delighted to host and support this exciting and innovative STEM event in partnership with Dell EMC and Lifetime Labs. VEX Robotics provides an environment in which curiosity, creativity and friendly competition will flourish at both primary and second level. This event allows CIT to engage with stakeholders from education and the private sector in an informal, fun setting which is always a highlight on the schools’ calendars.”

Mervyn Horgan, Manager of Lifetime Lab said: “The VEX IQ programme offers multiple levels of STEM engagement, and we’ve witnessed children programming, designing, engineering and researching while showing a huge amount of effort and teamwork across all abilities. The future leaders of industry, the ones sitting in our school classrooms today with programmes like VEX, will be well prepared to supply the pipeline of talent to the knowledge economy.”

The final takes place on today and tomorrow at the Nexus Centre in CIT. The primary school final, VEX IQ, will take place today and the secondary school final, VEX EDR, will take place on Friday.

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