Sustainability: Students Showing The Way?

Answering some of the biggest challenges facing the world today. . .

Last year, carbon emissions hit a record high. Research by the International Energy Agency found that carbon dioxide levels had risen by 1.4 per cent, after three years of relative stability. Fortunately, organisations have recognised the importance of sustainability. Walmart, for example, has set the ambitious goal of eliminating one gigaton of emissions by 2030. Consumer attitudes are also beginning to change. A 2017 study by Unilever revealed that a third of adults across five countries prefer to buy from brands that are conscious of their social and environmental impact. Nonetheless, this is far from a majority. In order to build a sustainable world, organisations, companies and individuals need to pool innovative ideas. PA Consulting Group’s annual Raspberry Pi competition was launched with a view to do exactly that, encouraging innovative collaboration well beyond the corporate environment.

If you can dream it, you can do it

Instead of bringing together established business leaders, PA’s Raspberry Pi competition challenges students across the UK to devise solutions to annual themes using the Raspberry Pi, a low cost, credit card sized computer. Teams are split into three categories (academic years four to six, seven to 11 and sixth form). This year, a total of 111 entrants were whittled down to just nine. Interestingly, four of the final groups came from Horsham in West Sussex. The final took place on the 17th April at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) in London, followed by an awards ceremony. The judging panel was made up of representatives from Aviva, the BBC, BP, Essex County Council, E&T magazine, Lloyd’s Register, the NHS, the Raspberry Pi Foundation and PA. Now in its sixth year, 2018’s competition asked students to come up with solutions to encourage sustainability. From smart domestic water meters to gamified recycling, the range of projects demonstrated just how wide the spectrum can be.

“For me, one of the main takeaways is the broad interpretation of the theme,” said Frazer Bennett, PA Consulting Group’s Chief Innovation Officer. “You don’t get that with adults. It’s all about nudging behaviour.”

The awards ceremony was hosted by Tomorrow’s World presenter Maggie Philbin, who explained that innovation was about identifying problems and then finding the simplest and quickest way to solve them. Each team was then invited to the stage to explain their entry and receive an award for reaching the final. The three winning projects in order of academic year group were Emaginate, an interactive rubbish bin made by students at Ysgol Deganwy, Life of Pi, a sustainable street light system by Kenilworth School, and finally September, a renewable energy charger built from scrap by The College of Richard Collyer. These teams all received £1,000.

Examining imagination

So, what makes a successful project? Marcus Tyler-Moore, parent and helper at St. Mary’s C of E Primary School, says that it’s not being afraid to ask for help. Tyler-Moore is one of many who recognises areas which could be changed in the current education system. Instead of teaching hands on learning, the curriculum focuses largely on theoretical exams. However, by thinking creatively and collectively, students can contribute to solving real world issues. Of course, it’s not all about saving the planet. Through taking part in the competition, students are given the chance to work with cutting edge technology, develop their STEM skills, and learn to work as a team. Penny Bunting, electronics teacher at King Edward VI Grammar School, says it’s also about giving them the confidence to develop their own ideas.

Ultimately, by fostering passion in tech and combining ideas, companies, institutions and individuals can make a real, tangible difference. This begins with the acceptance that all ideas are valid, whether they come from the boardroom or the playground. This is especially the case when it comes to problems like sustainability, which, if unsolved, will be universally detrimental.

“Regard today as a beginning, not an end,” said Philbin as the final winners left the stage. “This is about your future. . . And my future, too.”

What future challenges could the Raspberry Pi competition help address? What is the most important skill that teams need to innovate successfully? Can changes to the education system encourage technological innovation? Share your thoughts and opinions.

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