Staff Writer Ahmed Budalama speaks to Latifa Al Khalifa, the mastermind founder of Cleverplay, where she walks us through how science, mathematics, engineering, arts and math are deployed in the fascinating world we live in.
In today’s landscape, modern technology is ever-changing, and tech-based education is not an exception. Meet Cleverplay, Bahrain’s first STEAM-specialised education service provider, which is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. Founded by Latifa Al Khalifa and her band of sisters, the startup aims to bridge the gap in the education sector and further enhancing children’s learning experience by implementing a forward-thinking, adaptive STEM/STEAM-based curriculum. In today’s education system, especially in the Kingdom of Bahrain, they saw how the school system is not quite catching up with the rapid evolution of the knowledge and innovation economy. The demand for advanced skills not only for the present but more particularly for the future workforce is largely unmet. The world economy is shifting to a STEM/STEAM orientation and lifestyles are transforming accordingly to such trends, yet most school children maintain their lack of interest in STEM careers.
“It is in this spirit that Clever Play was founded. We lend our stimulating and supportive environment right from early childhood to encourage young students to explore and embrace the possibility of pursuing a college degree and eventually a career in STEM,” explains Al Khalifa on how she gave birth to her entrepreneurial child.
Thus, Clever Play was born. Today, it is here so that kids, from where they are, could meet science, mathematics, engineering, arts and math as intertwined parts of the fascinating world we live in. Latifa’s mission lies in the strong belief that STEM/STEAM is the new code for future-oriented education, as she works to spark, inspire and nurture kids’ interest in STEM/STEAM in order to build a pipeline of talent and address generational sustainability of skills through child-friendly training in the fundamentals of the 21st Century economy.
As a startup, Cleverplay’s combined engagements rocketed their reach to over 6,000 children on their pilot year alone. Their first efforts were acknowledged when they landed as Startup of the Year Finalist in the GESS Education Awards [Global Educational Supplies and Solutions] held in Dubai last February 2019. Additionally, a big stride that was recently achieved was Cleverplay being announced a National Winner in the Entrepreneurship World Cup held during the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Bahrain in April 2019. The Entrepreneurship World Cup is a comprehensive and multi-dimensional platform for up and coming start-ups; an ongoing competition participated in by over 100,000 participants from 184 countries across the globe. Outside Bahrain, they are currently doing a summer engagement with the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, Ithra in Saudi Arabia, to further expand and explore franchise opportunities to bring our services to the wider MENA Region.
“We serve with engaging programs and workshops that adapt international best practices. We use methods that kids enjoy so they learn to love learning and grow to be adequately skilled for future challenges. We target learners 3-14 years of age to introduce critical skills at a stage when learning attitudes and behaviours are in the formative stage. We apply the arts as the creative route to science and math encouraging learners to engage their imagination in STEM projects, entrepreneurship and innovative making,” explains Latifa on what enrolling in one of Cleverplay’s programmes entail.
For elementary graders, Clever Play provides reinforcement to classroom instructional setting by linking classroom knowledge with real-life application. Beyond educational services, Clever Play is also venturing into educational products. Among their practical achievements was the creation of SEEK – a STEAM-focused magazine designed to foster interest in space science and inspire kids ages 7-12 in Bahrain and beyond. The magazine is endorsed and backed by the NSSA - Bahrain [National Space Science Agency].
However, a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, which is little to say about the challenges Latifa faced when first creating her startup. Traditional mindsets and conventional parental expectations about education and achievement are some of the things they are challenged to handle, as they continually strive to demonstrate that their methods are effective, even though learning is not readily nor immediately visible or observable.
“We take it upon ourselves as a mission, to reshape perceptions and convince parents that explorative play is a life-long pathway to skills-building and that the benefits of project-based learning are to be reaped over the long term,” states Latifa.
According to Cleverplay’s market research, in 2017, only 20% of Bahraini adults had pursued degrees in STEM. Most children are bored with classroom science even though they are naturally curious about bubbles and rockets, which is why Cleverplay is injecting a shift in paradigm for STEM with Arts to grow in the hearts of children.
“Education is the key to sustainable development. It is here that we strive every day to serve best. Our commitment is far-reaching and our mission is future-relevant. A better way to make a difference - this is the reason we are reaching out and scaling our startup in meaningful ways. This is the enduring value that guides us as we approach this venture of spreading the message, expanding our mission and sharing the opportunity to serve the next generation,” shares Latifa detailing the core message and motivation behind what she aims to achieve with her platform.
Latifa believes that the children’s superpower lies in the creative, authentic and lifelong engagement in the fundamentals of STEAM, which is why she is dedicated to promoting interest in these fields in the spirit of playful, creative, fun and interactive learning. Cleverplay’s particular niche, which also distinctly categorizes their brand of service is early childhood. At Clever Play, education is not a mechanical process but an organic craft, providing a deeply and uniquely personal experience for every child.
Another critical aspect of Cleverplay’s mission is bridging the gender gap in STEM, which is how Clever Girls Club was born as a learning meet-up of little girls to explore ways of playing and learning that depart from their traditional toys and activities.
“We raise their self-belief to diversify their career options. We open up their awareness towards the possibilities of STEM and their innate capabilities to excel in STEM fields encouraging a balanced academic achievement and a gender-balanced future workforce,” states Latifa.
To honour her efforts, the Clever Girls Club’s most recent initiative involves putting together girls-only coding initiatives as they aspire for an inclusive digital culture where there are equal opportunities for progress among girls and boys alike, to fuel her inspiration for the great potential for gender innovation in technology. Furthermore, Cleverplay are in the process of putting the final touches on a national movement that will start after summer that aims to teach 1,000 Bahraini girls aged 8-14 to learn to code. The workshop event will take place from October 2019 to February/March 2020, and is sponsored by the Supreme Council of Women and Zain Telecom.
To support her business venture and propel to new heights, Cleverplay has started key partnerships in various sectors and is currently undertaking growing collaborations and expanding activities with government and corporate entities in Bahrain. In partnership with the Ministry of Education in Bahrain, Cleverplay actively works towards STEAM/STEM in-School integration to develop hands-on, innovative skill-building enrichment programme that entitles participants to benefit from a certified STEAM curriculum written by STEAM experts, teach up-to-date STEAM knowledge and promote real-world learning through concepts related to the everyday things and the experiences they represent.
Cleverplay aims to disrupt the startup ecosystem with their continuous efforts at nourishing relationships and creating partnerships with all relevant stakeholders in the education-focused sectors such as The Ministry of Education in Bahrain, and The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Saudi Arabia, to increase their reach and platform, essentially creating a life-long pathway towards STEAM excellence. Their mission goes beyond in-hub services, as they create the groundwork for a STEM/STEAM ecosystem in Bahrain through a community of creators, collaborators and changemakers advocating for Generation STEM. Their goal is not only to bring specialized activities into schools, but to establish an alliance of STEM/STEAM schools, systems and institutions in order to progressively build a STEM/STEAM fuelled educational and professional ecosystem.
“We are steadfast in our mission to reach, engage, inspire and develop as many students and youth as can be reached, collaborating with national and regional learning ecosystems to shape STEAM-excellent generations to come,” says Latifa highlighting her efforts to solidify her foundations as she puts up her craft out there for others to take up through franchising.
Being pioneers of STEAM education in the region, Cleverplay are the only curricula designers and developers in the local scene, and possess the experience of running an educational venture using these curricula. With their combined knowledge of practical and technical skills, their efforts ensure to propagate their brand of 21st century innovative education.
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