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MATHEMATICS has been a natural enemy of children for centuries, much like broccoli. Add rote learning to the equation, and it's no wonder that few clamour to explore the field further.
Events such as Maker Faire, however, hope to change that mindset by showing children and adults alike how empowering it can be to create something with their own hands, using the principles of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Science Centre Singapore CEO Lim Tit Meng, co-chairman of the Singapore Science Festival 2016 organising committee, says: "When I was younger, I used to make my own toys out of things like wood and rubber bands. Now, our children don't seem that interested in what they can do with their 10 fingers - although swiping on their smartphones has definitely made them very adept at using one or two."
Maker Faire was started in the United States in 2006 by Dale Dougherty, founder of Make: magazine, and soon became a global brand. It was brought here by the Science Centre in 2012, but on a much smaller scale with 20 exhibits and 1,000 attendees.
It started out as a Mini Maker Faire, but evolved into a full-fledged fair in 2015, fuelled by the momentum of the local makers' movement. This year, in its fifth edition, the fair will showcase more than 330 booths, and expects to draw a crowd of 20,000.
Prof Lim says: "Since we started this fair, the makers' movement in Singapore has grown exponentially. People realise that it's fun to create things instead of just consuming products mindlessly."
One of the main events of the 2016 Singapore Science Festival, the two-day fair's theme is Build Your Smart Future. While it may seem limiting, or only applicable to electronics, Prof Lim asserts that this is not the case. The 56-year-old says: "To me, it's about what it means to be smart - that's our key word here. So it doesn't have to be about technology or robotics; it can even be as simple as using old junk in new ways."
Some of the projects this year include glass mosaics by Anjali Design, a mini skate park for finger boarders by students from Commonwealth Secondary School, and at least three different virtual reality (VR) experiences using 360-degree cameras.
These include Like a Bird, Solar Eclipse, and Trip to Japan. With VR coming into its own over the last few years, it isn't difficult to imagine the potential it holds for novice makers.
"Visualisation is becoming more and more sophisticated, and people like to see things," Prof Lim notes. "It's all about accessing images you wouldn't be able to see without having experienced the situation yourself. Being able to harness technology like that is very attractive. I think this trend is just going to continue to push frontiers and the limits of technology."
Not all the projects are for sale, but prices for those that are start from S$3. Along with these, Maker Faire Singapore will host more than 70 workshops, which will include topics like making music with a slime synthesizer, creating robots, and silversmith projects.
Other Maker Faires in Asia include those held in Taiwan and Penang, with Shenzhen leading the way just a few months before Singapore.
The difference between the two, says Prof Lim, is the number of workshops. He explains: "We have a very strong educational aspect here. In comparison, the fair in Shenzhen is reported to mostly be about selling electronic products."
With this year's introduction of learning passports, the focus on education is stronger than ever. In principle, when people learn to make new things and get a stamp for their efforts, "it turns into a game of sorts", points out Prof Lim.
He adds: "While we're keen to advance lifelong learning, it's actually more of a bottom-up phenomenon. Because the community responds so well to the educational aspect of the fair, it grows each year. I think local makers are keener to share their skills with other enthusiasts than to just build alone. It's a very social community."
The community itself might be small, but there's more than enough talent right here, according to Prof Lim.
For example, at the first fair, a high-school student displayed a gadget he created, and the Science Centre bought it from him for a five-figure sum and turned it into a teaching kit that they now sell to schools and other learning institutions to teach students about electricity, magnetism and circuitry in an engaging way.
Prof Lim says: "We have so many homegrown innovators who've developed unique products. A lot of them wouldn't have any visibility without events like ours. I think we need more platforms for these people to showcase their talents and to give them the space to grow. In a world where consumers tend to take things for granted, we need to encourage our creators and innovators."
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