Publinews: Project Balam fosters STEM across Guatemala in the ‘new normal’

(Translated from Spanish)

Through the National Robotics Meeting, better known as Project Balam, thousands of young people throughout the national territory have had the opportunity to enhance their learning in STEM areas, in addition to putting their soft skills into practice by working as a team and competing in a healthy and fun.

“Proyecto Balam has positioned itself in the country thanks to its continuous growth and the efforts of entities from the public, private and academic sectors, who are committed to improving Guatemala through technology, problem solving and, above all, to the training of the new generations,” says Oscar Rodas, Co-Founder of the Balam Project and Director of Electronics Engineering of the Faculty of Systems Engineering, Informatics and Computer Sciences (FISICC) of the Galileo University.

He adds that Project Balam is carried out in three phases: Learn, Create and Compete. In the first, the young people enrolled learn the theory and receive virtual support through workshops, trainings and tutorials. In the second phase, classified participants invest in a kit and form teams to formalize the prototyping issue. “In addition, virtual bootcamps are held to concentrate students, answer questions, perfect prototypes and give them the opportunity to meet and interact with other young people with the same interests and passion for robotics,” shares Rodas.

In the final phase, the young people with the best performance and best solutions to their projects are chosen to form the National Robotics Team, who represent Guatemala in professional competitions at an international level.

Currently the activity has the endorsement of the National Secretariat of Science and Technology (SENACYT). It also has the support of founding partners such as Grupo Intelecto and private sector sponsors such as Xumak, TETTSA and GIS Routes.

“During six years they have been able to train more than 8,000 young people and represent our country internationally in five robotics competitions, thus achieving a continuous growth of interest of young people in STEM areas at the national level,” declares Ana Chan, National Secretary of Science and Technology.

Towards a new reality
This year, due to the pandemic, the organizers had to make an important decision: To continue or not to continue with the project? The desire and motivation to continue generating learning experiences in the country led them to transform the project and stipulate different efforts for its continuity. Thus, under a ‘new reality’, Proyecto Balam moved to a completely virtual methodology.

“We knew that we could not work in a conventional way and we decided to take Proyecto Balam to an online methodology. We created two courses, one focused on the development of the Internet of Things and the other on 2D videogames. We have a high participation of young people both from the capital and from the interior of the country,” explains Pablo Torres, Balam Project Mentor.

“The phases were transformed so that they could be performed completely virtually with strong accompaniment from a distance. This also made it easier for young people from all over the country to participate and also gave them the opportunity to meet other people with the same interests,” indicates Rony Guzmán, General Manager of Grupo Intelecto.

Through Zoom, Google Meet and other platforms, the young participants received online education and were able to answer questions, as well as share with different exhibitors and expand their knowledge. “The best results were obtained by young people in Guatemala, Quetzaltenango, Quiché and Sacatepéquez, who currently make up the National Robotics Team. This is our way of sharing STEM across the country. We want more and more young people to know what can be done, what exists and that everyone has the opportunity to compete at a professional and international level,” adds Torres.

The new virtual modality has given a different complexity to the development of the FIRST GLOBAL project in terms of planning and execution. Everything is online and social and technical challenges and attendance at webinars are handled. “If we look at the statistics, Guatemala is in the top five of the Spanish-speaking countries that are competing. In terms of points we are very similar to countries like Venezuela, Mexico and Ecuador. We currently occupy position 31 out of 176 countries. This is a very important achievement and we want to highlight it,” says Dr. Oscar Rodas.

“For any innovation process, it is vital to have the support of four important propellants: public sector, private sector, academic sector and society. The latter is vital that it receives and supports positive news like this so that it has a high impact and that more young people in the country know what is being achieved and that STEM is promoted in the new generations ”, adds Rodas.

“Competitions like these seek to connect communities of young people from all over the world on STEM issues. Young people who become part of the National Robotics Team realize the importance of these areas at all levels and participating in the Balam Project has helped them to discover themselves and above all, to discover their potential,” says Alex Guzmán, CEO of Grupo Intelecto and Co-Founder of the Balam Project.