Fintech solutions provider MIP Holdings has sponsored a South African team in the First Lego League (FLL) Challenge. An international competition organised by US company First and Lego, the FLL Challenge allows school children to build a robot which competes against those of other teams to solve as many missions as possible in a 2min 30sec round.

Using conventional control software to steer the robot, the teams compete regionally to qualify for the national competition. The top three national teams are then invited to an international competition, hosted in different parts of the world every year.

“FLL is not only about robots. The competition includes so-called core values, which includes discovery, impact, and team work, and there is a research project which must be presented at the competitions, so it gives the kids a lot of exposure to different areas. It’s a fantastic way to introduce kids to the fun and engaging side of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM),” says Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings.

“The FLL Challenge introduces younger students to real-world engineering challenges by building Lego-based robots to complete tasks on a thematic playing surface. This allows them to explore and discover different STEM areas, and, through the process, potentially find exciting career paths for their future. In fact, one of our previous students is now studying chemical engineering at university,” explains MIP’s Johan Bijker, who brought the competition to MIP’s attention.

Teams are open to children aged 9 to 16, with each child actively participating in real-world problem solving through the guided robotics programme. This helps grow their critical thinking, coding, and design skills.

“When you see the robots doing the missions, it looks easy, but there is a lot happening in the background. The motors, sensors and gyrosensors have to work properly, and the children learn quickly that they can’t only rely on the sensors for the whole run. They therefore have to make sure that the mechanical elements work well with their coding, and that they have a strategy. They also design their own t-shirts, offering an added creative element to the competition,” Bijker says.

He points out that the FLL Challenge is an extremely expensive competition, with the costs of the robots, models, travel, and entry fees quickly adding up. “As a parent of two children participating in the FLL Challenge, I realised that any financial assistance would help grow the reach of the competition, allowing more children to access the fun STEM learning and exploration it offers. When MIP’s leadership found out about the FLL Challenge, they were happy to provide sponsorship, helping introduce more young people to the fun side of STEM.”

Firth says that MIP has been focused on cultivating technology skills among South Africa’s youth for many years now, and the FLL Challenge was a great fit for the company. “We are extremely pleased to be able to sponsor these young people in a competition that is offering them – and their friends – insight into how much benefit an interest in STEM can provide,” he concludes.