The Midlands hosted the regional finals of the 2024 VEX Robotics Competition in Colaiste Choilm, Tullamore on Tuesday 23rd January, with over 200 secondary school students from across the Midlands region taking part. The competition brings Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning to life with students taking part in a game-based engineering challenge to design, code and build robots.
The VEX Robotics Competition is renowned for its emphasis on innovation, creativity, and teamwork and students showcase their ingenuity as they design, build, and program robots to tackle a series of complex challenges. Through this hands-on experience, students not only deepen their understanding of STEM principles but also cultivate essential 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. The competition brings together educators, policymakers, and industry leaders and the event underscores a shared commitment to empower the next generation with the tools and knowledge vital for success in an increasingly technology-driven world.
Winners heading to national finals in Cork
The journey does not end at the regional level. The finalists emerging from the VEX Robotics Midlands Championships, Oaklands Community College Edenderry, Coláiste Choilm Tullamore and St Joseph’s Secondary School Rochfortbridge/Dreambig, will advance to the All-Ireland National Finals in MTU Cork in February, where they will have the opportunity to compete on a broader stage. The winning teams at the All-Ireland will get a chance to represent Ireland at the 2024 VEX Robotics World Championship in the USA later this year, where they will vie for top honours against teams from around the globe. The Midlands already has a strong record of success in the world final, with a primary school team from Tubber National School travelling to Texas last year to represent Ireland at the world finals.
VEX Robotics has been led in the region by Offaly County Council for a number of years, and is also continuing to draw support from regional enterprise partners, with the regions ICT and Advanced Manufacturing Clusters, as well as key regional employers including Ericsson, Grant Engineering, Mergon, Dekotek and Robotics & Drives supporting the event. By equipping students with STEM skills from a young age, the region is nurturing and developing the engineering and tech talent of the future while showcasing career opportunities here in the region.
Developing skills for the future for Midlands students
The Head of Information Systems/Broadband/Digital with Offaly County Council, Ray Bell, said “the VEX Robotics programme is about giving students the skills they need for the future. With VEX Robotics we’re teaching vital skills in coding, engineering, and robotics to those from 8 to 18, and more than that, the programme develops their problem solving and team working skills as they develop their robots. This event is also a great example of the power of collaboration in advancing STEM education. By uniting educators, government officials, and industry partners, we are not only inspiring students to explore the wonders of robotics and coding but also laying the groundwork for a future fuelled by innovation and discovery.”
Chief Executive of Offaly County Council, Anna Marie Delaney, said “Offaly County Council are proud to have led the introduction of VEX Robotics in the Midlands region. The programme is now embedded in over 80 primary and secondary schools in Offaly, and we are so encouraged to see the demand for the programme extend into neighbouring counties across the Midlands to become what is now a truly regional competition. Supporting the students of our region to develop STEM skills for the future is important for Offaly and for the wider Midlands region.”
VEX Robotics and STEM education in the Midlands
VEX Robotics, a leading provider of educational robotics platforms, is dedicated to equipping students with the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in a rapidly evolving world. Through its innovative competitions and curriculum, VEX Robotics empowers learners of all ages to explore the realms of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with passion and purpose.
Why is this STEM programme important to Offaly and the Midland Region
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) education is key to unlocking a better, smarter, and more resilient future for the Midlands region. Jobs and employment opportunities are changing in the Midlands, and school students are at the perfect age to begin their STEM education. The VEX Robotics Programme is already in all primary and secondary schools in Offaly and each year over 2,000 students compete in the VEX Robotics Competition. The VEX Robotics programme is rolling out to more and more schools across the region each year, with the region investing in future generations by giving them the skills required for jobs, which may not be considered yet. Students who are developing their STEM skills are more likely to invent, build, drive and innovate future technologies that can benefit their lives and communities. The project collaborates with industry, education, and government to support Digital education & training to ensure greater citizen engagement and inclusion, which is needed to prepare our students for the future of work. These children will drive the Midlands economy for the next 50 years and will ultimately sustain rural communities. This programme gives children as young as five years old their first opportunity to learn about engineering and robotics while having fun.
Midlands Clusters working to develop STEM in the region
Across the Midlands, Smart Specialisation is seeing a number of Industry Clusters grow and develop. Our regional clusters are creating ecosystems which aid economic growth for partners by focusing on cooperation and collaboration. Our clusters bring together the triple helix of Industry, Government and Education to ensure continued competitive advantage for members, and for our region.
Advanced Manufacturing is at the heart of enterprise in the Midlands region. With many FDI and indigenous businesses attracted to the manufacturing base across the 4 counties. 23,000 people in the region are employed in the sector, which represents 18% of the workforce (national figure 12.5%). atim cluster participated in the regional final this year through the Dreambig schools programme, sponsoring a number of teams from across the region to enter the competition through industry partnerships with leading manufacturing companies in the region, Mergon, Decotek and Robotics & Drives.
The Midlands continues to attract ICT businesses due to central location and a strong talent pool of ICT graduates, with the sector now prioritised as an area of smart specialisation for the region. Large employers such as Ericsson in Athlone have been joined by a rapidly expanding network of start-ups, bringing innovation across the ICT sector. Midlands ICT Cluster also became involved in the regional final through the participation of clusters members from Ericsson.
The Midlands Engineering Network, Engenuity, was established in 2017 as an exchange forum where members can build links, share experiences, and undertake joint commercial activity. The cluster is based on the knowledge that Engineering firms thrive when they work to support each other.
The objective for the Midlands Food and Drink Strategy is to create a unique food and drink eco-system where local people are proud of their local produce, where companies have the capabilities and supports to create world-class hospitality and product experiences, where scaling and exporting is enabled, whilst respecting nature and our environment.