The latest education trend: Integrating GIS with STEM

September 11, 2019 11:01
GIS involves multiple disciplines, such as database, images, applied mathematics and mathematical models. Representational image: Bloomberg

STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education has been advocated for about 10 years, and has become one of the most sought after subjects in Hong Kong. Let us now look into some new developments in relation to that topic.

In the past, some people might have viewed geographic information system (GlS) as solely a geography subject. Recently, however, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States and Canada have all integrated GIS into STEM education, according to Dr. Michael Gould, Global Education Manager of Esri, which is involved in GIS software, web GIS and geodatabase management applications.

GIS helps students use spatial data to link various information through electronic maps. The possible factors behind a problem can be presented clearly in layers, making it easier to figure out not only the most probable causes but also its possible solutions.

Actually, GIS involves multiple disciplines, such as database, images, applied mathematics and mathematical models. When students conduct research, they have to process a lot of information; the related software enables them to consolidate their work.

Three years ago, Hong Kong Education City (HKEdCity) collaborated with Esri China (Hong Kong) to offer GIS software to primary and secondary school students in Hong Kong free of charge, with a hope that the software can enhance young people's problem-solving ability. Today, nearly 200 schools and over 1,000 teachers and students have attended relevant training.

We can see obvious advantages of this software from the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Joint Secondary Schools Outstanding GIS Application Competition 2018/19.

This competition is co-organized by HKEdCity and Esri China (Hong Kong). About 100 students from 18 Tung Wah Group of Hospitals (TWGHs) secondary schools participated in the competition.

The champion was TWGHs Lo Kon Ting Memorial College. The students adopted the geography theme from secondary school: "Smart use of urban space" to maintain a sustainable urban environment, implying that the study combined the theories they learned with GIS.

They studied the distribution, type, number of users, walking distance and nearby land use of the open space in Yuen Long, so as to understand what improvements can be made. They proposed to optimize and activate the Shan Pui River which runs through northern and southern Yuen Long, to increase greenery and open space. The construction of recreational trails along the river was also suggested.

During the analysis, the students had to deal with many options and master the professional software ArcGIS Online. It is not an easy task for secondary students, but they demonstrated a strong team spirit, and their never-give-up attitude impressed all of us.

In 2018, the world’s first case of human infection in Hepatitis E through rat broke out in Hong Kong. People worried about the rodent problem. The students of TWGHs Wong Fut Nam College studied the rodent problem in Hong Kong to win the first runner-up prize in the competition.

They examined the Sham Shui Po area to study the links between rat infestation and locations of rubbish bins. The result was displayed on a map and compared with the reference index of rodents in other areas of Hong Kong. Finally, the study made several recommendations, including the best locations for installing ultrasonic repellents to reduce the breeding rate of rats by up to 15 percent, it is a very practical solution.

As for the 2nd Runner-up, the students of TWGHs Li Ka Shing College studied the effectiveness of promoting electric vehicles in Hong Kong, particularly in the North District. The students interviewed drivers and found that due to insufficient charging stations and slow charging speed, the owners were discouraged. In the report, the students offered improvement suggestions in the hope of enhancing Hong Kong's travel wisdom.

Using GIS technology, we can attempt to resolve the urban problems by examining the geographical aspects of issues.

As Jack Dangermond, the president of Esri, has said: “For the future of GIS, the sky is the limit. It all depends on our creativity to discover its possibilities.”

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong