Young Innovators Solve Local Problems

Story about the Best Ideas Received for the STE(A)M Challenge

April 9, 2024
UNDP Serbia

The finals of the first STE(A)M Challenge, which attracted the attention of secondary school students from all over Serbia, presented ten teams and their ten innovative solutions. They have recognised environmental pollution, extreme weather events and safety as problems in their communities, and proposed digital technologies and STE(A)M disciplines as key for coming up with the solutions. All the finalists were commended, while three teams received awards for the solutions they proposed. 

“My role was to compare different sensors and, in this way, find the best one, to connect it and make the program so that it would work. I learned how to do all that in the course of the project,” explains Jovana Đurišić, student of the High School of Electrical Engineering “Nikola Tesla“ from Pančevo and trainee of the Regional Talent Centre “Mihajlo Pupin”. With her team “Pančevo pametan grad“ (Pančevo Smart City), she worked on a solution which involves monitoring of the quality, temperature and humidity of air, velocity and direction of wind, as well as a system of warning in the event of high concentration of hazardous particles in the air. “I wholeheartedly tried to somehow complete their ideas and help them. What I can convey is that young people have wonderful energy, we just need to support them, and they will bring a lot to society,” said Nenad Milenković, a teacher at High School of Mechanical Engineering "Pančevo" and the team’s mentor. 


Jovana Đurišić from the “Pančevo pametan grad” Team

UNDP Serbia

Air quality has also been addressed by the team “EcoBytes” of the First Kragujevac Grammar School. “We designed a bioreactor which purifies air by means of unicellular algae that absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen,” says Vasilije Timotijević, a third-grade student. The challenge for his team was not only the design of the unique system they developed, but also collecting funds for the project which involved an iron structure, aquarium, information screen and a solar panel. 

“This project was very expensive. We had no funding for our idea, and we saw the STE(A)M Challenge as an ideal opportunity for turning the idea into a product, with the support of UNDP, the Ministry of Education and the Petlja Foundation. We certainly tried to find sponsors, so this was also quite challenging. And there were also some interesting episodes, we dug the hole for the foundation and poured concrete in by ourselves.”
adds the laughing Vasilije, whose team included biologists, IT students and designers.

Vasilije Timotijević from the “EcoBytes” Team

UNDP Serbia

We are from the chemical and electrical engineering classes, so we would organise ourselves after school and discuss the project,” says Anastasija Rajić from the team “Nije kompot nego kompost” (Not Compote but Compost) of the First Technical High School from Kragujevac. Thinking of how to turn waste into a resource by applying what they have been learning in school and combining it with digital technologies, third and fourth grade students found a solution: they decided to influence pollution and raise environmental awareness by managing bio-waste, with the use of artificial intelligence, IoT, blockchain and robotics. They modernised the composting process by means of an automatized roto composter put into operation, monitored and controlled by a web app. “Three of us girls from the team measured PH values and did the chemical part, while the boys worked more on the electro app,” explains Anastasija and, with the remark that “It was a piece of cake”, she resolutely adds: “We will continue, try to do more, to have further development”. 

Anastasija Rajić from the “Nije Kompot nego kompost” Team

UNDP Serbia

Among the ten finalists, there were also “Zvezdobrojci” (Star Counters), team of the Požega Grammar School of “Saint Sava”. They were not among the winners, yet they demonstrated that there is indeed space for girls in the STE(A)M disciplines. Four of them have shown how Archimedes’ screw, an invention from ancient past, may be applied even today in combination with modern technologies. By implementing sensors and apps, they modernised the concept of Archimedes’ screw in order to solve the problem of river spillage during flooding. Their solution helps the surplus of water from the river bed be directed to river canals and basins. 

Five minutes for presentation and five minutes for answering the jury’s question, that was all that each team had at their disposal when presenting their work. “Technology literacy was perhaps the most important part of the entire competition, and as far as we are concerned, all the teams responded to this challenge excellently,” says Zoja Kukić Đorđević, IT entrepreneur and a jury member. “We witnessed combining of many familiar tools, from designing hardware to making software. More than a half of the teams showed their products in practice, meaning that the prototypes were working and their creators were confident enough to present them live.” The competition was narrowly decided. 

“It is interesting that everyone recognised similar problems that they wanted to address. I think that these are all exceptional children aware of the problems surrounding them and the times in which they live. You can see that they want to change things, to have impact.”
notices Davor Đošan, head of the UNDP Tech Cell who was also deciding on the winners.

Monitoring the water level in rivers via sensors and IoT technology, acoustical sensors in noise reduction, efficient watering systems, assessment on soil adequacy for raspberry farming, air-quality sensors, as well as an app that monitors drivers’ wakefulness on the road – these were all solutions offered by students of: Technical High School from Pirot, “Svetozar Marković” Grammar School from Niš, First Kragujevac Technical High School, Vrnjačka Banja Grammar School, First Kragujevac Grammar School and Aleksinac Grammar School. The teams had eight weeks to develop their products based on the selected ideas, as well as mentoring, expert, and financial support to show all that they could do. 

#STE(A)M Challenge was organised within the project “Building the Critical Computer Skills for the Future Ready Workforce” implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Petlja Foundation, and supported by the Government of the Republic of Serbia. 

*Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics (Nauka, Tehnologija, Inženjerstvo, Umetnost, Matematika)