Shareek Ali truly believes the world can change for the better if everyone contributes, and he is doing his part through education and innovation.
A teacher at ASJA Boys’ College, Charlieville, Ali also hopes to encourage generations to come to think outside the box and be thoughtful of themselves and others.
“I grew up in San Juan. I come from humble beginnings. In our community, there were a lot of us who didn’t have much, including myself. But what we had was each other, which is different to now. I experienced a lot of hardships and I just wanted to make things better for people. I am just one person but if each of us is willing to be part of the solution, we could make the world a better place. It could happen. It’s not such a far-fetched dream.”
Ali, who started Eduversal Engineering in 2015, applied his knowledge as a science/mechanical engineering technology teacher to develop his first project – a bait conservator for use in longline fishing and catching lobsters.
He has always loved wildlife and enjoyed fishing. However, if the bait was soft, it would simply fall off the hook. “Initially I created it to hold the bait in place on the hook but when I learned of the albatross’ plight I realised it could apply it to that problem.”
What plight? He explained that while watching the National Geographic channel, there was a show about the Atlantic albatross which got caught in fishing hooks as they dived for the floating bait attached to the lines.
As suggested by its name, longline fishing involved a long line with baited hooks attached at intervals. Because of the small buoys used on the line, as well as the frozen bait, the bait would remain on the surface for a while before thawing and sinking below the surface. The albatross would see the food, dive for the bait, and get hooked on the line.
To solve this problem, he created the bait conservator. It resembled a tiny wire grid envelope, with the smallest about two inches by half an inch, in which the bait was placed with a hook through the top. The fish, mainly tuna, would swallow the whole thing and be hooked.
He explained that frozen bait was generally used because it stayed on the hook better than thawed bait. However, with his device, bait could be allowed to thaw before use and so would not float on the surface to tempt the birds. In addition, the wire of the conservator could be painted in colours that would deter the birds while attracting the fish.
Ali said his patent lawyer, now deceased, made him aware of another application for his bait conservator in the Australian lobster industry. Sea lice, which were very small, easily entered the lobster traps and destroyed the bait. With the addition of a fine, biodegradable mesh lining to the conservator the lice would be prevented from getting to the bait while still allowing the scent of the bait to attract the lobsters.
Ali lamented that the patent process in TT was a very long and expensive one. He started in 2010 and it was still in progress nine years later. “The very first payment I had to make to my lawyer was $20,000 and that was not the only payment I had to make. The slow, costly process is a hindrance to a young or up-and-coming entrepreneur. They may have a great idea but not the financial means. These are some of the things I think we need to improve on because innovation is one of the ways we can advance our nation. With innovation you create new industries.”
Ali’s first improvement to the school life of students was his science SBA lab books – chemistry, physics, biology, and integrated science – published by Caribbean Educational Publishers (CEP) in late 2017.
He said over the years he taught five CSEC subjects and experienced the difficulties of marking SBAs, as well as the hard work students put into it. He devised a system to make it easier for himself as well as his students and realised it would benefit everyone in the school. He therefore explained it to ASJA’s principal who was very pleased with it and asked him to share it.
There were two differences to Ali’s lab books. The first was a workbook with a selection of labs at the back complete with drawings and tables so students just had to fill in their results. At the end of each lab was a marking template with what teachers look for in the lab, the total marks for each point, and a space for teachers to insert the student’s marks.
As in all lab books there were blank pages so labs could be written up “from scratch.” On the blank pages there were empty tables for the teacher to fill in a marking scheme and the student’s marks.
He said it gave the students a guideline as to what teachers want so they knew what to pay attention to while they conduct their labs. They also get immediate feedback through the teacher’s marks.
In addition, he noticed by the time teachers handed over lab books to CXC moderators, the covers would be falling off or generally be in bad shape. Therefore the lab books were made sturdy, well bound, and had metal tips to preserve the corners of the cover.
His other project, to be released this year in collaboration with the ASJA Education Board and CEP, was the ASJA School Notebook.
It contained motivational quotes, guidelines for being a good student, and a blank table of contents for the students to fill in. It also provided study guidelines, what to do or not to do when being bullied, how to handle peer pressure, what exactly to say if offered drugs, and more. “The notebook is all about trying to help the students cope, as well as to encourage them to be more professional, to develop them in a holistic manner.”
He said state of mind and organisation were both important to success. The table of contents helped with the latter, making it easier for them to access a particular topic when it was time to study. The quotes were positive, useful reminders for when life good difficult, or just to keep a child inspired, easily accessible in a notebook they would use every day.
At the back of the notebook was the Starting Line, a self-assessment tool Ali created to make children more self-aware, think more, and help them accept themselves. He said it was developed particularly with youths in mind from his technical vocational education studies.
He explained that life skills coaches often used the life wheel to identify an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. He developed the Starting Line to achieve the same goal, but made it less complicated for youths and for people who a simpler method would be more appropriate.
“I included the Starting Line in the notebook because I wanted a self-assessment tool in there. As a teacher for many years, one of the things I observed is that, most of the times, the students who are underperforming do not have that belief, that confidence in themselves.”
Ali said he taught his students not to look down on anyone, no matter how far they got in life in the future, as other people would always know something they did not. He often told them the world could not function with only doctors and lawyers, and pointed out that skilled people and labourers also made successes of themselves.
He said it was important to show children alternative career avenues because sometimes they struggle academically. “If we’re only showing them something so far out of their reach then we are actually demotivating that child. But when we show them tangible evidence that they could make a success out of something else, it builds them up... We all have a part to play but we each need to know our strengths and weaknesses to know what we’re good at.”