Schools of the Future Uganda field work ‘encouraging and enlightening’
When three Engineers without Borders (EWB-NL) members visited Uganda in October 2019 they were impressed by the beautifully green country, with pounding rains that outrival those of the Netherlands, and educators eager to help their students discover the world of science and technology.
The Schools of the Future Uganda (SotF) project by EWB-NL aims to make STEM education more exciting and interesting for Ugandan primary school children. The project is in partnership with Knowledge For Children (K4C), a local NGO that focuses on quality education for children in Uganda, Kenya, and Cameroon.
The EWB-NL team is collaborating with technology and science teachers in the Netherlands to design and implement workshops which they will administer in selected Ugandan schools. The workshops are modeled after those currently given to Dutch school children and adapted for Ugandan schools.
“We want to encourage children to explore and play with science and technology and discover things for themselves,” explains Rolf, a volunteer engineer with the Schools of the Future Uganda team.
The field work
EWB-NL members Rolf, Brigitte and Thijs visited five schools during their 10 day exploratory trip. They tested theories about their ideas for the project. Furthermore, Rolf says the SotF Uganda team gained valuable input from local partners and teachers.
“The schools really are interested and want to work with us. The teachers pointed us to some workshop ideas that would be useful for Ugandan life. They desire projects that are functional and tangible and also have the means to work with us. That made a positive impression.”
Some of the workshop ideas that the team received were soap making, bio gas, and generating electricity. The team also learned that students are interested in learning about the human body.
“Teachers wanted to see if we could make something to help them show students how the respiratory system works.”
SotF Uganda volunteers are now revising the workshop plans with these recommendations in mind.
The first Schools of the Future participants are located in and around Masaka, Uganda. The four public schools and one private school are already enrolled in the Knowledge for Children program. This is important because the schools must pay a fee to receive K4C support, which indicates a level of quality in the education they provide and that they are invested in improving their curriculum. The schools will pay the equivalent of 1,25 euro per teacher to hold Schools of the Future workshops.
During the school visits, the SotF Uganda team quickly noticed they would have to adjust their workshop plans to suit the available resources, which were very sparse in some cases.
“Some schools have as many as 700 students and some don’t have real floors. One school uses a motorcycle battery to generate their electricity. Children attending one of the schools walk 6 to 7 kilometers to and from school each day.”
Rolf says they will look into using charcoal to generate heat for a workshop which requires heat to shrink PET plastic. They will also find materials that can be sourced locally and inexpensively.
“I think we can also get by with fewer resources. We don’t need to use as much power for the workshops. Even items that we would take for granted in the Netherlands, such as long tables for working on, are not available. But, we can just spread tarps on the ground and work.
It isn’t only the physical aspects of the schools that Schools of the Future Uganda will need to take into account, but also cultural differences. Brigitte and Thijs, both teachers in the Netherlands, observed a big contrast between Dutch and Ugandan school children.
“They’re very shy and soft spoken, so we will need to build a relationship with them,” explains Brigitte. “We will need to begin our workshops by getting them warmed up to us, perhaps by having them teach us a song. It will take a bit of thought and effort.”
“The students are really only used to learning from books and repetition,” Thijs adds. “There’s not a lot of hands-on or independent learning, so the workshops will be a somewhat new concept for them.”
STOF Uganda volunteers will first conduct two pilot workshops. One will be administered in a Dutch primary school and another at a refugee camp. In summer 2020, volunteers will head back to Uganda for four weeks. The group will include teachers from the Netherlands who will first teach the workshops to the Knowledge for Children team. Then, they will train local teachers and, finally, the students will be given the workshops.
“Getting Knowledge for Children and Ugandan educators involved from the onset is essential to the sustainability of this project,” says Rolf. “We are working to secure funding for the first five years of SotF Uganda and then we would like to hand it off to a local partner to continue giving the workshops.”
SotF Uganda is now fundraising and raising awareness in the Netherlands about the project. The money raised will help cover expenses and make it possible for this project to be fully realised.
“We have formed strong partnerships for this project and we are confident that it will be successful. An investment in science and technology education is not only beneficial to school children, it can also make a positive impact on the development of Uganda.”
You can see more photos of the field work in Uganda and project preparations on the SotF Uganda Instagram. And, consider lending your support to Schools of the Future Uganda with a financial contribution.