Detailed Project Idea
Higher education is essential for sustainable development in third world countries that can become independent from outside factors and can play a great role in introducing peace. In Rwanda, education has played a key role in the country’s recovery from the genocide in 1994. Now, the country is a regional hub for the internet and computer technology, but further development is hindered because higher education is not growing fast enough because practical hands-on skills are not provided to students from young ages. One of Rwanda’s best resources is its people, and according to the Rwanda's 2020 vision, the country is striving to educate its people in order to improve its other industries, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and plastics, not to forget service industries. There are growing demands for more scientifically educated personnel to address questions of energy supply, improve plastics manufacturing, and better deal with electronic waste.
As of 2014, according to the Rwandan Ministry of Education, slightly less than 20% of Rwandans of college age have finished high school, but only around 5% attend a university of any kind. Additionally, only a few high schools, named schools of excellence, in Rwanda have science laboratories. Not only are there large numbers of bright students who don’t have a chance to practice what they learn in theories, few have an opportunity to continue studying science and engineering. We are planning to work with schools to design a low-cost science laboratory course for their students (more specifically for high school students and high school graduates) who do not have or didn’t have a chance to turn what they learn or learned from theories into practice. While developing the course specifically for youth from high schools, we are trying to overcome challenges of mismatch of practical hands-on experiences. Since August 2015, we were setting up and piloting this open space laboratory, building equipment and finalizing renovations of the laboratory facilities.
Main Challenges and Mitigation Strategies
Without any other support, our challenges will be to adopt advanced equipment, assembling a knowledgeable team, acquiring money to pay their salaries, make the lab financially sustainable and scalable, and integrate the lab into the existing education ecosystem in Kigali, where it is housed. In order to overcome those challenges, I am growing the team with electrical and electronics engineers and computer scientist in which I currently provide them with transportation and meal during working days. At the FabLearn conference held at Stanford University last October 2016, I met many promising individuals and Greg Herker who is the Fab Lab Coordinator based in Wisconsin was one of them. Due to his interest in makerspace education in developing countries, Greg has agreed to be our mentor in setting up the lab space whenever we get started. He will answer questions about room setup and materials acquisition Additionally, in order to be skilled on various tools, we use to participate in training programs at FabLab Kigali in order to acquaint ourselves with machines and tools, such as 3D printers, Laser Cutters, ShopBot machine, designing software, and some electronics. As a result of this, by the time we will restructure the space of Kepler Tech Lab, we will be having background knowledge on new tools and how to operate them. Due to my, Alphonse, interest to learn new skills in order to benefit other individuals and convince people to work on a specific cause, I believe it’s my best quality which would help me use provided support(s) more productively and efficiently.
Other Challenges and Mitigation Strategies
Other challenges are, but not limited to adapting science and engineering experiments to low-cost materials and gender inclusion. Firstly, most common pieces of lab equipment, such as an oscilloscope, or mass spectrometer are difficult for us to get or make. In that we are adopting, when it is possible, creative ways of substituting for unavailable materials. For instance, a computer can act as an oscilloscope and function generator, by sending voltages in and out of the audio input/output jacks and using a program like LabVIEW to process the signals. Secondly, we are facing the challenge of gender inclusion in co-creation and maker movements. We really wish to have students of both gender, but we fail to have females in our classroom because Rwandan girls seem not to be interested in an engineering career. In order to address the first challenge, we are planning, if we get funding opportunities, on purchasing tools and other lab equipment so that we can be able to bring about a huge impact on our beneficiaries (youth and other community members). For the second challenge of gender inclusion in making, starting October 2016, we are teaching 8th-grade students so that we can, at least, encourage girls' participation in engineering, fabrication, and making when they are still young.
Tech Lab project is unique and innovative because the project itself is motivated by real needs in the local community to educate more youth who are future scientists and engineers in which we come together, develop and work on projects, such as bird-scaring shaker for rice fields, paper recycling & waterproofing, bike-powered generator, and auto-irrigation system, that are believed to solve the community problems. The most recent project developed in the lab is called Ivomerere, a Kinyarwanda name referred to as automatic irrigation. It is intended to offer farmers with efficient and affordable means of an irrigation system to manage and control irrigation automatically the amount of water being used and increase access to food crops in any season. Ivomerere system uses sensors to detect dryness and moisture of the soil. It sends a command to an electronic system for the system to turn water pump ON and OFF automatically. This allows the system to manage the amount of water needed to irrigate plants in the fields and it helps to avoid floods. Additionally, the innovator of the system is planning on using Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) to detect weather and send data to the users so that they can be aware of effective agriculture season.
As a recap, the overall goals of this lab turning into a makerspace are, but not limited to 1) providing high school graduates with engineering skills which could enable them to work on different technical projects, 2) providing students with access to tools and open space to create solutions based on community needs, 3) alleviating mismatch of technical skills through educating future generations, and last but not the least, 4) engaging community members in designing and creating solutions based on Human-Centered Design through co-creation and Creative Capacity Building to address their needs. These goals are important because youth unemployment rate in Rwanda increases day-to-day regardless the fact that they went to schools or not; employers do not find qualified employees with technical skills they are looking for, and the needs most of the community members depend on importing products to satisfy them. We believe that if we can educate youth as well as engage community members in fabrication and making we can encourage production of locally produced products and employment opportunities in Rwanda. As a result of bringing makerspace to life, youth will get jobs and employers will be able to get skilled employees