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Makerspace, practical education, and STEM lab for youth in Rwanda

Kepler Tech Lab runs a social innovation center and STEM lab to students and local communities to produce things locally using technologies.

Photo of Habyara M. Alphonse

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This idea is an education program and social enterprise that tackles the problem of insufficient hands-on science and education in Rwanda through these actionable steps:

  • Offering hands-on enrichment programs in programming, electronics, scientific communication to high school students in Rwanda
  • Developing open-source curricula for low-cost engineering education

What we learned throughout the process since August 2015:

  • Confirmation that Rwanda indeed lacks hands-on engineering education and students are excited to learn these skills
  • Rwandan technical universities have sufficient technical education in engineering topics, but students lack critical thinking skills in these topics
  • There is little infrastructure in the Rwandan government for supporting new education initiatives
  • Local businesses agree about lack of employees with both technical and critical thinking skills

What we accomplished that we are excited about:

  • Taught curricula to ~100 Rwandan high school and university students and used feedback to restructure course
  • Renovated a lab space and acquired appropriate local materials
  • Handful students were mentored in developing their own social enterprise projects from skills learned in engineering courses
  • Established connection with local solar energy, data analysis, computer programming, and environment companies to focus our curricula on immediate industry needs
  • Established strong connection with International Development Innovation Network to receive support in connecting with other development initiatives and potentially receive funding
  • Established support from Stanford FabLearn in connecting with other education initiatives
  • Established support from University of California, Davis in partnership with D-Lab at Massachusetts Institutes of Technology in a program for International Energy Technologies for the development and improvement of our social innovation center, Kepler Tech Lab

What we learned from the end-users and community members that contributed to the development of our idea:

  • Engineering education is more important than fundamental science education for solving existing technological problems in the community
  • Creating enrichment programs for high school level students is more impactful than for college level students, as high school students still have flexibility in choosing a field of study
  • Empowering the community members themselves to develop ideas for low-cost engineering education is more sustainable than creating ideas for them to implement

Goals we have in the next 6 months:

  • Strengthen team leadership
  • Increase community members’ awareness of programs through:
    • Improved advertising
    • Organized outreach events to local high schools
  • Develop a sustainable financial model, which could look like:
    • Stable donor sponsorship
    • Social enterprise with incomes from: student class fees, lab rental to other organizations, research consulting fees on engineering projects
  • Develop more advanced curricula for engineering skills:
    • Computer programming and web development
    • Electronics
    • Mechanical engineering

Goals we have as a long-term outlook:

  • Encourage girls to be engaged in engineering career
  • Develop a stable partnership with other hands-on engineering programs, including:
    • FabLab and kLab Kigali
    • Practical Education Network
  • Integrate topics from enrichment programs into more traditional Rwandan education curricula
  • Education for team leaders on topics including:
    • Technical skills in engineering, computer science, science, and math
    • International development
    • Developing and implementing a business plan
    • Networking

Call to action for specific support (skills, networks, access to funding resources):

  • People with experience in business planning and implementation
  • People with expertise in technical skills: electronics, computer programming, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering
  • Network of international engineering education organizations
  • Access to seed funding for 1 year

How people can offer support: research, business development/partnerships, strategy/leadership, project management, marketing/outreach, evaluation.

Here and at the Stanford FabLearn, we published learning experiences of one of our beneficiaries from middle high school from our most recent engineering classes and workshops.

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Photo of Habyara M. Alphonse

Hey OpenIDEO Community,

Something happened at Kepler Tech Lab this week! Check it out at of Kepler Tech Lab. The same article can be found at the Stanford FabLearn and my own LinkedIn Innovate, Make, Educate is our motto!

Enjoy as you read our impact!

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