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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.

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Written by DeletedUser

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 http://bit.ly/2gZpESN and http://bit.ly/2jqi2gV 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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10 comments

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Photo of Christophe Rukundo

One more question Alphonse,

I see you are now expanding from the university's students to the high school students. How are you going to tackle the problem of space? Do you have enough space? Have you seen this as a challenge?

Otherwise, I love the work you are doing.

Best,
Christophe

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DeletedUser

Hi Chris,

Thanks for bring this to my attention. It's true we are expanding our curriculum really quick because we want many number of students to benefit the lab. As you know, our space is not big enough to host more than 25 students at time and have enough space for materials and equipment. This is the challenge we have been facing for ~2 yrs and to address it we have made segmentations among our beneficiaries. Each group of students have their own curriculum based on what they can learn and make easily, not to forget their experience.

For long-term goals, we envision to open multiple labs in the country, Rwanda, so that we can have variety of students from different corners of the country. In the meantime, however, once we get further support, we are planning on moving the lab to a bigger space where we can install many equipment and have many people use them for creations, innovations, and making.

Hopefully, I've answered your Q.

Thanks,
Alpha

Spam
Photo of Christophe Rukundo

Thanks Alphonse,

This is very insightful.

Spam
Photo of Christophe Rukundo

Hello Alphonse,

This is an amazing idea of scaling the student's knowledge in technology. I am among the beneficiaries that Alphonse served in this Tech Lab and am now using the skill I got there at work. Where I work, I am always asked to produce some graphs in Microsoft Excel and it is among the concept I learned well in the Alphonse's Lab.

At the lab, I also learned how to use solar energy improve the livelihoods of the populations. Now, I am paying the skill back after getting a full time job at Off Grid Electric Rwanda and am now able to teach the populations on how to maintain their solar panels and how to dispose them in the right position of the sun.

Keep up the good work Alphonse!

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DeletedUser

Wow, Christophe, I've heard your experience that you have been using the best of knowledge and skills you earned from the lab in your work at OffGrid Electric. Thanks for sharing how the lab has changed your work experience. Anything we can do to impact large number of youth in Rwanda? Your recommendation are highly needed and might be appreciated.

Thanks a lot!

Spam
Photo of Dave Kinz

This a very good Idea to bring in Rwanda especially for students, it will empower them with technology skills, things that are important nowadays.

Keep it up Alphonse, wish you all the best.

Spam
Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Hey Dave,

Thanks for noticing that makerspaces are really needed in Rwanda. Based on your experience in Burundi, do you have any suggestions of what we can do differently?

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Photo of Theophile Nyirimana

Hey Alphonse,

I am really glad to see how the Lab has developed from College students to High School students. However, I wanted to ask you if the lab is no longer accepting college students. Please help me know this.

Best,
Theophile.

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Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Hi Theo,

Good question! Actually, as our story tells, we started providing engineering skills to university students from the very beginning and we kept on expanding the curriculum to different groups of beneficiaries. To answer your question, we have never stopped to accept college students and we are not planning to do so. The only problem is that, we have seen that college students are available during weekends and, from the feedback phase of this challenge, I received couple of suggestions that we can make the scope of our works to reach people who cannot be available during work days. The good news is: we are organizing a Creative Capacity Building workshop and and other engineering workshops to be launch in mid February.

I promise, we will keep our beneficiaries updates with any planned activities or offered engineering workshops.

Thanks,
Alpha

Spam
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DeletedUser

Hey,

To learn more about what one of the groups of our beneficiaries from the middle high school have been experiencing, consider opening http://fellows.fablearn.org/basic-engineering-skills-meet-young-students-in-developing-world-of-the-21st-century/ and http://fellows.fablearn.org/from-doughs-to-creations/.

Let me know your thoughts about Kepler Tech Lab. You can read more about the presented idea from https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/youth-empowerment-challenge/improve/kepler-tech-lab

Best,
Alphonse