For an ordinary weekend, Matthew aged 9 would be spending his time watching Television at home with his siblings, then doing some of his weekend homework, and then he’d play outside a little. Some weekends his family will go out to the mall for lunch or just grocery shopping where he might sneak a can of ice cream into the trolley and hope his parents don’t notice. After all he had some on his way home from school yesterday and dad has capped the amount of ice cream he can have in a week. Matthew would be up to his usual mischief and fun life.
But this was no ordinary weekend for Matthew and 49 other kids from 10 schools around Kampala. This weekend was life changing, to say the least. I can confidently tell you that for most of these 50 children aged 9-12 , this weekend will be one of the most important ones of their lives.
Matthew and the other children spent this weekend learning about robots, machines, sensors, hardware, software, diodes, capacitors, transistors. They spent this weekend learning about animation, games, programming. They spent this weekend designing video games, not playing video games. Instead of watching animations on TV, they brought to life their own animations. Matthew and his friends did not spend time playing with toy cars, they built their own toy cars!
At the end of the training, Matthew told the audience that he was seeking funding to take his toy car to market! Not only has he learnt the technical skills, but he’s also learnt that he will need a lot of money to move his toy car from prototype to toy car in stores, and that it is possible to find an investor. Surely this was no ordinary weekend as the kids at the MTN Junior Robotics Camp were introduced to many concepts that they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to till much later in life.
While presenting her project at the closing ceremony on Sunday, one of the children confidently said “Am sure all of you have used a variable resistor …” Members of the audience consisting of parents, school officials, the media and other well wishers either burst into laughter or confusion as most of them didn’t know what a resistor is, let alone a variable resistor. That just goes to show you the impact of introducing such topics to a young mind. While the training was meant to be only introductory, the children were able to learn so much in such a short time that they developed functional projects. They got so comfortable with several technical terms that you would think they had been training for months.
“What surprised me most is that even though we had limited time, pupils were able to create more than we taught,” said FundiBots’ founder Solomon King Benge, who was also the camp’s main facilitator. “We taught them to use motors but some went ahead and have made some moving cars.”
He added; “What we’ve done is set them off on a journey that challenges them, their schools and parents to create better learning opportunities. For the children, it is the beginning of changing how they see the world, and the solutions that they can create for the problems around them.”
“MTN is proud to partner with Fundi Bots, which is a pioneer provider of robotics design training in Ugandan schools. Our intention is to create and inspire a new generation of Ugandan children to be the future problem solvers, innovators and change makers,” Ms. Mapula Bodibe, MTN Uganda’s Chief Marketing Officer said.
“We hope the children will leave the program with a new love and passion for design facilitated by innovations in the digital space. We also want them to know that anyone, regardless of age, gender or background can use digital platforms in a creative and innovative ways,” she added.
This being something new, some people asked questions, including why teach the kids about Robotics of all topics, and whether that’s what we need as Ugandans, but both MTN and Fundibots emphasized that the training was more than just Robotics.
“During the construction of the robot, they learn electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer programming, biology and soft skills like leadership, teamwork and project management. Such will help them in future, regardless of their eventual careers,” said Ms Bodibe.
Susan Kayemba, MTN Uganda’s Senior Manager for Retention and Social Media said that, “By guiding students through problem identification, brainstorming, collaboration, construction, programming, final deployment and system feedback, we will show them how life’s challenges can be solved using digital and technological tools.”
“We were also overwhelmingly encouraged by the feedback we received from some parents, especially those whose children did not participate this time, asking when we’ll organize the next camp so they can also send their children to participate,” Kayemba added.
The closing ceremony was also attended by Florence Muhumuza, KCCA’s Director of Educational Services, who thanked MTN for its commitment to supporting ICT education in schools.
“We recognize the various projects that MTN is doing in our schools, including the MTN Internet Bus which goes and spends time at different schools from time to time. Some of these initiatives may look small but they have a significant impact,” she said.
Solomon King started FundiBots in 2011 to change the way science is taught in schools and that they operate as a non-profit “Fundibots runs as a non-profit, and we do not charge schools or communities for the classes that we have. We only require facilitation to help us move to those locations, and if there is need for equipment or material, the school purchases it. For the schools represented here today, we shall be giving them the materials used in the projects at no cost because of MTN’s support”.
The camp had representatives from Lohana Academy, Vine Academy, Ntinda Primary School, Nakasero Primary School, Buganda Road Primary School, Kiswa Primary School, Kitante Primary School, Daffodils Academy, Kampala Parents School and St. Kizito Primary School Bugolobi.
Each of the students that attended got a certificate of participation.