Fostering innovation in schools enhances learning and skills
In October 2013, Dr Obote College Boroboro emerged winners at the annual Science and Technology Innovation Challenge (STIC), popularly known as Robotics Challenge, held at Makerere University main hall, and organized by CEDAT. It was a prestigious moment for the school, the participating students, and entire Lango sub region. Each student that participated got a smartphone, while the school got 20 computers, and Internet access for one year. At the same event, Lira Town College, emerged third, behind Maryhill High School, and beating other schools, namely, St. Mary’s College Kisubi, Kings College Buddo, Teso College, Ntare School, Mbarara High School, Namilyango College School, Gayaza High School, Busoga College. The challenge required students to imagine a community problem, and then design, build, and programme a robotic device (using NXT or Arduino kits) to solve the challenge.
The following year, 2014, Lira Town College won the prestigious Annual Communication Innovations Award (ACIA), under Young ICT Innovators category. At the final exhibition, at Kampala Serena Hotel, it was interesting seeing university students consulting A-level students on how they developed their winning mobile app, Walktrack. The winning students received brand new laptops, and internet access for one year. The ACIA awards, organized by Uganda Communication Commission, was considered the Champions League of technology/innovation in Uganda.
These two closely related events sparked off healthy competition (in technology and academics) between not only Dr Obote College Boroboro and Lira Town College, but also with other schools across the country. In the years that followed, as head of ICT, I supported my students to join many more competitions. This includes the Biotechnology Essay writing competition, organized by NaCCRI, the global Technovation Challenge, HIVOS Social Innovation Challenge, Gulu Tech Camp etc.
As a teacher, I have seen first-hand how important these technology/innovation challenges are to both teachers and students. These non-curricula activities inspire students to work hard in class, behave and work well with teachers, and builds their esteem and confidence in life. Furthermore, the exposure they gain from their travels, and interaction with others is life changing. Having students from different regions, different schools, share the same podium builds national cohesion. Allowing students to compete at regional, national and international levels extends their world view, and blends well with the vision of the new lower secondary school curriculum.
As a teacher, these non-curricula activities enabled me to gain new skills, and collaborate with other schools, especially sharing equipment or transportation, and also in the academic endevours. I remember, before Lira Town College acquired the school bus, we shared the bus with Dr Obote College Boroboro many times, when travelling to Kampala for final award events.
As schools reopen in January 2022, I know it is very important to enable students catch up academically. However, we should not neglect these non-curricular activities such games/sports, debating, technology/innovation challenges, writing competitions etc in schools. Over the years, many schools have resorted to neglecting these non-curricula activities, in the name of saving resources. Some school administrators encourage students to lose matches/games, so that they don’t progress forward, because progressing forward means more expenditure. Yet, these same activities tend to spice up the academic journey, and produces unique learning outcomes, most impossible to achieve in class.
It’s sad that ACIA ended in 2016, and Makerere University also discontinued STIC. The robotics challenge is now organised by Oysters and Pearls Uganda. However, new events have since come on board.
If we are to produce competent, skilled and upright graduates, we need more of these activities in schools, and must be included in school budgets. I have hundreds of examples of young people who participated in these activities, and went on to succeed after school/university.
I therefore urge government institutions, NGOs, tycoons, politicians and parents to initiate, fund, or support these technology/innovation activities, including games and sports in schools. Life is not only about academics, and these non-curricular activities accord students an opportunity to compete, and showcase their knowledge, skills, and abilities, in other ways, other than using pen and paper.
This article was first published in the Daily Monitor.