In one classroom at Lycee de Kigali, 40 kids split in groups were laying final touches to their respective robot projects designed to offer solutions to boost the efficiency of Rwandan farmers. Outside the classroom, other kids were reporting for the 1st-term of the 2018 academic year.
That was Friday evening. The next day, the kids would present their projects to the public and showcase their potential to program and build robots, with the right support and training.
The kids, 22 girls and 18 boys; aged between 14 and 17 were selected from various schools around the country to participate in a three-week robotics academy. None of them had ever built or programmed anything before the camp.
“It is about learning new ways to solve old problems and robotic science has huge potential,” said Regis Rugemanshuro, the chief executive at BK TecHouse, a subsidiary of BK Group, which organized the camp in partnership with Makers’ Academy.
One of the groups had conceptualized, designed and built from scratch, a robot that would harvest fruits; using artificial intelligence as programmed by the kids, it would run through the field, harvesting fruits and sorting them by their colours.
“We have programmed it to sort colours. In a live scenario, it would harvest fruits, helping farmers sort the harvest more efficiently,” said the team leader.
Another set of kids had developed a set of robots that would help in planting seeds in the field, first digging the holes, dropping in the seeds and having them covered in an effortless activity.
“Before the camp, I had no idea I could do such a project; I feel empowered,” said a young female participant.
Everything in the room was built within three weeks; from scratch. But it is clear, the kids had useful theory because they are their schools’ best in subjects such as mathematics, physics and technology. But the gap was clear too.
While their schools offered them a platform to excel in these subjects, theoretically, the robotic academy offered them a platform to turn theory into practice and developing projects with potential to solve prevalent problems in sectors such as agriculture.
“But what next for the students after this foundational camp?” I asked Obinna Ukwuani, the CEO of Makers’ Academy.
While the three-week activity activated the inner abilities of these kids to program and build, on Monday, they will go back to an old-school education system that rewards them for how much they cram and write on the examination paper other than what the projects they could build using the classroom theory.
It is high time the current education system was ‘disrupted’ to allow for a newer approach that empowers kids to not only rack up theory but use the theoretical knowledge to build tangible projects that offer solutions to prevalent problems in society; this would perhaps make education a worthy investment.
In three weeks, the robotic science academy has built a programming foundation for the forty kids that participated; but the education system they will report back to, on Monday, doesn’t offer the right support to erect the walls needed to grow them into fully fledged programmers.
We should build schooling options. A robotics academy for instance, that would identify at an early age and enroll the kids for a lifelong focus on one calling; programing and building.
There would be other choices such as architecture, music and arts, military science, leadership, cooking, soccer, writing to mention but a few.
A counter argument to this wish is that by teaching the kids a wide-array of subjects, the current education system offers all-around learning environment. But it is only true to a small extent.
Most of this knowledge only prepares students to pass their examinations with high grades but not necessarily equip them with practical life-skills; that is why, despite high grades, many brilliant students spend years on the streets, jobless, as they seek formal employment.
The argument here is for early identification and specialization in a specific field. This gives kids ample time to explore a certain field and mastering it to become specialists.
Under the current education system, specialization is delayed until university. It is at senior five or while preparing to join university that kids seriously think about what they really want to do.
But even the bachelor’s degree doesn’t offer the right opportunity to specialize as there’s a huge element of general study; then people look to the Master’s degree or doctorate for more specialization…
Disrupting the current education system would require major guts because those in-charge of running it are strong believers in the system that made them what they are, today. Yet the same system is not amounting to much, for most of the kids today hence requires urgent recalibration.
There is a role for everyone to play here but parents should take the lead in helping prepare their kids for the future of the workforce. Employers have a role to play too as they shape the skills needed to sustain their business models; for this, companies like BK Group should be lauded for providing corporate leadership.
Views, expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the New Times Publications.