Nurturing the Cheetah Generation: How Rwanda is using technology to unlock its children’s potential

In 2020, a child who is now two will be 14 years old. She will be in high school already acquiring knowledge and skills that I do not have currently—the curriculum will have changed, new things to learn will be introduced and some old ones made irrelevant. It is the growth of knowledge.
A child receives a Laptop from Minister Mutsindashyaka as Minister Romain Murenzi looks on. (Photo/ J. Mbanda)
A child receives a Laptop from Minister Mutsindashyaka as Minister Romain Murenzi looks on. (Photo/ J. Mbanda)

In 2020, a child who is now two will be 14 years old. She will be in high school already acquiring knowledge and skills that I do not have currently—the curriculum will have changed, new things to learn will be introduced and some old ones made irrelevant. It is the growth of knowledge.

One thing is certain however, she will be well equipped to learn anything and compete with the world’s best.

She and millions of other Rwandan children will have graduated into the Cheetah Generation, following a similar path as the Asian Tigers. 

This will be the beginning of a new crop of Rwandans fully equipped to learn everything and compete with the world’s best.

This is not a hopeful parent’s dream; it is the reality we saw unveiled before our eyes at the launch of One Laptop Per Child programme at Jali Gardens in Kigali last week.

Young and excited pupils in blue uniforms kept holding up their small green eared laptops during the whole presentation.  I thought they were showing off their new toys.

No, they weren’t, they were deeply immersed in what they were doing on these toy looking learning machines.

One child seated in front of me kept rotating his screen mounted camera, holding it above his small head to capture a larger view of the audience. 

His sense of excitement was clear to see as he took different camera angles of the audience.  Each child seemed to be in his or her own world and it was all fun for them.

That is fundamental; getting kids to learn learning in a fun way.

The late Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in USA, called this simple concept of learning a head fake-- tricking the mind into thinking that you are playing, while you are actually learning very useful skills.

Dr Pausch developed Storytelling Alice, a program designed to teach young girls three dimensional computer programming skills using simple storytelling techniques.

Young girls (and now boys) , pick different objects: dolls, dinosaurs, rabbits and other fun creatures, and place them in some  fun locations like islands or theme parks,  to perform various functions, all in a storytelling game.

The results of this simple tool are outstanding.  Caitlin Kelleher, a student of the late Dr. Pausch evaluated the impact of using storytelling in programming and found that girls are more motivated to learn programming using Storytelling Alice; “study participants who used Storytelling Alice spent 42 percent more time programming and were more than three times as likely to sneak extra time to work on their programs—16 percent of generic users and 51 percent of Storytelling Alice users snuck extra time”.

This is a game of learning and the technology that they get to develop so is real.

The simple objects these kids play with and functions they get to perform in the stories they create, are the same principles at the core of every object oriented programming language like java and C++. 

The seemingly playful programming skills they learn are at the heart of the most complex technology projects ranging from mission control systems at space centers to intricate switching and routing of communications traffic globally.

Rwandan children are getting into the race, learning new things in new ways, seeing better perspectives of the subjects they learn so that when they get to university, they will have acquired skills and abilities that will certainly propel them to the heights of their potential.

They will be smart, quick and more importantly, they will be equipped and motivated to learn more.

The new generation will be problem solvers instead of being at the mercy of well-wishers.

They will stand confident, equipped with the necessary skills to be independent and globally competitive.

Secure in their capabilities, they will be unafraid of the world and happy to have been born at a time when the leadership was committed to unleashing their potential.

This is what happens when knowledge tools are put in the hands of the nation’s children—we get a generation of achievers, the Cheetah Generation that is growing up, right here in Rwanda.

David Kanamugire is an Engineer working in the Office of the President of Rwanda.

 

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