Innovation in schools: Can this revolutionise today’s education system?

Scientific and technological innovations on a global scale have become increasingly important in the 21st Century. This is because of the benefits that come with a knowledge-based economy.

In order to succeed in this new information-based era, a highly technological and innovative society is required; this is why it is important for students to embrace this. And for this to happen, educators need to be informed on how much practices are changing within classrooms and educational organisations, how schools use their pedagogical resources, and to what extent change can be linked to improvements.

Through a political vision of embracing technology, the Rwandan education system has embarked on a journey to sensitise and nurture young Rwandan students as future innovators from primary schools up to the university level.

An educator inspires young innovators to be more creative. Photos by Edwin Ashimwe.

This is mostly done through the advancement of students’ capabilities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) related subjects.

Needless to say, the ability to measure innovation in schools is an essential aspect to an improvement strategy in education systems.

James Ndekezi and Israel Nishimwe are the brains behind Kwaanda Lab, a local company that was founded to solve social issues using technology. The project deals in wireless power transfer and aims at supplying electricity in an easier, faster, and affordable manner.

The two young entrepreneurs drew their inspiration from research they conducted, and found out that Rwandans face issues of short-circuits and electric shocks. It is this idea that birthed the wireless charging system back in 2015, when the two were still in high school.

A primary student demonstrates her innovative prototype project. 

In an interview with The New Times, the duo revealed that as opposed to the usual way of studying in classrooms, students are required to be more innovative and creative, especially using technology to embark on a journey that will provide societal solutions.

Pointing out that, failure is part of innovation or perhaps the most important. Therefore, they say, citing themselves as an example: “Initially we were stranded and always thought that our tech-oriented project would fade due to lack of support, besides we had tried very many different places but our project was not supported,” Nishimwe says.

However, they say that should not deter anyone’s passion for achieving their dream.

Just four years down the road, Kwaanda Lab has been able to diversify into different city suburbs like Kanombe, Kabeza, and Rubirizi, all in Kicukiro District. Amidst the current challenges that could be facing the innovation field, like sustainable and consistent funding, skilled personnel, and limited facility.

According to Serge Tuyihimbaze, the founder and managing director of Leapr Labs, an innovative hub in Rwanda, teachers should instil the love of technology in the young generation.

As a result, he says, this would in the long run entice young children to learn, build and then deploy projects in the associated sectors, something he believes can be an ingredient in achieving ‘smart cities’ for the nation.

“STEM education creates critical thinkers, increases science literacy, and enables the next generation of innovators,” Tuyimbaze adds.

As for Kelia Mugenzi, an engineering student and a member of the KLab innovation hub, today’s changing world demands creative thinkers and collaborative problem solvers.

However, she highlights: “Too often, schools stifle growth and discovery in favour of getting through the curriculum or preparing for “the test”. Learning opportunities and teaching methods must evolve to match the ever-changing needs of today’s learners.”

She also urges students to keep learning and innovating in order to meet the demands of a dynamic science and technology field.

“Learning is at times like feeding, the knowledge you had previously might not be that marketable today, that’s why we need to be innovative,” she adds.

Building skills out of classrooms

Maurice Twahirwa, a teacher at APADET School, believes that the art of innovation enables students to build skills out of the classroom. And in most cases, out of the teacher’s reach.

This, Twahirwa he says, brings joy to either party. “Whereby a teacher will be thrilled to see that a student takes an initiative of exploring their potential even without a facilitator, while for the student, they will be excited to see a new thing that they personally created.”

He also says that when teachers empower learners to explore and learn how to make an impact, they are at the same time inspiring problem-solvers and innovators.

Therefore, this requires change in education systems and more priority should be given to student development rather than providing training for administrators and teachers to implement a new curriculum or programmes, Twahirwa adds.

“It demands that we as teachers and leaders create an environment where learners at every level are empowered,” he says. 

Former teacher, Swabuli Collins, now a tech developer at Fab Lab, sets out his practical vision for how education systems can be transformed to enable all young people to succeed in innovation.

He also argues for an end to the primitive, industrial systems of mass schooling and proposes a highly personalised, organic approach that draws on today’s unprecedented technological and professional resources, to engage all students and develop their individual abilities and love of learning.

“Despite an increase in innovative pedagogic practices, institutions have got a big work load when it comes to nurturing the current generation into an innovative future generation”

Sources from the Ministry of Education reveal that the country has been in a bid to facilitate aspiring innovators for the future.

Quoting the 2018 academic statistical year book for primary schools, numbers showed that the percentage of schools with computers increased from 69.2% in 2017 to 75.5% in 2018, the ESSP target (72.04) was achieved and the number of computers increased from 242,407 in 2017 to 250,038 in 2018. The student-computer ratio is 10:1.The ESSP target (10:1) is achieved.

Whereas for schools with internet connectivity increased from 25.1% in 2017 to 30.0% in 2018 while the ESSP target was 35.6%, the access to internet connectivity should be increased in primary education .

The number of schools having ICT for teaching and learning increased from 44.0% to 55.4% while the number of schools with science kits decreased from 37.0% to 34.4% during the same period. The ESSP target was to achieve 41% of primary schools with sciences kits. Therefore, the target was not achieved.

Meanwhile for secondary schools, 84.25% of secondary schools have computers. However, this is still below the ESSP target of 90% for 2016/17. There is an increase in distribution of computers where the number of computers has tremendously increased from 25,218 in 2016 to 74,318 in 2017 and to 89,646 in 2018.

The proportion of schools with internet connectivity increased, it was 41.3% in 2017 to 52.9% in 2018, which is above the target of 40.9 % as set in the ESSP for 2018. Similarly, the proportion of secondary schools with access to science kits was 66.2% in 2017 and 63.8% in 2018, while the ESSP target is (71.3%) more sciences kits is needed in secondary education.

This is also below the 2017/18 ESSP target of 90%. The proportion of schools with sciences laboratory was 21.6% in 2017 and 26.6% in 2018. This was close to the ESSP target of 25.2%

That ratio of students per computer was 27:1 in 2016 and improved to 9:1 and still improved in 2018 at 8:1. ICT (64.7%) also shows that computer literacy is becoming an increasingly essential skill in secondary schools.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com