How robots are transforming science class in Uganda

Students at a Fundi Bots engineering camp at Gulu Central High School, Gulu, Uganda (Photo: Fundi Bots)

Students at a Fundi Bots engineering camp at Gulu Central High School, Gulu, Uganda (Photo: Fundi Bots)

Solomon King believes circuit boards, microcomputers, robotics and coding can transform how students learn — and kickstart the careers of thousands of young African scientists. He is the founder of Fundi Bots, a non-profit dedicated to re-imagining science education in African high schools.

At TEDxKampala, he explains the meaning behind the organization’s name. “‘Fundi‘ is a Swahili word that means artisan, technician, craftsman. It’s sometimes very derogatory — ‘That guy’s just a fundi‘ — but we want to change that.” King wants the title of fundi to be a badge of honor, to be an identity like “maker.”

Students build robots at a Fundi Bots engineering camp (Photo: Fundi Bots)

Students build robots at a Fundi Bots engineering camp (Photo: Fundi Bots)

He explains what local Ugandan schools can be like for an inquisitive science lover like himself: “The classroom that is meant to hold 50 people is holding 200 people. People are sitting on the windows and there is no other class … The lecturer [begins] reading from a textbook. And he is reading a textbook that was created about 50 years ago, and the stuff that [students] are learning is old — really, really old.” Even if students do outside reading and ask to try new experiments, they are told that that “is not in the curriculum,” King says.

Which is why at Fundi Bots workshops, everything is designed to be hands-on and contemporary. “Some of the tools that we use are being used by NASA,” he says. “Some of the tools we use are being used to send probes into space. And [our] kids are getting access to these tools as early as seven years old.”

Students planning their robots at Fundi Bots camp (Photo: Fundi Bots)

Students planning their robots at Fundi Bots camp (Photo: Fundi Bots)

Learning at a Fundi Bots engineering camp (Photo: Fundi Bots)

Learning at a Fundi Bots engineering camp (Photo: Fundi Bots)

Students with their completed robots (Photo: Fundi Bots)

Students with their completed robots (Photo: Fundi Bots)

These workshops not only introduce students to robotics, King says, but they also bring up questions of biology, physics, psychology and ethics. Tinkering and experimenting spark students’ curiosity and thirst for knowledge, and that’s exactly what Fundi Bots wants.

“We want to create a generation of thinkers, of innovators, of people who look at the world and say, ‘What problem can I solve using the technology of the land?’” King says.

To learn more, watch his entire talk below:

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