Tuesday December 12 2017

Innovation is way to go for universities

Employers now go for workers with soft skills

Makerere’s invention, the Kiira EV. FILE PHOTO 

By EDGAR R. BATTE

Conventionally, a lecturer stands or sits before a classroom and shares knowledge as students take notes or listen. They will be periodically tested and examined as part of assessment that contributes to attaining a diploma, degree or any other qualification. Much of the learning process is theoretical.
Dr Emeka Akaezuwa, a lecturer and dean Faculty of Science and Technology at International University of East Africa (IUEA), says at university level there is need to move past theoretical learning and incorporate processes that can challenge and stimulate a student’s thinking faculties so that they can innovate.
Many universities are moving past the conventional streak, with proof of work.
At Uganda Martyrs University, students are focusing on reimagining three typologies: tenements or mizigo, the shop house or duuka and the family home or amaka. “The fact that these typologies are prevalent suggests a starting point to ground any interventions towards promoting adequate housing and livelihood,” the university’s spokesperson, Margaret Nangooba, says.

Research is key
For instance recently, observations by students and lecturers at Makerere University have led to a conclusion that bananas produced in Uganda are far below the demand for bananas, which are enjoyed by a number of people yet facing banana bacterial wilt.
A team of scientists were funded to apply research and science to increase the productivity of bananas under natural conditions.
Research was undertaken by the College of Natural Sciences at Makerere University and National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO).

Researchers are to come up with a solution to address the mechanisms by which banana plants recover from Banana bacterial wilt infestation, using laboratory -screenhouse- and field-based methods. The most important beneficiaries of all this research are, among others, smallholder banana farmers in Uganda and the region.
Banana bacterial wilt disease alone can wipe out an entire banana plantation at a large scale.

Need for enthusiasm
At IUEA, testimonies of students tell of creative engagement. At the graduation ceremony last week, Annette Kateme, an Information Technology (IT) graduands who was awarded a first class degree said she had gained remarkable experienced having been part of teams that designed a number of software systems such as “Agri-supermarket” and “Yolesa”. “Agri-supermarket” is meant to help farmers find market for their produce while “Yolesa” is an application meant to bring socio-economic development to women with handcraft skills.
The latter application was exhibited at the National Technovation Women Challenge where her team emerged second in the competition.
“We are passing out at a critical time when our countries and the world at large are facing key challenges such as high inflation rates, poverty unemployment and diseases among others. These are indicators that society needs our knowledge, skills and talents to provide sustainable solutions to these challenges. But the question is ‘are you ready to take on the responsibility?’” she asked fellow graduands in her speech as a graduands’ representative.
The response to her question partly lies in an argument by Makerere University’s spokesperson, Ritah Namisango.
“Research and innovations are vital in the transformation of society. In line with the Makerere University vision, various colleges and research units have aligned their activities to realize the university vision. Through this, Makerere University which trains innovative students becomes relevant to the society she exists to serve. The innovations are geared towards reducing poverty levels, transformation of society and improving livelihoods,” she said.

Robotics
Similarly, Dr Emeka says students at IUEA are tutored towards putting their creativity to relevant use, especially where societal problems are concerted.
“We have come up with solutions using robotics, mobile applications and cyber security. At the moment, we are piloting a robotics project where we are ridding communities of waste by collecting plastics which we use to make toys as part of entertainment for children as well as security sensors that can improve security in homes. We are also developing devices that can be used in marine research,” he disclosed.
One of Dr Emeka’s students, Benson Okibo says as a young innovator, he has been exposed to some software programmes through which they have developed code to operate and run some hardware devices.
“One of such codes can be used to automatically turn off lights, control sensors and much more. We are also working in groups to build a robot. What I appreciate most about the learning environment is we are actually given a chance to implement our innovative ideas which are funded by the university,” he explains.

Giving students edge
Ultimately, Nangooba argues that research and innovation give a student edge because it is a basis for self-employment. “We encourage students to get knowledge through partnerships too,” she says.
One of such projects is the Transforming Employability for Social Change in East Africa (TESCEA) whose goal is to transform graduate employability and entrepreneurial prospects in East Africa.
She adds: “By fostering more systematic connections between partner universities, employers and local communities the project will enable the design of relevant curricula and practical internships. Through it, support for academics to transform what and how they teach through new pedagogy, focusing on problem-solving skills that graduates need will be handled.”

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