Monday February 26 2018

Learning beyond the classroom


By Desire Mbabaali

Away from the usual classroom teaching which without a doubt is important, interesting students to develop technical and other skills starting from the simple things they like to do is very rewarding as Samantha Akankunda, a Grade 10 student at International School of Uganda, notes. Akankunda, who was showcasing a documentary about Ankole culture during the Middle Years Programme exhibition at the school, said because she does not know much about her culture, she decided to use the project to learn about it.

“I am a Munyankole but do not know a lot about my culture, my history, food, dances, ceremonies, among others. This is why I did a video documentary about my culture,” Akankunda notes, adding that this is also common among many children her age. “I was passionate about doing something to do with my culture. In the process, I have learned communication and interviewing skills,” she adds.

Creativity enhanced
Having grappled with lack of space in her bedroom, Amani, another student at the school, created multi-purpose furniture. “I have a big bed that does not leave me much space for a desk or a table in the room. I, therefore, wanted to create something that I could use for storage, as a table, and seat at the same time,” she says.

She also links this to her liking for building items. While executing her project, Amani says she faced a number of challenges which taught her new skills. “For my first prototype, my measurements were off, so some sides did not fit. I had to redesign it a few times. I also had to think logically – if the stool was too small, what would I really keep there, so that it is both a stool and for storage? So I made it bigger. And if I were to lower the table, where would I put my legs?” Amani notes. In the end she learned to be more practical than she had initially thought.

More so, Kevin’s love for building inspired him to build and programme a remote controlled toy car. Though still away from accomplishing his goal, the project has taught him a thing or two.
“I have grown up building items but this project was a higher level work from the kind of programming and building I was used to. The skills I need to finish it would require – I believe university level – so I have a long way to go and a lot of things to learn,” he says. When accomplished, the remote-controlled car will be able to move using Bluetooth connection that can be linked to one’s phone.

An APP to the rescue
Other innovations exhibited at the end of this project include a phone application built by a one Rahma Jjingo.
“I grew up in the US though my parents are Ugandan. When I finally returned, I found it hard to learn the Ugandan culture. I know from personal experience that it is hard for someone from another culture to assimilate into this culture. After doing my research, I created an application called UgConnect,” Jjingo says.

The application is simple and can show you things around Kampala, including locations, and has some Ugandan phrases that would help one maneuver around. Though not yet fully developed and available in online stores, a code can help one connect to it using their phones.

The arts
Aside from technology are students whose interests are in the arts. Noah Hemsy King for example used his passion to express creativity to make an Electronic Dance Medium.
“I love EDM music and this was just a step in my music making journey. I had to learn everything that goes into composing music, I taught myself to be sure I complete the task and do it correctly. The most interesting part was making something I really liked,” King notes.

Gabriel Ocaka, the principal Rukore Community Polytechnic, notes that teaching students practical skills as well creates a good foundation for technical studies in the future.
“If a student can, for example be taught a carpentry skill in primary or secondary school – just as an addition to the other subjects, students are able to discover where their passions lie at an earlier stage, and pursue that when they are older,” he says.

The programme
International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (MYP) is a conceptual programme that contributes to middle year assessment that aims at creating a tangible link of what students have learned and how it serves them in the real world. Last week International School in Uganda held a personal project exhibition where students showcased their final tangible products for the MYP. Samantha Akankunda, a student, noted: “What I like about this project is that for the first time, students can do something they are passionate about and interested in, not just a teacher coming in class to tell you this and that.”


Attitude change
“There is need for policy makers and teachers to change things around vocational and technical skills. Presence of vocational and technical institutes is good, however, both primary and secondary curriculum should be adjusted to adopt such skills in teaching and learning.” Samuel Businde, Executive secretary for change Attitude Uganda.

More than classwork
“Many times we assume that the students pick up these skills along the way as they learn, but we have to actively teach and develop these skills as part of our curriculum. Teaching is not about the topics and the content, but about the skills students have developed along the way, and how they have developed as a person.” Lucy Allsopp, a teacher at the International School of Uganda