Doors & windows

26 07 2019

Patience. Operating on “Ugandan time” can really try your patience as an outsider, but for once everything went quickly and on schedule. It’s probably the first day all month and it couldn’t have happened at a better time because we are counting down!

The STEAM Centre/Tech Lab at Our Dad Elementary has three really big, bright windows on two sides of the room and it’s also on the second story of the office block, so it’s flooded with light. This was an unforeseen problem for the facility and we realized right away when testing the setup we needed to have blackout curtains on the windows if the teachers are going to use the projector at any time of the day and if the students are to see the monitors well late in the afternoon. Blackout curtains will also enhance security, keep the dust down (a big issue here!) and help keep the equipment cooler.

Since nothing is premade here, we had to find a fabric shop that carried a thick enough material to make opaque curtains. It took us two different shops to find this and even then it wasn’t very thick on it’s own so we went with two layers of tan colour fabric for the outside layers with a solid heavier black fabric sandwiched between. The brown colour was selected at the request of Headmaster Michael, as he pointed out that our inital bright “fun” colour preference would fade very fast in the intense Ugandan sun and also get dirty very quickly. We saw the light with this logic and since the “peanut” colour is also the school uniform colour it made sense on 3 fronts!

After purchasing 12.5m of fabric we went back to our sidewalk shop seamstress on Lubas Road out front of the HFC Computer Training Centre that’s next door to the Hackerspace we work from. She was happy to see us again so soon since she had just made the monitor covers for us 2 days prior. We explained what we wanted, negotiated a price and she started working on them right away. The curtains will be ready for pickup in the morning and we will be taking them to the school to put up in the mid afternoon. Right afterwards we will test their effectiveness as we’re running a teacher training session on how to use the projector and attached computer in the late afternoon when school lets out. Michael messaged us within the hour after we left yesterday to tell us how much the staff is looking forward to learning how to operate the computers!

In the afternoon we drove back out to Nazigo to St. Kalemba S.S. to meet with the ICT teacher, Moses who is also the Robotics & Computer Club “patron”. He has been running this team “the Fusebots” for the students for 3 years now but is having a hard time with recent changes in administration and his job assignment and wanted to meet with us in person as he wasn’t available when we were out there last week.

St. Kalemba SS is a Catholic School but it’s still a government school and is supposed to abide by certain regulations set out by the Ministry of Education and Sport. However, Moses informed us that it operates more like a private school and has extended the class hours as of last winter, which definitely breaks the government rules on class hours for students. The goal of this is to significantly improve student performance and improvement is measured by results on government exams.

We saw this same issue of greatly extended class ours at Jinja SS which was part of the reason for meeting there this week, and was easily resolved. JSS students who are part of our program at the Hackerspace and on the school’s robotics team are granted passes 3 days/week to take part. St. Kalemba however is more of a challenge in that regard because it has no day students, only boarding so there are “passes” and the program is teacher run and the teacher, Moses, has to be in class for the extended class hours. In addition, the new headmaster and new director of studies have fully haulted extracurriculars and students now have to attend classes until 7pm every day, and on selected days each week they are in “extra classes” until 11pm! They also go to school all day Saturday now, instead of just until noon and after they go to mass on Sunday they have added extra classes and “revision”, which is like a homework study hall. As teachers in a very different system of education, we struggled with this model and can’t imagine that it’s the best way to improve academic performance or develop well rounded students. The tone at this school just walking around had really changed this year.

On top of this, as of December, Moses had been split to work at a second school that is in Biukwe District, over an hour away called Stella Maris Girls’ College. This was not his choice as the Bishop does the appointing of staff for Catholic Diocese schools. His timetable and schedule is unbelievable to us!

We knew that he wasn’t allowed ot accompany the students to their robotics competition in Kampala that we send them to every May and had sent Fusebot alumni, Sam, Byron and Collins as team chaperones. Most of the kids who prepared for this competition weren’t allowed to go either, despite the fact it was on a weekend, because it was close to exam time and the school wanted them to focus on results, so the alumni ended up also being the fill-ins for them so at least their projects could be submitted and robots compete. So when all extracurriculars were cancelled it really came as no surprise, the students sadly knew it was coming.

Moses was struggling as he really did want to continue running this program, that much was clear. Unfortunately, it would no be possible for the Fusebots to continue to compete as they were not provided or permitted to use ANY time for clubs and teams anymore at St. K… sadly for the students because they really loved this team and it was so popular the last few years, this means the team is no longer viable. This was a tough one for everyone: us, their teacher/patron and most of all the students.

Moses had layed out all the equipment we had brought for the school – Robotics kits, laptops, chargers, guide books, electronics kits, instruction manuals and batteries so we could inventory it and see that everything was accounted for and taken care of for the last few years. Every single thing was accounted for. We were legitimately surprised. The obvious value this equipment had to the students and teachers based on how well taken care of it was made taking the stuff even more difficult. But everyone understood that having all of this sit idle was pointless especially when we have a list of schools asking us if we can help them get a STEM program started for their students….the students were very understanding and actually encouraged us to give the chance to others!

We appreciated both the honesty about the situation and the care of the equipment and told them to please let us know if something changes. We would absolutely bring the robotics program back to this school! We will miss them.

We aren’t much for clichees, but the old “when one door closes another door opens” applied here….The schedule at Stella Maris SS was very different and Moses was really, really interested in continuing his own learning and teaching with robotics and computers….He expressed how much he has learned and the confidence it has brought to his teaching practice. He hesitantly suggested if we would be willing to relocate the program to Stella Maris Girls’ College? He pointed out that this time he would be starting a program with experience and knowledge and can lead the program which he couldn’t do with St. K because it was as new to him then as it was to the students. He would also have support in this location from the Fusebots alumni, just like we have from the J-Robotics alumni who live in Jinja which helps so much with sustainability. Moses explained that the administration at this school is much more open with students’ time and promoting extracurriculars and opportunity to the students there. So, we told him to go ahead and present the proposal to the Director of Studies at Stella Maris, the Headmaster as well as the girls in the computer club that he is running and see if they’re interested.

We took the equipment with us for the time being, so it’s safe until final decision is made. But, it looks like together with Teacher Moses (a very happy inductee ot the STEAM Team) we will be relocating the equipment and able to give a whole new school (another all girls’ school!) an awesome hands-on learning experience with STEM!

(Side note: this school is in a town called “Nkokonjeru” which literally translates to white chicken….team mascot? Hmmm)




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