Can Robotics Change Minds of African Science Students?

Avatar
Written by Dana Sanchez

Solomon King Benge is a high school dropout with a passion for design, business, technology and robots.

He founded Fundi Bots in Kampala, Uganda, and he’s using robotics in African schools to transform science education from theory into a fun and practical experience that prepares students for jobs. More importantly, he uses robots to excite students about science.

More than 90 percent of primary school-aged children are enrolled in classes in Uganda, according to World Bank. Fundi Bots is in schools on an extracurricular basis, CNN reports.

The initiative has taken off in 15 schools in Kampala, and Gulu in the north. Robotics mentors visit schools once or twice a month.

When it’s time for students in the robotocis classes to leave the classroom, they often say, “‘No, we’re not going anywhere,'” and they refuse to leave, Benge told an audience at a TEDx event.

Benge wants to build products that enhance human interaction with the physical and digital worlds through computer user interfaces and electronic hardware.

Fundi Bots, founded in 2011, is a nonprofit that aims to promote better education experiences, improved career prospects and real-world technological advancement in African high schools through training and experimentation in robotics, embedded control and artificial intelligence.

Central to the Fundi Bots philosophy is that building robots does not require a fortune, according to CNN. Students are encouraged to use recycled materials or components that were never designed to be a robotic building-blocks — like microphones and laser pointers.

The company received a Google RISE grant in 2012, and was recognized by BBC, Voice of America and Wired Magazine U.K.

Fundi Bots was selected in 2014 for Echoing Green and Ashoka fellowships.

Fundi Bots has a five-year plan to build a presence in five African countries by the end of 2020, Benge told CNN. “The most promising country at the moment is Rwanda because the government is very forward thinking and very keen to develop as the ICT powerhouse in the region.”

As the Ugandan students learn new ways to build robots, King Benge said there’s no limit to what can come out of the classrooms.

“When I see the students coming up with innovative ideas I really see minds are being changed,” he told CNN. “Students are being exposed to the creative process and I look forward to seeing them come up with bigger projects in five or 10 years.”