Teachers come in many forms, sometimes it’s the uncle (like Albert, pictured above) who brings you to a workshop and helps you learn how to code
When a student surpasses you or takes over your role as teacher it is a wonderful thing. Those who cannot suppress or master their own ego may see this as a threat or an insult. Those who are truly teachers, beyond simply being paid or identified as a teacher, understand that in that moment they have added to the pool of people who are invested in expanding the knowledge of humanity as a whole. Without our fellow teachers and those who surpass the teachers the task of educating and advancing students would be at worst impossible and at best so psychologically daunting as to induce burnout before a single word has been spoken or a single student’s future impacted.
Fundi Bots’ last workshop at the Ugandan all girls school, Nabisunsa, was a moment when that happened. The purpose of Fundi Bots is both to advance students and eventually to turn those students into teachers. The morning of this particular workshop I texted Victor to ask him if he felt comfortable leading the workshop. When I showed up to the lab to help him get the equipment I found that he had already done it ahead of schedule. He had the usual sparkle in his eye but he didn’t say anything about leading the class. It was only when Solomon asked him if he felt comfortable leading that he realized I wasn’t kidding. (Victor and I have a very friendly camaraderie, we joke, we prototype, we eat chicomando and we learn together.) After the workshop the victorious teacher was heard to remark, repeatedly, about how he thought I was kidding and that all the other Fundis should be ready to lead at a moments notice because it could happen to them as well.
Victor Kawagga leads his first workshop to a packed room at all girl’s school, Nabisunsa in Kampala, Uganda
Two hours later Victor was leading a class of thirty to forty girls how to light up LEDs and use a micro-controller. They even asked some questions which led us to talk about bits, memory storage and what is happening inside of memory at the electrical level. With little to no conscious preparation Victor was teaching as if he had been at the front of a classroom that size his whole life. Because he had been working with the tools and materials, teaching small groups and helping me teach larger workshops for two years he was able to take over the duties of lead instructor without a hiccup. (It helps that he didn’t have time to get nervous about the workshop or overthink it.) As I sat near the back taking notes, as I do with many of the teachers I help train, I couldn’t help but be filled with a huge sense of pride. I knew at that moment that even if I never return to Uganda I have helped plant seeds that will grow, bear fruit for harvest and then will even be replanted to increase the bounty.
Nabisunsa girls delight in explaining details about the microcontroller system they are using (after about only 1 hour of instruction! They catch on fast….)
Next up on the docket was a trip to Rwanda where Solomon, Victor and I conducted an Arduino workshop at kLab, an incubation space for Rwandan entrepreneurs. kLab is located right above the Rwandan Carnegie Mellon branch so we got a tour of their space as well. It was very interesting for both Victor and I to visit another African country. He had never been outside of Uganda before so it was a special experience both to see his wide eyes as the bus got further into Rwanda and to be present during his first international workshop experience.
Future engineers, medical pioneers or astronaut-robot-technicians? Who knows
Lastly Fundi Bots held a Scratch class for about a dozen kids on a Sunday afternoon. The kids appeared bright-eyed and eager to learn about basic animation and game design. While Scratch is fun for kids we were also able to talk about event handlers and iteration. “What’s iteration?” I would ask them. “To repeat,” they would reply.”What’s iteration?” I would ask them. “To repeat,” they would reply.”What’s iteration?” I would ask them. “To repeat,” they would reply. (I think you get the picture… so did they!) Parents, uncles and cousins were present to help the kids and in some cases learn alongside them. Building community is important. Learning Scratch alongside your kid is a wonderful way to bond by momentarily setting aside the power dynamics and discovering new territory as equal learners in a world of wonder. A couple of the kids went far beyond the class outline, adding a time limit and a reset button to their game. The wonderful thing about the Scratch class was that it requires no hardware beyond a computer and the kids download it on their own to continue the learning at home! Fundi Bots is truly changing the technological landscape of Uganda by investing in the professionals and college students as well as creating a base of kids who are growing up with programming skills starting as young as seven or eight.
At the end of the class these two girls showed me the timer they had built into their game (with no instruction about how to do so) and asked how they could create a restart function