Addressing local problems through innovative solutions

Tuesday December 10 2019

Jangwani Secondary School students during the

Jangwani Secondary School students during the STEM Leaders Programme. PHOTOI FILE 

By Devotha John

Jangwani Secondary School has reasons to smile broadly after notching the top position among six schools in a science-based project that serves the local community. To win the contest, the school came up with a mosquito repellent device, which attracted public attention at the young innovators forum. The PCB students were among a group of young scientific entrepreneurs who teamed up at the University of Dares-Salaam Physics Department to pitch their scientific innovations to esteemed expert judges.

The Jangwani students will be coached by local businesses to help them develop the skills they need to turn their idea into a potential business. Group leader, Paulina Haule, says they came up with the idea after being concerned with the plague of mosquitoes in the Jangwani area and Dar es Salaam City as a whole.

“We divide these devices into two large sizes: medium and small. This way, people can even wear repellent like a watch and freely move around with it. It has a portal for charging using electricity,” she says.

Pauline further elaborates that the devices work in different surroundings. She, together with her team thank STEM organizers for coming up with this idea after studying the local environment. “We aim to help society more after graduating. We are not only book smart but through our practical endeavours, we will have an impact on society.”

STEM Leaders Programme

Talking about STEM Leaders Programme, Rachel Youngman, who is the Institute of Physics (IOP) CEO, says STEM Leaders Programme is a partnership initiative funded by the UK’s Institute of Physics that aims to enhance future career prospects of young people in Tanzania, while simultaneously addressing local problems through innovative solutions.

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“This year, 40 schools submitted their proposals and we ended up selecting six schools that presented the final incarnations of their ideas to an international panel of judges. The judges then decided which of the presented ideas deserves a spot to take up a six-week business internship with Gongali Model, a science-based business in Arusha,” says Rachel Youngman.

Rachel mentions six schools that got into finals as Tusiime Secondary School, Sharsiye Secondary School, Baobab girls Secondary School, Jangwani Girls Secondary School and Kibasila Secondary School.

She says winners will gain expansive knowledge of all that is involved in running a business during their time with Gongali Model; from finance, administration and staffing to conducting laboratory experiments and product designs.

The program started in 2017. Students studying science (in any combination) are asked to propose science-based solutions to local problems within their community. These ideas are then assessed by a panel, and five students from each participating school then go forward to join the programme in Form Six. Teachers receive training to enable them to support their students through the programme, and a teacher well-versed with Continuing Professional Development (CPD) assists them in exploring new ways of teaching practical classroom science.

Miss Rachel supports this cause and approach by encouraging students to apply for scientific training to develop their business knowledge and acquire a broad range of skills that will enhance their future career prospects, adding that the initiative also supports the Tanzanian government’s drive to support technology and science education.

The STEM programme demonstrates what can be achieved when young Tanzanians are supported to apply their education and use science and innovation to solve challenges in their local communities. “The programme is run by a network of dedicated partners and we look forward to working with them again next year to support more students, under the leadership of Dar Teknohama Business Incubator (DTBi). We welcome the government’s support with the programme,” said Rachel Youngman.

The programme is a collaboration of partner organizations, which include local businesses, the Tanzanian Physical Society (TPS), University of Dar es Salaam (Udsm) and the Dar Teknohama Business Incubator (DTBi).

From 2020, a reshuffle will see DTBi leading the programme, with the UK’s Institute of Physics continuing to provide 100 per cent of the funding.

The developer of the multi award-winning water purification system, NanoFilter, Dr Askwar Hilonga, says a student needs to develop commercial and viable scientific solutions that can easily solve local community problems. For this reason, programs encouraging secondary school A-level students to apply their scientific training are important.

Dr Hilonga further explains that young scientists should be motivated to be good business leaders in the foreseeable future. The society needs to empower young scientists by leading them to create own opportunities in a bid to hone their innovations, the nanotechnology expert said there is a dire need of supporting advanced secondary school students to apply their education in real-life situations by solving a number of societal challenges.

He bemoaned the way in which scientists fail to turn their research findings into businesses while the latter are useful to the community surrounding them. It is estimated that by 2030 the labour force in Tanzania will reach 50 million, increasing the need for jobs and the risk of increasing unemployment. One solution to this is to empower future generations to create their own opportunities and livelihoods by boosting entrepreneurship and business creation.

However, Abdulkarimu Shaba, a Form Six student at Shemsiye Secondary School, says this program is good for young scientists and it will help them turn their research into a business. “Most scientists don’t work on their findings because they don’t know how to turn it into a business .It should, however, be understood that even in science we can develop our skills into potential businesses,” he says.

Asia Abdala from Kibasela Secondary School says these programs instill in them with confidence to make them useful because scientists are not perceived as business people.

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