Robotics, software laboratory for Bulawayo pupils Some of the students participate at Sciency MakerLab launch programme

Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter

PUPILS aged 11 and above can now start learning robotics and software engineering in Bulawayo following the launch of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) start-up laboratory in the city.

Established by a former secondary science teacher, Mr  Masuku, Science MakerLab aims to revolutionise science learning in the country.

The laboratory was launched last Friday in the city centre and pupils and students from Bulawayo and beyond can register to start utilising the platform, which also provides 3D printing learning opportunities.

Mr Masuku

The laboratory has equipment including laptops with relevant robotics software materials that can be utilised and compete in the 21st century world.
Mr Masuku believes the country is still lagging behind on problem solving techniques hence Science MakerLab aims to close that gap.

It creates a platform that will enable learners from Grade Five upwards to innovate while taking advantage of opportunities that exist in the Internet space.
Mr Masuku said his lab has attracted students from the National University of Science and Technology who can take advantage of the available resources. His dream is to spread Stem learning and robotics across the country before penetrating the continent.

He has already developed robotics kits, which will enable learners to design prototypes used for solving problems in communities. Mr Masuku said he established the platform after being granted a USAid US$25 000 grant to solve Stem-related problems in society.

“Science MakerLab is a platform that provides low-cost Stem and robotics practical education for learners across Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole. We are hinged on producing practical work on de-generational technological concepts, which can prepare them for the future,” he said in an interview after the launch on Friday.

“Science Maker Lab is a place to foster innovation and creativity among students.”
Mr Masuku said the lab has a team of coaches to equip pupils and students on various problem-solving techniques.

“What will be happening is that we will be having different coaches depending on applications and robotics. For instance, we have our flagship introduction to robotics for Grade 5 learners, to secondary learners and high school learners. We have different levels that cater for different kinds of learners,” he said.

“These will be project-based where students will then do projects, which aim to solve problems that we have in society using robotics and internet of things.”

Mr Masuku said the platform could leapfrog the country towards development as there is evidence elsewhere that practical development of learners at a tender age has led to economic growth and addressing community problems.

“In our country we have a lot of people who are theoretically doing courses even at tertiary level but there is less practical work,” he said.

National University of Science and Technology

“We are now even working with some students at Nust who we are showing practical components of robotics. We want to change the narrative,” said Mr Masuku.

“For instance, in countries such as China we have children at an early age doing robotics but we have not reached that level where students start doing robots and software development at an early age.”

He said Science MakerLab is working towards covering the theory of practical experience gaps that exist in the community.

Mr Masuku said while they have started with programmes for Grade 5 classes, they will be extending the programme to lower classes starting next year. He said learners will be presented with different problems and they will develop prototypes to solve.

Mr Masuku said starting next year they will be spreading the work to local schools and urged those keen to participate to use their online application links.

“We have obtained approval from Government to start working with schools, which will begin in January 2023. Hopefully we can also obtain further funding to expand to more locations across the country and distribute robotics sets to schools,” said Mr Masuku. -@nqotshili

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