STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes train the innovators of tomorrow to cultivate their problem-solving abilities and to be curious about the world around them. In remote villages throughout the continent of Africa, however, students often go through school without access to rigorous STEM training. As a result, many lack the tools to succeed in higher education and in the modern workplace. Mobile STEM labs have now presented a solution to this problem.
STEM on Wheels
Mobile STEM labs travel to schools in custom vehicles that can accommodate up to a full classroom of students. The labs often specialize in topics that under-resourced communities struggle to provide. Some of the most popular topics include electronics, computer skills and even 3-D printing.
The organization STEMpower manufactured its first mobile STEM lab in Ethiopia. The lab’s inaugural visit to a public high school 45 kilometers outside of Addis Ababa. During the visit 14 students participated in a three-hour Arduino microcontroller training session. Meanwhile, 22 others learned coding on laptops provided by STEMpower.
STEMpower reports that the students engaged in the lab programming with enthusiasm and perseverance. In addition, it found that the mobile experience closely mirrors that of stationary STEM centers. As it begins to prepare for expanded coverage and a sustainable future, the organization hopes that the next mobile lab will run on solar power.
More than Microscopes
Many labs also extend their work beyond the classroom. When the Togolese-owned company MOBILELABO travels to under-resourced schools and conducts experiments with the students, for example, it prioritizes community outreach as well. The company hosts science fairs, launches science clubs and sponsors radio/television series dedicated to answering scientific questions.
While the mobile labs themselves eventually move onto other villages, each leaves a lasting influence in its wake. MOBILELABO alone has installed permanent laboratories in 10 schools. Additionally, the organization has sold over 500 science kits demonstrating the basic principles of physics, chemistry and biology. The company also provides rigorous teacher training in each school that it visits.
As of now, MOBILELABO has prompted over half a million disadvantaged students throughout Togo and Benin to pursue the sciences. Founder and director Dodzi Aglago says that his company will continue to work toward its goal of reaching as many communities as possible and establishing permanent laboratories in all African schools.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a temporary halt to STEM lab travel, many lab teams have shifted their focus to designing and distributing medical equipment to local hospitals. They hope to resume full operation in schools as soon as possible.
STEM and Economic Growth
Mobile STEM labs have paved the way for new opportunities across the continent. The African Union (AU) recognizes the importance of STEM education as a means to promote long-term economic growth. According to Aspiration 1 of Agenda 2063, the organization intends to reform classroom curricula as part of its 50-year development plan. These changes will highlight hands-on learning and the real-world applications that mobile STEM labs emphasize.
Continuing the work of mobile STEM labs across the continent, the AU aims to see students armed with the tools to lift themselves and their family members up out of poverty. In the future, the organization hopes that more African graduates will start taking positions in STEM industries.
As STEM education begins to take off in African school systems, leaders envision generations of students animated with creativity, curiosity, self-reliance and a desire to make their world a better place.
– Katie Painter