At least 33 children from Mtandire, a peri-urban area in Lilongwe city, have created prototypes of digital technologies that can solve problems facing their community and the country.
The children used a tiny computer chip called micro:bit -a pocket-sized programmable computer, designed to help children learn the basics of computer coding.
Among key innovations made by the children include; traffic lights, bullying and corruption reporting systems, automatic water pumps, wind turbines for irrigation and electricity generation, home security alarms where one micro:bit can send intruder alert to another micro:bit connected to a speaker, and a radio transmission system that patients admitted in a hospital can use to alert doctors of an emergency.
Their creation is a combined skills of computer coding using micro:bit with arts and craft, where resources and materials such as; tinfoil, cardboards, speakers, motors, glue, and many other conductive materials were used.
Children discussed these ideas on Saturday during a hackathon session by British Council in partnership with Institute of Imagination hosted at MHub. They later went into rapid software development challenge where the digital solutions were made.
Said Smani Zungu, a standard 8 pupil at Kamkodola primary school, explained that skills learnt from British Council can assist to solve security problems in his community.
“Security is a problem in my village, so, I have learnt that I can use micro:bit to create something that can bring security in Mtandire, as well as solving the problem of poor waste disposal,” He said
These digital innovations will be assessed for possible consideration to compete in a Do You Bit competition where the children with the best idea will get a chance of traveling to London.
British Council Malawi has trained the children in basic computer coding skills under the project Our Shared Goal where the lessons were delivered by one of its implementing partner MHub.
Mr. McDonald Nyoni, British Council Malawi Head of Programs said British Council intends to inspire the children to use digital technologies that can bring solutions in their community.
“We have been implementing Our Shared Goal project in Mtandire for the past 2 years where we have graduated over 950 boys and girls with Life Skills trained that have improved understanding to human rights and reporting mechanisms, challenged gender stereotypes, and empowered girls through safe spaces. We deliver this project using Sports as a means for engagement.” He said
“Micro:bit technology comes in as value addition to Our Shared Goal because graduates from the project are at a better position to talk and explore solutions to their community challenges such as poverty, human rights abuse, child marriage and high school dropout rate. Leveraging digital to put their ideas into action is a better and innovative way to engage and empower them as agents of change.” He explained
He then said the children can do more with micro:bit but what is needed is to develop their expertise to explore this type of computer chip. He said micro:bit helps children to think, solve problems and that micro:bit translate that result into digital enabled solution.
Workshop Facilitator at the Institute of Imagination, Ms. Helen Elizabeth Farley, said it was amazing to see the children creating great things in a short space of time.
“Range of ideas and all these ideas that have really linked with their local community and staff that really matter to them. I think that they are really important.” said Farley adding that such ideas can be progressed further
She said micro:bit can help children to incorporate creativity and thinking and learning through doing. She added that the tiny computer chip has many different components to it with many life features which can among other things be used to detect temperature, create games, and make accelerometer.
Farley underscored that having the micro:bit what remain is for these children to play around and explore different functions that it has for them to see where ideas and imagination takes them.
“Advice I would give would be, they should continue with trying out different codes, testing different possibilities, because you will learn through doing and making. And if something doesn’t work or do something it fails then honestly that doesn’t matter, because that’s how you progress and how your inventions comes to life.”
Vincent Kumwenda, MHub CEO, said the training which they offer to children from Mtandire in computer skills is a continuation of partnership that exists with British Council through Our Shared Goal Project in which Play Football Malawi and Tingathe Foundation also work as implementing partners.
“As MHub we are very much interested in technology and innovation. We are going to work with these children beyond this program because we know that it is exciting to them and it is an entry level to science and technology, engineering and mathematics.”
According to Nyoni, this is a pilot phase and that once it registers success the British Council will consider rolling out the project to other areas.