The county of Mombasa launched intense robotics and innovation training to students in their early years of education. Officially inaugurated by the County Chief of ICT, Anwar Ahmed, the project targets 12,000 learners.
CIO East Africa had the opportunity to talk to Anwar on the brilliant nature of the project that will reach out to and for the 98 public early childhood learning facilities in the county in the first phase. This will later be expanded to almost 200 privately-owned facilities. The project, he notes, has since been lauded by the Mombasa County Governor, Ali Hassan Joho.
Anwar has a rich ICT background having worked with regional tech giants like Liquid Telecom, Airtel, Wananchi Group Kenya and Zuku. His life purpose is to empower future generations with innovative life skills. Together with his team, he has the mandate to digitise all the county systems, promoting and nurturing innovation and any other ICT planning.
Q. Is Mombasa launching robotics classes for students?
A. Yeah, in a project called Early Childhood Education Training Program (ECETP).
Q. Why robotics for these early childhood learners?
A. Robotics for beginners is because the Kenyan government created a task force for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in 2018, for the purpose of introducing AI to key industries in Kenya. Our county is the first to officially introduce AI to early childhood education centres. We did this to prepare innovators for the global world. We don’t want to wait until they’re in university or secondary school to be introduced to such innovations. The other reason is so as to tap into and nurture their natural talents from an early age. In terms of education, we needed to add value to the country ECB’s as well as to the kids at an early age. All this creativity is vital and needs to be nurtured early. have since established a global syllabus supporting plans to build an institute of AI in Mombasa county.
Q. What challenges have you faced so far when it comes to introducing robotics to such young students?
A. THe only challenge has been the capacity to equip teachers for this project. All it takes is to actually create a programme culture that will support this project. Once that is developed, we will have better chances.
Q. What does it cost parents to have their children introduced to such mainstream technology in their ECD classes?
A. Currently, the Mombasa county government is funding this project. It is at no cost to the parents. We start with 20 ECDs, out of the total number of 98 in Mombasa. The remaining 78 should be done within the year(2021), similarly at no cost.
Q. Is the programme for all early childhood students in the county or only those learning in government facilities?
Q. The project has started with the government ECDs in its first phase. We have 200 ECDs owned by private investors, whom we have informed on the importance of introducing this at an early age. Our target number of government ECD students is 12,000. The bigger picture is to transform all the young minds.
Q. Will the privately-owned schools need to pay for the programme in case they agree to it?
A. We will see how we are able to work on that. At the moment, it is a topic of discussion.
Q. Should I presume that the first bunch of 20 are the pilot phase? If not yet, what is the uptake?
A. We introduced the idea in March 2019, when we did research on public participation with the teachers from April 2019 to September 2019. We then sat with them to review the syllabus between September 2019 and November 2019. The syllabus is a component of the competency-based curriculum (CBC) that comes from the national government Ministry of Education. We intended to roll it out in Feb 2020 but Corona hit, inhibiting progress. We, therefore, trained our teachers in readiness for this project between June 2020 to August 2020. The launch was done on 22 February 2021. We have not come across any resistance. Instead, there has been major excitement.
Q. What are the advantages of this model of learning that incorporates technology over the traditional way of educating?
A. At the moment, everything has gone tech. We have learned a lot from the COVID time. The economy has been hit hard. The way to go is to promote technology especially during this time when everything has gone online.
Q. What’s the project’s broader vision going forward, say in five years?
A. Our Vision as Mombasa County is to make it a technology hub. And in the long run, transform the economy of the country. But broadly, our sustainability and future plans are to involve global tech giants for future support. We are planning to involve the national government and universities within the coastal region. We are also looking forward to the national government’s approval to introduce this programme to primary and secondary schools. Another thing which we want to do is introduce inter-competition between schools. We are also planning to do a county innovation policy. This is going to be done by creating a task force that is going to combine private sector companies with officials from the county government. This is very important. The formulation of the innovation policy and the task force to ensure this programme continues. As a county, we are also planning to come up with innovation funds to promote innovations. We also have plans to set up an AI institute in Mombasa. We shall also set up robotic labs for early childhood lessons. We have plans to involve community leaders in mentorship programmes and to form innovation clubs at the school level.
Q. Do you partner with tech hubs like Swahili Pot in Mombasa?
A. We have four tech hubs in Mombasa that we are partnering with. In fact, I invited Swahili Pot to join the launch. One of our sustainability plans is to involve Qbykernel who are our training and technology partners in this programme.
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