Hop On Board the Nile Explorer | Helping Rural Children in Uganda Discover Technology, Science and Literacy
When the Nile Explorer pulled into the yard of Prince Musanje Memorial Primary School in Luwero, Uganda, most students there had never before been on a bus – let alone a bus equipped with laptop computers. The Nile Explorer, a colorful library and computer lab on wheels, had come to this small rural school to introduce innovative educational activities to the young learners and their teachers in order to inspire children to stay in school.
“It was the first time I saw such a big bus with computers. It was exciting!” said 16-year-old Julius Galiwango, a 7th grade student.
“It was great,” exclaimed 13-year-old Noeline Nabaloga, who had never seen a computer before. “I got to learn about the software inside the computer and how it works.”
Like most Ugandan children, Noeline and Julius live in a poor community with minimal education opportunities and few incentives to stay in school. In Uganda, where 56 percent of the population is under 18, more than 70 percent of students drop out before completing primary school. Most families cannot afford to pay school fees. And, girls who are lucky enough to attend school often leave before they complete their studies due to pregnancy, early marriage or parents’ lack of support for girls’ education.
The Nile Explorer, named after the Nile River which originates in Uganda, is a program created through a partnership between USAID, the U.S. Embassy in Kampala and a Ugandan technology incubator called HIVE Colab. It promotes literacy and the all-important STEM skills — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in underserved, remote Ugandan communities.
The Nile Explorer supplements USAID’s Literacy Achievement and Retention Activity, which improves education in Uganda by training teachers — 15,000 so far — on early-grade reading methodologies and providing books and teacher guides to schools. The project has distributed over one million books and teacher guides to Ugandan schools, including the Prince Musanje.
During the week that the bus stayed at the school, children participated in hands-on study sessions and activities, many of them inside the bus.
Equipped with dozens of laptop computers, engineering and coding tools, games and books, the Nile Explorer brings information and technology for children to touch and explore.
“In every session we encourage inclusive participation for boys and girls,” said Bruno Bakahika, the project’s STEM facilitator. “But we deliberately include more girls because they have fewer opportunities to access computers.” Acquiring information online and getting a sense of the exciting world it opens can also motivate girls to continue their education.
The Nile Explorer focuses on STEM skills to help inspire students to pursue science-related careers later in life. The U.S. mission hopes this will generate economic prosperity for Uganda and build opportunities for the youth.
Since its launch in June 2017, the Nile Explorer has reached over 2,100 children from 17 marginalized schools across Uganda, opening children’s minds to information, technology and the possibilities they can bring. It has also planted seeds of transformation in the community by showing what’s possible with education.
“Since the bus came, it brought along change,” said Jeremiah Sendege, the school principal. “The programs have taught the kids life skills, creative thinking and problem solving. And every child has a text book and is learning to read.”
Story and photos by | Anna-Maija Mattila-Litvak, Supervisory Development Outreach and Communications Officer,USAID/Uganda
Betty Kagoro, Development Outreach and Communications Specialist, USAID/Uganda