Last Sunday Alex, Jan and I went on a short side trip to Masaka after we got invited to evaluate the opportunity to start a developer school there.
Ralph, and old friend of mine and also a representative of the German CWM Catholic Workers Movement is involved in several long term projects between Masaka in Uganda and Bruchköbel in Germany. After he heard that we would be in Kampala, which is only a 2h ride away from Masaka, he invited us to visit.
Charles from the Ugandan CWM picked us up on Sunday afternoon and we had the entire Monday reserved for discussions and visits of the facilities.
The Masaka Dev School Exploration
The Monday started with a visit to Africa Point, an internet Café run by Rita. It has 10 work stations with up-to-date computers and a decent internet connection. We explained the concept of a developer school to her and showed them the material of codecadamy.org/afterschool, which is a fantastic starting point with everything needed to start and supervise a developer school. Rita already gives courses for students on how to use Microsoft Office and she expressed their interest to get involved in a potential Masaka Dev School.
Afterwards we had a bigger meeting with Caritas MADDO (Masaka Diocesan Development Organization), the principal of the BTI Mawanda Achilles, Charles, Rita, Goretti, Henry Bomboka and Thaddaeus Charles Bukenya (a web designer working for CWM) on what a developer school is and how it could be setup. Next to Rita from Africa Point,Fr. George Ssemombwe from MADDO suggested to get their local Technical Institute involved, so did Mawanda Achilles from the BTI.
We clarified that a “developer school” is very different from a traditional school. There is no need for an extra building or to adjust the existing curriculum. We also think it should not be run like a traditional class with a frontal teaching style, but should be more like a workshop with a supervisor and ideally voluntary coaches that help students if they get stuck or have any questions. The developer school should take place twice per week for 2-3 hours. Ideally the students would have their own computers so they can follow their curiosity and further explore what they have learned during the sessions. Alternatively giving them out-of-class access to the computer lab could work, too.
After the meeting with MADDO, we visited the BTI. It’s a great school that includes facilities to teach for example farming, plumbing and electrical engineering. There is also a computer lab to teach basic computer skills. Unfortunately, there currently is neither a local network nor internet connection which is a big disadvantage.
A new building is currently being built which includes a very big room that is to become the future computer lab. From our perspective, it is big enough to even turn it into a small incubator for students that want to start their own company after finishing the BTI.
Masaka Dev School: next steps
From what we’ve seen, we’d recommend the following next steps.
- Identify 1-3 supervisors that are willing to take ownership of setting up the Masaka Developer School. For example, this could be Rita (Africa Point), Henry (MADDO) and someone from the BTI.
- The supervisors should take the course at http://codecademy.org/afterschool themselves and afterwards decide if they want to start and supervise a developer school.
- Rita could become the main supervisor, Henry could use his existing expertise to support the students as a coach and the BTI could identify a group of students for the first Masaka Developer School.
- For the facility, we’d recommend Africa Point as it is central, there are already computers and a sufficient internet connection.
- Once the supervisors, the facility and the students are identified, we’d recommend to set up a 2 day workshop with volunteering programmers from Kampala. Especially Kampala’s strong Mozilla community would certainly be interested.
- The material by Codecademy is made for 15 weeks, separated into two semesters. With the acquired skills, the students and supervisors will be able to create and maintain simple websites as well as have a basic understanding of programming. They will also be able to keep studying on their own using online learning materials and potentially help teach the next dev school class.
As a side note, it would be worth researching how expensive it would be to set up an internet connection at the BTI.