Many children in underprivileged communities have expressed a lack of enthusiasm for pursuing careers in the sciences or engineering. Several factors might contribute to this, not least of which is the lack of proper hands-on activities that are both educational and engaging for students. Robots are great for giving students hands-on experience with technology, providing them exposure to design, building, programming, and testing. Robots are also fun and engaging for children, making them a great tool to leverage for project-based learning at the pre-university level. My Robot Friend Uganda was a new program from the IEEE Uganda Section (R8) that served as a workshop and mentor opportunity for local students. 

The program was designed to let children of all ages, along with parents and teachers, have hands-on exposure to the Lego Mindstorms Educational Robotic Kits, EV3 software, and the Scratch programming language. For most, this was the first real-life exposure to robots and hands-on experience with them. The program reached 156 students, nine teachers, and two parents across three underprivileged schools in the area. The program was also supported by the help of 21 IEEE student volunteers from various student branches that will serve as ambassadors to train school children in future programs. During the workshop, program partners such as IEEE Photonics Society and namunde LABS were introduced to the participants. Additionally, a competition was held where students presented their work and prizes were awarded. 

The program was considered a success based on both recorded and observed student responses. At the end of each workshop session, questionnaires were used to assess the students’ mastery of basic robotics concepts, including among others, parts of a robot, uses and applications of robots. The responses indicated that the program sparked curiosity and interest from both students and their teachers, both wanting to continue with more learning opportunities in this space. The questionnaire results also indicated that the programming (scratch) bit of the sessions was even more interesting to the students and their teachers, as some of them were able to begin writing simple lines of block code using scratch software. The student competitions also served as a way to evaluate how effective the program methods were. The program was also successful in securing support from partnerships in the future. IEEE Photonics Society provided Optic Kits, 3D books, 3-D Glasses to be used in the future, and other partners such as IEEE Epics and namunde LABS pledged contributions as well. 

My Robot Friend Uganda was a recipient of the 2022 IEEE Pre-University STEM Grant Program.

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