Author: Naliaka Odera
We recommend listening to our Nairobi Ideas Podcast interview with Michael Waiyaki for more on Young Scientists Kenya and the 8th National Science and Technology Exhibition Week.
On August 3rd, the Mawazo Institute attended the opening ceremony for the Young Scientists Kenya (YSK) 2019 Exhibition Week which took place alongside the 8th National Science and Technology Week which Mawazo helped organize this year. At the ceremony, held in the heart of Nairobi at the landmark Kenyatta International Convention Centre, secondary students in attendance from all around the country were asked, “What is the most important: Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics?”
An eager student from Moi Girls High School put up her hand, “Science is everything we see, everything we are, what we are sitting on... It is everything in one,” she said.
Her summary of what science, and by extension STEM is, corresponds with YSK’s own vision to make “STEM accessible to all.” YSK is a platform for young people from across Kenya to demonstrate their innovation and showcase their scientific talents, and was founded on the premise that a wealth of talent and potential for innovation exists in Kenya. YSK’s 2nd annual exhibition, which took place from August 3rd-7th, is proof of their success rate and intent. Through mentorship, outreach, and camps, YSK has reached nearly 500 schools in all 47 counties, and has also succeeded in working with 12 special needs schools since it launched. For its 2019 exhibit, YSK oversaw the development of 234 projects from 167 schools around the country. The opening ceremony was a celebration of their efforts over the past year, and an invitation to engage with some of the best in Kenya’s innovation.
In addition to students and teachers from around the country, the launch was attended by a who’s who, including: Ambassador of Ireland, Fionnuala Quinlan, Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Education, George Magoha, Principal Secretary of the State Department of Vocational and Technical Training, Kevit Desai, and representatives from BLAZE Kenya, and Safaricom who co-sponsored the exhibition. Showing Kenya’s commitment to investment in STEM education for youth, President Uhuru Kenyatta (who also serves as YSK’s patron) officially opened the exhibition.
“I am confident,” President Kenyatta declared, “that a few of the exhibitors will, undoubtedly, in the future be leading global minds for innovation in this country.”
While touring the exhibition hall where students presented their projects, the President’s words came to mind. Over the last one year, students had competed for these treasured spots, with teams submitting projects that fell under the four broad categories of: Technology, Social & Behavioral Sciences, Biology & Ecological Sciences, Chemical, Physical & Mathematical Sciences. Walking the exhibition hall, students’ project were so varying in subject matter and scale, that the hall felt like an incubator for Kenya’s young geniuses. Whether improving efficiency in poultry, preventing cancer in women, addressing issues in youth development, or modernizing traditional food production, the students’ projects were specific to their communities’ needs, showing the potential they had to help develop local solutions to local problems.
An example of this was the, “Accessible Website for the Visually Impaired,” project by Charity Samba and Caroline Mbinya from Likoni High School for the Visually Impaired where students coded a website interface designed to make it easier for people with varying degrees of visual impairment to surf the internet. Charity explained that creating these websites for governmental institutions, banks and hospitals, would go a long way in ensuring that people who are visually impaired can lead independent lives, and reap the same benefits of an increasingly digitized world.
Equally as inspirational, was the “Quick Health App” project by Gloria Waimiri, Cindy Karanja, Abigail Muriuki, and Susan Jadeve from Nova Pioneer Girls High School. The team of sixteen to seventeen-year-old girls created a prototype app focused on improving the timing and quality of ambulance responders in Kenya. The group, with differing interests in health and technology, had brought together two different disciplines to create a solution for a serious impediment to timely health care access in the country.
Through this exhibit, YSK is strengthening the ecosystem for STEM and STEM education in Kenya. Building on a history of other successful science fairs, YSK’s Exhibition Week links youth to government, academia, private sector, civil society, and others to help them upscale both their research, and their projects. Exhibition week also accomplishes a crucial YSK goal: providing opportunities for the public to interact with young people, and spur interest in STEM in the region. But Exhibition Week is also a competition, which means there must be winners. Meet this year’s winners and some of the other winning projects on the YSK page.