ALforEducation’s Little Bets Challenge Highlights Fresh Thinking in Education

On August 20th and 21st, ALA had the honor of hosting its own virtual event, under our educational sector group: AL For Education. Titled “2020: A Year for Action”, the two-day online event saw powerful topics such as “Anti-bias education in Africa” and “The Future of African Education Post-COVID” discussed. One of the major highlights was the Little Bets Challenge which saw over fifty educators from across the continent submit their ideas on how they would tackle an issue facing education today.

Of these applicants, six of the eight finalists were ALA students or alumni. The two winners were ALA’s Joel Baraka ’15 and Grace-Mwiza Gondwe ’19, each winning US$5000.

Joel Baraka ’15

Joel was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and grew up in Uganda. His brother, Joseph Munyambanza, attended ALA as part of the inaugural class of 2008. Having been inspired by his brother’s journey at ALA, Joel applied and was accepted as part of the class of 2015. Growing up as a refugee his parents instilled in him the importance of education to improve one’s future prospects.

Tell us about your winning pitch.
The 5 STA-Z are a series of fun, collaborative, and engaging board games based on the four core subjects (Science, Math, English, and Social Studies) taught in Ugandan primary schools. This innovation has been inspired by the idea that learning content could be broken down into small, modulized packages that allow students to learn in a more engaging way. With the associated playing cards and board, learning content could be packaged and delivered to children within the home to facilitate learning during the lockdown.

What is most exciting is not just how supportive this innovation would be during the lockdown, but its capability to continue being helpful to both students and teachers when schools open and its potential to scale and serve the entire continent.

What inspired your idea and how was it formulated?
The year was 2003 and I had just turned 6 years old. My parents quickly enrolled me in one of the six primary schools in Kyangwali Refugee camp at the time. I was very excited and was looking forward to starting my education journey, but when I showed up to school, reality was nothing like I expected; classes were overcrowded and for hours we would sit in front of a teacher looking at them solve math problems as we copied down notes. As a kid who loved to play and taking an active role in whatever I did, sitting down and copying notes seemed boring and disengaging.  While at ALA I was introduced to the BUILD process which helped me evaluate the problem further and with time I was convinced that this was what I wanted to focus on for my Original Ideas for Development (OID).

In 2016 I started working on the first prototype of the 5 STA-Z; an educational tool that would help teachers in refugee camps manage large classes but also learning resources that help school going children would find learning more fun and engaging.

How will the prize money assist in supporting your pitch?
Our plan is to work closely with CIYOTA, a refugee youth-led organization that has supported thousands of refugees in Kyangwali. With the $5,000 prize money, part of it will be spent on purchasing laptops which will be used in developing more content and expanding the deck of 5 STA-Z content cards.  After we have developed the content and designed the cards, a bulk of the prize will be used for printing the game contents, including 100 game boards and their corresponding packages which will facilitate the learning of at least 500 children.  The remaining funds will be used to transport and distribute the games, as well as facilitate the actual pilot. The prize money will be a great catalyst for us to test our assumptions of making the 5 STA-Z available to children within homes seeing how much impact we create at the time children have limited access to schools and learning resources. The feedback gathered will be very influential in informing and improving our future designs and large-scale productions.

What is your hope for education in Africa and how can young people lead this sector?
My hope for education in African is that we can develop educational systems designed by us (young people) to address the needs of our people. Systems that will ignite curiosity, inspire excellence within learners, and nurture problem thinkers.

Young people can lead the educational sector through taking some time to understand what has worked, but also what didn’t work for those who came before us or even what hasn’t worked for us today. More than ever we need more innovators and people who are curious to try different approaches of learning that will redefine the way education is delivered across the continent especially as the continent’s population grows.

Grace-Mwiza-Gondwe ’19

Grace hails from Malawi and is currently a second-year ALA student. Before coming to ALA, Grace recalls her schooling as one that lacked and, in some cases, discouraged speaking and learning about African languages, culture and history. With this background, Grace was inspired to enter the Challenge and was announced the winner to the prompt: What little bet can you make to dismantle injustice in education in your community? We caught up with Grace following the event.

Tell us about your winning pitch.
My pitch is an animated children’s book about a group of young African characters from pre-colonial African kingdoms traveling the continent to other pre-colonial African kingdoms It highlights important events, heritage, people and history.

What inspired your idea and how was it formulated?
My idea was inspired by my trying to make African history for my 11-year-old younger sister interesting. I realized I could not make it solely informative as she may not have found it nearly as interesting considering her age. As such I decided to make it a children’s animated comic book. This way learning of precolonial Africa is made creative and fun whilst remaining informative to an extent that would still make it interesting. As for the idea of the book revolving around precolonial Africa, I had embarked on a personal research project last year after my interest in African history was stimulated in my various OMANG classes during my first term of my first year at ALA.

How will the prize money assist in supporting your pitch?
The prize money will be directed towards the publication process of the book from illustration to editing to the purchase of the books themselves. The cost of marketing will be nullified as I will be piloting it at my former school to cut costs. 

What is your hope for education in Africa and how can young people lead this sector?
My biggest hope is to see a redefined Africa in Education systems outside of the post-colonial depiction of the continent enough for a sense of pride to be instilled in them. So much so that even in the midst of various other cultures, people are able to proudly express themselves as Africans.  I believe young Africans can lead this sector by further embarking on knowing their cultures both now and before it was written for us; portraying the continent in the way they feel it should be rather than how it is often depicted in the media, as well as breaking stereotypes and redefining African-ness.

How will you help transform Africa? Nominate a young leader like Joel or Grace to join the ALA Two-Year Diploma Program.