ANNUAL FLYING LABS DAY COMMEMORATED WITH THE HEARING-IMPAIRED PUPILS

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By STANELY MWIINGA

The Zambian Flying Labs celebrated the Annual Flying Labs global event on 25th September, 2019 with the hearing-impaired pupils at Munali Girls secondary School under the theme “Drones for STEM Education for the Hearing-Impaired”. The choice for Munali Special Education School for hearing impaired was aimed at promoting inclusive education focusing on promoting drones and robotics for Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) as well as career opportunities in drones and robotics for the hearing-impaired.

Dr Balimu Mwiya Head-Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering from UNZA led a team of students from the School of Engineering, as well as members of the Zambian Flying Lab to give motivational talks to pupils on the importance of studying engineering.

The school has a total of 68 deaf boys and 44 deaf girls. Speaking at the same event was Mr. Manyando Mulonda, the Head of Department, who gave the history of special education in Zambia. He said that Special Education in Zambia started in 1905.

When special education started in the country, it was mainly run by missionaries. By 1970 President Kenneth Kaunda gave a directive that the government should take over the responsibility of educating leaners with disabilities.

This led to the establishment of Zambia Institute of Special Education (ZAMISE) in 1971, that trained the first cohort of teachers to handle special education, and in 1973 the unit was established at MUNALI.

The first section was for the visually impaired and in 1978 a special unit for the deaf was introduced and the two sections have been core existing for visually impaired and the hearing impaired.

 Mr Mulonda  said that from the time the unit was established, they have been practicing inclusive education, were the leaners are allowed to learn in the same classroom with their sighted and hearing colleagues.

deaf pupils and the hearing counterparts

Since 1973, they had challenges with the system of combining the deaf pupils and the hearing counterparts, the other challenge was that most teachers didn’t have the skill in sign language, the deaf would only sit like passengers and sometimes just write notes.

This brought about complaints from the leaners. A policy directive was later issued from the Ministry of Education that those leaners that could not benefit from the mainstream classes should be taught separately and from 2007 till now, the deaf are being taught separately by teachers who have gone through training to handle them.

 Unfortunately, the blind continue learning in the same classroom with pupils of little or no sight.

The leaners are following the same normal curriculum and do the same subjects like everyone else. 

Science is another major challenge because there are few teachers in Zambia that are trained in both science education and special education, so that has brought about an acute shortage of teachers to handle leaners like the deaf at senior secondary school level.

Apart from that they have a challenge of sign language in regards to science because it has very technical signs and teachers struggle to find appropriate signs that can accurately communicate the concepts that are supposed to be communicated.

Mr Mulonda appealed to the government and the University of Zambia to find a solution on how the problems can be solved. He said that students fail to take up science related courses in university and most of them that graduate from the special education end up doing only teaching related courses.

 They fail to enrol into the school of natural science or engineering because we lack colleges or Universities that support children with special educational needs. Lecturers in some colleges or universities have little or no experience in teaching children of this type.

As a result of that, these children`s true potential may not be fully realised.

Dr Balimu Mwiya from UNZA was saddened by the challenges the school was facing and said “its true there are no students from the special unit especially the school of engineering” and she assured that she will see to it that the university does something about it because at the end of the day, they are promoting (STEM) so that the special students can also take part in science and mathematics related courses.

technology of drones

She said that the technology of drones is here to stay and we need to understand the advantages and the dangers of the drone and to encourage them to take part in this technology. She said the Zambian flying labs is part of an international organisation called WeRobotics (https://werobotics.org/flying-labs/) which is an international non-profit organization that is co-creating a global network of local knowledge hubs – “Flying Labs®” – in emerging economies.

The goal of their Flying Labs is to accelerate the positive impact of local aid, health, development and environmental projects.

 They do this by sustainably localizing appropriate robotics solutions, which means they train local partners on how to use robotics technology responsibly and effectively to accelerate and scale social good solutions.

Zambia Flying Labs

Zambia Flying Labs (ZFL) is a hub located at the University of Zambia in the School of Engineering.

This hub is run by a team of local experts in Zambia that are pioneering drone technology for regional as well as national industries that can benefit from robotics and automation, including transportation logistics and road safety, power distribution and national security, agriculture and community development; wildlife conservation and education.

This is all part of the team’s aim to provide solutions with meaningful socio-economic impacts in their communities. Zambia Flying Labs became the 23rd Flying Lab globally to affiliate with WeRobotics.org.

Zambia flying labs also aims at enhancing the student’s learning experience by using drones in the classroom, specifically in STEM Education. “We aim at promoting such learning experiences and help students in the design and assembly of parts for drone, programming for aviation and flight control, piloting of drones, and practical application of drones to solve problems” Dr. Balimu said.

They have so far been able to present the technology at the trade fair agricultural show and the President was impressed with the technology and hopes it will work.

ZFL aims at forming sustainable collaborations with local learning institutions; local government sectors; corporations; companies; NGO’s and the community, since they play a key role in envisioning, being the pioneers of drone solutions in Zambia.

Later on, the students were guided on different STEM career paths in engineering, science, technology and innovation by Limunga Gideon from ikan. 

Engineering disciplines

Mr. Limunga encouraged students to take Engineering disciplines like Aerospace, Agricultural, Biomedical, Marine Computer Hardware and many more. Wasa Moongwa gave a motivational talk to the students to never give up in life and told them “the only limits in life are the limits you place on yourself”.

Chitalu Lukonde and Samson S. Kakote engaged pupils in interactive activities and taught students how to fly drones  and allowed the pupils to fly on their own. The event ended by giving out certificate to students for learning how to fly drones.

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