Aga Khan Academy Mombasa Nurturing young scientists

Imaan Vaiani presenting her project during the exhibitions. Photo: Aga Khan Academy Mombasa.
Imaan Vaiani presenting her project during the exhibitions. Photos: Aga Khan Academy Mombasa.

Aga Khan Academy Mombasa is driving innovation at a key stage in students’ learning, with its own Personal Projects Exhibition. This exhibition has seen 16-year-olds design classroom holograms and home-made mosquito repellents this year.

The school, held its first Personal Project Exhibition for students in 2011, since then, the exhibition has been encouraging students to apply classroom knowledge in addressing social problems. The young innovators get a period of seven to eight months – starting in June – to come up with an idea, conduct research and develop it into an outcome or a product with the guidance of a supervisor.

During this year’s Personal Project Exhibition by the Academy, Alimohammed Jaffer , 16, designed a scientific hologram to aid in presentations, and is currently in the process of coming up with a prototype.

The hologram is designed to aid in education by creating three-dimensional images, compared to a projector that creates two-dimensional images. Alimohammed hopes that the virtual images the hologram will create will help students understand concepts better through visualization. “I wanted to come up with something that will help students better understand subjects that have a practical aspect to them where they do not have the resources of a fully furnished lab,” he said.

He sought the help of the International Hologram Manufacturers Association, which also produces holograms and it agreed to help him create the prototype, which cost £1,500 (Sh210,000).

Another student, Imaan Vaiani designed an eco-friendly and affordable mosquito repellent. The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) states that six per cent of childhood deaths in Africa are due to malaria. The highest numbers are registered in poor communities that cannot afford preventive measures against mosquito bites like buying treated mosquito nets and repellants.

She used affordable products like petroleum jelly and coconut oil to form bases for five different types of repellents. She then used neem oil, citronella, lemon grass, eucalyptus and rose ceranium to make the repellents. She has applied for certification from the Kenya Bureau of Standards, and plans on selling 50grams of her repellants for Sh55 compared to other repellants sold at Sh80 and higher.

The exhibition is a culminating experience in the Academy’s International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme where students are encouraged to provide solutions to social and economic problems.

“These projects are anchored on specific global contexts such as scientific and technical innovation, globalization and sustainability, identities and relationships among others, and they provide opportunities for creative and truly personal demonstrations of learning for the students,” said David Ochieng’ Vice Principal of the Middle Years Programme.

Science and innovation have been proven to play a key role in Africa’s development agenda, yet these areas continue to suffer from acute skills gaps in Kenya. The 2015 Global Innovation Index ranking Kenya at position 92 out of 141 countries.

Challenges in science education in Kenya have contributed to this skills shortage across many fields including engineering, medicine, food sciences and agricultural sciences.

Against the backdrop of these shortages, the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa is creating an enabling environment to nurture sciences among its students. They are doing this through participation in the annual Golden Climate International Environmental Project Olympiad. The Olympiad is one of the largest science competitions that attract the participation of primary and secondary schools. Students get various awards, including monetary awards and recognition for their work.

In 2015, Aga Khan Academy Mombasa won the top school title at the Olympiad, with four of its students receiving awards in the environment, agriculture, engineering, and environmental design categories.

The Golden Climate International Environmental Project Olympiad and the Personal Project Exhibition serve as great platforms to give students the opportunity to interact with other innovators and attain experiences that contribute to student learning, retention and overall school success.

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