Information and communication technologies are changing the teaching and learning process around the world. Virtual learning environments are one of the most common technologies that schools are adopting today. Also Rwanda has made continuous efforts to digitize study materials. One of the new advancements is the Virtual Labs in Education Software.
In 2015, Rwanda moved to a more competency-based curriculum, which provides a more practical and skills-based approach to learning. Moreover, it orients students towards the requirements of the workplace. The new curriculum highlights the importance of STEM education: numeracy, ICT, and Science are basic competencies for students to develop.
Challenges in teaching science subjects in Rwandan secondary schools
However, the main barrier to implement this new curriculum is the low access to physical science laboratories. According to the Rwanda Ministry of Education (MINEDUC), not all of the schools in Rwanda own laboratories. Particularly, 47% of the schools in urban areas and 18% in rural areas have a laboratory on-site.
As a temporal solution for the shortage of lab facilities, the Government of Rwanda started issuing Science Kits. These are portable tool kits that can serve as alternatives for traditional lab facilities. Despite these efforts, the lack of consumable materials remains a challenge for the new competence-based curriculum.
Rwanda’s efforts in digitizing schools
Rwanda has extensively invested in ICT infrastructure across the country such as internet access or SMART classrooms in secondary schools. SMART classroom is an initiative under the ICT in Education Policy through which the Government equips secondary schools with the necessary IT infrastructure. The overall aim is to increase use of ICT in teaching and learning and make lessons more participatory and interactive.
In order to successfully implement the competence-based curriculum, an approach that exploits technology-enhanced teaching methodologies has to be adopted. This will allow the integration of emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, gamification and game-based learning, simulation and animated videos into mainstream education.
Using virtual reality for hands-on teaching of science experiments in secondary schools
The Government of Rwanda, through the Rwanda Education Board (REB) in partnership with GIZ, envision to create a virtual laboratory as a solution to provide students with the chance of practicing scientific skills. For example, computer-aided simulations that allow students to do laboratories routine assignments. Virtual reality offers a physical feeling of being in the lab, which gives students confidence when they progress to an actual lab environment.
The virtual laboratory system will provide practical STEM education to students who do not have access to traditional, physical laboratories. The application simulates practice and allows students to control the simulation hands-on. Additionally, this virtual lab will help to overcome many challenges in teaching STEM subjects in primary and secondary schools in Rwanda.
Inside the Virtual Labs in Education Software
The virtual lab solution places the student at the center of learning. It provides a customized and advanced multimedia experience in an online and offline setting. At the same time, it is limiting any dependency on proprietary infrastructures.
The virtual laboratory solution will mainly consist of:
- A visual software simulation for a variety of science courses, from primary to secondary, lower and upper levels
- An inclusive interface to make access easy for all students including users with disabilities
- Additional aspects of gamification, where game mechanics are integrated into a non-game learning experience to increase user enthusiasm and assist engagement in the laboratory experiment.
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