Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
MR Nkosana Masuku (26) quit his job as a high school teacher two years ago after being frustrated by shortage of laboratory equipment.
He was at Lubhango Secondary School in Matobo District, Matabeleland South when he came face-to-face with problems faced by rural science pupils and their teachers.
The former St Columba’s High School pupil, Mr Masuku said the challenges he experienced as a teacher motivated him to transform the learning of science in the country.
Most schools, particularly those in rural areas have for years experienced serious challenges in the learning of science as they do not have science laboratories.
The situation is even worse for some schools which also do not have science teachers.
Mr Masuku, a qualified physics and chemistry teacher who trained at Hillside Teachers’ College, has taken a new path, which he believes would transform the teaching of science in schools. The former teacher formed a science learning startup company which he believes would address some of the challenges encountered by pupils due to the shortage of science labs.
He has created “artificial laboratories” that are already being used by thousands of pupils and his start-up company has entered into a partnership with a United Kingdom start-up, a partnership that will transform the learning of science in the country.
Mr Masuku is also running a pilot programme at some schools.
“I used to teach at Lubhango Secondary School and that is where I experienced the challenges of teaching science without laboratories.
There was a shortage of apparatus and models which made science learning difficult for the pupils as they could not grasp concepts. From there, I thought of innovative ways to improve the learning of science in schools hence I started this company Phenomenon Technologies where I have managed to create a science learning application,” said Mr Masuku.
The ex-teacher employs virtual learning to create artificial laboratories enabling pupils to have a “feel of the lab experience through augmented reality. “
“Augmented reality is where you can project 3D (dimension) models of things you find in a laboratory. For instance, a skeleton and apparatus which makes science easy and comprehensible. The science lab app is already available on Google Store App and has about 5 000 users,” said Mr Masuku.
The application named Science-IGCSE/ZIMSEC Revision and 3d Models can be downloaded via Google Play Store.
More than 1 000 users have downloaded it.
The application has received several reviews from users among them Sindi Amunga who said: “It’s a great learning app for learners, especially high school learners. My youngest sister in high school got a better understanding of working of the human skeleton and heart as a starting point using the AR. It’s also a great app for younger children as well,” posted Amunga.
Another user Jewel Damunesa said the application was relevant considering the disruptions caused by Covid-19.
“I think this is a great app especially (to) us IGCSE students of 2020. Seeing that schools are closed and learning is not normal, this is a great learning platform,” said Damunesa.
Mr Masuku said his organisation has since partnered with one of the United Kingdom’s biggest start-up companies Mei Science to reach out to more learners.
MeI Science has equipped Phenomenon Technologies with portable laboratory equipment and learning modules which learners can take advantage of.
“Apart from that, we became the first African start-up to partner with a United Kingdom Lab Tech start-up which is called MeI Science.
Mel Science provides kits which allows learners to safely conduct experiments at home and when they subscribe to the science stem club, they get the starter kit which has all the apparatus and every month they receive different sets of tutorials depending on the topic,” said Mr Masuku.
He said he was working on a pilot project with several schools in the country but said he could not name them at the moment.
“Together with Mel Science, we have created what we call Science Assisted Club, this is a club for students which allows them to gain access to all these resources, the Science App, kits and virtual reality for them to be able to experience end to end science learning at home. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, schools are closed so what we are providing will allow the students to safely conduct experiments at home. With the Science App and virtual reality, they will be in an artificial lab while at home,” he said.
Mr Masuku said while they do not have any serious partnerships with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, they hope to do so soon.
“The Ministry already knows of our existence because for you to operate in schools you need clearance from Government. We are working on partnering the Ministry so that we assist as many schools,” said Mr Masuku.
He said he hopes his innovations will be embraced across the country so that pupils, especially those in rural areas, can benefit.
“This is going to be very significant because we are going to have a lot of students being doers of science. We have so many problems which can be solved using scientific methods. If this is embraced it will create a network of students who can apply science to respond to problems that we have. We can also develop Zimbabwe through science,” he said.