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How Ugandan ladies beat rest of Africa to continental award

On April 12, Africa will converge on Kampala for the 2018 DStv Eutelsat Star awards. The competition aims to stimulate interest in science and technology and inspire innovative thinking among secondary school students across the continent.

Ahead of the awards ceremony, Moses Talemwa and Winnie Nabaasa caught up with HANNAH KASULE and MARY MUSIMIRE, two Ugandan students who have won the award. They share their career-changing feats.

Hannah Kasule (L) and Mary Musimire (R) with MultiChoice publicist Tina Wamala

Meeting them for the first time, you are struck by how unassuming these two alumni of Gayaza High School are. They exude no airs despite their accomplishments. Musimire is a software application developer while Kasule is a chemical engineering student at Kyambogo University.

The former won the 2011 edition before the latter triumphed in 2015. For their efforts, they each won a trip to France, where they witnessed a rocket launch, among other things. The runners-up also won goodies like computers or tablets.

The competition, which targets at African secondary school students, is a partnership between MultiChoice Africa and the French satellite operator, Eutelsat. Contestants are required to develop a poster showing how innovative use of satellite technology in the fields of communication, earth observation or navigation can propel Africa into the future. Alternatively, they can prepare an essay on the same theme.

The girls insist that the competition is not restricted to those inclined toward the sciences. As Kasule explains, “the first time I applied I tried so much to write to show that I was a scientist … I didn’t go through and the second time, my idea was [good] but I didn’t have a background in fine art. However, I decided to stick to my idea and it worked”.

Musimire concurs: “I used to read many articles [in a science magazine]; so, that is where I learnt to write essays from. [For those seeking to contest], I think they should do a lot of research about what they hope to write about; even if its drawing, they should know the technologies behind it.”

In the wake of concerns that many students are shunning the sciences, the two insist that anyone can excel.

“You must have interest in the sciences in order to excel…look for a support system to help you understand,” Kasule says. “Look for teachers and friends who understand and focus on the end goal; for example, if you want to be a doctor or engineer, to fuel your persistence.”

Musimire says all subjects require students to be naturally curious about their surroundings. “Know how the body works and this will help you learn and [fire] the desire to get more knowledge,” she adds.

However, Musimire also has something to say about those teaching sciences. “When they teach quadratic equations, they don’t show you their practicality in real life, some don’t appreciate how mathematics is connected to real-life situations.”

She adds that this explains why many end up declaring later in life that they would have paid more attention in class if they knew the significance of what is being learned.”

Critically, Kasule and Musimire say that looking at fields as either humanities or sciences, also clouds how they are appreciated.

“Initially, the concepts are different but at the end of the day, humanities and scientists are looking to solve life problems, only the approach to these solutions is different,” says Kasule.

Musimire is even more direct. “In my field, I do software development, but someone else is the programme manager and their role is to help us understand people’s problems so we can solve them in a technical way.”

JUDGES HAVE THEIR SAY

Michael Niyitegeka - Motivational speaker

The competition requires one to have some understanding of science, but it is more dependent on one’s ability to do their own research about a subject, comprehend it and then compose an explanation.

So, the central question is for the student to find the answers rather than relying on the teacher to give them notes. For instance, how satellite technology is helping development. It is your ability to communicate that lets you stand out.

Sara Kabahuma - Frequency Planner, UCC

I think the competition encompasses everybody. We are not looking at the science per se, but how it can change life.

We need to see how one articulates his views. Learn how to present a problem, then propose a solution. We are looking for creativity and innovation among the students. I’m pleased that the competition has persuaded students to become broad-minded – thinking outside the box.

mtalemwa@observer.ug

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