2 June 2018

Ethiopia: Ministry Ushers-in Simulation Laboratory

The software, developed by MoST, will be used in schools for grades nine through 12

High School students are going to take laboratory tests classes with simulators starting from the next academic year. For the new system, the Ministry of Science & Technology (MoST) has developed a virtual laboratory software for use in schools from grades nine through 12.

The software which simulates an actual laboratory is developed based on the current curriculum of the Ministry of Education (MoE). It will be used to aid in teaching biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics, and includes features that are not possible in the real laboratory set up, such as simulations of flow of electric charges.

Getahun Mekuriya (PhD), minister of Science & Technology (MoST), stresses that without adequate laboratory equipment, the quality of the teaching and learning processes of science-related subjects cannot be maintained.

"The Ministry is trying to be a part of the solution for problems related to the quality of education, particularly science-related ones," he said. "The young generation is more intelligent and can easily adapt to the technology."

The software is developed by a team of electrical and software engineers that numbered around 100. The software has cost the ministry close to a million Birr.

The software could be used in any school computers that run Windows operating system. Newer versions of the virtual laboratory can be updated with internet connections.

It has been tasted at three high schools: Menelik II, Bole and Tikur Anbesa.

"After incorporating their feedback, it will be launched officially and handed over to the Ministry of Education," he told Fortune.

This summer, before the new academic year starts, practical trainings will be organised by the two ministries to both teachers and students on the use of the software. After that, it will be distributed to all the schools free of charge, according to Getahun.

"The software will save the country a tremendous cost in the purchasing of laboratory equipment and chemicals," says the Science Minister. "It will also increase the accessibility of laboratories to high schools in rural towns."

The team responsible for the development of the virtual laboratory have also programmed an integrated digital health management system for Black Lion Hospital was recently launched.

They have also developed computer numerical control (CNC) machining tools used in wood and metal works such as grinders and milling machines. Computers control the machines instead of doing it manually. Their contributions to the Ministry likewise include a plasma cutter that can cut metals eight-millimetre thick with a precision of 0.01mm.

"These machines will be used in technical schools with the aim of assisting them to practice producing spare parts," said Getahun.

Another software developed by the group is aimed at saving the foreign currency spent to procure exam papers used by the National Education Assessment & Examinations Agency. It is designed to replace the imported exam papers with product that can be sourced locally. It will also shorten the amount of time it takes to grade to a week, instead of the current two months.

"This system enables students to check more than just their grades but also their graded exam papers," says Getahun.

Tirusew Tefera (Prof.), a lecturer at Addis Abeba University's College of Education & Behavioural studies for over three decades, cheers the development of the software and its economic and educational impact. But worries that it is not a definite answer to challenges of disseminating practical knowledge.

"It is still virtual, thus will not be as effective as the real thing," he says. "Also, as computer skills vary from city to city and town to town, there needs to be mentorship by teachers."


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