Yiya Engineering Solutions
Empowering teachers to transform education into a student-centered journey focused on teaching 21st-century skills through community-based engineering projects!
Yiya's mission is to revolutionize East African STEM education! Our team is dedicated to transforming education from a lecture-based, teacher-centered 1950s-style institution dependent on rote memorization, to a project-based student-centered journey focused on learning crucial 21st-century skills through engineering, experimentation, and the real-world application of math and science skills. Yiya trains high school teachers to make their math and science lessons more engaging, hands-on, and relevant to students' lives through incorporating engineering projects that solve critical problems in their local communities.
In post-conflict Northern Uganda, the exam-driven education system teaches topics theoretically. These passive lessons are disconnected from the urgent problems that plague struggling communities in this region. These challenges are many, including systemic poverty, crippling levels of unemployment, unequal distribution of infrastructure and basic amenities (such as safe roads, clean water, and functional sewage or healthcare systems), and post-traumatic stress mental health disorders.
Before beginning the Yiya project, we interviewed educational stakeholders in Lira, Northern Uganda. We learned that teachers mostly teach through lectures. During rare instances when students do learning activities in groups, 44% of respondents said groups had 10+ students each. Because the groups are so large, most students passively observe without participating. 78% of girls said their group role is always to be the note-taker. Teachers reported that their main job function is to prepare students for national exams. Students reported that their education had little relevance to real life. One student said after science labs, his teacher warns the class not to repeat the lab outside school. “If I can’t repeat it outside school, then why am I learning it?” the student asked in frustration.
While it is tempting to assign the status of the education system to underperforming teachers, the truth is that teachers are not set up for success. Teachers are themselves taught in institutions where the methodology is strictly lecture-based and rewards rote memorization. Once in the classroom, teachers face huge class sizes of 50+ students, have nonexistent budgets for practicals, and experience constant salary delays that force them to work as part-timers in multiple schools, as well as heavy pressure to produce students who pass national exams, which cover an overburdened syllabus focused on breadth rather than depth.
At Yiya, we are working to transform teachers’ mindsets about the purpose of education. We strive to demonstrate to teachers that the goal of education is to prepare students for life! Over the past two years, 30 Yiya teachers and 240 students in 6 Yiya pilot schools in Northern Uganda have researched, designed, prototyped, and improved hand sanitizers (chemical engineering), bicycle-powered phone chargers (electrical engineering), and gravity lights (mechanical engineering)! Our team is committed to improving the quality of math and science education in East Africa, while also building resilience, creativity, and active citizenship in high school teachers. We aim to uplift their profession by empowering teachers to view themselves as changemakers who create the next generation of African engineers by teaching students to leverage school knowledge to solve community problems.
Watch our elevator pitch:
Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Lira, Uganda
The dimensions of the Challenge our solution addresses:
What makes our solution innovative:
We are dedicated to exponential empowerment. Many educational programs focus on teachers implementing their program as-is; we inspire and motivate teachers to first implement our program and then build their skills so they are able to replace the program with their own teaching in future. Once one cohort of teachers is fully independent, confidently teaching without our support and also designing and implementing their own engineering units, they will begin supporting the newest cohort, filling in the support positions that were previously filled by Yiya staff. This will enable us to scale sustainably while keeping ownership of the program local.
How technology is integral to our solution:
We teach an engineering mindset, coaching our partner teachers and students to view technology not as magical devices imported from other countries, but instead the straightforward application of math and science to solve community challenges. In every Yiya unit, teachers and students design, prototype, and improve a new technology to help their community. So far, student in our partner schools have created hand sanitizers, bicycle-powered phone chargers, and gravity lights. This term, all partner teachers are teaching an agricultural engineering unit of their own design to students! The creative development of technology is at the heart of every unit.
Our solution goals over the next 12 months:
We will continue supporting teachers as they teach their agricultural engineering lessons (Jul-Aug), run a capacity-building workshop for our newest hires (Aug), work to improve gravity lights prototypes (Aug-Sept), run a training to prepare teachers for the engineering competition (Sept-Oct), run the engineering competition (Oct), and finish technology prototyping and curriculum development for our fourth engineering unit (Oct-Dec). We will strength our relationship with the Ugandan Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation and develop funding relationships to increase our budget. We will recruit three new schools and four community groups for out-of-school youth to participate in our 2019 program.
Our vision over the next three to five years to grow and scale our solution to affect the lives of more people:
Our vision is to identify strong Yiya teachers, provide them additional capacity-building, and contract them to train and support new teachers. These strong teachers will also act as grassroots ambassadors who promote our methodology. Using teachers as additional human power to power our scaling will allow us to expand sustainably. We have already piloted this strategy by hiring a star teacher from one partner school to support Yiya lessons in another struggling partner school. This frees up our Yiya team to expand to more schools. We also hope to expand to out-of-school youth through our partnership with MCE Uganda.
The key characteristics of the populations who will benefit from our solution in the next 12 months:
The regions where we will be operating in the next 12 months:
The countries where we currently operate:
How many people we are currently serving with our solution:
We serve six schools in Lira District, Northern Uganda. In these schools we have 30 teachers and 240 students. We have provided biannual engineering education workshops to teachers for two years and worked alongside them in the classroom, co-teaching our engineering units with them. Our biggest impact, that will translate to the most lives impacted, is the change that has occurred in our partner teachers’ teaching methodology after participating in our program. This term for the first time, teachers are designing their own engineering lessons and teaching them in the classroom as lead educators while Yiya supports in the background.
How our solution team is organized:Non-Profit
How many people work on our solution team:6
How many years we have been working on our solution:3-4 years
Our revenue model:
Yiya has two arms: the nonprofit program operating in Northern Uganda for our target beneficiaries and a revenue-generating arm in central Uganda. Our revenue comes from contracts to write curriculum and run capacity-building workshops. On the nonprofit side, partner schools pay $60 annually. In total, we earn $1,200 monthly. Running costs are $2,500 monthly. The balance is covered by institutional grants and donor gifts. Our vision is to hire more staff to increase revenue from contracts while leveraging partner teachers to expand our nonprofit program. This will allow revenue to increase faster than operational costs for long-term sustainability.
Why we are applying to Solve:
We are applying to Solve because we're huge fans and have been following your community since even before its inception, when MIT was first promoting its upcoming Solve initiative! We want to be part of your global community of problem-solvers, to learn from innovation superstars and find experienced mentors. We’ve been trying to build more relationships (with mentors and other orgs) but it's been a struggle. Our team is small and time always seems too tight to get to conferences or meet people whose work we admire. We feel stuck, where Yiya is surviving but struggling to grow.
The types of connections and partnerships we would be most interested in if we became Solvers: