Announcing the Innovation Seed Fund

This year EPAfrica will be investing over £1000 of funds in seven innovative project ideas in our partners school, as part of a new initiative to continuously improve and develop our programme

EPAfrica invests funds, time and energy into our school partnerships. We send our Project Workers (PWs) to live and work in our partner schools in order that they can develop the contextual understanding and strong relationships that will enable their time, money and ideas to fuel and catalyst positive change in their school communities.

When we partner with a school, we make a commitment both to investing funds and PWs’ time for at least two years, and to the opportunity of future collaborations once the school graduates into our partner network. In Kenya, each school will normally receive two PWs and each Ugandan school will receive three. This is because, on average, secondary schools in Uganda are much larger[A]Our Kenyan partner schools have on average between 120 – 240 students in 4 ‘Forms’. In Uganda, partner schools have been as large as 850 students, across 6 ‘Standards'. Between them, the PW team will be responsible for working with the school leadership to strategically invest EPAfrica’s School Investment Grant of £2,700 (Uganda) or £1,800 (Kenya).

In addition to the core School Investment Grant, partner schools and Project Workers are eligible to apply for additional funding for a defined project from one of our ‘themed’ funds (often refereed to as a ‘Central Pot’). These funds are designed to as a means to enable projects that would usually be too expensive for PWs to undertake alone, as a mechanism for the Summer Team to provide extra advice and oversight to complex or potentially risky projects, and as a strategy to enable EPAfrica to address areas of common need across our network.

For several years these funds have supported Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Electricity initiatives across the EPAfrica network. This year we are excited to be introducing a third theme: the Innovation Seed Fund.

The thinking behind the fund

The educational landscape is changing rapidly in Kenya and Uganda. More young people are in secondary school than ever before[B]by every measure, the youth population is growing, participation rates are up and so enrollment figures are steadily climbing and the national funding model of secondary education has undergone significant reform with increased government contributions proving a mixed blessing. Both countries are in the process of finalising new syllabi that will be implemented over the coming years, and in Kenya there is even talk of changing the number of years that students spend at secondary school, and the structure of the qualifications they sit.

We take the sustainability of our work and the responsibility of instigating change seriously. The decision to make a novel and unknown investment over a tried, tested and previously successful one is difficult. We don’t believe in ‘experimenting’ on our schools, but nor do we want to resist change and fail to grasp new opportunities. Our PWs are dynamic young people that we have recruited from top UK universities, whom we have trained for 9 months. We want to make sure that a robust training programme doesn’t stray into indoctrination to the way things have always been done; we want to inspire our PWs and partners to unleash their ideas and creativity in a responsible and productive manner!

The purpose of this seed funding is to encourage and support PWs and partners to develop new ideas, to keep our programme vigorous and ultimately to keep us relevant and evolving to achieve the best possible outcomes with our partners.

What does the fund support?

The Innovation Seed Fund provides up to £200 towards project ideas that:

  • are new to EPAfrica or take a familiar idea to a new school environment (for example, taking an idea from Uganda to Kenya)
  • we and our partners can learn from, even if they fail
  • are pilots of ideas that could become common practice in future school partnerships
  • have exciting potential, which we want to support and accelerate
  • due to their novelty may be more risky than our normal investments, and we want to monitor more intensely

NB Cutting edge technologies or new inventions are not prerequisite!



The 2016 Innovation Fund Projects

This year we are funding seven innovative seed projects:

£170 for School Management Software for Ejinja Secondary School, Kakamega

Ejinja school currently operates a paper administrative system, and documents are often misplaced, damaged or mixed up, despite the best efforts of the school management team to avoid this. The project workers, Caroline and Lydia, are using £170 of the Innovation Fund to buy organisational software for the school computers, so bringing a new streamlined administrative programme to Ejinja. This programme will complement other improvements to school organisation being introduced by EPAfrica, such as increases in physical storage resources and a new photocopier. Not only will this improve the efficiency of handling and sharing school documents and account managing, and so strengthen school organisation; it will also facilitate learning, as more efficient exam result and student report storage and organisation will make it easier to analyse data to highlight areas of weakness for teaching to focus on.

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£200 for a sliding partition wall at George Khaniri Jepkoyai, Kakamega

A lack of space at George Khaniri Jepkoyai means that there is currently no library facility, and that there are not enough classrooms in the school. As class sizes are typically small in this school of 130 students, project workers Aline, Henry and Zac have come up with an innovative solution to this problem. They will be using £200 of the Innovation Fund to build a retractable dividing partition to create a multifunctional learning space within the laboratory building. One side of the divide will continue to function primarily a laboratory. The other side will serve multiple purposes. At times, it will act as a reading room for the new library which project workers are creating in the school; at other times it will function as a second classroom. When larger classes need to use the entire laboratory space, the partition can be opened to facilitate this.

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£50 towards a projector for Gesore PAG Secondary School, Kisii

Despite the school’s limited resources, the teachers in Gesore Secondary School try their best to integrate virtual materials in their teaching. They argue that such materials allow them to explain concepts and present ideas more effectively, make the class more interactive, and make the lesson much more interesting for the students. Many teachers regularly bring their own laptops to lessons, circulating them among the students in order to show them videos, presentations, graphs, images, notes, and so on. In order to capitalize on this enthusiasm, Gesore project workers Elisa, Qiyuan and Peter will purchase a mini portable projector together with a set of small speakers and a laptop for the school. This will enable teachers to better integrate resources such as educational CDs, DVDs and power point presentations in lessons, making them more engaging and thereby improving students’ academic performance.

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£170 for a plastic and organic waste recycling furnace in St Peter’s Nyakemincha Secondary School, Kisii

At present, St Peter’s Nyakemincha Secondary School disposes of all of its waste by burning it within the school grounds. This creates a cloud of toxic smoke through which the students must pass in order to access the kitchen for meals, the boys’ boarding houses, the outdoor dining area and clean drinking water. To provide a solution to this problem, as well as an additional source of income for the school, project workers Elisa, Qiyuan and Peter will use their Innovation Fund to construct a furnace for the school’s waste disposal. Organic waste as well as paper will be burned in order to heat up the furnace, into which metal tins containing cut-up pieces of plastic will be placed. Once the plastic has melted, the tins will be removed and allowed to cool. The resulting lumps of solid plastic will be sold to one of the many companies buying compacted scrap plastic.

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£165 for bulk SMS for communicating with parents and alumni at Isingiro Secondary School, Mbarara

At Isingiro, many students lack direction or are unsure of how to pursue their chosen careers. There is also a serious problem with fee payments, which has led to the school taking on increasing amounts of debt. The Project Workers intend to tackle both of these problems through a bulk SMS scheme. School alumni will be contacted and a survey will be conducted of their post-secondary destinations; this information will be turned into posters, which will be put up in the school and will enable aspiring students to be put in touch with alumni who have experience in similar fields. Additionally, bulk SMS will be used to improve communications with parents, to keep them informed of the balance of fees, and to invite them to meetings, with the ultimate aim of improving fee collection rates. SMS is widely used in Uganda, and almost everyone has a phone, so this project could potentially revolutionize the way we interact with our East African stakeholders.

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£50 for drawing boards for technical subject practicals at St Benedict’s Technical Institute, Mbarara

This funding will enable Project Workers to purchase drawing boards, which will be added to the new library. As a technical institute, St Benedict’s offer vocational qualifications, of which drawing is a core component and an examinable paper in all subjects. It can form up to 25% of a student’s final grade, and the current lack of drawing boards means that students are performing poorly in this component of their exams. St Benedict’s is the first technical institute we have worked with, which means that it requires very different resources to the other schools we work with – so it will be interesting to see how the boards are used and what impact they have.

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£200 toward e-learning resources for a re-imagined computer suite at St John’s Secondary Rutsya, Mbarara

In St John’s Rutsya, as in most East African schools, lessons tend to be ‘teacher-centred’, with an emphasis on dictation and rote learning. Large class sizes make this difficult to avoid, but students learn much better when they are more engaged and can work at their own pace. In order to give students more opportunities for independent learning, at their own pace, the Project Workers intend to install offline versions of Wikipedia and Khan Academy onto the schools’ computers. These can be used during lessons, such as History or Maths, and they will also be available for students to use for personal study in their free time. E-learning resources are already used in other schools in Uganda, and if this project is successful at St John’s Rutsya, there may be potential to implement similar projects in future EPAfrica schools.

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