Yiya AirScience: A virtual classroom providing STEM education to students in remote communities across Africa

Yiya AirScience is a first-of-its-kind virtual classroom that can be accessed in the most remote, rural and underserved communities across Africa.

September 20, 2022 by Samson Wambuzi, Yiya AirScience
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4 minutes read
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Girls studying with Yiya AirScience's virtual classroom.
Girls studying with Yiya AirScience's virtual classroom.
Credit: Samson Wambuzi

This blog is part of a series showcasing the winners of the African Union ‘Innovating Education in Africa’ program.

Almost 100 million children in Africa are not in school. In Uganda 46% of children aged 6-12 years old have never set foot in a classroom due to factors such as physical distance to a brick-and-mortar school, the steep costs of attending school, and the dependence on children in subsistence farming.

Teaching learners to use knowledge and skills to create solutions to local challenges

Yiya AirScience was created to remove the barriers to education that so many young people face and make quality education accessible to all. It is a first-of-its-kind virtual classroom, which can be accessed in the most remote, rural and underserved communities across Africa.

Yiya AirScience is an interactive learning program designed to mimic the structure of massive open online courses (such as Coursera), but with the major adaptation that our learners do not need the internet or a smart device. Learners interact remotely with live lessons being broadcast over the radio via our proprietary offline learning app that runs on basic keypad phones.

Yiya AirScience teachers employ hands-on, relevant, and experiential education. The interactive STEM content is aligned with the national curriculum and teaches learners how to use classroom knowledge and skills to create solutions to local challenges.

Leveraging USSD Technology to re-design remote learning

Our offline learning app uses existing technology that is widespread across Africa: USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data). USSD is a form of real-time SMS that allows users to respond to questions and polls using the regular phone network. The user does not need to have internet access.

USSD has been used for over a decade to facilitate informal mobile banking and health. What makes Yiya AirScience so revolutionary is that we are leveraging the ubiquity of USSD technology for interactive remote education!

In the past year, 53,000 learners accessed the Yiya AirScience platform more than 1.25 million times. Preliminary findings from an external evaluation being conducted at Carnegie Mellon University in the US show that youth who participate in our program demonstrate increased interest in STEM and in pursuing a STEM career. They also demonstrate improvement in their resilience when problem solving.

Yiya AirScience application menu.
Yiya AirScience application menu.

As an example of how Yiya AirScience works: a learner named Mary brings her radio with her to the field to listen to the Yiya AirScience lessons while she works and takes notes in her notebook. Later in the day when her father comes home from work, he lets her use his phone to enter her responses to the questions from the lesson. The system can be accessed any time, in order to allow flexibility for youth to participate.

A virtual classroom that supplements in-class learning

Yiya AirScience was designed with input from Commissioners at the Ugandan Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations. In 2020, they supported Yiya AirScience by making advertisements to encourage young people in Uganda to participate in Yiya AirScience and learn to apply science and math to create projects that solve real world problems.

We are now engaging the Ministry of Education and Sports to collaborate to help learners master the practical learning competencies that are in the new national curriculum.

Yiya AirScience can supplement in-school learning as a tool for teachers to provide interactive and hands-on learning, as well as assessments for those projects.

The publicity from winning the AU Innovating Education in Africa award has helped us further relationship-building with prospective partners. The award helped us increase our brand awareness, and the increase in visibility from the award caught media attention.

A few months after winning the AU award, CNN International reached out to us about featuring Yiya AirScience in an episode of Inside Africa about EdTech innovations in Uganda. We are hopeful that partnership with the AU will help expedite our partnership-building with the Uganda Ministry of Education!

Future of Yiya AirScience

Since the launch of Yiya AirScience, many other educational organizations have reached out to Yiya asking to be hosted on our learning platforms so that they can deliver their content to such widespread and hard to reach populations. Due to this demand and the proven success of Yiya AirScience, we have reached a tipping point and are looking for funding to power our journey to scale.

We have mapped out the expansion of AirScience to a new service called AirLearning. AirLearning will be the first ever offline MOOC. It will be a virtual school featuring courses in multiple subjects, which learners can choose from and track their progress in via our learning app. Just like MOOCs, we will grow into offering microcredentials with learners accessing a wide variety of subjects and skills through the various courses offered on AirLearning.

Yiya AirScience currently costs $1 per learner per week, which is currently funded through philanthropic fundraising. The shared Yiya AirLearning platform will expand the impact of Yiya and the other organizations and will provide sustainable funding for Yiya and reduce the dependence on philanthropy.

Lack of access to high quality education for hundreds of millions of learners who still don’t have access to internet, smart devices, or classrooms is the biggest challenge for education in Africa right now.

Yiya has an innovative solution to this challenge, and we are excited to partner with world leaders to solve this crisis by scaling our impact to ALL out of school youths in Africa. In doing so, we will work together to build the next generation of African engineers, scientists, innovators, and inventors who will have a seat at the table in innovative fields globally!

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Comments

Is it possible for us to have that study in Lagos Nigeria?If yes then reply as soon as possible

In reply to by Dr. Otor. John

The intent is to expand the Yiya AirScience Program across the continent of Africa. The issue is funding. Yiya is a nonprofit company run by dedicated educators. For more information on Yiya please visit the Yiya web site at https://www.yiyasolutions.org
-Dr. Raina Eckhardt, Yiya Executive Board Member

Can we carry this class to the Rural communities ?

In reply to by Dr. Otor. John

The Yiya AirScience Program serves students in both cities and remote rural villages in Uganda. No Internet access is required for this learning program. The students only need SMS cell phones and radios with limited electricity. Lessons are broadcast via radio multiple times daily and students receive lesson instructions and interact using their cell phones. This STEM hands-on learning is done using supplies that are generally available to all students. Yiya’s mission is to provide effective education to students in all areas of Uganda using materials that are ubiquitous across the country.
Dr. Raina Eckhardt, Yiya Executive Board Member

Interested am a book publisher

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