D-Lab Education

D-Lab opens its doors and resources to more educators, youth, and their families

Jessica Huang, Instructor

2014 Teacher-in-Residence Elius Muhimbise from Uganda

Youth and families visiting D-Lab during the 2014 Cambridge Science Festival



Inspired by the Stanford d.school K12 Lab Network, D-Lab’s youth program has been building a community of collaborators to engage more educators, youth and their families than ever before.

This community currently includes other outreach groups at MIT along with schools and educational organizations around the world. Together, we are able to amplify each program’s capacity to provide resources, support each other's teaching, and learn how to apply a creative design process to overcome challenges. This is a process that helps us innovate in the ways we work to increase access to hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) exploration and improve the quality of life in communities facing financial poverty.

Expanding professional development opportunities designed for - and with - educators

D-Lab’s youth program has been experimenting with how we can open our doors to discuss challenges and share ideas, curricular materials, tools, and technologies with more educators. This has ranged from hosting teachers on campus for interactive tours and collaborative workshops, to hosting teachers-in-residence for periods of three weeks to three months. Teacher-in-residence share their expertise from years of working with youth in various contexts, give guest lectures in our courses, interact with youth and educators in D-Lab's network, and collaborate with us on education-related design projects.

In 2014, a few highlights include joining efforts with the MIT Museum and the Edgerton Center for the Needham fifth grade science teachers' Professional Development day; running design activities and joint ideation sessions with teachers from the Advent School in Boston as they prepare for their summer programs; hosting visiting teachers from Colorado and California to Rwanda and Afghanistan; and bringing in our first international teacher-in-residence, Elius Muhumbise from Uganda, through a collaboration with the Brookwood School.

We are trying to plan our events with teachers, often with some of the same teachers who will be attending, and solicit feedback to improve future offerings.

Enabling record numbers of youth to access D-Lab’s space and experiential learning offerings

Each semester, since the launch of D-Lab’s youth program, we have had several hundred young people, their families, and their teachers visit us during our weekly open hours. D-Lab undergraduate Sydney Beasley and graduate student Jennifer Boyu Chen played lead roles this semester in facilitating hands-on activities with visiting youth groups. The youth and educators we work with have also hosted our university students, instructors, designers, and researchers at their own schools and youth centers.

In addition, we have been exploring two more types of K-12 student engagement this year: 1) collaboration with large public events to help us reach broader youth audiences, and 2) longer, interactive modules to dive deeper into design, technology, and global challenges.

For example, the 2014 Cambridge Science Festival and Earth Week events at MIT brought over 150 people to D-Lab in a single day to learn about the challenges driving our international work and build creative confidence through hands-on design activities. Visitors also heard stories from our international network of innovators (a few inventors are even about the same age as our visiting youth) about how they design solutions. Every visit to D-Lab also includes many opportunities to interact with our technologies and see practical applications of science concepts. 

We are now in the midst of our collaboration with the Advent School to support their summer programs, which has had record enrollment so far this year! Called the Dream-Design-Discover programs and fondly nicknamed a “mini D-Lab,” each module explores a topic in-depth for two weeks with nearly 40 junior and senior designers, ages five to nine. We just started wrapping up the first two-week module on simple machines, and are getting ready to explore toy design around the world and investigate engineering related to wind and water over the next month.

Another exciting collaboration has been with ARCK (Art Resource Collaborate for Kids) in the Boston Public Schools and neighborhood centers on a STEAM (STEM + Arts) curriculum. This year, D-Lab undergraduate Lisa Nam worked with ARCK teaching artists and JFK Elementary School teacher Kathy Wright to run a semester-long design program involving weekly sessions with three fifth grade classes. We are looking forward to continuing our work with ARCK in Boston this fall.

Both of these programs aim to increase global awareness and empathy, while encouraging the budding young scientists, engineers, and creators to take action in own communities here.

Exploring how to provide international education partners with more on-the-ground support 

Recognizing the limited capacity of our staff, we have been creating more opportunities for students from the D-Lab: Education class to do summer fieldwork with partner schools and educational organizations abroad. The international school exchange, led by eight grade teacher Rich Lehrer at the Brookwood School, is another way that international partners like the Kasiisi Project in Uganda can receive more support and leverage D-Lab’s network.

Please stay tuned for blog posts from our teams and collaborators as they return from their summer trips to Colombia, Uganda, Ghana, and beyond!




Teaching Electronics to Sixth Grade Students from Slums in Dhaka, Bangladesh

By Farita Tasnim '19

The author, Farita Tasnim '19 (fourth from right) with students in her summer Youth Electronics Program in Bangladesh.


“Though the workshop had tangible outputs, the legacy of enthusiasm in the students, their desire to continue learning, and the infectious nature of their excitement towards electronics are much more important for the advancement of their community, and eventually of Bangladesh."


In January of 2017, when I was teaching at ORT Yami School in Ashdod, Israel, I began to think seriously about the challenges of teaching youth abroad, especially teaching for students who are born with few opportunities. Since I have taught electronics to middle school, high school, and university students in the US, I was curious if I could effectively teach the same material – circuit design and construction – to middle school students from slums and villages in Bangladesh, my birth country. Though Bangladesh is home to my culture and comfort, I had not visited in seven years. When I began researching the state of education there, I was shocked by the data I found. 


Imagine taking half the US population and cramming them into the state of Georgia: that’s Bangladesh! Still, this picture of population density doesn’t take into account the amount of land rendered unlivable by annual flooding. It is in this densly populated country that, according to the World Bank (Oct 2016),1  only 4% of the workforce possesses a secondary education degree or higher. Furthermore, primary and secondary education dropout rates are quite high, with only 50% of students who enroll in first grade reaching tenth grade. “Around five million Bangladeshi children between the ages of six and 13 – mostly from poor families, urban slums, and hard-to-reach areas – remain out of school.” Still, the government of Bangladesh only spends 2.2% of its GDP on public education, compared to global education giants such as Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, who spend 5 – 10% of their GDP on education. 

Students happily building their heartbeat monitors


Youth Electronics Program (YEP) 2017

The deficiencies in the Bangladeshi education system are enormous. Only with significant improvements to public policy regarding education as well as concentrated efforts to increase, firstly, access to education, and, secondly, quality of education, can these deficiencies be addressed.2 The purpose of my program was, thus, not to tackle the major educational issues in Bangladesh. Instead, I wished simply to spread my electronics knowledge with an inquiry-based teaching style. So, I took D-Lab: Education and Learning (EC.S07) in the spring of 2017 to learn about methods for effective teaching, especially for youth in developing countries. The most useful lessons I gleaned from EC.S07 were: 

(1) methods for developing a classroom culture in order to acquire student trust and to construct a healthy environment for student-driven learning, and 

(2) proper ways to ask questions and foster student collaboration on projects in order to employ inquiry-based hands-on learning

Using the skills and mindsets I acquired in D-Lab: Education and Learning, I taught a three-week electronics workshop in Bangladesh to sixth grade students at JAAGO Foundation’s school in Rayer Bazaar, Dhaka, Bangladesh. The students that attend this school come from nearby slums. Their families do not have the ability to pay for their education. JAAGO gives these students education, books, uniforms, and, more important, a future, for free. During the workshop, the students learned the function of basic electronic components such as resistors, capacitors, photodiodes, and op amps, and learned how to design circuits such as transimpedance amplifiers and bandpass filters. With their knowledge, they each built their very own heartbeat monitor circuit, which they were allowed to keep. At the end of the workshop, they got to showcase their creations and their newfound knowledge to the JAAGO’s founder, Korvi Rakshand, as well as to other faculty and staff.

Bristy is demonstrating her heartbeat monitor circuit


Lessons Learned

The students I taught are brilliant, eager sponges. They soak up any knowledge you give them. They just need more people willing to provide the knowledge. Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize Winner of Economics, claimed that not providing education to all youth creates a massive waste of human potential.3 My observations affirmed this idea. I found it no more difficult to teach these students than to teach well-off American students. The sixth grade Bangladeshi students from slums in Dhaka learned electronics at roughly the same pace and understanding as ninth grade American students from Cambridge, Massachusetts. If these students had not received a free education from JAAGO, they would have many fewer opportunities and been able to contribute much less to society. They are just as capable as any other student of their age.

The students’ ability to learn so well and the sheer joy they exuded during the process of making their heartbeat monitors made my efforts more than worth it. Shafayet, one of my students, really made me smile when he said to me [translated from Bengali], “Farita Apu, when I explain it to these adults, they think it’s so much simpler than it actually is. If only they tried making it themselves, they would understand!” As I was leaving the school on my last day, I saw another one of my students, Limon, at a tiny shop in the area, demonstrating his heartbeat monitor to a shopkeeper and a few excited onlookers. I can’t help but hope the students will spread their knowledge and inspiration to others in their community while I’m gone. Though the workshop had tangible outputs, the legacy of enthusiasm in the students, their desire to continue learning, and the infectious nature of their excitement towards electronics are much more important for the advancement of their community, and eventually of Bangladesh.

Inquiry-based teaching style is effective for teaching complex electronics concepts to students. Doesn’t hurt to be emotive too!


Looking Forward

For a while, I have been wanting to undertake a long term project to start inquiry-based schools in Bangladesh and West Bengal, especially in slums and villages, where the literacy rate and educational attainment are lower than the national or regional average. I want to design a phase-in randomized controlled trial4 to test the effectiveness of increasing access to education while employing a specific type of pedagogy, specifically on students’ test scores, class attendance, creativity, and self-confidence. I also hope to expand this venture to connect working professionals with youth in Bengal as a project-based “tutoring” service, so that children can learn whatever they desire from experts in the field. YEP 2017 is just the first stepping-stone toward this goal.


1  "The World Factbook: BANGLADESH." Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 04 Feb. 2017.

2  Banerjee, A., Glewwe, P., Powers, S., and Wasserman, M. “Expanding Access and Increasing Student Learning in Post-Primary Education in Developing Countries: A Review of the Evidence.” Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), 09 April 2013. Web. 30 Sep. 2017.

3  “Amartya Sen Discusses Universal Primary Education with Host Mishal Husain.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 4 Sept. 2003, www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle/interactives-extras/interviews/time-for-schoo....

4  A randomized controlled trial is a type of study designed to reduce bias and is employed extensively by medical professionals to evaluate the effectiveness of drugs, and, more recently, by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (JPAL) to evaluate the effects of proposed policy changes, especially in developing countries.


D-Lab: Education & Learning 2017!

by Lisa Nam, Co-Instructor for D-Lab: Education and Learning


Jessica Huang, co-instructor for D-Lab: Education and Learning.


Lisa Nam, co-instructor for D-Lab: Education and Learning.


Years ago, when I was a freshman in college, I was walking through the MIT campus and ran into an acquaintance from high school. Much of our conversation was small talk, and not very memorable, but I do remember how the conversation ended. I walked away from him when he asked, “But aren’t you too smart to become a teacher?”

Now, as an elementary school teacher who has worked in Boston’s public, charter, and private schools, I see everyday that this profession risks becoming more and more confined, lifeless, and mindless. In recent years, one of the most widely used texts in teacher-training programs boils down the work of developing complex humans into 62 tips and tricks. Fill-in-the-blank statements and random acronyms meant to dumb down teachers. Meant to bolster the belief that good teachers are obedient and produce students who are just as compliant. The D-Lab: Education and Learning class is a place where we break that idea apart. 

More than ever, we need educational leaders who value the pursuit of truth and hold a stance of inquiry. Classrooms should be incubators of radical risk-taking, reflective constructing, and disruptive imagining. In this “post-truth” climate, we need D-Lab’s design-centered, development-centered thinking to pervade our schools and youth culture. 

Teachers, designers, and activists may all have different jargon and formalized protocols, but our questions are the same. How can we understand a classroom, a product, a community so that we can mobilize and empower change? Teachers must practice appreciative inquiry, approaching every student, every school, every system not as a deficit to be fixed, but as a rich source of knowledge and expertise, ready for harnessing into creative motion. The designers at D-Lab are artists, sociologists, engineers, and communicators. Teachers must be trained as such, too. If design through dialogue is meant to uproot the basic assumptions of cross-cultural engineering, then designers can learn from educators who have long viewed teaching as a subversive activity.

In this course, we will exist in the intersection between community organizing, engineering, and learning. We will co-create with you, the students, and with our partners in Thailand, Ghana, and Korea. We will work directly with youth in Boston to learn from their wisdom and build our empathy as educators. We will assume the expertise and truth of our partners’ experiences, and we will build projects that honor the potential that students and teachers have to better their worlds. We will approach problems, and the humans who have them, with an abundance model. We will design learning experiences that draw from the rich traditions of educational action-research and Deweyan thinking. We will teach occasional bad lessons, reflect, and have fun! Join us and prove that annoying high school friend of mine wrong. The first class for D-Lab: Education and Learning is Thursday, February 9th, at 4pm. 

D-Lab: Education - Teaching electricity, lighting, and circuit building in Uganda

by Nisha Dalvie (MIT, Biological Engineering ’16) & Jeannie Yoon (Wellesley College, Economics ’17)

Let's build some lights!

Nisha & Jeannie with Mr. Kut Buol, the head teacher of Ayilo Primary 1A.

Creativity excercise! During a creativity exercise for which teams were asked to build a structure with six pieces of paper, some students made mosques, one group made Mt. Kilimanjaro (the winner!), one group the White House, and another an aircraft carrier landing station.

Student leader and teacher training.

Finished kit #1.

Finished kit #2.

Ayilo Primary School, Adjumani, Uganda.







We represent a team of students from D-Lab: Education (Barbara Lima MIT ’16, Kelly Liu MIT ’16, Jeannie Yoon Wellesley ’17, Ava Zhang Harvard ’16) that worked throughout the 2016 spring semester to develop a curriculum on the fundamentals of electricity, lighting, and circuitry for Ayilo Primary School. This school is located within the Ayilo refugee settlement in the Adjumani District of northern Uganda. Due to the outbreak of civil war in South Sudan, many South Sudanese refugees—especially women and children—have come to Uganda seeking asylum from the violence

We chose electricity, lighting, and circuit building as the topic of study after observing the lack of lighting in the Ayilo community and the challenges this creates for students wanting or needing to read once the sun sets. We hoped the topic of electricity would empower students to build their own lights at home with locally available materials.  

With buy-in from D-Lab: Education co-instructor Jessica Huang and Ayilo Primary School head teacher Kut Buol, we completed the curriculum, and were ready to meet the students!

We set out to Uganda with the following goals: 

  1. Teaching the fundamentals of electricity and the art of design
  2. Introducing the idea of participatory learning as opposed to the strictly lecture-based learning prevalent in Ugandan classrooms
  3. Empowering students to design their own lighting solutions for their homes                   


Step 1: Gathering local materials

We traveled from Entebbe where the airport is located to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, to find the components of a circuit such as batteries, wires, resistors, and LEDs because they are more accessible in a large city such as Kampala. Unfortunately, so far, LEDs can only be found in Kampala—unless you find and dissect many broken flashlights for their LEDs! We were trying to be creative and resourceful in gathering materials for the design portion of the curriculum by saving all of the water bottles we drank up to the lesson! 

Step 2: Figuring out solutions to newly arisen problems 

Then, we traveled to Adjumani to receive final feedback from the teachers before we began building individual circuitry kits for the students. Our partner Joel from the NGO Caritas was generous enough to drive us to Ayilo and act as a “translator” in case our accents were difficult to understand. 

At the meeting, we faced several problems with our plan. First, the teachers requested that we teach the students (in order to empower them), but we had prepared for the curriculum to be taught by the Ayilo teachers (in order to make it sustainable). Second, we discovered that there were 180 students in grade P7 not 85 as we were told. Teaching twice the number of students was not a major problem. However, our original plan for each student to take home their own circuitry kit to design lights at home was no longer possible because we had only brought enough supplies for 85 students.

Ultimately, we agreed to teachi the class as well as to train the teachers so that they could continue the curriculum in the school. And instead of producing individual kits for students to take home, we would create 18 kits (one per group), and the kits would stay at the school for the benefit of future students. We also decided on making battery holders in order for students to share limited number of batteries within their groups. 

Step 3: Making kits for students

Afterwards, we headed to Pader where a partner innovation center known as the Tet Centre is located. We needed to borrow their specialized tools and the expertise of their builders Denis Obwona and David Moro to make the kits and battery holders from scratch for 160 students in just two-and-a-half days!


Step 1: Training the student leaders & teachers

We returned to Ayilo Primary School to conduct training workshops for teachers and student leaders. The workshop was a success, and we received useful feedback on time management and the unrealistic expectation of asking students to design before being introduced to the design cycle. 

Step 2: Teaching the class

We took in the feedback and continued to revise and adapt our curriculum to the Ayilo setting. Instead of asking students to design from the get go, we introduced them to innovation and did in-class group exercises to practice thinking “outside of the box.”

Ayilo Primary Design Club

Ayilo Primary Design Club was created to provide a space for students to explore other science topics in a hands-on manner, practice design thinking, and ultimately to equip and empower students to be proactive problem-solvers in their community. 


The students had a lot of fun during the lessons—especially building the circuits and the creativity games. The teachers let us know that they had never seen their students so engaged in the classroom!  

Spreading the word

After teaching the curriculum and saying goodbye to our students, we headed to Soroti to share our projects, including the kit and the curriculum, with a partner organization (TEWDI UGANDA) and the primary schools with which they work. 

Back to the USA

We hope that, though brief, the exposure to interactive learning and the process of creating innovation has inspired the Ayilo students to continue their education and to continue to pursue their dreams! We learned so much from our experience there. 

Signing off for now, 

Nisha & Jeannie



dot Learn: improving access to digital education in emerging markets

By Sam Bhattacharyya & Tunde Alawode

Interviews with students in Ghana.


WASSCE-ready tablet advertisement.

The dot Learn MVP protoype.












The beginnings

Though he was at the top of his class, Sam Bhattacharyya did something even he himself thought brash: he dropped out of a PhD program in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence at Vanderbilt University to teach math and science in rural Mexico as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2012. It turned out to be a great decision. It was in Mexico that for the first time he realized first hand the broadband gap in online education, not just as a teacher trying to use Khan Academy with his students, but as a learner himself, learning languages and programming. He would often spend late nights at the only Internet café in town viewing courses on edX, because the Internet was only good enough to stream video between 11pm and 3 am. 

Around this time, Tunde Alawode was just beginning his studies at MIT after finishing his undergraduate studies at a university in Nigeria. This jump was made possible entirely through a fortunate access to the MIT Open Course Ware (see related story, MIT’s OpenCourseWare Opens Door to MIT for Student) for four of his five years at the University of Lagos; such is the power of online education. Unfortunately, the library that provided this access was shut down due to administrative lapses just after he graduated. This probably closed the door of opportunity for many students (see related story, MTN to withdraw multi-million digital library donated to UNILAG).

The meeting

dot Learn was borne in the Fall 2015 Development Ventures class at the MIT Media Lab (part of the suite of D-Lab courses), where Sam Bhattacharyya (now a second year MBA candidate at the MIT Sloan School of Management) and Tunde Alawode (now a second year PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering at MIT) met for the first time. In the preceding years, we had both worked on STEM education in emerging markets, Tunde on ImpactLabs and The Bridge Initiative in Nigeria and Sam as a Peace Corps Volunteer and for ELiTE Education in Mexico. We had a common goal of reducing global education inequality, and believed in the power of technology to transform lives, but from years of firsthand experience we both saw and knew that online education doesn’t work in emerging markets, so when Sam pitched the idea for dot Learn in class, they decided to go for it full force.

The idea

Our idea was simple—can we make online education work for emerging markets? Sam had been thinking about the problem for some time, and had already come up with a way to make the full online education experience (videos, quizzes, games etc) work offline on mobile phones—but it wasn’t until our "aha" moment in a late-night brainstorming session that we came up with our signature encoding technology—to reduce file sizes by over 10,000x. With this, we could fit a full edX course into 1 MB, and deliver it to students over mobile networks for less than the cost of sending a single SMS. At that point, we knew we were onto something, and we had to take this project to the next level.

The deep dive

To figure out if this technology would work, we decided to create a prototype and pilot it in the field. One late night at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship we literally drew up a map of the world, and crossed of countries and regions, one by one, until we got to Ghana. We pitched our idea to the D-Lab: Education instructor, Pedro Reynolds-Cuéllar, who gave us feedback and invited us to pitch at the Fall 2015 D-Lab Showcase. Further, we got funding from D-Lab: Education and MIT100K to conduct the primary market research and test our prototype with students during MIT's Independent Activities Period in Januar of 2016.

Through the contacts we got from D-Lab: Education, we were able to arrange interviews with students, teachers, headmasters and directors of education-focused NGOs in the month of January. 

What we weren’t expecting

Our main fear coming to Ghana was that the purchasing power of students or parents would be too low for a social enterprise model to work. What we didn’t expect was that the problem would be the exact opposite—that most Ghanaian students were spending far too much money on supplemental education. Here’s why:

One of the first things that was hard not to notice when we got off the plane, was signs like these everywhere:

It turns out that the WASSCE is the SATs of West Africa, and for many students in Ghana, a good score on the WASSCE is your ticket to a good university, and consequently your ticket to a stable well-paid job. About 415,000 students study for the WASSCE every year in Ghana alone, and they’re competing for about 50,000 open university slots a year in the country.

This huge discrepancy means that students spend several years studying for the WASSCE. The entire high school curriculum is dedicated to it, and many students pay a lot of money to study for it. We saw ads at the high schools we passed by. At left, you can see an ad for an android tablet, pre-loaded with quizzes and videos, entirely dedicated to studying for the WASSCE.  How much does it cost?

Two-hundred dollars. And enough students apparently by these tablets to feed a growing market. If you spend enough time here though, you’ll realize that it makes sense:

  • It’s still cheaper than using Khan Academy when you have to pay for every MB of internet
  • $200 is a bargain compared to more popular forms of test-prep

And that brings us back to the ads. The ads are for “Remedial schools”—which can best be described as mom-and-pop versions of Kaplan or Princeton Review test prep centers, just more successful. The WASSCE is divided into eight subjects, and these schools charge about $200 tuition per semester per subject, with the average student studying around 4 subjects—or over $800 USD on test prep. That’s literally more that what Americans pay for SAT test prep, in a country with one-twentieth the per-capita income.

Unlike mom-and-pop outfits, or Kaplan or Princeton review folks for that matter, these remedial schools are not very nice people. When we tried to interview the administration staff of one, they objected to us being there, to asking anyone any questions, prohibited us from taking any pictures, and tried to get us out of the door as quickly as possible. There’s so much money entrenched in the system that digitizing the market and providing a free educational platform may be a problem—because there are organizations with a lot of money who’s interest it is in maintaining the status quo.

Confronted with this dystopian and depressing situation, and not ones to shy away from the tough problems, we decided to pilot our technology with a free test-prep app for the WASSCE in Ghana, with the goal of testing/validating/refining our concept, but also with the hope of disrupting this brick-and-mortar market and making free test-prep accessible to Ghanaian students.

A minimal viable product (MVP)

Over December and January we hammered out a prototype, which we’ve uploaded on the Google play store. Because achieving our 10,000x videos would require writing our own library of content, we’re initially testing this with regular videos (which we’re using under Creative Commons from Khan Academy) as well as practice content for the WASSCE exam.

The road ahead

The downside of being students at MIT is, well, students still need to take classes, so we are back in Cambridge for the spring semester. Our goal for the spring is to continue to work with D-Lab: Education to refine the idea further. We plan to launch full time in the summer, when we can implement our algorithms and start to scale our solution among Ghanaian students.

A version of this article was published on the dot Learn blog.

Revamping D-Lab: Education *and Learning*

Teenagers in the Ayilo refugee settlement in Uganda build their own lights to read at night.

Children visiting from China take part in a hands-on workshop at D-Lab.

Youth building a stove in Kasiisi, Uganda.

D-Lab: Education 2013.

Revamping the D-Lab: Education Course

We are excited to announce that this class is back, now as D-Lab: Education & Learning, with a focus on supporting educators in International Development Innovation Network regional innovation centers as they work with diverse learners in their local communities.

Course History

This course started in 2013 as a collaboration between the D-Lab Youth program and the Practical Education Network (PEN). Amy Smith, who founded D-Lab, has been a long-time champion of youth empowerment and encouraged me to launch a new program to adapt D-Lab's curricular resources and experiential learning approach to be more accessible to young learners, both locally in greater Boston as well as in our partner communities around the world. This work has been especially important in places like Uganda, where over half of the members of our partner communities are under the age of 15. Now, under the leadership of Pedro Reynolds-Cuellar, D-Lab's youth program continues to host young students as well as teachers for hands-on activities in the D-Lab workshop.

PEN was started by MIT alumni to support affordable, accessible hands-on science education in Ghana. The team has leveraged resources from winning an MIT IDEAS Global Challenge Award, the Africa Innovate Conference's Business Plan Competition at MIT Sloan, the NOVAN GrowthMosaic Education Challenge, and more into developing an incredible program with educators from the Ghana Association of Science Teachers (GAST) and beyond.

One of the unique aspects of this D-Lab class is teaching the course with some of the same techniques that we hope educators can use to engage youth around the world. While we are based at MIT and recognize that we have a wealth of resources that may not be available elsewhere, we are doing our best to co-design methods and tools appropriate to contexts with different financial, technological, and infrastructural resources. University students taking this course are in a position to reflect on the best of their education thus far, how they have most enjoyed learning, what their most effective teachers have done, and bring this all to bear on projects that have the potential to have an impact on the next generation of students. Most of our students have experiences to share from the perspective of learners as well as educators, whether they have tutored others or are now volunteering as teachers in extracurricular programs. It does get meta—in this course, we teach and learn about teaching and learning.

Course Updates

This year's course is being co-taught by Pedro Reynolds-Cuéllar and me. We have renamed the course in the spirit of exploring how learning also happens outside of formal education systems. We are thrilled to be collaborating with a number of community-based innovation centers in the International Development Innovation Network (IDIN), whose educators are at the forefront of utilizing local resources to nurture creativity in learners, all with the aim of solving challenges in their own communities. This model of working with innovation centers allows for improved channels of remote communication and collaboration during the semester, a solid host for doing fieldwork during spring and summer, and more sustainability after students transition from course projects to their next endeavors (although we have also had students continue working with their partners in several countries for years afterwards!).

As part of the course, we will be visiting and learning from local innovation centers in greater Boston, and also meeting with educators from some of the best programs around on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and design. We'll have hands-on activities, design reviews, and generally a lot fun—this is a D-Lab class after all! The added bonus is that we'll get to be interacting with educators and youth, which has been a highlight in previous versions of this class.

Student projects that we are planning for this year include collaborating with community innovation centers in doing outreach to local schools, supporting the launch of mobile innovation centers, and working on a low-cost lighting and literacy education module with South Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda.

We hope you will join us! The first class meets on Feb. 4th in MIT Building N51-310.

D-Lab: Education & Learning

Report from the Field: D-Lab: Education, Uganda

Nai Kalema, D-Lab: Education Student (and D-Lab staff member)

Students creating a prototype, Kasiisi Primary School, Uganda.

Young students preparing for the pitch competition, Kasiisi Primary School, Uganda.

Nai Kalema in Jinja, Uganda, with students from St. Stephen's School.

Coursework at D-Lab and Harvard

In spring 2014 I participated in D-Lab: Education, an MIT course focused on exploring education through the lens of international development through research, experiential learning, and the development of collaborative projects with partners from across the globe. Additionally, I took a graduate research class at Harvard focused on education in the Global South where I performed extensive research the on the Ugandan Universal Primary Education (UPE) initiative and educational-investment strategies related to that system and its gendered dynamics.

My research with both classes revealed that even with the introduction UPE system, it was not necessarily translating into practical access and employment opportunities for many young people in Uganda.

It was through that research that I became very interested in exploring social entrepreneurship as a platform of empowerment and for teaching useful skills for life. I proposed that our team develop social entrepreneurship curriculum directed toward primary students, which we decided to adopt as a class project.

 The Kasiisi Project, Uganda

in July, I traveled to Uganda to implement this project in Uganda. I volunteered my time with Kasiisi Project, which works with a network of over 14 government (public) primary schools throughout the Kibale National Park, and the Kasiisi Primary School. I traveled to Uganda on behalf of my team to implement this project in the Kasiisi community. There, I collaborated with teachers, local community members, and students to introduce our sustainable social entrepreneurship curriculum in a pilot workshop that culminated in a pitch competition before the entire school.

Additional School Visits

I also visited  to meet with educators and students at St. Stephen's Secondary school (universal secondary school) (Jinja), Kitante Primary school (Kampala-Kololo district) (universal primary school) and Beacon East Africa (private primary school focused on project-based and experiential learning and teacher training). I performed research and met with educators and attended teacher trainings, hands-on science workshops and student project demonstrations. 

Next steps

Currently, I am exploring ways to continue growing this project. I am developing more curriculum around financial literacy education, developing a proof of concept paper, applying for fellowships and grants, and exploring issues surrounding this project further academically at school. I am really interested in collaborating with others to see how to help this project continue grow and hope to return to Uganda this winter to work with partners.

Read Nai's trip blog.


This project was supported through the generous support of MIT's D-Lab: Education, Harvard University, my family, and friends.  



D-Lab: Education’s Notes from the Field, Summer 2014

Jessica Huang, Instructor


Kasiisi students in Uganda prototyping their social entrepreneurship ideas with Nai Kalema's guidance

Kasiisi teams pitching their social entrepreneurship projects to the school assembly

Visiting the chicken coop that generates income to support the Nicolas School in Haiti

Brian Ping Ngai Chung sending instructions for using supplies to his team in Ghana from China


The Colombia team was the first to travel, leaving in mid-June after a semester of preparation in the D-Lab: Education class, additional meetings, work into the summer, and even a hackathon-inspired session that the team planned to enable themselves to spend long hours together to move their project forward more quickly.

The Colombia team has been collaborating with parents and youth at a community-initiated school in Malambo, Instituto Pedagógico Miguel de Zubería, to develop ways to help sustain the school financially. For example, one prototype that the team worked on is setting up a small school store with a mobile application that teachers and parents can access on their phones. With a rock-star coder on the team, things progressed quickly from conception and wireframes to a live application for testing and feedback. The team also extended their network by engaging the local Universidad del Norte, situated in Barranquilla, to support the school’s efforts. The D-Lab student team returned safely, and their partners are now busy continuing what was launched during the trip.

During the debrief process, team mentor Pedro Cuellar wrote, “I had a conversation yesterday with both the group of women as well as with Aura and they are all not just grateful for what you did but full of energy, hope and most important with a lot of connections and leads to follow.”


Next, Nai Kalema traveled to Uganda for the month of July to work with the Kasiisi Project, piloting an entrepreneurship education project that she worked on with her team in D-Lab: Education over the spring semester. Here is how Nai describes her work in Uganda:

 “There, I collaborated with teachers, local community members, and students to introduce sustainable social entrepreneurship curriculum in a pilot workshop that culminated in a pitch competition before the entire school. With the pilot class of 20 students, we went through that curriculum and in turn, utilizing the lessons, they developed social projects they were passionate about that focused on their local community. At the end, the student project teams (four in total) presented their work to the school assembly. I also met with educators and students at St. Stephens's Secondary school (universal secondary school in Jinja), Kitante Primary school (universal primary school in Kampala-Kololo district) and Beacon East Africa (private primary school in Kampala focused on project-based and experiential learning and teacher training). I met with educators and joined teacher trainings, hands-on science workshops and student project demonstrations.

Currently, I am exploring ways to continue growing this project. I have been developing more curriculum around financial literacy education, developing a proof of concept paper, applying for fellowships and grants, and exploring issues surrounding this project further academically at school. I am really interested in collaborating with others to see how to help this project continue grow and hope to return to Uganda this winter to work with partners.” Check out Nai’s blog to learn more!


While Nai was in Uganda, I joined the Haiti trip to follow-up on the student team’s project at the Ecole Communautaire FATEM de Nicolas, a primary school in Mirebalais. FATEM has helped the school start a chicken coop business, with a microloan from Yunus, in hopes of generating income to sustainably support the school.

As the school students had just finished national exams and were on holiday, we focused on meeting with the teachers, school administrators, business owners, and staff, land donors to the school and other key stakeholders in the community. The linkages between the school and the business are currently not very strong; students are not benefiting from being able to visit and learn from the chicken coop, and the chicken coop staff do not have much support from the school community to help them succeed in their business operations.

Team members Chelsey Baturin and Mark Cristhian worked hard to develop activities to raise awareness and engage the school community in supporting the chicken coop, including hands-on lessons for school children around topics like the life cycle of a chicken and ideas to involve the young students' families.

The current plan for testing the activities is to involve animal health students at IDEJEN, a vocational training initiative that provides out-of-school youth with opportunities to build skills to create livelihoods. The IDEJEN students can relate to the school youth and serve as role models, while helping D-Lab students to adapt the curriculum to the local context, deliver it in Kreyòl and get feedback. Having studied animal health and how to raise chickens, the IDEJEN students are also applying what they learned to improve coop operations. Some of things they have already begun working on include better monitoring systems for food and water intake as well as illness, experimenting with more resilient local chicken breeds, and ramping up the marketing to sell more chickens. Once school resumes in the fall, we look forward to hearing how the initial lesson testing goes!


Finally, the Ghana team recently left for the month of August to work with partner teachers and school administrators at the Dega Senior Secondary School in New Longoro, in collaboration with peers from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi and with remote support from D-Lab teammate Brian Ping Ngai Chung in China.

They have been hard at work setting up a computer lab with Raspberry Pi and used monitors found in country, and adapting hands-on science activities from the national curriculum to be more accessible given locally-available materials in the community. An update will be posted once the team returns at the end of this month.


It’s been a busy and productive summer, for which the D-Lab: Education instructors would like to thank:

  • All of the wonderful project mentors and partner liaisons (including Aron Walker, Charles Plaisimond, Aura Estela, Elizabeth Ross, the KNUST Creativity Group members);
  • Funders and supporters who made these projects possible by supplementing D-Lab’s limited resources (Community Service Fund, IDEAS Global Challenge, Harvard, friends and families of the class community);
  • And, of course, the spring 2014 D-Lab: Education students and community partners –  thank you for your openness to learning and collaborating with each other, your innovative ideas and your hard work to bring some of these ideas into fruition!







D-Lab Youth Updates: Fieldwork in Ghana and India, Education Class in Full Swing

by Jessica Huang, D-Lab Education Instructor and Youth Program Coordinator





This January, I traveled to Ghana as part of a team of five D-Labbers to work with our partner schools in the community of New Longoro. The team collaborated with teachers to run hands-on science and design activities in three primary schools, two junior secondary schools, and the new senior secondary school that D-Lab helped to start.

In response to requests from the teachers, the team is also:

1) exploring how to start a community library headquartered in one of the primary schools, as there is no library in the region and the schools currently only have a few textbooks (no storybooks)

2) laying the groundwork for a science laboratory, stocked mostly with low-cost materials found nearby, for teachers to use to reduce the set-up time burden when doing hands-on science activities with their students

3) exploring income generation options to increase school sustainability and provide a funding source for supplies to do hands-on activities (did some market research on the possibilities of goat farming and mushroom farming, and planted 415 moringa tree seedlings with plans to sell what is produced to MoringaConnect down the line)

This work is being continued by three team members after the January trip, another team led by Amy Smith who is going to New Longoro to April, and a new team of students from this spring's D-Lab: Education class preparing to travel in August-September with the Practical Education Network.


In India, this year's D-Lab: Development class team traveling during IAP was joined by a student from last spring's D-Lab: Education class. They were working with partner organization Avani in Uttarkhand, including their EarthCraft cooperative (pictured to the left) and a school started for the children of the members of the cooperative. Lisa from D-Lab: Education worked closely with the teachers at the school, Harendra and Radha. She is now working to transition her project to be continued by other D-Lab students.


The D-Lab: Education class, started last year, is on to version 2.0! We've adapted the class based on student and partner feedback, and are now in the midst of supporting four new student teams to work on projects in spring 2014:

1) Supporting FATEM, an organization that works with a network of 14 government schools in Haiti, in figuring out how to better share projects for school sustainability, like chicken farming and biodigesters, so that schools in other communities can adapt the lessons learned to their own contexts.

2) Working with a community school in Colombia that Pedro, a D-Lab: Education instructor, has been working with for many years.

3) Continuing to support the science teachers in New Longoro, Ghana with doing hands-on activities and using the new low-cost laboratory, and sharing this with the Ghana Association of Science Teachers so that teachers in other parts of the country can learn from what works.

4) Working with the Kasiisi Project and their network of government primary schools around the Kibale National Forest in Uganda to support teachers in doing more interactive activities that nurture the creativity of students.

We are excited to see what the students accomplish together with their partners this semester! Each team is also planning to travel to work with their partner during the summer. To find out about design reviews for these projects, when students share their work and get feedback, please email d-lab-education@mit.edu.

To join our weekly seminar series, hosting special guests working in international education for informal discussions, please sign-up for the mailing list here. We meet on Fridays from 2-3pm in D-Lab. Thanks!


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