The Making of Oysters & Pearls Makerspace

In January 09th, 2016, I traveled to Gulu for the Annual Robotics Camps that was scheduled to start on January 10, at Gulu High School. I had traveled with my 4 students, and 3 former students had gone their earlier. The camp lasted 2 weeks and had over 80 high school students from about 38 schools, and it consisted of Robotics Class (Beginners), Advanced Robotics and Video Game & Animation class.

Despite meeting new people & learning new stuff, my satisfaction was not in any thing being learnt there. The joy & contentment of being around my former students was sure one of the best moments of my life. Denis, Jacob and Jennifer were all teaching at the camp, and are all graduates of our successful robotics programme at Lira Town College.

They are pursuing higher education at Gulu University and as an alumni there, I took it upon myself to introduce them to my former lecturers. So far so good. But that is not all.

After that Robotics Camp, the founder of Oysters & Pearls Uganda, Ms. Sandra Washburn was keen to take things a bit higher. With equipment from the camp and available office space, a dream ignited to start the first tech hub in Gulu-Oysters & Pearls MakerSpace.

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace is an innovation hub and robotics centre located in Gulu town-northern Uganda. Jacob chose to call it a Makerspace because in his words, “it will be a community centre with tools that enable developers & young people learn, collaborate and build their tech projects.”

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Now, most of us who have heard of Outbox, Hive Colab and other tech hubs in Uganda will say this is copy & paste. I have visited their twice, but sincerely, what these young people are doing there is unique, different and a step forward for a better Uganda.

Right now, the O & P Makerspace is the best place in northern Uganda for developers, students & tech enthusiasts to meet, learn and build great apps and tech projects. They also host a range of events, workshops and trainings.

O & P Makerspace works with schools such as Gulu High School, Sacred Heart Girls S.S, and University students  and provide programming support and best robotics resources for free.

Oysters & Pearls – Uganda is a registered NGO in Uganda and has been working with the blind and visually impaired in Northern Uganda since 2011. In 2013, a program to robotics and advanced computing was developed for the sighted students. In 2015, a community office was opened in Gulu Town to serve a wider audience. Oysters &Pearls -Uganda works closely with several Ugandan partners such as Fundi Bots, based in Kampala, and U-Touch. O & P Makerspace is owned and run by Oysters & Pearls Uganda.

The Team

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace is still small entity, and runs with a small team who all share a common dream. The awesome team consists of Racheal, Jacob, Denis, Jennifer & Francis.

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Initiatives & Programmes:

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace has been involved in quiet many projects that include: Technovation Challenge (Global), Technovation Challenge (Uganda), Science & Technology Innovation Challenge (STIC), Africa Code Week, Gulu University Outreach Programme, Lira Outreach Programme & Special Programming Classes for Gulu youths.

Latest Technology

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace has the latest stuff in technology. They have Rasberry Pi, Arduino kits,  Virtaul Reality tools (Oculus), Android Programming, Scratch, PC Duino,   Smart Phones, USSD, Messaging Platforms, Soldering kits and many others.  Almost 50% of what they have today was not available during my time at Uni. It is great learning from these young ones.

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High Lights:

Throughout my service as a teacher, deep inside me, I have never wanted to betray my public duty to educate tomorrows future generation. For who are we, if we do not nurture tomorrows leaders today? The 3 former students I have talked about here are just a tip of the iceberg. There are many others scattered across the country pursuing different ambitions. Those who have chosen to contribute to this country through education, hard work and honest living. Many others.

I like the fact that Oysters & Pearls Makerspace  is a truly inclusive  place, supporting disabled persons, young women and old persons. According to  Jacob, they have a plan to fully integrate the blind & visually impaired students at Gulu High School & Ngetta School for the Blind into their robotics programme. This will the first of its kind in East Africa, will no doubt be applauded by numerous rights activists in Uganda and beyond.

This is a lesson to many of Uganda’s youths, that you should make a decision to focus on learning valuable tech skills, as a result of your own “intelligent choice” for a better future. These 3 have easily found “an opportunity to use their education” not only to liberate others, but also place themselves in the service of humanity (and Uganda).

With support of Dr. Benedict Oyo, I feel contented that Robotics projects have been accepted at Gulu University as final year projects in the Department of Computer Science.

As Charles Onyango-Obbo says, technological citizens are emerging. It may be too late for most of the current Uganda population, who still carry some of the old habits. But the little ones, those are the future. And that should be our focus.

The Future

A wide range of people believe that hubs represent a genuinely new and exciting model for supporting tech entrepreneurs. Considering, the long time I have spent with these young guys at Oysters & Pearls Makerspace, I believe they will no doubt have a commercially viable project by close of this year. It may be web application, android app, business model, open source project, Ugandan papers or whatever. All of them are accomplished achievers amongst their age mates.

I also believe that will disrupt the tech landscape in Uganda because at 23, 24 their best years are ahead of them. The future is bright.


Oysters & Pearls Makerspace




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‘Penalised’ In Primary, Privileged In University: East Africa Education Spending

August 21, 2016

WITH the youngest demographic profile in the world, African governments are doing well to invest a significant amount of resources in the education sector.

Universal primary education became a priority in the past decade and a half, driven by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and progress on this front has been laudable. There has also been significant progress in expanding access to secondary and tertiary education.

But the education spending disparity through the levels raises some questions. In East Africa, for example, governments spend an average of $57 per primary school pupil, and $127 per secondary school student.

At tertiary level education spending is more than ten times higher, at a mean of $1,493 per student, but even this masks huge disparities among countries – Tanzania is the clear outlier, spending an average $4,391 per university/college student.

The inequity in resource allocation is clearer when you consider that it is just a tiny minority of people who make it to higher levels of education in the first place. It East Africa, it is only about 5-7% of the six and seven-year-olds eligible for the first grade of primary school in any year that will eventually graduate from university.

Such dismal transition rates means that it is actually those in the lower grades of education – the bulk of the children in the school system – who are ‘penalised’ by low government spending.

And considering that it is generally those from wealthier backgrounds who will go to college and university, the impact on inequality becomes clearer.


Or as a recent report by the Society for International Development puts it this way: should countries that are unable to provide every child with a quality primary education cover the bulk of costs for students at the tertiary level (which is also the most expensive), considering that they will, for the larger part, come from more privileged backgrounds?

Even worse, data from the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) concluded that on average, 56% of students graduating from East African universities lacked the basic and technical skills needed in the job market.

When broken down per student, it emerges that a large chunk of public investment is spent on the tertiary sector, it is worth interrogating what value for money citizens are getting in this respect.