The KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research Programme is a world renowned health research unit of excellence. The programme was formed over 20 years ago from a partnership between the Kenya Medical Research Institute, the Wellcome Trust and the University of Oxford. They are state of the art facility hosting over 100 research scientists and 700 support staff working across Kenya, Uganda and the region.
The centre's School Engagement Programme (SEP) was established with the support of the Kilifi County Education Office. It aims at promoting an interest in science and science related careers among students and to promote mutual understanding between members of the community and researchers. A decade-long of interaction with local schools is now gaining global recognition for undertaking high-quality engagement activities. In 2019 the programme was awarded the University of Oxford Vice-Chancellor's Public Engagement with Research Award.
Alun Davies: Engaging schools with health research from NDM Oxford on Vimeo
The programme works through a range of educational and experiential activities including:
- School visits to the KEMRI laboratories
- Health and motivational talks from researchers
- Supporting Kilifi Science and Engineering Fair
- Annual school science competitions
- Annual three-month attachment for 9 talented Kilifi school leavers
- Support for one student to attend science engagement in London, UK
- Research Debate groups
- On-line engagement
- Primary science clubs
Image credit | Shadrack Baraka
Students visiting the KEMRI Centre get an opportunity to learn about health research, interact with researchers in small groups and tour the research laboratories. In 2019, more than 600 students and 25 teachers from 10 local schools participated in this activity.
Touring the research laboratory
Touring the research laboratory is a central activity during student visits. It helps them to appreciate the relevance of science subjects through being given an opportunity to see the practical application of science that they learn at school. Students visit immunology and micro biology laboratories to see the equipment used, study processes and interact with staff.
Career and Motivational Talks
This is an activity that enables staff to reach out to larger numbers of students. Volunteering staff members are usually ferried to the schools to address students during the evening club time. More than 15 staff members participated in this activity and were able to engage with more than 2000 students.
Image credit | Shadrack Baraka
Science and Engineering Fair
The science and engineering fair (SEF) is an annual event organized by the ministry of education. The programme supports Kilifi county edition by inviting science club students to present their projects to researchers for critique so that students can improve their projects prior to competitions. In 2029 KEMRI SEP donated KES 383,593.00 to support local students.
To spark an interest in science among young people in local high schools in Kilifi, the KEMRI SEP annually holds a science symposium where students compete against each other in a science quiz. The 6th Science symposium was held in July 2019 with 34 out of the 38 invited schools from Kilifi and Ganze Subcounty participating. Each school brought three form 3 students and one teacher. Students were tested on biology, chemistry mathematics and general knowledge then a fun-filled oral quick-fire session in chemistry. There were lots of team building activities and prizes for the students.
School Leavers Attachment Scheme
The school leavers attachment scheme aims at giving talented students from Kilifi a taste of research going on at KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Programme. Students go through a competitive selection process where all eligible candidates are invited for an open day at KEMRI. They complete an aptitude test, after which the top students are selected for a panel interview. Eventually, nine successful students are offered an opportunity to be attached at KEMRI for 3 months. In 2019, the open day attracted 90 applicants. Students learnt about health research careers, the Kenya Universities and Colleges Placement system, as well as other useful opportunities like the Higher Education Loans Board.
Student Reflections from the School leavers' attachment scheme on Vimeo
London International Youth Science Festival
Each year the SEP supports students to apply for a Young Scientists for Africa to attend the London International Youth Science Forum. This is a two-week residential student event with lecture demonstrations from leading scientists, visits to world class laboratories and universities combined with cultural interaction, with 500 students aged 16-21 years old from 70 countries.
Science Discussion Clubs
In 2018 SEP initiated science discussion clubs in three secondary schools. During these regular club meetings, students get to learn about real current research which is going on at KEMRI, to critically think about the studies and share their opinions with reseachers. As students learn about science and hone in on their own critical thinking and communication skills, we are able to gather their insight in to the way we implement research. We hope that some of these students will become future researchers.
Image credit | Shadrack Baraka
KEMRI's School Engagement Programme uses a combination of engagement approaches. Many utilise face-to-face interactions but we also use less-intense online interactions to reach students
I'm a Scientist Competition
I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here is an on-line platform where students get an opportunity to learn about science and science careers through asking questions and chatting with scientists. In 2019, 500 students across 18 Kenyan secondary schools communicated on-line with 12 prominent Kenyan scientists. The event took place over a 2-week period during school club-time in June 2019 and was supported through permissions from the MoEST.
Primary school engagement
The Primary School Engagement aims to promote interest in science by drawing on locally available resources to engage pupils in practical science activities in their respective schools. Pupils engaged in an exciting range of over 40 practical activity sessions aligned to the primary school curriculum. The KEMRI-Primary science symposium was an opportunity to bring together all participating science clubs from the schools for a fun-filled ‘science meet-up’ at the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme premises. This was a platform for pupils to visit a research facility, exchange ideas, develop their curiosity and present their science models to peers. In 2019, the symposium brought together 120 participants. Activities involved research lab videos, mosquito breeding (malaria research), quickfire quiz and model presentations.
Success: Jacob's Journey - the story of a Kilifi school student who became a researcher
Jacob's Journey from the School Engagement Programme on Vimeo
Our programme aims to continue with these exisiting school activities as well as initiating new exciting projects which we hope will spark our students imagination and nurture a passion for science. These will include a Sickle Cell comic book for primary children, a book sharing inspirational stories from outstanding health researchers in sub-Saharan Africa and using immersive technology to engage village communities. Look out for news of these on Mesh.
Find out more
Participatory Action Research process and project evaluation:
Davies, Alun & Mbete, Bibi & Fegan, Greg & Molyneux, Sassy & Kinyanjui, Sam. (2012). Seeing ‘With my Own Eyes’: Strengthening Interactions between Researchers and Schools. IDS Bulletin. 43. 10.1111/j.1759-5436.2012.00364.x.
Challenges, benefits and lessons learnt from the SEP implementation and scale-up:
Davies A, Mwangome N, Yeri B et al. Evolution of a programme to engage school students with health research and science in Kenya [version 1; peer review: 3 approved]. Wellcome Open Res 2019, 4:39
Contribution of school engagement to ethical goals of research and key elements in evaluation:
Davies, Alun Iwan (2017). Expectations, Experiences and Impact of Engagement Between Health Researchers and Schools in Kenya. PhD thesis. The Open University.
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