VirtualSasa: Education in the Experience Age
Today’s workforce increasingly demands 21st-century skills such as creativity, empathy, systems thinking, abstract reasoning, and technological literacy. However, these skills are often very difficult to teach in traditional classroom settings.
Moreover, as education shifts from an information age into the experience age, widening disparity among urban and rural schools are increasingly becoming more pertinent. Around the world, educators experience major challenges as a result of this shift. Many teachers today still heavily rely on transmissionist methods such as traditional lectures which in many cases isolates knowledge from context. Furthermore, for authentic learning contexts to be achieved, many factors are required. These factors are often very difficult to attain or merely absent from traditional teaching methods. As a result of these challenges, many students are passive, disengaged, and struggle to see the relevance of what they are learning to their lives.
Technological advances like smartphones, tablet computers, and student-response-systems such as clickers have made incremental progress in keeping education and its tools relevant. However, several learners who cannot have access to most of these technologies are often left behind. More so, some of these tools do not often help address some of the pertinent barriers in educational opportunities satisfactorily. Careful considerations are therefore required to ensure that the application of technology in education should bring about inclusion and equity for all learners at the same levels of education.
Virtual Reality, a technology by which computer-aided stimuli create the immersive experience of being somewhere else through special headsets and usually involve visual feedback from body movement, is one such technology that could usher every learner everywhere into the experience age. Virtual Reality promises to provide more immersive and engaging experiences with exciting potential for impact in education and training.
What is VirtualSasa?
VirtualSasa is Maarifasasa’s Virtual Reality solution for education. The purpose of VirtualSasa is to ensure easy accessibility of immersive and experiential learning opportunities for all. We believe that just as tablet computers and smartphones have been incredible platforms for education innovations in the information age, Virtual Reality headsets will very soon become the primordial platform of the experience age alongside other mixed reality headsets and tools. A key focus of VirtualSasa is to ensure national curriculum aligned content is readily available and can be easily accessed by every learner across Uganda.
The way our students learn is ready to be disrupted. We are confident that the educational challenges in the experience age earlier alluded to can be addressed by Virtual Reality. That’s why we introduced VirtualSasa. VirtualSasa leads to increased learner engagement; provides active, constructivist learning; allows for empathetic experiences; increases the frequency of authentic learning experiences, and provides an arena for visualizing abstract concepts concretely.
VirtualSasa removes barriers to educational opportunities.
VirtualSasa delivers immersive and experiential learning opportunities to Ugandan schools, including those with limited financial resources to organize field trips for their learners. VirtualSasa removes the learner out of the four walls of the classroom and places them into the unlimited possibilities of any learning environment they can dare to imagine, bringing their creativity, passion, and potential to full life. VirtualSasa substantially cuts the cost of these trips by over 80% yet offers a limitless learning experience that is fully immersive.
A Ugandan Case: Virtual field trips for all.
In Uganda, every student in the Ordinary (O) level of secondary education is required to enrol in Geography subject as a compulsory area of study. Geography, being a subject that entails the study of the physical features of the earth and its atmosphere, and of human activity as it affects and is affected by these, including the distribution of populations and resources and political and economic activities, requires that students get real-life experiences from the field. As such, field trips and tours are an integral part of the subject instruction.
As nature as it, certain geographical features are only found in certain parts of a given country. In Uganda, that part seems to be Western Uganda when it comes to offering Geography learners a variety of landforms. For example, for a Ugandan Geography student to have a personal encounter with a glacial river in Uganda, they must make it to the Rwenzori region of Western Uganda.
As a result of this natural distribution of landforms and geographical features, several learners from others part of the country are naturally disenfranchised as the cost of the required field trips are significantly higher due to the long distance to be travelled. For example, a school in the far Northern district of Mayo having to organize a Geography field trip to Western Uganda would incur almost twice the cost compared to a school in Kampala, the capital city, for the same number of students and staff. Moreover, students from such upcountry schools tend to come from very economically disadvantaged families further worsening the matter.
As a result, several learners across Uganda will never get the opportunity of a decent field trip experience that would significantly boost their understanding of key subject matter content. Nevertheless, all these students (both those with the opportunities to such field trips and those without) will have to sit the same national examinations regardless of the context in which they were taught. This partly explains why there is a huge performance disparity between the rural and urban school and also amongst different regions in the country.
With VirtualSasa, we are completely flipping the model. Instead of learners completely missing out the learning benefits of field trips and experiential learning because they cannot afford to, we offer them immersive and experiential learning opportunities by bringing the field trip destinations in their curriculum to the comfort of their classrooms hence ensuring field trip opportunities for all.
The education systems of a 21st-century Africa needs engaging and authentic experiences that will drive successful learning to fuel the realization of the Africa we want. Virtual Reality can provide this and offers immense potential to expose our learners to peoples and worlds that are normally inaccessible or extremely hard to reach.
Hu-Au, Elliot & Lee, Joey. (2018). Virtual reality in education: a tool for learning in the experience age. International Journal of Innovation in Education. 4. 10.1504/IJIIE.2017.10012691.
Robert Bob OkelloMaarifasasa
Robert Bob Okello is the founder and CEO of Maarifasasa, a cutting-edge Ugandan EdTech start-up committed to leading an education revolution in Uganda and across Africa. He is an Alumna of the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme committed to creating life changing opportunities to empower fellow young people across Africa with skills to cope with a fastly unfolding era of the 4th industrial revolution. He fully believes that the greatest life lived is one lived for others.