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Fueling the STEM Flame for Girls in South Sudan master trainers are back from the Loreto school in Rumbek where they prepared teachers and students to take part in the first World Robot Olympiad ever to take place in the world’s youngest country.

When Brendan (a.k.a. Speedie) Smith is out of Africa, it usually isn’t for very long. He was one of the mastermind pedagogues and trainers behind Africa Code Week, the largest educational digital movement in the history of the African continent. Together with SAP, UNESCO, Irish Aid and a network of public, private and nonprofit partners across 48 countries, he played a key role in engaging 100.000 teachers and introducing coding skills to 14 million youths – 47% of which were girls – over the past 8 years.

On May 28th he was joined by Program Lead Linda Cardiff and with the support of Ambassador Nicola Brennan of the Embassy of Ireland in Ethiopia, they started building a sustainable community of practice around CS/STEM education in the Loreto school.

The Loreto school is made up of a kindergarten, primary school, secondary school and primary healthcare unit. Due to extreme poverty, violence, food insecurity and a general lack of access, the school has implemented projects alongside global partners to provide what each child desperately needs to succeed in school: scholarships, nutritious meals, access to water and sanitation facilities, health support, protection and advocacy. The school works to address these Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in an environmentally friendly manner and implements solar, water harvesting and recycling, and agriculture projects to support each student.

A woman of courage and passion to secure girls’ education

In war-torn South Sudan facing huge cultural and economic obstacles to female education, only 17% of girls finish primary school and only 4% are able to complete their secondary cycle. Few children can afford books and the classroom blackboard remains the primary means of delivering education.

Only a force of nature could step in and gather her own dream team to beat the odds. Born in Bray, county Wicklow, Sister Orla Treacy has been the principal of the Loreto school in Rumbek since 2006. This 2019 ‘International Women of Courage’ has helped transform the hopes and aspirations of young South Sudanese women, creating educational routes that never previously existed, securing funding for them to continue university studies in Juba, Nairobi and beyond before returning to their homeland after graduation to drive change and inspire more girls to follow the same path.

You may access the video link here:

A name for the world to remember

The school provides a caring, happy and safe environment where girls from different clans and tribes learn to live and study together. They can also join a 2-year training program that prepares interns for university and beyond. Young Mary Laat Mabor is one of them and there was no mountain high enough for her to just make it there. This resilient warrior is a true role model for an entire generation of girls holding firm, against the tide, on their one and only dream: to be given the chance to study.


A busy STEM learning agenda

Despite Speedie surviving on 1 shirt for the week due to his luggage being lost somewhere in Africa, learning fun was in the air all week. Speedie and Linda worked with Sr Orla and CS Teacher Masereka Godfrey Mujunga to embark teachers on a 5-day upskilling scheme. They learnt the key STEM and transversal skills needed to prepare for the WRO event with their students, including:

  • Coding (wifi being intermittent and unreliable, recommendations were made for the installation of scratch and makecode software for offline use.
  • Computational thinking
  • Coding games and wearable devices
  • Contextualising coding for classroom subjects such as Geography, Science, Maths, Music, Art.
  • Coding devices that can help real world problems – the example used in class was a heart monitor.

‘Connecting the World’ indeed

Early June, it was Loreto students’ turn to delve in coding and robotics fun. For and partners, young Africans need to be provided with fair access to STEM challenges and competitions as part of the UN’s Quality Education 4th Sustainable Development Goal. Because when students compete, they face real-world problems that require creative and innovative solutions. They become more inquisitive, research independently, solve problems, learn to work with others and strive to do more than is required – quite a priceless fold in the future workplace.

After training Loreto students, Speedie and Linda also did a short coding course with pupils from the nearby Catholic University of South Sudan, Rumbek. 95 educators and students were trained in total and every student received a certificate in recognition of their progress and achievements as a STEAM student and for completing Level 1 of the MASTERS grading program. Way to code, girls!

Students taking part in the WRO competition were then encouraged to use their creativity and problem-solving skills to conceptualize a robot using Micro:bit that would address the WRO competition theme ‘Connecting the World’. They were asked to present their ideas to the audience attending the certification ceremony.

Stay tuned for more news and footage of students coding their robots’ first moves while Brendan, Linda and Mr. Godfrey keep working online over the coming months to help students hone their new digital superpowers. More good news came in this week as we got confirmation that three female teachers from the Loreto Rumbek team will take part in the next Women Empowerment Program CPD series taking place in October 2023. Empower a woman, empower a nation.


Thanks to the school’s amazing seamstress,

Speedie escaped the whole 1-shirt stress
While Linda flaunted her new princess dress.