Education and Capacity Building for Open Science Hardware in Sub-Saharan African Universities

In our collective efforts to promote open science and hardware within the African scientific community, it is important to employ strategies to foster education and awareness of open science and hardware principles, developing capacities and skills to build and use open scientific instruments.

Education and Capacity Building for Open Science Hardware in Sub-Saharan African Universities
Photo credit (Global Partnership for Education)
Written by Frank Bentum for the Open Science Shop Newsletter

Access to scientific tools and equipment among students, educators, researchers, and scientists is severely limited in most African communities. This hinders their ability to conduct research, educate, and foster innovation, especially in the case of Ghana. This lack of access poses a significant obstacle for Ghanaians and many other Africans to leverage scientific solutions to address local challenges. 

When I was in high school, my colleagues and I had to learn practical science experiments from the pages of our textbooks and white or blackboards. My high school had only one science lab, which had most of the instruments and equipment in the lab either broken or insufficient for the general school populace. This meant teachers had to teach almost every scientific experiment from the pages of our textbooks.

The majority of Ghanaian students go through their education without access to, or limited access to, scientific tools for practical scientific experience. The few educational institutions that can afford these often expensive scientific tools are quite unaffordable for the average Ghanaian student and can only purchase a limited number, leaving a vast number of students without proper access to the scientific tools and equipment they need to experiment with and gain practical scientific knowledge. 

Many schools and universities in Ghana suffer due to the lack of well-equipped laboratories and equipment for research and education. The open science movement is rapidly gaining momentum in Africa, and Ghanaian educational institutions can leverage the opportunities offered by open science to develop low-cost scientific solutions that can address the various local challenges in the Ghanaian and most African regions. Without a strong foundation in science, no region has been able to make social or economic progress. Without access to affordable scientific tools and equipment, there will always be a huge knowledge gap between African communities and other regions, reinforcing global disparities in scientific advancements.

Photo of students working in a lab. Photo credit AfricaOSH.

Building momentum at the pilot OpenFlexure Microscope workshop

In June 2023, Africa Open Science & Hardware received a microgrant from the Gathering for Open Science Hardware (GOSH) Community and the Albert P. Sloan Foundation to conduct an in-person, hands-on workshop on open science hardware. The workshop catered for students of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology (KNUST) in Ghana, and was focused on educating these students on the principles of open science and open hardware and also developing their capacity to develop and use open scientific instruments, particularly emphasizing the OpenFlexure Microscope. 

This pilot workshop garnered remarkably positive feedback from participants. However, it also unveiled a concerning reality about the state of open science and hardware awareness among Ghanaian University students. A staggering 95% of the workshop attendees displayed limited or no familiarity with the concept of open science, open hardware, and open scientific instrumentation, which was a rather disappointing realization.

Motivated by the need for increased awareness and education in open science and hardware principles among Sub-Saharan African University students, I developed the project proposal titled “Education and Capacity Building for Open Science Hardware in Sub-Saharan African Universities (ECB4OSH). This initiative aims not only to foster awareness and education but also to build the capacity of students in building and utilizing open scientific instruments. The OpenFlexure Microscope was chosen as the focal tool for the workshops due to its qualities—a low-cost, customizable, and easily maintainable scientific instrument. In comparison to conventional microscopes, the OpenFlexure stands out for its affordability, offering an accessible solution for educational institutions and individuals who may be financially constrained. Moreover, it presents an alternative avenue for science education and research in developing countries, contributing to bridging the knowledge gap between African communities and other regions.

The Education and Capacity Building for Open Science Hardware (ECB4OSH) Project

The ECB4OSH project is a project that has three (3) major objectives:

  • Educate African students, one country at a time, on open science and open hardware and its benefits to the African scientific community.
  • Organize in-person and practical hands-on scientific workshops for African students, building their capacities to develop and use open scientific instruments, e.g. the OpenFlexure Microscope.
  • Donate all scientific instruments developed to local schools, makerspaces, and labs that are in need of these scientific instruments for educational and research purposes.

The project will organize six (6) educational and capacity-building workshops for at least 60 Ghanaian University students from January 2024 to May 2024. These workshops will be held in three (3) selected Ghanaian universities, namely, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology (KNUST), the University of Mines and Technology (UMaT), and the University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR) in Ghana. 

There will be two workshops organized at each university throughout the duration of the project.

These workshops will focus on educating student participants on the open science movement, open hardware, and why open communities such as AfricaOSH and the Global Open Science Hardware Community (GOSH) have been advocating for openness in the development of scientific tools. The project will also educate student participants on key aspects of open hardware, such as open source licensing, open documentation of scientific tools, open sharing of documentation files, and also platforms where openly documented projects can be shared, such as Github, Wikifactory, and Gitlab. 

It is also important to educate African students on open source licenses and their applications in developing open scientific instruments. There are several genuine concerns among African makers regarding the use of openly shared hardware design files, which is why it is important for students to understand open source licensing. The project will put the students through a thorough education of the various open source licenses for open science hardware.

In order to create a continuous community of open science hardware developers and users, participants of the ECB4OSH project will be introduced to open communities such as AfricaOSH, GOSH,  and the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA), with the hopes of creating a supportive, collaborative and mentorship structure for the students in the future and to also connect them to the global open science hardware communities.

During the workshops, participants will also be introduced to the concept of open microscopy. The project will develop open educational resources, which will be openly shared on the African digital repository AfricArXiv. They will be introduced to the OpenFlexure Microscope, the components of the microscope, how to build one and also the unique features and characteristics of the microscope. 

Participants will then be trained to build and use the OpenFlexure Microscope. This part of the workshop is a hands-on session where participants will engage in hands-on activities to build and test an Open Flexure Microscope. The project will develop 12 OpenFlexure Microscopes by the end of the project.

Photo of workshop participants building the OpenFlexure Microscope. Photo credit AfricaOSH.

With the aim of democratizing science and making scientific tools and equipment accessible, the project will donate all 12 microscopes developed to local schools, makerspaces and labs in Ghana. We hope that with this project, we can contribute to developing the capacities of Africans in building and using open scientific instruments and fully benefit from all the opportunities open scientific tools present in addressing various local challenges, and also with the use of these scientific tools, contribute to practical scientific education and research.

The ECB4OSH project will aim to educate as many African students as possible on how revolutionary open science hardware can be for the African scientific community and also provide an alternative path to innovation through the development of low-cost technologies.

Photo of workshop participant holding the OpenFlexure Microscope. Photo credit AfricaOSH.

Want to get more involved in the Open Science Shop? Join our workspace on Slack and register for our upcoming meeting focused on distributed manufacturing of the OpenFlexure Micrscope.