Among the children of Mountain View, near Kingston, Jamaica, Marvin Hall is something of a hero.
Hall, a former math teacher, holds a workshop called ‘Lego Yuh Mind’, in which young people playfully explore ideas in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. Working and communicating with each other, the children build robots from Lego – and along the way, they develop other valuable skills.
“The most exciting part of Lego Yuh Mind is when I’m finished and I see that, ‘yes, I did that on my own and the robot is working,’” says 14-year-old Dryzel Davey.
For Dryzel, the workshop is a welcome break from daily life in the inner city. Until recently, Mountain View has been blighted by gang warfare. Goodridge Lane, where Hall’s most recent workshop took place, made the news in 2009 when a 22-year-old man was shot and beheaded in a gang-related incident. At the time, tensions were high and conflict widespread.
The violence had an impact on children like Dryzel. “When the guns started to fire it wasn’t a good experience because we had to be under the bed hiding from the gunshots,” she says. “You don’t feel secure.”
Lego Yuh Mind has helped bring together children from warring neighbourhoods to build emotional bridges as well as functioning robots.
“It got children closer to each other and they tried to learn something new,” says Dryzel. “Even if they haven’t learned it anywhere else, Lego Yuh Mind has taught them something.”
Hall says the workshop teaches children fundamental engineering skills, but it also gives them a certain level of confidence in problem-solving that he hopes they see as a larger metaphor for life.
“We wanted our children to have early exposure to what it means to look at something and build a solution, or look at something that exists and replicate it, or invent something completely new to solve a problem,” he says.
Hall’s dream is to introduce robotics as a stand-alone academic discipline in Jamaica’s education system and ultimately inspire a country-wide learning revolution.