I will begin by saying this post has a yet unwritten prequel. My earlier intention was to take on my understanding of ‘functional education’, before this, but I will get to writing that soon. For now, I’ll focus on building the tech economy for the future, and how the chief with a foot long chewing stick holds the future of the tech based economy in Nigeria.
I would also like to warn that this post is NOT about the top 5% – if you believe Lagos is the rest of Nigeria, you probably should not be reading this.
A few weeks ago, I visited CCHub for the first time to attend the pitching event for #TechInEd, an event which focused on technology developed for use in education. I was really interested in the #TechInEd for two reasons:
- Recently, Apple had launched a project which would increase the use of iPads for education – I wanted to see what our own developers were thinking in that direction
- Every Sunday, I dress in my most ‘unfavourite’ pair of jeans to church, where I take care of 30 – 40 children – I wanted to see if the pitches would have anything that would interest the kindergarten teacher inside of me.
The TechInEd was revealing – there are serious thinkers out there, but I came away with this feeling that the startups out there are mostly thinking about the top 15%. Of course as the business man in me has nothing against developing for the top 15%, but the event being about education (and there exists this healthy bias on my part about education, especially education in the lowest 50%), I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that my ‘constituency’ seems to have been overlooked.
Many of the apps on display at #TechInEd seemed to be targeted at “lego, BMX and PS3” club, kids with regular access to computers, and the internet. While these may become viable, profitable businesses, my personal biases in the field of education app development mean that if an app makes money, but does not solve the problem of tech education, then it’s a failure. Much as there is an education deficit in Nigeria, that deficit has not place in the Lekki *Insert first world country name* School, where kids play PlayStation Portable during break periods. The deficit is live and breathing in the local primary school, scattered in everyone’s village around the country, and that’s where my every thought about technology education goes.
Now why am I so interested in technology education in the local schools and communities? (Please note, the cross from #TechInEd apps to technology education is intended – they’re intrinsically linked for me, you see?) Because over and over, I have heard people talk about growing technology in Nigeria, how the future is technology, and how this future would be driven by mobile apps deployed in education. The allusion that mobile apps are going to help us build capacity for a tech based economy of the future, I believe is a fallacy.
I have nothing against mobile apps, and truly believe they have a place in the future.
However, the lowest 50%, much as we want to believe, won’t get computer literate on mobile apps. Yes, information will be accessed on mobiles, but I still don’t see a future where my iPad replaces my PC as my coding station. If rural children will have to take over the tech future, then they have to have access to real computers. If we want to bring technology into education, for me, it’s the simple nuts and bolts act of teaching basic computer usage at the most rudimentary level. This thinking is one I’ve had for the last eight years.
To test my thinking, I did something crazy.
In 2008, I went with a few friends of mine into a local community to conduct what later turned out to be my first experiment in rural computer literacy. We had earlier met with the leadership of a local church to give us space and let us teach basic computing to local children in the community. These children were ones who previously have no experience with computers. The idea was simple, give opportunity to these children to experience the same knowledge that children in the fancy schools has access to.
We had one university graduate, an undergraduate, 3 secondary school students and a bright cousin of mine in primary 4 at the time, armed with two desktops computers, two laptops and a handful of accessories. Classes started in the open church auditorium. No fancy tables, just pews, dusty floors and a handful of very excited kids.
The challenges of the first two days was getting the fear of new technology out of these kinds, who were too afraid of ‘spoiling the computer’ to do more than stare at the equipment, but once that fear had been dispelled, wonderful things happened. These children, who mostly had only seen computers from a distance, were typing, drawing and generally kicking butt with Windows.
We had earlier explained how the computer works, and what a wonderful piece of work the CPU is, and a day later, every child wanted to see what the insider of the CPU looked like. So we dismantled the white box and pushed and pulled a few things, and the kids put them back, put the equipment back together under supervision, and put the PC back on.
The best part of the one month was when we introduced the best performing children to the Internet. It was the wow moment of wow moments. Email to them, was magic and an hour into training, my box was flooded. I got a few of my friends to write regularly to these kids, and the facts that they could sit in an internet cafe, write to someone in America, a real person, and the person wrote back in an email was unbelievable to them. Every once in a while, I still receive an email from one of those kids.
So then I realized, building a critical mass for a technology based economy is very simple. It’s simply dependent on if we can get a whole generation of kids prepped to provide a fertile ground for this to grow.
A 15 year rural program, which ensures every kid in primary school can use a PC will build the base. Tree shaking tests can bring out the real gems who will go on to special scholarship trainings, but if every child, irrespective of where they come from – ijebu ode, or Atan Onoyom, can use a computer, a whole new world opens up.
No, don’t flag off huge money guzzling programs. Semi-nomadic, community supported programs can work if the right consultation is done.The future is dependent on whether we can build a knowledge based economy, driven by functional education (there again, a reminder to write that prequel). We may need to use equipment share programmes, and nomadic teachers to compensate to teacher deficit, but it can be done.
Public education is broken, but technology can bridge that gap. Local governments, churches and local communities are strategic to achieving the target of a technology driven economy – yes, the illiterate chief with the foot long chewing stick is the future of technology.
Truth is the concept is possible. If we can export Yahoo Yahoo, getting worldwide infamous in the process, then a movement can build something positive to export to the world. If teenagers are learning Yahoo in cyber cafes, then we can channel that energy into building an economy which will allow even the poorest of us, if they have the right aptitude, get opportunities to do something really great.
Editi Effiong is an entrepreneur and developer based in Lagos. Follow him on Twitter, @EditiEffiong
[image: Flickr/Kevin Lim]