As Programme Manager Middle East and Africa for SeedDEV, Juwon Watti has coordinated a technology outreach to over 7,000 kids in Sub-Saharan Africa. Zumalo.com had a chat with him to discuss the need for more underserved kids in Africa to get access to the necessary ICT and STEM skills.
How has the experience been, championing STEM outreach to over 7,000 rural African kids?
I would say it has been a great experience, a learning and growing process for me and my team. We have faced various unique challenges in all of our previous project and we have made it a point of duty to improve on every new project we embark on. Our programs and projects have continually evolved over time.
From taking initiatives such as “Hour of Code” and “Africa Code week” to schools to organizing our own Tech sensitization outreach school tour to partnering with other organization to organize Boot Camps as well as organizing our own boot camps. Currently, our efforts are focused on ensuring continuity for our students at different levels as continuous interfacing with technology and digital skill will ensure mastery on the part of the student. So I will say it has been a good journey and we continue to enjoy the ride.
How important do you think is the need to get more young Africans exposed to basic ICT training?
According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report “ By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary schools today will ultimately work in new job types and functions that currently don’t yet exist. Technological trends such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution will create many new cross-functional roles for which employees will need both technical and social and analytical skills. Most existing education systems at all levels provide highly siloed training and continue a number of 20th-century practices that are hindering progress on today’s talent and labour market issues. “Businesses should work closely with governments, education providers and others to imagine what a true 21st century curriculum might look like.”
This quote from the report in my view, completely explains the need for young African kids to be exposed to basic I.C.T training. This very motive guides our projects and operations at SeedDev.
Can you share your thoughts on the current situation of things on the continent as regards underserved kids and the implications for Africa?
I would say a lot of sensitization and efforts have been done in recent times, as we have more organizations like Pearls Africa Foundation, WAAW Foundation and SeedDev to mention a few working hard to reach out to young Africans, especially the underserved ones. The participation and acceptance of initiatives such as “Hour of Code” and “Africa Code Week” by African countries have greatly increased and this signals great hope to say the least, as a lot more people are getting aware of the need for digital skills.
However, I would say we are still far from where we need to be and more work has to done to ensure that young Africans are introduced to technology. Also, we have to make more efforts to help them develop digital skills early enough through continuous interaction with technology that will guarantee mastery for these skills and complete preparedness for the opportunities that abound in the future.
What is SeedDev planning to do in 2019 to mitigate some of the implications of the current situation?
As stated earlier our projects and activities this year are directed and focused on ensuring continuity in learning for our students as we have realized that the only way for African kids and teenagers to master digital skills is to continually interface with technology. We would continue with our school sensitization tours and reach out to more students in these schools, also we would be working with schools to adopt our coding club program and also begin our in-house after-school learning program. All of these efforts are geared towards ensuring that African kids on graduating from secondary school have viable technological skills. I must however quickly add that we are having a hard time working with public schools as most of these schools lack the basic school structures and infrastructures to make this happen. We hope to engage the government and other stakeholders to make necessary adjustment and improvements. However, this is not entirely under our control.
As someone who has worked in this sphere for a while, what roles do you think relevant stakeholders like government, the private sector and NGOs can collaboratively play to influence the current situation?
For a start, I believe there should be a sit-down session or conference with government at different levels, the ministry of education, industry expert, NGOs in the education sector and other stakeholders in order to overhaul the current educational system and the curriculum. We need to restructure the educational system to take away the obsolete practices and make provision cater to the need for future skills. Also, the government needs to invest more in educational infrastructure; for example, a functional computer laboratory should be basic requirements in all schools.
Increasing the budgetary allocation for education will also be a good idea and industry experts should also work with educational bodies to keep them abreast of changes and trends, make internship opportunities available and help the ministry understand what is required in terms of skills in industries, NGOs and private sectors with professional experience and technical skill base should work in hand with the government (Public, private partnership) to ensure that students in schools are developing the required skills for the future.
At SeedDev, the model is on training kids, do you have sustainability plans to maintain mentorship as the kids grow up?
Our school coding club and after-school learning program have been designed in a way to ensure that the kids continue to have access to technology and STEM programs as they grow older. The programs would ensure that students on graduating from secondary schools already have viable technological skills and we look forward to creating internship opportunities in and outside the country for our students soon.
Can you help to paint the picture of an Africa where the kids get the right access to STEM and ICT at the right age with a good system to help their growth?
For me, it starts with access to the facilities, equipment that embodies technology. Up until now, there are African kids and teenagers that have never seen or worked with computers before, I say this based on fact from our tour around schools in emerging communities. Secondly, the students should be sensitized about these skills and the career paths associated with it, as they could only aspire to become that which they are aware of and lastly they should be taught to develop these skills through various learning programs in schools such as coding clubs, I.C.T classes, JET club, and so on. Students also should be given projects to build and create things with their acquired skills.
What challenges have you experienced in your quest for a skilled Africa?
We have experienced a lot of challenges, but I would mention a few of them. One is the problem of funds. Endeavours such as these require as many funds as can be made available to upscale our efforts and this has not been readily available. Also we need more volunteers and trained hands to further drive this course, i suppose we all know people from this part of the world do not readily volunteer, also most schools lack the necessary infrastructures to adopt our digital literacy programs and other schools are not so receptive, access to the government has not been easy and lastly unavailability of refined data set for strategy and implementation of our projects. We continually press forward even in the face of the challenges. We believe we would be able to create the changes needed soon enough and get the necessary supports as we do so.
What next should we be expecting from your team at SeedDev?
There is so much to expect from us, this year and the subsequent years to come. This year, we would be having our first training event outside Nigeria (In another African Country). The event has been designed to help on-board more curators in other countries asides Nigeria, who would, in turn, be responsible for training kids, teenagers and young adults in their communities on a continuous basis.