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A Dirge to the Nigerian Research and Education Network

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By Austin Okere

A Dirge to the Nigerian Research and Education Network, SiliconNigeria

There is no cheer about the recent pronouncements from the hierarchy in the education sector and the long-term impact on our youth.

“Nigerian government reverses resumption of schools, says no WAEC exam for now.” was the screaming headline in the Premium Times on July 10, 2020.

The Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, announced during a media briefing on July 6 that the West African Examination Council (WAEC) examination will now take place between August 4 and September 5. In swift contradiction, the education minister, Adamu Adamu, speaking to State House correspondents at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided by President Muhammadu Buhari, said Nigerian schools will not reopen any time soon “until it is safe to do so because of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The situation at the tertiary level is not any better, as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) through an interview of their President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi with the Punch Newspaper on June 16, 2020 has declared that E-Learning cannot work in Nigeria. It seems that Prof. Ogunyemi totally overlooked Private schools in his pronouncement; many of whom have completed the syllabus for the current term through online classes at home.

The Ausso Leadership Academy (#ALA), foremost institution providing mentorship to Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs to scale their businesses geometrically has transitioned her models and frameworks online and continues to impact companies with game changing ideas to thrive now and beyond. Far afield, both Harvard and Princeton have announced plans to bring back students for the fall semester, albeit, all course instruction will be delivered online, including for students living on campus. Coursera is partnered with 192 institutions from 43 countries and offering more than 3,200 online courses in 13 languages.

The irony is that Nigerian Universities would have had six years of leapfrog experience in online learning if we had taken the opportunity presented by the NgREN and consolidated on the budding shoots. But like most opportunities that come our way, we display gross unpreparedness and unprecedented nonchalance in the face of opportunity cost to our future generations.

The COVID-19 pandemic is real, and we have to take all necessary precautions and follow social distancing and other protocols advised by the Nigeran Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). But not knowing how long it will last, we cannot put our lives on permanent pause. We have to adjust to the new normal and get on with it. Companies like Zoom and Amazon have understood this and have ended up net beneficiaries.

I wrote this article four years ago when it seemed that the NgREN will become an abandoned project, and another of the many white elephant projects dotting our landscape.

What can we learn from this in order to forestall a reoccurrence?

One of the proudest moments in the history of the Nigerian Education sector was the successful implementation and commissioning of the Nigerian Research and Education Network (NgREN).

Being the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa, the pomp and pageantry that accompanied the unveiling event seemed justified and earned. The network which boasted 465mbps of internet capacity represented 20 times the average connectivity capacity leveraged by the universities. This was a project conceptualized, deployed and managed by Nigerians under a consortium of indigenous companies including CWG Plc, Airtel, Medalion, Resourcery, and Phase 3; finally, a project for us by us.

A Dirge to the Nigerian Research and Education Network, SiliconNigeria

The idea of the NgREN was conceptualized as far back as 2004. After a long period of dormancy, it was revived under the auspices of the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) and the Committee of Vice Chancellors (CVC) in January 2010.The objective was for a Research and Education Network that will connect all Higher Institutions of Learning together, and to the global Research and Education Network. The achievement made Nigeria the first in sub-Saharan Africa to join the league of countries in Europe and America that had functional Online Research & Education Networks.

A catalytic fund was secured from the World Bank as grant, and counterpart funding by the Federal Government of Nigeria in mid-2012 for the first phase of the project, while the procurement cycle was concluded in February 2013.

The first phase of the project which connected 27 Universities, the CVC and the NUC, with over one million users, delivered 155mbps capacity to each university and connected to the Multiprotocol Layered Switch core network, which had a 10Gbps capacity, as well as 465mbps internet capacity, providing high definition telepresence capabilities for real-time collaboration, voice over internet protocol, shared access to research content and joint experimentation projects.

A Dirge to the Nigerian Research and Education Network, SiliconNigeria

The second phase was planned to cover five more clusters of about 100 institutions and five million users. Subsequent phases were to cover all higher education institutes numbering over 600. The network was to be connected to the London Open Exchange via an international private leased circuit, and offer additional services such as web hosting, unified communication, digital library collection, video bridging and archiving services.

This indeed would have afforded Nigerian Universities the opportunity to take a quantum leap in online learning, and significantly improve their low ranking in quality and reach of teaching and research output, and thereby bringing them closer to their global peers. But alas, this was not to be; as the much heralded NgREN has been shut down for over eleven months due to non-payment of the segment bandwidth fees. The consortium of local providers however, left all the equipment intact in good faith, awaiting the provision of bandwidth to restore services.

Apart from the immense benefit in value and global trends, the economies of scale of the project saved the universities immense costs, as embarking individually on such a project would be grossly sub-optimal and prohibitively expensive.

Nigeria has a long history of poor project execution and abandonment. According to journalists Chuka Uroko and Joshua Bassey, in the past couple of years alone, it is estimated that over 11,886 federal government projects with an estimated value of N7.7trillion have been abandoned.

Should we start singing a funeral dirge to a well conceptualized and implemented system as the NgREN, with all its benefits after spending so much tax payers’ money on it? By this action of omission or commission we would have inadvertently reversed the solid gains made in the broadband transformation agenda and shut our youth from critical online learning and the emerging digital economy.

A Dirge to the Nigerian Research and Education Network, SiliconNigeria

The importance of broadband to online learning, the digital economy and social development cannot be overemphasized. This is underscored by the open letter from the Global Broadband Commission to the G20 leaders’ meeting as far back as 2012, wherein they enumerated the importance of broadband in moving the global economy onto a higher growth trajectory, and in generating sustainable, social and economic growth of all nations, especially literacy development to address inequity and deliver inclusive growth for all.

In particular, they argued that broadband enabled technologies are simulating fresh innovation and inspiring a new generation of digital entrepreneurs. The digital era will produce a whole new range of digital careers and industries of the future. Broadband reduces barriers to entry, offering opportunities for small and medium enterprises to challenge existing hierarchies, to innovate, compete and grow.

The targets of the NgREN were to make broadband universal among our youth in higher institutions and their surrounding communities, make it affordable, connect homes and businesses, and get more people online. In essence, it would have enabled our institutions to have the same opportunities to learning as those in the developed world, and impacted their communities as is currently witnessed in places such as Silicon Valley in America.

A Dirge to the Nigerian Research and Education Network, SiliconNigeria

With such nonchalance to educational development in our country, it is no surprise that none of our local universities is included in the ranking of the world’s best 1,000. Tertiary education in Nigeria has suffered from long periods of neglect to the extent that parents would rather take their Children to countries like Ghana, UK, US and Canada.

It is estimated that Nigerians studying in British and American Universities have spent over N137billion on tuition and living expenses in the last two academic sessions. If the over 71,000 Nigerian students who pay tuition fees in Ghana were to contribute the N160billion they spend annually, they would account for about 40 per cent of the Nigerian education budget. According to Mr. Ian Stewart, a member of the British Parliament, there are about 30,000 Nigerian students in the UK alone.

A Dirge to the Nigerian Research and Education Network, SiliconNigeria

In the wake of the expressed resolve of the Muhammadu Buhari led federal government to make public institutions more accountable and responsive to the needs of the society, it is expedient to immediately revive the NgREN project, and in the medium to long term properly situate it, including exploring Private, Public Partnership (PPP) to ensure that this laudable project does not die an avoidable death. We should as a nation learn to stop being wasteful in the face of acute scarcity and make the most of our scare resources.

Austin Okere is the Founder of CWG Plc, the largest security in the technology sector of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at CBS, New York. Austin also serves on the Advisory Board of the Global Business School Network, and on the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Innovation and Intrapreneurship. Austin now runs the Ausso Leadership Academy focused on Business and Entrepreneurial Mentorship

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Education

Mastercard STEM Programme Trains One Million Girls in 30 Countries

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Mastercard STEM Programme Trains One Million Girls in 30 Countries, SiliconNigeria
  • To Reach 5 million Girls By 2025

Mastercard has announced its signature STEM program, Girls4Tech, reached its initial milestone goal of educating one million girls. The program has a new and inspiring goal to reach five million girls by 2025.

The technology company’s signature program, which launched in 2014, offers activities and curriculum built on global science and math standards – and incorporates Mastercard’s deep expertise in technology and innovation – to enable children to discover a range of STEM careers, such as fraud detective, data scientist and software engineer.  

The Girls4Tech workshops hosted across Kenya and Nigeria, have inspired numerous young girls to build the skills they need for STEM careers. “Through the Girls4Tech programme, we’re extending our commitment to Africa’s next generation of women leaders by equipping them with valuable skills that ensure more women have a voice in the development of the products and services of the future,” says Ifeoma Dozie, Director, Marketing and Communications, Sub-Saharan Africa at Mastercard.

Starting as a hands-on, in-person session run by employee volunteers, the program has reached more children by expanding into new topics such as AI and Cybersecurity, and extending access of their STEM curriculum through online resources on Girls4Tech Connect which has been translated into fourteen languages.

Susan Warner, vice president of community engagement and founder of Mastercard’s Girls4Tech program said, “Our goal is to build foundational STEM knowledge and develop critical 21st century skills girls need for their studies and career success. Our program sparks their curiosity in STEM and teaches them real-world applications of those skills.”

How Girls4Tech reaches future STEMinists

  • Announced a new partnership to create a Girls4Tech digital curriculum with Discovery Education — the global leader in standards-aligned digital curriculum resources, engaging content, and professional learning for K-12 classrooms — to reach 1.6 million girls by 2023. 
  • Partnering with scalable organizations such as AIF, Be Better China, Discovery Education, Major League Baseball, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), R&A, Scholastic and YCAB in Indonesia to further scale the program and offer STEM skills in unique ways to girls ages 8-16.
  • Adding new curriculum to give students deeper exposure to the growing fields of cybersecurity and AI.
  • Extending programs, Girls4Tech 2.0 for girls aged 13-16, as well as a 20-week coding program, Girls4Tech & Code for girls 8-10.

Moving the needle for Girls in STEM

In 2019, Mastercard commissioned a study seeking to understand gender and generational differences surrounding perceptions and attitudes of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In addition to STEM-based topics, the survey investigated challenges and motivations to pursing college majors and careers path.

The study showed that females are less confident, receive less encouragement and need more mentors in STEM. Mastercard’s Girls4Tech program provides each of those elements to young women. To learn more about Girls4Tech and access the online lessons, please visit Girls4Tech Connect.

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ipNX Partners Oyo State On Free Internet for Public Secondary Schools

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ipNX Partners Oyo State On Free Internet for Public Secondary Schools, SiliconNigeria

PHOTO: L- R: Group Executive Director, Commercials ipNX, Bimpe Olaleye, Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Oyo State, Barr. Olasunkanmi Olaleye, Chief of Staff to the Governor of Oyo State, Chief Bisi Ilaka, Group Executive Director, HR & Corporate Services, ipNX, Folashade Efiong-Bassey, and Special Assistant to the Governor of Oyo State On ICT & E-governance, Bayo Akande at the handover ceremony of free high-speed broadband internet connectivity to public secondary schools in Ibadan, Oyo State, on Thursday, October 8, 2020.

Nigeria’s pioneering and leading information, communications and technology (ICT) company, ipNX, has partnered with the Oyo State government to provide free high speed broadband internet connection to two public secondary schools in the State in a bid to improve access to technology for students and teachers.

The initiative is in continuation of ipNX’s broader CSR for Education Programme and Oyo State Internet Programme for Schools.

With access to high speed broadband connection from ipNX, teachers and students of Government College Ibadan and Bishop Phillips Academy, Monatan –– the first set of Oyo State schools selected for the project –– are empowered to fully appropriate the benefits of modern technology in the classroom.

The facility was handed over to the two institutions in Ibadan on Thursday October 8, 2020, at a ceremony which had in attendance Chief of Staff to the Oyo State Governor, Chief Bisi Ilaka, Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Barrister Sunkanmi Olaleye, Special Adviser (SA) on ICT and E-Governance to the Governor, Mr Bayo Akande, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Alhaja Atere Aminat Bamidele,  Chief Technology Architect, ipNX Mr Seun Oluboyo, as well as Principals and students of the schools.

The schools will enjoy individual 10Mbps (Megabit per second) internet service free for five years in the first instance, and renewable thereafter.

According to Group Executive Director, HR & Corporate Services, ipNX, Folashade Efiong-Bassey, “With ipNX’s superior broadband infrastructure, we are providing Oyo state public secondary schools within our path of fibre coverage, with free high speed internet connectivity to enable thousands of students and teachers appropriate the benefits of technology in the classroom.

“We believe this will facilitate the goals of the State in improving the education, science and technology sectors, which is a vision of the administration of His Excellency, Governor Seyi Makinde.  Moreover, this initiative complements the recent Federal Government intention to implement Zero-rating for education websites as part of efforts to ameliorate the impact of Covid-19 on Nigeria’s education sector.”

As an organisation, a major portion of ipNX’s corporate social investment has been dedicated to education, and since 2011, the company has provided free internet service to 55 public secondary schools in Lagos state. 

As one of Nigeria’s pioneering ICT companies, and a leading Fibre-To-The-Home (FTTH) operator, ipNX believes that world-class connectivity and broadband access to the internet will provide more opportunities for students and teachers to find the best practices, create new solutions, connect and inspire each other, all towards the achievement of better learning outcomes. The empowerment of students in this way is pivotal to the digital transformation and socio-economic development of Nigeria.

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Int’l Literacy Day: Make Your Children’s Reading Journey Simple and Fun

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Int’l Literacy Day: Make Your Children’s Reading Journey Simple and Fun, SiliconNigeria

Google today joins the world in marking International Literacy Day (ILD) by upscaling the Read Along app, a speech-based reading app designed to help primary grade kids learn to read – anytime, anywhere.

Read Along, formerly known as Bolo, acts as a personal reading tutor for children. It uses speech-based technology to provide personalised assistance in a student’s reading journey, correcting them when they need help and encouraging them when they get it right.

 Students select stories to read from a growing app-based library and earn stars and badges when they read correctly. After an initial download, the app works offline, even on low cost phones, making it more accessible and relieving worries of privacy and security.

The Read Along app now includes improved features that make it easier for multilingual children to switch languages or get phonics support when they tap a word. The app also has more than 700 unique books across all nine languages, including Arabic, with a refreshing new look for the content library. 

“Google is taking the education journey back to the basics by providing a digital platform that will make learning to read simpler and fun especially in the light of COVID-19 related school closures,” notes Mojolaoluwa Aderemi-Makinde, Head of Brand & Reputation, Sub Saharan Africa. “At Google, we believe technology can help children around the world learn how to read to help achieve the goal of basic universal literacy.”

Google will run a global story-a-thon from 8-30 September 2020 to encourage children to bring out their imagination through writing. Through participating, children stand a chance of getting published on the Read Along app. Parents can share stories written by their children during the month of September. Read Along will publish some of those submissions on the app.

UNESCO’s theme for International Literacy Day 2020 is Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. Schools have remained closed due to COVID-19 restrictions and parents and teachers are increasingly turning online to find educational resources for children.

Since Read Along’s introduction, children have cumulatively spent more than 3 million hours on the app reading over 32 million stories. Google’s internal analysis, as well as feedback received from parents and children across the globe, is encouraging. Beginner readers register an improvement of between 38 per cent and 88 per cent in their oral reading skills after reading for 100 minutes on the app. 

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