Like any perceptive observer of the education sector will conclude, Nigeria's strides in global academic and IT-related competitions have largely been driven by private organizations. SchoolTips Magazine has closely followed the one of these pioneers, ReadManna Ltd. We recently got to sit with the amazing woman behind it all, Edna Agusto and it was an exciting chat. Savour the excerpts.
Starting Out in the Tech Space. Is this what you always wanted to do?
I noticed that some of the youths in the country are not proficient in digital literacy. The basic software that almost all the businesses in the world use are Microsoft Word to write letters, Microsoft PowerPoint for presentations, and Microsoft Excel for calculations. We found out that our youths are not proficient in these applications and instead they go to business centers to learn a bit about the programs. They are just limited to what they are taught and they get a “certificate of participation” and this does not test the student's knowledge. Some people also train on the jobs. And when they don't know what to do, they reach out to the IT department for basic problems. This affects productivity and this lack of relevant digital skills is one of the causes of youth unemployment today.
Why Focus on Education Technology?
Technology is affecting every sector and my reason for focusing on this field is the high level of unemployment. We have very brilliant youths in this country and I see most of them just doing nothing. It's really sad when you see someone who has a lot of potentials stay idle. They are many computer graduates who are unemployed! If you are computer literate, you should be gainfully employed in this digital era. For me, you must be able to use these basic tools, that's why I chose the educational technology to empower the youths and the experiences so far have been exciting.
Nigeria's Journey in Education Technology
I'll say we have had a lot of improvement. We started this in 2009 and the awareness then was very poor. In 2009, it was only one school that competed in the Microsoft National competition. Then we had two schools and gradually much more came on board. These schools decided to go for it because their principals understood the benefits of the program. It has improved a lot now because we see a lot of IT training for students going on now including robotics and coding.
Thoughts on Girls and Women in Technology
Well, this is a topic that I feel we need to have a balanced view of in this country. If a school should promote a program for girls, then at the same time they should also look out for the boys. We generally just think that the men are the ones that should be interested in ICT. Personally, I think Computer Studies is not different from Math or English. As we think every child should have 'credits' in Math and English, Computer Studies should be the third one. There is no male or female in this matter, every child should understand what it really is. It is good for us to encourage the girls but everyone must be certified, and we have to be very careful so that we don't leave the men behind, we should not assume that they know it. I don't want to lay emphasis on girls only. For example, in this year's Microsoft Specialist World Championship, the Nigerian team is made up of 4 girls and 2 boys. So we have to try to include every child. It should be basic knowledge for all students. It has to be balanced.
Proudest and Most Challenging Moments So Far
We have run this since 2009 and we have certified a lot of students. It gives me so much joy to see the students rising up to the challenge. During the competitions, I see children coming in believing they can do it, and they also have that joy in them when they have very good scores in the competition. When you achieve your goals at a very young age, it helps you in your development; it boosts your confidence and self-esteem. A certified child told us that even in his father's office; they call him to put them through Microsoft programs. He (the child) also said the ICT Practical in WAEC exams that would ordinarily take him 3hours took him 30minutes, all because of this competition. When you see the impact, you feel so good and you know that people are benefiting from it. I'm really happy doing it.
For my proudest moment, that would be when my daughter, Bunmi came second in the whole world during the 2014 Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship. She is the first African to win the world championship and when she won, it was a big surprise. She was a student of Day Waterman College, Abeokuta at that time. She was one of those who represented her school in the national competition. She (my daughter) had the highest score in the whole country, 967 then, and I was like ”Wow!”. She went for the world championship and came second in the whole world! She actually changed the game for Nigeria and Africa. Actually, my proudest moment was when I realized the impact of her winning. She opened doors for other African children to compete because they felt that since she could do it, they also could. The following year, a student from Ghana who competed in the 2015 world championship in Dallas asked after Bunmi. She said Bunmi challenged them in Ghana to compete in the championship. After that, Cameroun and Kenya came on board. Today, many more African countries are competing in the championship.
For challenging moments, we found out that children can go online and learn independently, so they need to be monitored. Parents are too busy, no one is monitoring these children. So we need to start guiding these online lives. Also, teachers need to be empowered so they can appreciate what these children are doing and also monitor them. Teachers should not be ignorant; they have to be computer literate too. If you want to have authority over the child, you must know more than the child. That's our challenge now; the teachers need to earn the respect of today's youth.
Training Tech-Savvy Teachers
This is still what I'm talking about, the fact that we need to engage teachers, and encourage them to be computer-literate. UNESCO has also recommended a certification called the “Microsoft Certified Educator” for all teachers. So we are telling teachers to learn IT and then integrate it with education. For instance, a geography teacher should be able to record expeditions in Nigeria and show it to schools anywhere in the world. Teachers need to understand that there are lots of resources online that they can take advantage of.
My dream is that every teacher will be certified and proficient. One thing about certification is that it is globally recognized, especially Microsoft, you can use it anywhere. For students, the pass mark today is 700/1000 and the certificates are also accepted by American universities. The universities give college credits to certified students. So before one gets admission, the person already has college credits. Lastly, let me tell you how we organize the world championship. The Microsoft world championship is open to students (13-22 years) worldwide enrolled in an academic institution. Students compete in three Microsoft programs - Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. - Versions 2013 and 2016. Very few companies in Nigeria can boast of using the 2016 software, yet our children are already certified in it, which means we are dealing with current technology.
The national competition period is July to April every year. The curriculum is given to the schools and we have other resources like books, videos, practice tests, mock exams so that they will know what the exam looks like and build up their speed. The teachers then teach the students and get codes from us for the online exams in their schools. Schools submit their scores to ReadManna before the closing date – 30th April. Based on national performance, we set cut-off marks and then invite the students that meet those marks to compete in a national competition. In 2017, the national competition took place in Ilorin, Port-Harcourt, Abuja, and Lagos. We may have more centers this year depending on the States that compete. We do not want students traveling long distances to compete in the national competition. During the national competition, we invite judges, parents, teachers, press, and sponsors. After the competition, scores are correlated, and the winners of the 6 exams categories are declared. The 6 top winners will be eligible to represent Nigeria at the world championship. The ICT teacher of the student with the highest score overall accompanies the Nigerian team to the world championship as the technical consultant. The top three National winners in each exam category get cash prizes. In the world championship, in each exam category, the winner gets $7500 and the first runner up gets $3500 and the second runner up, $1,500. In Nigeria, ReadManna also gives another N750, 000 to any student who qualifies for any top 3 positions in the world championship and the student's IT teacher gets N250, 000.
ReadManna also conducts other computer competitions – the ReadManna under 13 National Computing Fundamentals Competition and the Adobe Certified Associate World Championship. We realized that schools were concentrating only on Word, Excel and PowerPoint programs and that will not give our students the solid foundation in ICT they need today. We then created a national competition on Computing Fundamentals for ages 8-13. This is aligned to the school curriculum, both national and international. About 600 students competed in 2017. This year, ReadManna also organized the Adobe Certified Associate World Championship in Nigeria and took a student to the world championship. The Adobe world championship is on Photoshop, Illustrator, and In-design. Students are encouraged to get certified in these Adobe programs and also send in their artworks for evaluation.
What would you say is the most critical thing needed to drive education in Nigeria?
We must encourage everybody to accept and adapt to changing times. What we have now is the transition from industrial age to information age. We have to realize that information is no longer restricted to books; it can come in any format. People saying that there are no jobs are wrong. We need to learn the new skills for the new jobs being created in this information age so that we can be employed and engaged. New jobs are being created every day. There's a book I recommend for everyone to read, “Who moved my cheese”. It is about change. One thing that pains me in this computer age is that someone who has B.Sc Computer Science says there's no job, and this is an environment where they should be thriving. You don't need a job, you need to use the tools you've been taught.
I am hoping parents would begin to take an interest in ICT training in their schools. This competition gives your child a solid foundation and the basic ICT knowledge they need to be functional in this digital age. If they decide to pursue IT careers, they already have an ICT solid foundation aligned to global standards. Any student that competes in our competitions has a good chance of getting “A” in computer studies in any local or international exam.
For more details, please call 08055003300, 08033047457
or visit 75b, Lafiaji way, Ikoyi - Lagos.