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Dr. Varun Gupta: Enabling Innovators To Revolutionize Education

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Dr. Varun Gupta is an Educationist and the Education Advisor to the State of African Diaspora. Apart from being Peace Ambassador for UN SUSTAINABLE GOALS, he is the Executive Director at VQENA (an NGO working on the 4th principle of the UNITED NATIONS – Quality Education). Being an Educator and the Vice president OSG, Dr. Varun offers Scholarships with a belief in educating everyone everywhere. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, he shares more insight on his impacts in the educational ecosystem in Africa. Excerpts.

Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself?

Dr. Varun: I am the Education Advisor to the State of African Diaspora, well known for being humble, dedicated, and God-fearing. Committed to encouraging the global movement that inspires to turn consciousness into action at the Earth Charter Center for Education for Sustainable Development is a few of my objectives. A belief to treat all living beings with respect and consideration prevail to promote the transition to sustainable ways of living is what I preach.

Apart from being Indian Peace Ambassador for United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, I serve on the board of one dozen global firms in the academic sector and have collaborated for years with many international educational organizations to develop specialized programs being run for the uplifting of the African people. I have marked milestones with the pedestals of rich academic and professional experience and a young budding intellectual scholar in the education service industry. Also, Swadeshi’s business and products are what I support falling in nexus with the thought process of our Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji.

Alaba: What attracted you to Africa and her educational system? 

Dr. Varun: Africa! Feels like home and I have loved the way Africa has always hosted me. The cost of living in Africa is considerably lower than developed nations. The remuneration packages are quite attractive. For a business person like me as an investor, there is a huge scope of growth as many of the African countries are rich in natural resources.

On the other hand, being an educationist, the good news on education in Africa is that out-of-school numbers have fallen dramatically over the past decade.  The elimination of school fees, increased investment in school infrastructure, and increased teacher recruitment have all contributed to the change. I want to flow with the change and become a part of development is what I would like to add. 

Alaba: In your role as an Education Advisor to the State of African Diaspora, what are your major achievements since your appointment? 

Dr. Varun: As a member and education advisor of the African Diaspora I, ministers and MP together as a part of the constitution work on initiatives of the Parliament in sectors of activities ranging from agriculture, education, healthcare, cultural and human rights, economy and social issues, etc believe towards Africa’s empowerment especially with respect to education, skill development and employment. 

While working on a project named “Cyber future academy” in Africa, I have promoted education through various programmes in the most remote and marginalized areas of Africa. We ensure and strongly believe that the benefits of the Right to Education reach the most deprived children.  

Also, we focus on the most important aspect to boost the spread of education is to spread awareness amongst the parents and the communities and every child needs education.

I also feel proud to announce the latest update (Groundbreaking initiative) – launch of New Diaspora ID on African Liberation Day by the State of the African Diaspora (SOAD) and the Economic Community of the 6th Region (ECO-6). This new ID is to create a new citizenship and common unity for the Afro-descendant members of the African Diaspora. 

With me, the real aim of education is to enable the students to learn HOW TO THINK and not just WHAT TO THINK. They are trained to focus not on the problem but on the solution.

Success of a country depends upon the success of its people and People can succeed only if they are able to get the exposure required to become competitive.

Alaba: How are you enabling innovators to revolutionize education in Africa?

Dr. Varun: First small step already taken includes changing the definition of classroom based training to online sessions and webinars. An approach towards technological innovations (traditional to smart learning environment) using digitalization technology is the path adopted. Here teachers can now engage their students in a more personalized, individual manner rather than the traditional, one-size-fits-all approach.

And to promote education and help the African youth take concrete steps towards their dreams, I, in the capacity of Vice President- On Sky Global is extremely happy to announce 100% Scholarship Scheme for 200 Students, no fee will be charged except for the registration fee and they will be given support & ample guidance to complete our courses and enhance their CV with international qualification. I also believe and am contributing to make Education should be the top development agenda.

Alaba: Mention some of your projects in Africa and its impacts?

Dr. Varun: In May 2014, I volunteered to go to Kigali, Rwanda (East Africa) leaving USA (California) to help a new University and agreed to hold the post as Director and later a year, promoted as Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration and Finance), as the principal administrative officer of the University. When I was in Africa, I continued to manage the foundation using ICT and communicating to all stakeholders online.

I served as an independent consultant and program content developer (and mostly pro bono) and organized capacity building training programs to governments and private organizations in the area of (a) education, skills training (b) public administration (c) good governance, and (d) leadership. I traveled to many countries to provide various workshops and seminars.

Dr Varun Gupta

Have also developed the School of Postgraduate Studies Vision and Mission (Curriculum Statements, Prospectus and 2 year Strategic plan, 2014 for an university. I conducted training on “Developing Institutional Corporate and Strategic Work Plans”, Rwanda, Uganda & Nigeria, 2015-2016. Also established a presence and promoted programs under scholarship schemes to many nations in the East, West, Central and Southern African region.

I would also like to mention that I had participated and presented an ICT strategic plan in five days Quality Improvement Program of Entrepreneurship Development sponsored by the Ministry of Higher Education in  Kigali, 20th – 24th July 2015. (Rwanda – ICT Plan).

Alaba:
The current global crisis is changing the face of education especially in Africa. What adaptive solution will you offer?

Dr. Varun: The world of education is threatened and is at a juncture. One path leads back to where things were before the COVID-19 crisis, a system that, by and large, has been in place for the last 200 years. The other path concentrates on much more investment in education but also on student wellness while doing whatever can be done to ensure that learning is happening not just through test scores and output but by being more closely connected to the psychological and emotional realities of learners.

Let us aim for the path of wisdom. As the ancient proverb says: the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now. It’s not too late.

Alaba: What is the future of education in Africa post Covid-19?

Dr. Varun: It is clear that technological innovations such as content management systems (CMS), learning management systems (LMS), and internet use have become a part of the DNA of higher education in Africa. These innovations, like COVID-19, have come to alter teaching and learning pedagogies.

Alaba: What advice would you give African leaders on the importance of education to Africa’s development?

Dr. Varun: The future of education must seek to amplify humanity’s greatest evolutionary advantage: its ability to collaborate flexibly in very large numbers across time and place. Both biology and history teach us that we cannot solve problems and flourish alone and in isolation. Enhancing social cohesion both at the local and global levels must become a core objective of education particularly if, as seems likely, internationalism and global collaboration end up as casualties of the current crisis.

Our education future must include active steps to bring the world together across all forms of the divide—political, cultural, social, and economic. This will require us to once again put ethics and values at the core of the education enterprise.

Also Read: Investing in Africa: Interview with Amb. Prof. Nabhit Kapur, Founder Global Chamber of Business Leaders

Alaba: What is your advice to African youths and entrepreneurs?   

Dr. Varun: A famous proverb quotes – “if the cow gives milk as a healthy food, why ask whether she is black or white”. Our skills should become our identity. We should encourage the youth to keep on learning new skills and implementing the same in their career because we will be known for our skills; the value we will be able to derive to the nation. It will not be about who we are; but it will be then what we are; I think in Africa there are a lot of young entrepreneurs who have great ideas but never get noticed or past the small-scale level.

I think one reason is that they poorly position themselves and the organization. They don’t know how to tell their story. They don’t know how to create their brand. And I think that is also very important.

Dr Varun Gupta

Alaba: Tell us about your favorite destinations in Africa? Why?

Dr. Varun: Oh Yes! With no doubt it’s Rwanda – The Land of Thousand Hills where I lived and spent 3 years. Many beautiful memories associated, I consider it as my second home. I love this country and its people to the core.  After traveling to more than 20 countries in Africa, I find this is the safest country to live and quite easy to do business. The country is very stable with good governance (inspired and touched by the good governance of the His Excellency President Paul Kagame who inherited Rwanda that had been torn apart by Genocide.

Under his leadership, the country is now very stable, prosperous, unified and in large part, reconciled. Social services, such as education, healthcare, housing and livestock are provided to the needy, with no distinction of ethnicity or region of origin. More power to the country and its people. 

There are infinite reasons to love Rwanda. I have plans to spend my retirement in presigitious Rwanda and look forward to visiting them soon. 

Dr. Varun Gupta

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Education

STEM education in Africa: Essential to the continent’s development

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Matthew Odu

STEM education which primarily revolves around ‘Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics’ has become highly sought after by learners all across the world and is crucial in encouraging a nation’s development.

Recent reports suggest that over the next 5 years, STEM jobs will grow by 13% – particularly in the areas of Computing, Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing. This shift in the global labour market should be a central focus of African leaders as the United Nation’s (UN) projections show that by 2035, the working population of the continent will surpass that of the rest of the world.

I join the call led by Stefania Giannini, assistant director-general for education at UNESCO – who has asked governments to put education investment at the centre of their post pandemic recovery. The past 12 months have witnessed the most severe disruption to global education systems in history, which during the peak of the crisis – led to more than 1.6 billion learners out of school. In the global south, school closures are likely to erase decades of progress made by educators.

As education expenditure continues to increase in the west and in the far east, the opposite is true in Africa. Millions of our children are gifted in science, math and physics yet the vast majority are not being given a fair chance to compete in this fast-evolving world. The supply of quality education is lagging behind.

A new report released earlier this week by The Education Finance Watch, jointly commissioned by the World Bank and UNESCO, revealed that two-thirds of low- and lower-middle-income countries have cut their public education budgets since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In comparison the UK’s Department for Education recently announced a new £700M plan to help young people in England catch up on lost learning due to the pandemic and in 2020, public spending on education in China reached 3,633.7 billion yuan.

“The learning poverty crisis that existed before COVID-19 is becoming even more severe, and we are also concerned about how unequal the impact is,” Mamta Murthi, World Bank vice president for human development, said in a statement.

What is the African response?

Recently many of us have been horrified at the images circulating on social media showing dilapidated school buildings in Nigeria, with no infrastructure being led by teachers who haven’t received salaries in months. This is totally unacceptable and should not be tolerated by the educators on the continent.

During a recent HESED webinar themed ‘Next generation School Leadership’ we engaged with teachers in Nigeria who expressed a willingness to push their students more in the classroom but felt the situation impossible without adequate training, modern infrastructure and an improved curriculum.

Fortunately, Covid-19 has not just brought about the need for change, it also points a way forward and for parents, online learning is one of the bright spots. It is safe to say that the success of online STEM education has made a clear case for adopting a hybrid model.

HESED is an initiative and my own personal contribution to providing quality education to Nigerians, as a borderless structure with an unrestricted curriculum. The e-learning platform compliments the current school system by using a national curriculum with the option of studying an international syllabus.

Quality STEM Education is the new normal.

 

By: Matthew Odu, A Fellow of Institute of Chartered Accountant of Nigeria

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Education

The Education System is Broken. Covid-19 may be the cure (Pt. 1)

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Studying From Home (SFH) due to Covid may transform the entire education system (image: 123RF.com)

Institutional procrastination has kept the education sector globally from making long overdue changes to keep up with the ways of our evolving world. However, just like the first minor heart attach that doesn’t kill a person but forces them to finally take their cholesterol level and exercise seriously, Covid-19 might just be the disrupting force to permanently reshape formal education as we know it.

I believe there will be two distinct changes to the system, one that is bound to happen, and one that needs to happen.

In this first article of my two part series on education reform, I’ll discuss the first big change, and the one that we need to get started on right away: a complete revision of the educational curricula writ large.

Consider my daughter Maya. She is 13 years old and in 7th grade, and has 5 more years of school left. Let’s assume that she goes to a 4 year undergrad (ed:she better!) and then maybe takes a gap year before starting her first job. I know from my own experience, that most of us are pretty useless in our first 2–3 years in the workforce. At that time we are just learning the ropes, building the habits of showing up, navigating office politics and developing some sort of competence in our chosen career path. So, even excluding a master’s degree, etc. we’re talking about 12–15 years before she is really contributing to society.

For just a moment, now look back 15 years ago. In 2006: the very first iPhone had not been released. Netflix was still mailing out DVD’s in red envelopes. In that year. Twitter was founded and Facebook was still only for students on college campuses. The EV-1 electric cars had just been destroyed, and the space shuttle Columbia had just blown up upon re-entry. The world was a very different place 15 years ago, and the pace of innovation is still accelerating. That means that look forward to 15 years from now, will be like going 25 years back.

The cost of solar energy has dropped by 97% in the last 25 years. Between abundant solar, and massive projects in geothermal, our kids are going to live in a world biased towards renewable resources for the first time ever. Autonomous cars and trucks will wipe out a huge portion of driving careers, which are currently the no.1 job category 29 of the 50 States in the USA. Even software engineering is significantly changing as the world moves from bottom-of-the-stack system coding, to no-code applications through assembly of existing open-source modules and libraries.

Today’s schools are preparing our kids for a world which will not exist by the time they get there.

Forrester and Mckinsey estimate that almost 40 million clerical and location based jobs will be wiped out in the USA by 2030 due to automation. That is 25% of the total workforce. The Bureau of Labor statistics estimates that 43% of the total workforce in the USA in 2020 are what we now call “gig workers”, self-employed doing short-term task based jobs (like driving an Uber, tutoring online or freelancing).

Of course, new jobs will be created, just as today there are over eight hundred thousand technology jobs in Silicon Valley which did not exist before the digital revolution. However, these new jobs will be in new areas that we can’t currently foresee. As a (depressing) example, there are over 15,000 content moderators whose job it is to just review potentially awful & inappropriate posts on Facebook everyday, a dystopian career choice that was unimaginable 25 years ago.

What is certain though, is that this next generation of today’s students have zero chance of holding a single “cradle to grave” career. They will inevitably exist in a world of uncertainty and change.

Resilience, adaptability, and lifelong learning are the three most important traits we need to be teaching them.

There is little point in teaching “facts”, in a post-Google world. We have externalized knowledge such that any fact, or skill can instantly be learned by watching a few YouTube videos, or reading a collection of articles on Google. What needs to be taught are: curiosity, a passion for learning, and a dedication to cognitive reflection – the practice of thinking beyond an intuitive answer/media message, and considering a potentially less comfortable/intuitive correct answer.

Homeschooling interest peaked with Covid-19 (source: Google Trends)

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Google searches for the term “homeschooling” shot up 400% compared to the previous 5 years. Inquiries to the National Homeschool Association jumped from 5 calls a day before Covid, to 3,400 per day in August. My own family formed a “microschool” taking the choices of teachers and curriculum into our own hands. While health and safety are undoubtedly the primary motivation for this trend, the genie is out of the bottle. Covid has shown us that the same Internet platforms that connect us with a global talent pool of employees, can also connect us with a global pool of amazing educators. My daughter’s Spanish teacher is in Puebla, Mexico. She’s taking a music technology course from the University of Adelaide. My son’s physics teacher is a NASA engineer working on the Mars rover. Thanks to Covid, “School” has transformed from a place where they go, to a thing that they do.

Given the slow bureaucratic nature of most ministries of education, making sweeping changes to the national curricula in “traditional schools” is going to be a 5 to 10 year process. If we are to adapt our systems of learning in time to not waste a generation of students with the wrong lessons, then these changes need to start now.

In part 2 of this series, I’ll discuss the second major coming change: the explosion of the education bundle.

Author: Jay Shapiro, Co-founder & CEO of Usiku Games

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Africa speaks

2020: A year to remember

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Matthew Odu MA Taxation, FCA

The coronavirus pandemic has infected over 70 million people, has caused over 1.6 million deaths and has subsequently led to the suffering and heartache for billions of people the world over.

From an economic perspective, the once in a century event created a slump not seen since the second world war. The International Monetary Fund estimates the global covid-19 cost at $28trn in 2020 lost output.

The pandemic suffering has also been skewed by race. According to The Economist a 40-year-old Hispanic-American is 12 times more likely to die from covid-19 than a white American of the same age. In Britain, an official inquiry found that racism and discrimination suffered by the country’s Black, Asian and minority ethnic people has contributed to the high death rates from covid-19 in those communities.

A topic that is in need of more attention is the injustice felt by students caused by the covid-19 fallout. The past 12 months have witnessed the most severe disruption to global education systems in history, which during the peak of the crisis – led to more than 1.6 billion learners out of school. The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that the pandemic is threatening a loss of learning that may stretch beyond one generation of students. In the global south, school closures are likely to erase decades of progress made by educators.

In Africa, although ed-tech surged during the summer, it wasn’t enough to overturn archaic disparities and make-believe generation next infrastructure. Data suggests that a combined total of just 19 million regular users had access to online education platforms, compared to the at least 450 million children aged 14 or younger that live on the continent.

Fortunately, Covid-19 has not just brought about the need for change, it also points a way forward. Just last week world leaders in education met virtually to help set in motion far-reaching changes to education in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.

RewirEdX focused on three main issues in the education sector; youth and future skills, education financing and innovation in education. Leaders driving the change at the event included former UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, now the UN’s Special Envoy for Global Education and Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia & Chair, Global Partnership for Education.

Chief amongst the discussion was the vital importance of connectivity in underpinning effective distance learning and so making education accessible to all.

Giving every single African child access to quality education is one of the visions for HESED. A lack of access to quality education and the sluggishness in adopting new methods of learning has immediate and long-term effects that countries on the continent cannot permit to spiral out of control.

Even before Coronavirus struck, education was in crisis but now we have an opportunity to turn things around.

HESED is an initiative and my own personal contribution to providing quality education to Nigerians, as a borderless structure with an unrestricted curriculum. The e-learning platform compliments the current school system by using a national curriculum with the option of studying an international syllabus.
It’s time to rethink education. Let’s give our children a head start in 2021.

By: Matthew Odu MA Taxation, FCA

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