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Inclusive Education Leads to Future Opportunities

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Computer Lab for The Blind More Student (Image by: inABLE.org)

Did you know that people with disabilities (PWDs) face higher rates of multidimensional poverty, including poorer health, lower levels of employment and earnings, as well as higher poverty rates? These circumstances are worsened by the lack of or poor education. A 2018 study by the World Bank found that children with disabilities are much more likely to never enroll in school at all and only half of children with disabilities of primary school completion age can read and write. 

John Brown, a student at Kenyatta University and an alumnus and beneficiary of inABLE’s computer education program considers himself lucky to have acquired computer skills at an early age. He explains, “I can now easily learn and interact online better than most people and I am also in the process of developing my own website where I will be talking about disability issues.”  

“Every day, I am incredibly happy that despite the widely held belief that only sighted people can use technology, inABLE has opened opportunities to more blind and visually impaired youth making them employable with a 90% success rate” says Peter Okeyo, Programs Officer at inABLE. 

However, John believes that the existing accessibility limitations in higher institutions of learning restrict the potential and aspirations of PWDs.  

Brenda Kiema, Disability Inclusion Officer at Tangaza University agrees with John’s conclusion and points out that very few African universities are well prepared to accommodate people living with disabilities. She emphasizes that in Kenya, 70% of PWDs have been excluded in the higher learning setting in terms of infrastructure and online learning. 

Sylvia Mochabo, Founder, Andy Speaks 4 Special Needs Persons Africa is also working to change the inaccurate perception in most African cultures that children with neurodevelopment disabilities are somehow mentally unstable. When, in fact, they can thrive with the right support and equipment. She encourages families and caregivers to bring special needs children into the communities and advocate for their education with accommodations that address their specific learning needs. 

According to UNICEF, inclusive education is the most effective way to give all children a fair chance to go to school, learn and develop the skills they need to thrive. Inclusive education provides real learning opportunities to the groups that have been traditionally excluded. 

Also Read: Irene Mbari- Kirika- inABLE.org, Career and Impact 

In following the wisdom of Nelson Mandela, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” 

Note: As inABLE plans the virtual Inclusive Africa Conference 2020 in October, inABLE thanks the media for their work to advance inclusive education and accessibility in Africa.

Written by: Esther Njeri Mwangi, Public Relations Officer inABLE.org  

Visit: inABLE.org

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Afripreneur

How This EdTech CEO Is Helping Africans Access Premium Tech Skills Relevant For The Future Of Work

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Eyitayo Ogunmola is the CEO of Utiva, a leading tech education startup in sub-saharan Africa and a technology education entrepreneur with more than 9 years experience in Product management, international development And technology leadership. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, He talked about his entrepreneurship journey, the Utiva brand and how they are helping people transition into roles in the technology industry in Nigeria and Africa. Excerpts.

Alaba: Tell us about Utiva and the role you play?

Eyitayo: Well, Utiva is a one-stop-shop for everything technology education. What we do is help Africans learn premium technology skills and then create paths to helping people transition into roles in the technology industry. If you think about this inform of a mission, I’d say that ours is to help Africans participate in the digital economy and benefit from the value that
digitalization gives to us as a continent.
One of the ways to think about this is to think about the population of the African youths.

According to research, by 2030 Africa will have one of the largest populations of young people that are ready to work in the job market, about 600,000,000 of them. And what we do at Utiva is to lower the barrier to entry and learning for so many young Africans that want to acquire technical skills. And also help them access new jobs.

Within 2 years, we have developed learning programs in some very specific areas of digital skill training. From Product Management to Product design to Data Analytics to Artificial intelligence to Digital Marketing. Our focus is to make the learning programs so interesting and attractive for people to participate. That is pretty much what we do at Utiva.

Now talking about my own role, I am the Chief Executive Officer, so what I do is to lead the team, lead the practice, and to champion the organization’s policy the way the organization is structured. So I typically will report to the board, I am the person that pursues the investors, also the one cheer leading and helping the stakeholders to get attracted to the brand Utiva.

Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?

Eyitayo: Now the interesting thing about Utiva is that we bootstrapped from the very beginning. We didn’t raise a dime. I pretty much used my own personal savings to run Utiva from day one. And as a social enterprise, I will say that we have benefited so much from impact investing or social impact financing in the form of grants to subsidise our training.

So Utiva has been a bootstrapper from the beginning, we so much believe in bootstrapping to a point before we start using other people’s money to run the organization.

Alaba: What are the challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?

Eyitayo: Well in terms of competition, I will say that we pretty much do not always see ourselves as competitors in the education space, we love to see ourselves as complementors. But there are other amazing companies and organizations that are playing in our space. There are organizations that are niched and are focused on different areas of technology education training, so I may not be able to mention names here but I will say that there are great organizations that are focused on training in programs. There are organizations that do not do training, they just connect people to the job market, there are organizations that are focused on digital skills training, some are focused on providing internships to people that have been trained.

So what we do which is like the competitive advantage that we have is that we are a one-stop shop for everything technology skill training. From Data to Product to Design to Digital Marketing to Growth Hacking to Artificial Intelligence and this is a value proposition that makes our students get very attracted to Utiva. Because they trust us and the trust is pretty much built around the fact that we have built several digital schools and they know that yes we really know what we are doing.

In terms of the way we also overcome the competition, we built Utiva to be very affordable. We lower the barrier to entry for Africans and we do not believe that you need to break the bank to learn a technology skill and that is one of the areas of the competitive advantages that we have. Another one for us is the post-training values that we offer our students.

We have built 3 different models around our post training value. One is the virtual internship. What this means is that at the end of every training program, you have the opportunity to work on multiple projects in the form of virtual internship. The second one is access to job opportunities. Our students gain access to different job opportunities because we have a large network of employers that are hiring through us. And the third one which I consider to be an awesome value is the fact that we are lowering the barrier to entry for those that really need help, speaking of people with disability. We actually just launched a training program that gives 500 people with disability an opportunity to learn digital skills.

These are some of the many values that we offer that makes people want to be a part of our learning program.

Alaba: How does your organization measure it’s the impact?

Eyitayo: So, there are three major ways of measuring impact for us and we are quite very intentional about the way we measure impact. So think about it this way, we measure impact, first by measuring how we are helping you as a student close the knowledge gap. So from the beginning, we want to know what you know, then at the end of the learning program we want to know what you know. So we see the knowledge gap and how we have been able to close it.

The second way we are measuring impact is how you have been able to take the knowledge from the class to practice and we do that within the 3 months virtual internship, we look at how our students have been studying using multiple analytical strategy to evaluate how our students are working on multiple projects and how they are able to juggle these projects and most importantly how they are able to translate what they have learned from the class environment to the real work environment through that virtual internship.

The third one is what employers are saying about our students, that’s like ultimate value. We currently have a 65% transition rate into new jobs and beyond the transition rate, we also look at how employers are getting satisfied with the quality of talents that are passing through Utiva because it is not enough for you to transition, we also need to know how satisfied these employers are with our students.

So, these are the ways we are measuring impact. How you are transitioning to new jobs and the values that employers are getting from the quality of students that pass through our programs.

Alaba: What is the future for Utiva and what steps are you taking in achieving them?

Eyitayo: I am going to be very brief about the future for Utiva because for us at Utiva, we are still in the execution phase. Our focus today is to deliver quality training for our students. But the future of Utiva is to help other educators become successful. The education space is an amazing space to play in and one of the things that we are doing is that we are helping every other educator to become successful in the future.

Beyond being a company that offers quality training, and helping young Africans transition into new jobs, we also want to help other educators to become better so that we can scale the value for Africans, I mean we can’t do it all, how do we even train 600,000,000 young people alone? So we want to replicate ourselves in other educators. That is the future for us.

Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of the educational sector in Nigeria and Africa?

Eyitayo: Yes, yes! So let me explain a little bit about that. Our contribution is to replicate ourselves, so the way we think about this is that we want to be successful, we want to build successful models, we want to build a successful learning approach. We want to be successful and we want to help other educators to be successful. We want to help other educators to learn the right andragogy and the right pedagogy to become successful.

For us at Utiva, success is built around how much we are helping other educators in the educational sector to become successful. It is in view of this that we launched a mini project which is like a startup incubator for educators. And right now we have about 10 of them that we are coaching and mentoring and helping to access funding abroad just to scale success and that is the way we are thinking about that.

Alaba: How is the government policy supporting startups and entrepreneurs in Nigeria?

Eyitayo: I would say that there are two ways to think about this right, there are so many government policies out there that are structured around providing support to lots of entrepreneurs in Africa, so I will give you an instance, the creative industry loan. The creative industry loan was a CBN initiative that was built to support Nigerian startups. Let me give you another example, the Vice President launched multiple projects to attract investors and also to make the entrepreneurial ecosystem quite very attractive.

However, the policy is not the challenge, what the real challenge is the access. Because most of these policies that the government put in place are there and also the programmatic intervention that the government put in place are there. Where the problem lies is that most African or most Nigerian entrepreneurs do not have the capacity to access some of these opportunities. You know the CBN interest rate policy supports startups, supports entrepreneurs. They are there, but Nigerian entrepreneurs need to be supported in such a way that when these policies are enacted, the barriers to benefiting from these policies are lowered so that we can access them.

Also, the government needs to create an opportunity to talk to entrepreneurs. Beyond just creating policies here and there, the government needs t o talk to entrepreneurs every time. The more you talk to entrepreneurs, the more you are able to understand what works for them and create structures that can really support them.

Alaba: What advice would you give potential entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?

Eyitayo: The Advice I would give is to start. Start fast and learn fast. I mean you cannot over-prepare for entrepreneurship in Nigeria because it is a totally different ball game. But start and learn very fast. That is the advice I will give, and I would say that think more global, build a more global product. It’s ok to build products for a Nigerian market, but build a global product so that you can benefit from the global dynamics.

Alaba: How does it feel to be an African entrepreneur?

Eyitayo: I think it’s a mixed feeling. Sometimes you are excited because of the opportunity, because of the market, because there are problems and where there are problems there are opportunities
and that is exciting. Then another one is like as an African entrepreneur, you are fighting too many unnecessary battles. We can really build a successful or a super successful African entrepreneurship ecosystem or build a super successful business landscape for the African market if African entrepreneurs do not always have to fight unnecessary battles.

Like you fight battles with electricity, you fight battles with bad roads, you fight battles with bad employees, taxation. You are fighting multiple battles that the government is supposed to fight for you so that you can focus on your core which is building business.

Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?

Eyitayo: I travel a lot. Although COVID-19 has really taken that opportunity away from me, because travelling is my thing. Then I read a lot of books around internal navigation, around leadership. That’s one of the things I have been studying so much. Beyond just the motivational leadership books, I read some core books around internal navigation. So one of the areas of books that I have been exposing myself to is biography. I have been reading the biography of some super successful entrepreneurs and I will recommend that other entrepreneurs also start to study biographies of other super successful entrepreneurs. Thank you!

Also Read Pineapple TV: Delivering Positive Impact And Instilling African Culture – Carl Raccah

P R O F I L E

Eyitayo Ogunmola is a Technology Education Entrepreneur with more than 9 years experience in Product management, international development and technology leadership. He has lived and worked in 4 countries and also led at the VP level of a consulting company.

Eyitayo founded Utiva, a leading technology Education company in Sub-Saharan Africa that helps Africans learn tech skills relevant for the future of work. Prior to Utiva, He worked in the International development sector, working on USAID funded tech projects. And also founded PM Hub, a boutique for product development.

He holds a Masters degree in business strategy, leadership and change from Heriot-Watt University. He is a MIT Solve Entrepreneur, 2020 Facebook Accelerator Leader, Halcyon Incubator Fellow, Global Good Funds Fellow; Chevening Scholar, Atlas Corps Fellow, 2019 Unleash Talent.

In 2019, Eyitayo was nominated for Future Awards Africa 2019 under the Education category and most recently is his nomination for the Tech Times Africa Awards under the CEO category.

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WGI and GE aim to bring literacy to millions through launch of new education platform

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WGI CEO Chance Wilson and GE seek to expand literacy in many underserved communities around the world.

Lyra will initially teach users how to read and write in English, and will be offered for free to people in need of literacy skills the most; The app was co-developed by WGI and GE, as part of their ongoing partnership; 20-year-old WGI CEO Chance Wilson and GE seek to expand literacy in many underserved communities around the world

The WGI Worldwide Company and GE today announced the launch of Lyra, a new app-based education platform that uses innovative advanced speech recognition and touch screen analysis to teach reading and writing. It was co-developed by WGI and GE.

The app represents the start of WGI’s transition to a digital provider of literacy learning and makes learning literacy skills more accessible for both adults and children. The app’s 26 modules are based on the evidence-based synthetic phonics approach to literacy and build on the foundation of WGI’s six years of in-person education.

“We realized that while there will never be enough teachers, there are enough mobile devices, and they are already in the hands of people who can benefit from literacy training, said Chance Wilson, WGI Chairman, CEO and Founder. “We worked quickly to bring on new teachers and set up programs in new communities, we wanted to do more given the urgent need.”

Wilson, who set up WGI six years ago as a fourteen-year-old middle school student, is passionate about bringing literacy to as many people as possible. At first, he set up in-person classes in his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Once established there, he set about developing plans for national and global impact, which eventually saw a partnership with GE blossom through GE’s global network of volunteers and software developers. Now, Wilson and GE are aligned that moving into the digital world could not be more important.

Nabil Habayeb, President & CEO of GE Global, is championing the partnership and says, “Looking at the impact this app has the potential to make around the world, GE is fully supportive of this effort. With so many people isolated and in need of developing new skills, Lyra can help meet a critical demand in underserved communities that have little or no access to literacy resources – a situation made even more dire in the wake of COVID-19.”

Globally, more than 700 million people cannot read or write. This limits their ability to gain employment, improve their career prospects, or pursue higher education. It also can have a far-reaching impact on mental health. Lyra now offers a solution for all of them.

The Lyra app features an engaging space-themed interface and user experience. The theme reflects the name of the app – Lyra, which is the brightest constellation in the night sky. The app teaches letters and words by presenting them on the screen, pronouncing them, and then inviting users to say the letters and words out loud. Powerful voice recognition technology then analyzes the response. The app also uses the phone’s touch screen to prompt learners to write the letters or words they are studying, then analyzes the results to tell them whether or not the writing is correct.

Also Read: Zindi recruitment platform set to connect organisations with Africa’s data science talent

WGI and GE are poised to continue their partnership by working on developing new versions of the app to provide literacy lessons in other languages. Currently, the app provides more than two years’ worth of English language literacy lessons and is designed for those who speak English, whether as a first language or as a foreign language but can’t read or write it. It is available for download now on the Apple and Android app stores as Lyra by WGI.

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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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