Zimbabwean AI expert and entrepreneur William Sachiti invents open-sourced technology to improve access to education in Africa
William Sachit taking a class under a tree(Source: Academy of Robotics)
LONDON, United Kingdom, January 31, 2020- Zimbabwean AI expert William Sachiti, CEO of UK-based start-up Academy of Robotics has today published an open-source technology known as ‘Trees of Knowledge‘ to improve access to education through smartphones in Africa. This free-to-develop technology enables a tree or rural landmark to broadcast a wifi connection providing access to a pre-loaded package of educational content. The wifi connection and content comes from a micro-computer moulded into the landmark to protect it from theft or damage.
A community-driven, secure and cost-free solution
Anyone within a roughly 100m radius can then access the content on any mobile device free of charge. Users can also charge their phone by plugging it into the accompanying solar-powered battery charging station. The micro-computers will run on the power equivalent of a small rechargeable battery and can run for years without maintenance. All the user needs is a wifi-enabled device such as a phone, tablet, laptop or computer. There is no need for the phone to be connected to a carrier or any network provider, removing the issue of expensive data charges.
The technology uses a basic computer like the Raspberry Pi computers which have been used in refugee camps in Lebanon by UNICEF as part of its Raspberry Pi for Learning initiative.
A global crisis in education
Globally there are 258 million children out of school and UNESCO‘s new report Education Progress highlights that the problem is particularly acute in Sub-Saharan Africa where the population of primary-school aged children has doubled since 1990 and 1 in 5 children of primary school age are out of school. However, this is also a region witnessing rapid growth in smartphone adoption. Already more than 23% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to a smartphone – a number which the GSMA estimates will rise to 39% in the next five years.
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AI expert and serial entrepreneur, William Sachiti, who was educated in Zimbabwe before moving to the UK where he started his first technology company at 19 years old highlights the challenges:
“One of the challenges in providing education through smartphones is that, while many people have access to a basic smartphone of some description, in many areas 3G coverage is still patchy. The data costs are high for most people and in rural areas keeping the phones charged is a problem when there is limited or no electricity. Trees of Knowledge aims to address all these challenges.”
“Every day millions of children walk for hours to get to school in the hope – often a vain hope – that they will find a teacher present at their school. In other cases, children are unable to attend school because they need to take care of the family’s cattle or support their families in other ways.
There is an urgent need to improve access to education for these children. For many children their classes are taught gathered under the shade of a large tree, so ‘Trees of Knowledge’ seemed a natural technical extension of this existing system.”
Last week, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay noted, “Rethinking tomorrow’s education must be done collectively,”
Sachiti believes that Africa’s burgeoning tech ecosystem can play a vital role in this collective effort commenting:
“While many programmes already exist to fix this problem, it is still not enough. With the growth of the developer community in Africa, I believe we have the opportunity to simply release the technology and let local communities build it themselves. If this technology reaches one or two more children, then I feel it would be a success.”
The pre-loaded educational content is likely to be largely video-based and would be free to access by anyone at any time. Whilst the system can work with existing educational content packages, ultimately Sachiti hopes that content can also come from local educators.
Further information and instructions for building Trees of Knowledge are available here
Kevin Hart Visits Masibambane College in Orange Farm
Kevin Hart, comedian and Hollywood box office powerhouse, visited Masibambane College in Orange Farm as a guest of Education Africa. He was accompanied by HE Dr. Reuben E. Brigety II, Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of South Africa, and Lord Matt Scheckner, Chairman of Advertising Week and President of Education Africa Inc. They undertook an interactive tour of the school before Kevin Hart took to the stage to engage in conversation with some 2 000 school learners.
Social cohesion is a cornerstone of Education Africa, a Johannesburg-based NPO that was established in 1992 and prides itself on delivering a diverse portfolio of educational projects to disadvantaged South African communities for more than 3 decades. Education Africa’s motto is Educate • Equip • Empower and the organisation is committed to Make real change Happen. Masibambane College is one of Education Africa’s flagship projects.
James Urdang, CEO & Founder of Education Africa said, “When we heard that Kevin Hart was coming to our school, we wanted to share the experience with other schools in the Orange Farm community, as well as St John’s College with whom we partner in ensuring the maintenance of high academic standards at Masibambane College.”
The learners who braved the wet weather and participated in this social cohesion event represented the following schools: Masibambane College; St John’s College; Highlands North High School; Leshata Secondary School, Mphethi Mahlatsi High School; Jabulile Secondary School and Aha-Thuto Secondary School. They were not aware that Mr Hart would be addressing them.
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“You can imagine their surprise when we announced that Kevin Hart was our special guest,” said Urdang. “The level of excitement was off the charts!”
Kevin Hart shared the stage with 5 of the high school learners, answered their questions, and offered some heartfelt words of motivation to the enthusiastic audience. He expressed how moved he was by the people he had met at the school and told the learners that, “Knowing that you guys are part of the future; that you guys will be a part of the change; that you guys are responsible for breaking new ground is what I’m most excited about. I hope you guys truly understand how bright your future is. I am so inspired by everyone that I have met today. Dream big, love strong and take advantage of your now.”
He added that some people struggle at times with being themselves. “But things become easier once you find the happiness in you, and then everything else will fall into place. Through comedy, I found happiness in telling my story, living my story and putting that story on display for everybody to see. You must always be true to yourself. I love to put people in an environment where we can all laugh together.”
Hart also shared some advice on the important aspect of mindset. “You can choose to focus on the bad and let the bad weigh you down, or you can find new reasons to live and smile. Embrace the idea of a dream, because that’s what keeps you going. When you don’t have a dream, that’s when life gets stagnant. He also encouraged the learners to embrace the idea of work. “Always give 100% – sometimes when you give 100% you get 1 000% in return; stay grounded; life is hard but know that the sun always comes out at the end of a storm.”
And finally, he urged learners to take advantage of their education. “I challenge you guys to take advantage of your now; I challenge you to think about your future. Be a future leader; be a ground-breaker; be a changer – that’s what you’re supposed to do because you are the next generation. You are the future of South Africa. If you want change, then make change.”
Also speaking at the event, Ambassador Brigety offered this piece of advice to the students: “Your passport to your destiny and your future starts here. I hope and pray that you take advantage of every last second of your education. Because South Africa and the world needs you, and we cannot wait to see what you are going to do with your lives.”
At the closing of the event, James Urdang thanked Mr. Hart for visiting Masibambane College and interacting with the Grade 1 learners. He also thanked Kevin Hart for meeting with Education Africa’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) team and their ECD students from the Orange Farm community.
Urdang presented Kevin Hart with a gift from Education Africa – a framed plate of the late Walter Sisulu who was a great friend and supporter of Education Africa, and on whose recommendation Masibambane College was built in Orange Farm.
Kevin Hart is in South Africa for the World Premiere of his Amazon film Die Hart the Movie along with making stops in Cape Town and Johannesburg on his Reality Check world tour. Hart along with Thai Randolph (CEO of Heartbeat, Hart’s global media company) were keynote speakers at Advertising Week Africa. Hartbeat partnered with Advertising Week to bring the inaugural edition of Advertising Week Africa to Johannesburg. Advertising Week is the world’s largest annual gathering of marketing, media, and technology leaders. Its long-anticipated debut in Africa took place from 15-18 February 2023.
The Viroscape Series: Use of Technology in education during Covid-19
By Dr Masha, Dr Eze, Dr Lamont-Mbawuli
According to an article written by Bonilla-Molina, the concept of “Global Pedagogical Blackout” refers to the conversion between the Third and Fourth Industrial Revolution, for a progressive educational reality.
It is important for one to consider the complex interaction of “viral behaviors” in all spheres of life. A publication in Education Philosophy and Theory, defines the concept of “viral modernity”, as an example of “bio-informationalism”, which applies to “viral technologies, codes and ecosystems in information systems, publication, education and emerging knowledge”. There is a necessity for flexible education (teaching and learning anywhere, anytime) that promotes a more just, accessible, autonomous, and creative system.
To develop educators, one needs to employ the use of digital technologies in classrooms which is still far from generating systemic change, rather promoting “islands of innovation”, based on the work of excellent teachers who carry out innovation in their teaching practices using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) without mediating a formal process of lifelong learning. Confounding factors that can affect the use of ICT in education are the following: lack of trust within the educational centre, the role of the ICT coordinator and the management team, as well as the existence of networks for access to new information and knowledge sharing among teachers, have greater positive effect on the use of ICTs compared to traditional lifelong learning activities .Teacher training must go beyond the development of basic digital skills but rather to seek to strategize an integrative the interpretative and creative potential of ICT into their training actions.
One of the important factors needed to build good nations is education, as it is considered a backbone of most countries (Raheem & Khan, 2020). As the essence of education is to empower the lives of students, with a prerequisite of ensuring their health and well-being (Yong, 2020), Higher Education Institutes (HEI’s) are forced to reconsider what part of their educational delivery will be offered in person and what part will be offered on-line (Dennis, 2020).
Against the backdrop of uncertainty about the trajectory of the pandemic and therefore the length of the lockdown (Bawa, 2020), HEIs in South Africa have committed themselves to completing the 2020 academic year and one of the three possible scenarios in the uncertain terrain presented by the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic (Dell, 2020) is the use of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) in teaching and learning (Behari-leak & Ganas, 2020; Demuyakor, 2020; Mhlanga & Moloi, 2020), a platform on which lecturers’ and students’ interactions of all kinds are strictly on-line.
As a result of the massification of the higher education system in South Africa, HEIs now see that participation of students who are diverse in terms of age, gender, social background, schooling background and expectations (Crisp, Palmer, Turnbull, Nettelbeck, Ward, LeCouteur, Sarria, Strelan & Schneider, 2009) include first year students (Tinto, 1988; Brewer, 2013; Brinkworth, McCann, Matthews & Nordstrom, 2009).
These are mainly international students (Chysikos, Ahmed & Ward, 2017), indigenous students from isolated locations (Abdullah & Elia, 2009), students from rural backgrounds (Maila & Ross, 2018; Pillay, 2010), students from disadvantaged backgrounds (Hobden & Hobden, 2015), students who are first-generation students (FGS) in HEIs (Bayaga & Lekena, 2018; Heymann & Carolissen, 2011) and first time entering (FTEN) university students. FTEN undergraduate students refer to all students who are entering university for the first time and enrolled in formal undergraduate academic programmes (DHET, 2018). Most students from HEIs in South Africa are from either rural areas, farms, or townships.
Artificial Intelligence/Technology Assistance in Education
The VLE platform is now widely accepted as a system that supports learning within the HEI realm (Dunn, 2003). It comes with facilities that allow lecturers to download notes in different formats and to receive feedback from students (Adu et al., 2020). There are several other advantages as far as the use of VLEs is concerned as revealed by several authors (e.g., Erasmus, Loedolff, Mda, & Nel, 2019; Montazer, 2014; Najafi, 2014; Negash & Vilkas, 2017; Warnich, Carrell, Elbert, & Hatfield, 2018). The common advantages of VLE include three elements; namely convenience for individual paperwork, automatic traditionalism and conformity. Accordingly, learning via the VLE platform is imperceptibly becoming a learning strategy in the teaching and learning realm, as such it is utilised by HEIs in many developed economies (Negash & Vilkas, 2017).
As part of the VLE platform, HEIs have seen the use and application of information and communication technologies to improve teaching and learning processes. Seen as a unifying phrase accustomed to explaining the areas associated with the internet, web-based instruction and technologies directions (Lorrain, 2017), VLEs enable numerous students in HEIs to study synchronously; thus HEIs have grown to enjoy its popularity since this method improves students’ academic achievement (Khalkhali, Shakibayi & Andosh, 2015).
However, since most students in South African HEIs come from majorly rural and peri-urban areas that are geographically spread across the nine Provinces, the VLE platform has resulted in challenges (experienced by both lecturers and students) such as lack of on-line learning environment, accessibility to data/Wi-Fi/internet and their usage, lack of connectivity, personality traits and attitude towards the use of smartphones, laptops and iPads. HEIs draw most of their students from rural areas of the Eastern Cape Province, with some coming from low quality primary and secondary schooling. Having not settled into their first year on campus when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, most students were immensely under-prepared to undertake instructions using the VLE platform.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) development is entrenched in the idea of distance education and openness in education. It has the potential of 24 hours access to cost-effective information, which attracts many learners across the globe. This type of learning can be useful for those learners who pursue university degrees whilst working. MOOCs are different from traditional university online modules in that participation is not limited, it is free, and it has a high scale production of modules for a high number of participants.
Other advantages of MOOCs include the reality that it has the potential of expansion, hence, it provides an avenue for income generation, it also provides a wide range of students’ access to the online education programme at low cost (Jung Lee, 2018; Phan et al., 2016; Zhou, 2016), it is flexible and accommodates some short courses apart from online degree qualifications, lastly it offers high accessibility and greater autonomy in the learning process (Shah, 2018a).
MOOCs flexibility includes participation without necessary entry or prerequisite qualification. This does not mean that it is meant for novice. According to Li and Powell (2013), MOOC is not an extension of the online teaching and learning approach but offers an opportunity for the recipients to think outside the box on different modules that include fundamentals of open education. Language and information communication and technologies (ICT) skills are also requirements for MOOCs. As submitted by Lee et al. (2016), it is behavioural to engage in terms of completing a task, having feelings toward a task, and intellectual or mental efforts. Ben-Eliyahu et al. (2018) and Oga-Baldwin et al. (2017) shared similar conceptualization, that involvement is about contribution in learning activities, which has three important elements that include behavioural engagement, emotional engagement, and intellectual engagement. Hsieh (2014) report that there are three types of learner behaviours which exhibit signs of engagement namely: cognitive effort, active participation, and interactions with instructors.
Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment (MOODLE)
Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment (MOODLE) is a free web application that promotes effective online learning sites. It can be in the form of a course management system (Course Management System – CMS) through the Internet, also known as a Learning Management System (LMS) or a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). One of its main advantages is that it allows any user with knowledge of programming to adapt and modify it according to their needs because it is open source. MOODLE can be installed at no cost at all and there is no cost for upgrading. Making any update is not by force, neither can one be forced to buy tools that they do not want. The teacher is expected to manage the platform per their needs (Adu et al., 2020).
In conclusion, the use of artificial intelligence/technologies in education already has a strong and affirmative influence on higher education delivery as educational resources (all human, material, non-material audio-visual, school environment and community) from around the world have become more freely accessible and more interactive medium for learning are employed. COVID 19 has perpetuated the use of artificial intelligence/technology in education in three major ways.
Firstly, a new educational and classroom tools that enable new techniques of offering the course; secondly, a change in pedagogy in teaching and learning and thirdly new educational systems to enrich and enhance the conventional teaching pattern. Examples of these new educational and classroom tools are Google Apps, Basecamp, Slack, Trello, Red Pen, BeeCanvas, Yammer and Wrike. These tools facilitate interactions between instructors and students to share documents online. Electronic readers are portable devices for reading digital books and periodicals, such as the Amazon Kindle, Apple ipad, Barnes & Noble Nook, Bookeen Cybook Opus, the Kobo Reader, Sony Reader, the Samsung Galaxy, and the likes. These assist instructors and students to communicate through diagrams, drawings, and text.
Dr Maribanyana Lebeko who is part of the advisory for Simanye Clinic for his assistance in terms of compilation, editing and proofreading of this article. Dr Eric Makoni for his initial thoughts and contributions to the Viroscape series.
Calvin University Appoints Adejoke Ayoola Founding Dean of its School of Health
Calvin professor of nursing Adejoke Ayoola, PhD, RN, FAAN (Image & Article: Calvin)
Calvin University has appointed Adejoke Bolanle Ayoola as the founding dean of its School of Health. Ayoola stood out among the high caliber candidates reviewed by the search committee – a team which included Provost Noah Toly and representatives from each department and program in the School of Health.
Ayoola is nationally and globally recognized as an experienced practitioner, educator, researcher, and administrator. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, and earned her PhD from Michigan State University. Ayoola has been a member of Calvin’s faculty since 2007, contributing to both the nursing and public health programs and most recently chairing the nursing department.
“Dr. Ayoola not only met but also clearly excelled in the critical leadership requirements established by the committee,” said Toly. “She has a vibrant Christian faith, possesses a deep understanding of the Reformed tradition, models a prayerful life, and demonstrates a commitment to joyful integration of faith and learning.”
Accomplished thought leader and scholar
Ayoola’s academic influence runs deep, as she has contributed to her field with research in the areas of community based nursing, and maternal and infant health. Since completing her PhD, Ayoola has earned several awards and distinctions recognizing her accomplishments in the health field.
Notably, from 2012–2015, Ayoola served as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar. The program, involving intensive leadership training, was created to inspire the next generation of national leaders in academic nursing. Five years later, Ayoola was inducted into the 2020 Class of Fellows of the American Academy of Nursing.
Ayoola is a member of the American Association of Nurses, the Honors Society of Nursing, Sigma International, and the Midwest Nursing Research Society; and she currently serves as a reviewer, associate editor or on the editorial board of 12 scholarly publications.
Guided by God
For Ayoola, the field of health has always been a passion, and it is a passion that is rooted in her faith.
“I am motivated to act when I see people or members of my community hurting —physically, emotionally, and spiritually – and when the vulnerable population experience health challenges,” she said. “I see health as an important part of what God wants for us.”
Ayoola believes that it is God who equipped her with the skills needed for this position, not only through her academic experiences, but also through her community work such as leading the African Ladies Fellowship of the African Resource Center in Grand Rapids and serving as an elder in her home church, Brookside CRC.
Carrying on Calvin’s mission
“Dr. Ayoola is deeply committed to the mission and vision of Calvin University,” said Kerrie Berends, kinesiology department co-chair and professor, and member of the search committee.
Ayoola has demonstrated this commitment by playing an integral role at Calvin, participating herself in a search committee for the dean of the School of Business, founding H.E.A.L.T.H. Camp at the university, and serving on the task force that articulated a vision for Calvin’s university structure – to name just a few contributions during her 15 years of service. Former advisees, research assistants, and research fellows recognize Ayoola for her commitment to their learning and post-graduate success.
For Ayoola, this next vocational step was confirmed by God’s guidance through prayer. She believes her vocation also includes preparing others well for work in the field.
“My vision is also for the experience in the School of Health to be transformative and for our future health professionals to be well-prepared in their calling to serve as great advocates for their patients,” she said.
Building on collaboration and partnerships
Beginning July 1 Ayoola will lead the School, serving approximately 600 undergraduate and over 75 graduate students studying directly in health-related programs, and dozens of other students in pre-professional tracks.
While the School is already involved in many community partnerships and collaborative scholarship, with Ayoola at the helm, colleagues say it is poised to broaden its impact.
“Dr. Ayoola has prioritized interprofessional collaboration among our departments, West Michigan communities, and globally,” said Berends. “It’s exciting and energizing to anticipate the impact that faculty and students will have as we expand our reach.”
Ayoola is ready for the challenge.
“I love creatively designing new programs in collaboration with people and in response to identified needs,” she said. “The idea of serving as a founding dean of the School of Health is exciting because it will provide me with opportunities to work with stakeholders to shape the School of Health’s programs.”