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Zimbabwean AI expert and entrepreneur William Sachiti invents open-sourced technology to improve access to education in Africa

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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.

Also Read: How Tech Is Enhancing Recruitment: An Interview With Sandy Simagwali, Co-Founder Of Graft Africa

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.”

New connection found(Source: Academy of Robotics)

Sachiti adds:
“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.”

Technical setup(Source: Academy of Robotics)

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

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Education

The Viroscape Series: Use of Technology in education during Covid-19

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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). 

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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.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

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.

 

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Calvin University Appoints Adejoke Ayoola Founding Dean of its School of Health

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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.

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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.”

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Simi Nwogugu on Africa Education Medal launched by T4 Education, HP, and Intel

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Simi Nwogugu, CEO of Junior Achievement Africa, voiced her support for the new Africa Education Medal, launched this year by T4 Education in collaboration with HP and Intel.

Junior Achievement Africa CEO Simi Nwogugu, called on Nigeria’s changemakers to apply or be nominated for the inaugural Africa Education Medal. Simi Nwogugu has joined leading figures from across Africa in support of the new award that will be given to an outstanding individual who has demonstrated impact, leadership, and advocacy in the field of education.

In the decades leading up to the pandemic, Africa had been making great strides in boosting school enrolment. To protect and expand upon these vital gains in the wake of COVID. Teachers, NGOs, politicians, tech entrepreneurs, and figures from the public and private sectors, will need to work together to build a future where every child in Africa can achieve the quality education that is their birthright.

The Africa Education Medal has been launched to recognise the tireless work of those who are transforming education across the continent. And to celebrate the stories of those who have lit the spark of change so others will be inspired to take up the torch.

Brad Pulford, Managing Director at HP Africa, said: “HP has been committed to enabling better learning outcomes for 100 million people between 2015-2025. Achieving this bold goal wouldn’t be possible without empowered education leaders and trailblazers who are at the forefront of the rapidly changing education environment. A quality education empowers not just individuals, but entire communities. It will skill the next generation to fulfil their full potential in a world being transformed by technology. The Africa Education Medal not only honours the tireless work of those seeking to improve education all across Africa. But gives them a platform to amplify their voices and inspire others to follow their examples.”

Simi Nwogugu, CEO of Junior Achievement Africa, said: “A good education will empower young people in Nigeria and across Africa. To fulfil their full potential, secure better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities. I am a beneficiary of great educational institutions from attending a public secondary school in Lagos, Nigeria. To attaining an MBA at Harvard Business School, which empowered me to return to Nigeria to expand the work of JA across Nigeria and the continent. Africa’s great changemakers know education is the key to our continent’s prosperity in a global economy. I urge inspirational leaders from Nigeria and across Africa to step forward and apply for the Africa Education Medal so their stories can inspire thousands more.”

Vikas Pota, Founder and CEO of T4 Education: “Quality education will help African countries grow and prosper. And it will help Africa produce the public leaders of tomorrow who will go on to grapple with the continent’s greatest challenges from inequality, to climate change, food insecurity and disease. The Africa Education Medal recognises those who are working every day to make that vision a reality.”

The Africa Education Medal is open to individuals working to improve pre-kindergarten, K-12, vocational and university education who are one of the following:

  • Educators and school administrators.
  • Civil society leaders.
  • Public servants and government officials.
  • Political leaders.
  • Technologists and innovators.

Nominees must demonstrate their contribution in any of the following key areas in education:

  • Significantly improving learning outcomes.
  • Promoting girls’ education.
  • Promoting equity and broadening access to education.
  • Advancing pedagogical or technological innovation.
  • Building and strengthening educator capacity.
  • Catalysing civic participation in education.
  • Championing the rights of education stakeholders.

 The Top 10 finalists for the Africa Education Medal will be announced in July and the winner will be announced in September. Nominees will be assessed by a Jury comprising prominent individuals based on rigorous criteria.

Nominations, including self-nominations, can be made online HERE. 

Nominations will close on June 3, 2022.

 

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