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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

Academy of Robotics

Education

Webster University Ghana Director Christa Sanders Bobtoya on Advancing Global Learning Experience

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Christa Sanders Bobtoya has been involved in the field of international education for the last two decades. She’s currently the Head/Director of Webster University’s Ghana Campus, the only American university in the sub-region offering US-accredited graduate and undergraduate degrees. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Christa talks about the Webster University Ghana, it’s impact and achievements, life-long learning, leadership and much more. Excerpts.

Alaba: Kindly tell us about Webster University, the gap it’s filling and why it stands out?

Christa: Webster University Ghana is the only international campus of Webster University on the African continent to offer US-accredited graduate and undergraduate degrees. The thriving liberal arts institution is accredited by the National Accreditation Board of Ghana (NAB) and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) in the United States (US). All of Webster University students receive a degree issued from the US and, regardless of specific degree area, follow the same curriculum worldwide.

Webster University Ghana offers a practical, hands-on approach to learning. The University also offers students the unique opportunity to study abroad during their course of study for either an 8/9 nine-week term, semester, or an entire academic year at any of Webster University’s international campuses that include Switzerland, Austria, China, Thailand, The Netherlands, etc.

Alaba: Since your appointment as the Director of its Ghana campus in 2014, what are the set milestones, achievements and challenges?

Christa: Since we first started receiving students and I received the appointment as Director of the Webster Ghana campus, one of the greatest milestones during this period has been hitting an enrollment of roughly 200 students. While we’re still relatively small, we started with eight students. We’ve gone from having three undergraduate programs to 6 and also the addition of graduate programs as well as a minor in African studies.

In terms of challenges, entering the higher education landscape in our part of the world has its inherent challenges. We were not very well known as an institution in the country and so it did take a few years for us to be able to establish some sort of brand awareness.

Alaba: As an international institution of repute, how do you measure impacts?

Christa: We measure impact based on what we see on the ground happening, with roughly 11 thousand students worldwide, many of our Alumni are well known in the area of communications, business and computer science through The Walker School of Business and Technology. Webster University has many notable alumni, these include:  Indonesia’s 6th president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono;  American actress,  Jennifer Lewis and Colonel Eileen Collins, Astronaut and Commander of the Space Shuttle.

Christa Sanders Bobtoya and Mohammed  Adjei Sowah, Mayor of Accra (Source: Webster University Ghana)

Beyond this we are highly ranked in annual US News and World Report. In this last edition, Webster University has moved up in terms of its national rankings at least in the US based institution by at least six places and we are now number 15 for the Midwest region.

Alaba: What are currently the biggest challenges facing Africa’s education sector?

Christa: I believe one of the biggest challenges facing Africa’s education sector is the lack of access to basic education for most people. Girls are also often left behind due to issues of gender inequality and financial barriers prevent most people from accessing textbooks, basic school supplies and the general technological resources needed to be successful in today’s complex and ever-changing world.

Classroom infrastructure and teacher training programs must furthermore be enhanced. A radical transformation of school systems from traditional rote learning to a more modern approach that encourages debate, critical thinking, ethical reasoning, etc. is also needed now more than ever before.

Alaba: Kindly share your thoughts on the importance of life-long learning?

Christa: The process of learning is a life-long journey. We should always strive to be inquisitive and improve upon our general knowledge by grasping new ideas and adopting new perspectives. I believe we are never too old to learn something new.

It is imperative to broaden one’s worldview and take on new experiences in the process. I enjoy learning languages and meeting people from different cultures, so I continue to remain open to acquiring new knowledge (in this case language skills) and further developing myself both personally and professionally.

Alaba: What’s the future for Webster University, especially post COVID-19?

Christa: In terms of the future for Webster University post Covid-19. I believe that as long as we have the approval from the National Accreditation Board (NAB) of the Ministry of Education, we will continue to offer a hybrid model of education.

In addition to this, through Webnet technology, students throughout the Webster worldwide network have the opportunity to join classrooms around the world in “real time.” Although this technology is mostly offered in campuses in the US and Europe to date, in the future students around the world will also be able to join classes in Ghana and vice versa.

Alaba: How would you describe your leadership style?

Christa: I would describe my leadership style as inclusive and empowering, if not transformational. I believe in motivating others as well as being supportive. I enjoy leading teams and also value the input and ideas of individual team members.

Christa Sanders Bobtoya, Dr. Beth J. Stroble, Chancellor of Webster University and Dr. Julian Schuster, President, Webster University during a visit to the Webster Ghana Campus (Source: Webster University Ghana)

Also, I always want to be a positive role model and show empathy and understanding where needed but also encourage others to strive to be the best that they can be.

Alaba: What is your advice for women in leadership and aspiring women?

Christa: I believe there have always been challenges facing women in the workplace and certainly in positions of leadership. It is therefore important to always remain determined, focused and prepared for possible obstacles along the trajectory towards success.

Today, I am especially inspired by the example of the newly appointed VP, Kamala Harris, as she exemplifies a powerful leader, who has remained determined and has kept her “eyes on the prize” from early on to arrive at this monumental moment in history. I think it is important for every woman to have a role model who inspires her and a mentor to engage with continuously.

Alaba: What inspires you and how do you relax out of work?

Christa: I would say that working in the field of education inspires me and having the opportunity to interact with young people every day. I enjoy working in the field of higher education by providing the resources, inspiration and encouragement to young people to pursue their dreams.

In terms of relaxing, my favorite thing to do is to travel. I love to be near water so I like going to the beach on weekends. I love connecting with nature and any opportunity to travel to a new place to learn a new culture, language and try a new type of food.

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B I O G R A P H Y

Christa Sanders Bobtoya have been involved in the field of international education for the last two decades. She has lived in Accra, Ghana since 2004 and currently the Director of Webster University’s Ghana Campus, the only American university in the sub-region offering US-accredited graduate and undergraduate degrees. Christa spent the first decade in Ghana as the Associate Director of New York University’s (NYU) 6th global site and the university’s first study abroad program on the African continent.

Her previous professional experiences include a role as a Program Officer for the Institute of International Education (IIE) in New York where she managed a range of scholarship programs for both Latin American and African students through the Institute’s Scholarship and Training Programs (STP) division. And as the Chief Counselor of Students for Syracuse University in Madrid, Spain where she also co-founded a support organization, Voices of Change, to help students of color cope with discrimination outside of the United States.

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Webster University: International Education for African Students in a Post-Covid World

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Webster University students (Image source: Webster University)

The education industry, like the majority of industries in the world, has been greatly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. This period has been particularly difficult for international students including those from Africa, pursuing degrees at US institutions, whose immigration, visa status, and educational programs have been left in limbo. In July 2020, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced its decision to deport students who were in the country for educational purposes but unable to attend in-person classes since most universities had switched to online learning. 

After considerable backlash and criticism, the directive to strip international college students of their visas, and eventually get deported if they didn’t attend classes in person was rescinded. 

A July 2020 New York Times report stated that the deportation of over one million international students could have cost universities millions of dollars in tuition, and jeopardized the ability of U.S companies to hire the highly skilled workers who often start their careers with American education.  

“For many years obtaining a degree at an institution of higher learning in the United States has been the global “gold standard” for education. However, during the pandemic, the appeal of studying in the US has lessened for many African students due to issues related to racial and social unrest, immigration and visa status, and inability to travel due to closed borders. Webster University’s Ghana Campus has provided a well-received alternative for many students and their families who desire an undergraduate or graduate degree from an accredited US university at the convenience and comfort of being at home in West Africa,” says Christa Sanders Bobtoya, the Director of Webster University Ghana. Sanders-Bobtoya has traveled extensively across five continents, spanning 65 countries, dedicating her career to the field of higher education while managing study abroad programs as well as international branch campuses of US institutions in both Europe and Africa. 

Webster University Ghana is the only international campus of Webster University on the African continent to offer US-accredited graduate and undergraduate degrees. The thriving liberal arts institution is accredited by the National Accreditation Board of Ghana and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) in the United States (US). All Webster University students receive a degree issued from the US and, regardless of specific degree area, following the same curriculum worldwide. The home campus in St. Louis, Missouri, which issues the degrees, has an impressive track record of 105 years of providing high-quality American education. 

“Webster University students are exposed to new ways of thinking and benefit from the cultural diversity and enriching academic environment that strengthens their critical-thinking skills. Since opening our doors in 2014, we have enrolled both undergraduate and graduate students from over 25 different countries, spanning four continents including many from Africa and its Diaspora who later join Webster’s elite network of over 157,000 alumni worldwide,” adds Sanders-Bobtoya.

Webster University Ghana offers a practical, hands-on approach to learning with small class sizes that don’t exceed 30 students per class. The campus boasts a growing number of undergraduate academic majors and on the graduate level, a Master’s of Business Administration, MA in Human Resource Management as well as an MA in International Relations.

The University also offers students the unique opportunity to study abroad during their course of study for either an 8/9 nine-week term, semester, or an entire academic year at any of Webster University’s international campuses that include Switzerland, Austria, The Netherlands, US, Thailand, China, Greece, the UK, and Uzbekistan.

Also Read Closing The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

“As we all are adjusting to a new normal especially in the field of education the pandemic has presented, it is imperative that students from the African Diaspora especially know that they have an alternative for obtaining a high-quality international education at Webster University Ghana.  Our unique university experience provides an opportunity to enhance global academic partnerships and provide an avenue for Africans/Diasporans to collaborate on research and exchanges right here on the continent while on their journey of becoming global citizens,” concludes Sanders-Bobtoya.

Webster University offers the flexibility of 5 enrollment intakes every year, allowing new students to begin their collegiate journey when it best suits them. Prospective students may apply at any time during the year and start in August, October, January, March, and May.

The Ghana Campus has a rotation of visiting faculty every few weeks to teach students in both the undergraduate and graduate programs and graduate classes are held in the evenings and weekends to allow working professionals to be able to continue to work while pursuing a higher degree.

For more information, visit www.webster.edu.gh ghana@webster.edu

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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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