By Yunus Abdulhamid and Mulikatu Malika
Recently, a one-week computer programming and robotics mentorship programme took place at the Digital Bridge Institute, Abuja. Daily Trust reporters who were there observed a group of enthusiastic youth, age 11 to 18 working on their desktop computers to develop some codes while others tried to manipulate the robots brought in by their trainers.
Students created amazing engineering projects from items they found at home. Adeola created a well from an empty carton of drink, a pen and water. Adekunle created a spectroscope using an empty box and a CD. Adeolu inflated a balloon using vinegar and baking powder. Students challenged themselves by programming their robots to move along specified paths to the delight of every one present.
Adebisi Oje is the convener and CEO of Africode, an initiative developed to help youngsters in Nigeria to learn the basics of coding.
Young, energetic and passionate, she said Nigerian youth deserve better knowledge in information technology.
After her secondary school in Nigeria, Adebisi Oje moved to the State University of New York Potsbam in the USA to study Mathematics and Computer Science. At that time, all she knew about computing was Java, "so picking up the course was very challenging" for her.
"I was thrown into a class of bunches of kids," who had learnt what she was struggling to learn in their high schools, she said.
Last year, Ms. Oje's brother was contemplating what school to study Computer Science abroad. He was "discouraged because the way people drop out of Computer Science abroad is very high. So I said to myself why don't I come back home to help bridge the gap between the Nigerian and American educational system (in computing)," she told Daily Trust.
Thus, Africode was born to teach African youth the basics of computer programming and coding.
Oje, who now works in America with a financial institution, says her passion is to help young Nigerians to bridge the technology gap which has kept them far behind their peers in the advance world even though the effort will be a drop in the ocean. "We have to start from somewhere," she told Daily Trust.
Richard Tsado is a partner in the Africode project. He joined Oje to take the enthusiastic 25 young kids most of them in secondary school through the rudiments of software design from the front end.
The Edo State born Electrical/Electronic engineer who graduated from the Colombia University, USA explained why Nigerian students remained behind in information technology. "In Nigeria we don't teach our kids to do things," he said.
"I went to the Colombian University in New York and I found out that kids I go to school with right from when they were about five years old, they were doing the courses I learnt in SS2."
To compete with the Americans Tsado had to "read all night and that was how I was able to beat them in class but they already had that background and that is what we want to change here."
Prof. Raymond Akwule is the President of the Digital Bridge Institute, the training arm of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
He told Daily Trust in an interview that the one week training was a pilot program which the institute plans to expand in the nearest future.
Plans are afoot to seek sponsors for the project so that campuses in Kano, Lagos and other places could also host similar ones on a bigger scale, Prof. Akwule said.
He further explained that in past years, the digital bridge institute paired some Nigerian students studying in the USA and their counterparts studying in Nigeria. They programme "ran for 10 weeks and the (today's) training is a result of that effort, he said.
Apart from this, a school that will be an ICT center of excellence for young people is also being considered to be located in Lagos. Young Nigerians starting from primary school who enroll in the school will have a first-hand touch in learning the tricks in software writing and coding, so they can compete favourably with their peers in America and beyond, he enthused.
Fifteen year-old Ifeoluwa Ibofit who is presently in her final year in secondary school told Daily Trust that she was leaving the one week mentorship with a totally different orientation.
Before the coding training, "I didn't like computer classes and didn't used to pay attention in computer classes," she said. But now, "I will listen more in school." She aspires to study Accountancy in the university and minor in computer. Eighteen year old Ezenwa Sopuruchikwu is set to begin a degree programme at the Tufts University in the USA next fall. The short training demystified computer programming for him.
He said "My friend attending MIT had told me they were asked to write certain programmes and I thought it was such a big deal. But here, I find it relatively easy."
Another of the participants, 13 year-old Adeolu Abejunde says it was an experience she would want to relive again.
The Africode students prove to be very creative. Adeolu Abegunde made a presentation on how she was able to create a calculator in less than two hours, students created a game they installed on their phones and also worked in teams to solve challenging and puzzling exercises. Convener of the training, Adebisi Oje told Daily Trust it took her six months to plan, and as a first in the series to come, they were faced with challenging including funds. Top instructors from Colombia, USA who had long agreed to be part of the training called it off at the last minute citing security reasons.
Some parents stopped their children from participating at the last minute due to the ongoing security challenges in the northern part of the country, Oje added.
She said: "One other thing is that Nigeria is not as organized as we will love it to be so it was really hard to plan."