It is no secret that West Africa has lagged behind in utilising technological advancement and disseminating this knowledge to the grass roots. There is a dearth of the requisite hardware, software, skilled manpower and IT infrastructure.
In Nigeria, two young men have embarked on an uncompromising mission to equip teenagers, young adults and teachers with the knowledge and practical skills to effectively utilise IT in the 21st Century.
Ishola Abdulkabeer and Elegbede Rahman are the founders of the Digishere Project which is making inroads in bringing the gospel of tech to the unreached. In this interview, they share their passion, challenges and the amazing impact that the Digisphere Project is creating in the lives of students in rural areas, children in orphanages and teenagers with physical impairment.
KA: Kindly give us a background on the Digited Project and the reason for its establishment.
Digited actually started as a volunteer project to equip members of the National Youth Service Corps with 21st century skills necessary to triumph in the real world. We then discovered the dearth in IT skills and how the digital divide was affecting some demographics. Hence the desire to fill the gap birthed the initiative.
In the first quarter of 2014, we had a merger with DigiLearn to form DIGISPHERE since we both had a similar objective of blending technology with education to make learning easier and fun. So today, we are Digisphere and no longer Digited.
KA: What is the Modus operandi of the Digisphere Project?
Basically, the project started as a volunteer job owing to our passion to impact knowledge and flair for technology. However along the line, we discovered it was difficult to fuel your passion without funds. Hence we started creating solutions and services with impacts that later got monetized owing to the trust established over time.
We have an advisory board, a management team and a limited number of staff. Our operations cuts across demographics with specific projects targeted to meet particular objectives. Teamwork is our strength and we harness technology a lot to improvise for some inadequacies in the system.
KA: Financing is key; how do you obtain funds to run this project?
Yeah, thanks – that’s right actually. I mentioned that earlier because at a point in time it was difficult to sustain the project. It was one of the reasons that led to the merger anyway; all expenses incurred on the start up were personal funds. We’ve applied for a few grants and competitions, came so close but to no avail and that did not stop us. So we decided to join resources together to build a solid project. And now we are earning from some of our solutions and services like the school portal management and CBT examination software.
KA: How long has this been around for, and how do you measure the impact/coverage of the Project?
Well, the project founders been affable buddies since undergrad and we understand each other quite well. We both served on an executive team for Nigeria Association of Computer Science Students as President and General Secretary back in 2009 so the good works started long before now. We feel the impact of our work based on our students’ performance, the referrals we get from our services/solutions and the success stories we receive from old students who have passed through our project. The most inspiring of it all is one of our students –‘Tobi who suffers from Dyslexia and we’ve assisted in overcoming his learning difficulty via our Digital Impairment project.
KA: One question we should have asked which we didn’t…
“Interesting! So how far is this student thriving?”
Well, ‘Tobi’s story is a miraculous success story for us. When we got to his school, we discovered most teachers believed he was suffering from a spell casted by an evil eye not knowing it was dyslexia. We started training him on extra classes with digital flashcards, short videos, spelling bee games and Microsoft Accessibility guide. To the glory of God today, ‘Tobi can read and write better than before.
Besides, this 14 year old boy is a genius who built a solar powered lawn mower with specifications for health, safety and environment. The project won 2nd place award at the 2013 Schlumberger SEED school science project challenge. Besides that, other projects which he successfully worked on include a security foot-mat alarm, a blender that runs on battery and a prototype flood detector. All these projects are available in the school laboratory.
However, the pathetic side of the story is that ‘Tobi’s parents are very poor and not well read. He recently told me he will be dropping out of school because his father told him he cannot afford to pay his school fees any longer.
KA: Can you tell us a bit more about the different sub-divisions of the Digisphere project?
We have the ‘Digital Youths’ which is an extension of the NYSC program started with Digited and focused on youth empowerment. ‘Digital Babes’ is centred for Girls in ICT to increase female participation. The ‘Digital Tutors’ is designed for teachers to implement 21st century pedagogy. ‘Digital Impairment’ helps students with learning difficulties overcome their disabilities as well as visitation to disadvantaged people in Prisons and Motherless babies home. While ‘Digital Teens’ is our core project which encapsulates most of the rest. It is structured for high school students as part of the school curriculum. We are looking into introducing ‘Digital Devices’ soon.
KA: Do enlighten us on the scope and impact of Digital Teens; why is this age-group a focal point?
Like the name implies, it is specifically designed for teenagers or students of secondary school. We have a digitally aligned curriculum that empowers students to be life-long learners. The basis of capturing the age group is to catch them young as they are introduced to audio visual learning, project oriented works, office application packages, programming, web and app development. Not all of them actually proceed to settle for a career in IT afterwards but they all have gained the basic prerequisites and what it takes to spark up the curiosity of using ICT to solve problems in various endeavours.
KA: Almost every undertaking faces some challenges; what would be the most tasking challenges encountered thus far?
Yours sincerely, one of our biggest challenge is that the clime we find ourselves in is not encouraging; specifically the Nigerian state vis-a-vis government bureaucracy and inadequate infrastructure which poses a big threat to our program implementation. Besides this, funding various facets of the project is another challenge no doubt.
KA: A digital project necessarily implies the need for computers and related devices; how do you procure tools for training?
Well, most times we improvise with our personal gadgets. We have only one school on our Digital Teens project that is well equipped with a standard ICT laboratory funded by the Universal Development Fund, although it’s a Federal Unity College. On the other hand, we get software and other resources that aid teaching and learning via technology through Microsoft Nigeria for free and this has really helped us a long way.
KA: Most schools located in the metropolis have some sort of exposure or the other to IT; how can this knowledge be effectively transmitted to students in inner-city villages and towns?
I quite agree with you and that’s why most of our projects are based in areas. We focus on disadvantaged communities like the prison yards and motherless babies home where they have a little touch of technology. Our boot camp trainings are often times done in rural settings where it is much appreciated. However, it used to be quite difficult for us to follow up with them owing to inadequate infrastructures and manpower.
KA: Does the project contemplate any partnership with NGO’s, Govt, or other Bodies?
Yeah! Of course we are open to partnership and already working out some things in pipeline. Our ‘Digital Tutors’ curriculum is purely implemented with resources gotten from the Microsoft Educators Network –Partners In Learning. Tools such as Learning Essentials for students and educators, innovative teacher toolkit and the critical thinking guide have been very instrumental to our success today. Besides, our project got to the semi finals of the British Council Enterprise Challenge and we hope to move forward from that point.
KA: We would love to meet the change-makers behind Digisphere…
Ishola Abdulkabeer, is a native of Awe in Oyo State and a graduate of Computer Science currently working on obtaining a Masters Degree and happily married.
Elegbede Mayowa Rahman is from Shaki, a geek entrepreneur who is also working on his postgraduate studies.
KA: What was the basis for your partnership?
Fear of God, believe in the beauty of our dreams and trust.
KA: Nigeria cannot currently boast of cheap, secure, or stable internet connectivity; does this impede your work?
It definitely does in some ways. For instance when we have to do some collaborative learning over the internet and you keep seeing ‘page loading…please wait’ then you know quite well something is wrong somewhere.
KA: What solutions can you proffer to this challenge?
Well, we are really not a network solution provider (laughs) but I think we can demand better internet services from ISPs since it’s what we are paying for. Besides, we improvise using wireless mobile devices by subscribing to various telecom providers’ data plan.
KA: IT has many advantages…what would you consider its disadvantages –if any- and is this included in your curricular?
I think the digital divide is one disadvantage affecting us in this part of the world and we are doing our best in little ways to fill the gap.
KA: Young Africans who are a part of the solution are always a delight; what keeps you going despite the unanswered emails, shut doors and rejected proposals?
Two things – first is the passion to impact on the younger generation. We love what we do and we are so enthusiastic about it. Then, we see the big picture beyond where we are today. Steve Jobs made over a hundred calls to invite investors for his Mac project, but only one responded. And today, we know where Apple Inc. is when it comes to tech coy ranking. So we believe we’d get there someday soon so long as we keep on track working on purpose.
KA: If you received a grant of N1 million, what immediate expenditures and investments would you consider?
Wow! A million naira or a million dollar? A million naira is even little compared to what we aspire, however it will be a good start anyway. We will reach out to more communities, increase technicality by investing on skills for personal development, procure a few more gadgets and support disadvantaged students like ‘Tobi to complete his education.
KA: Inspire a young African in one sentence…
The youth of Africa can make ways out of no way because making an impact has no limit and we can be the change we want to see.
To contact/support/sponsor the Digisphere Project:
Elegbede Mayowa Rahman