Nigeria pushes computer programming in elementary schools

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria — On a chilly Friday morning last November, Chinyere Anyaji stood behind a podium in a dimly illuminated hall packed with hundreds of students of the Titare Star Academy in the southern Nigerian city of Port Harcourt.

“How many of you here use Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat?” Anyaji asked the students. Hands went up.

“How many of you have seen Captain America in the Marvel movies?” Students murmured and nodded.

Then she continued: “I can teach you how to make animated movies and apps if you join our coding clubs.”

For two years now, Anyaji, business development manager of the social enterprise Teencoders, has been visiting schools in the oil hub city of Port Harcourt to preach the benefits of computer programming skills to public and private school students.

Founder Aniete Etuk, a computer science teacher, started Teencoders in 2013 to offer programming classes to private school students. Four years later, the organization partnered with the state government — which provides schools with desktop computers — to enable the instructors to help students in public primary and secondary schools, particularly those in low-income, remote communities.

Today, its 16 trained instructors meet weekly with about 300 students in public schools in Port Harcourt in Rivers state — a figure they are hoping to grow to 1 million students across four states in the next three years. The initiative, known as #CodeForSchoolsNG is designed to teach students how to create desktop apps and software; build websites and mobile apps; and design 3D games and 3D animated cartoons and stories — skills many believe will be crucial as the economy goes increasingly digital.

Although the standard curriculum in Nigeria includes computer science or ICT from elementary school on, most public schools are unable to afford adequate equipment or instruction. Students often face a range of shortcomings that impede their computer skills, including lack of furniture in classrooms, inadequate instruction materials, lack of experienced and competent teachers, poorly-equipped computer labs, and dilapidated school buildings.

Teencoders estimates that the 100-plus public schools in Rivers state have about 30 computers each, but most of these computers are underutilized and left to collect dust in the majority of schools. To get more funding for the #CodeForSchoolsNG initiative, Teencoders decided to involve more NGOs and private and corporate donors to sponsor an entire school or some students from a school. So far, an additional 30 students from public schools are being sponsored to receive free training in programming and animations.

TechQuest, a similar nonprofit that operates out of Nigeria’s largest city of Lagos, teaches robotics; web design and development; animation; and game design to school children aged 6-16 in public and private schools in Nigeria. Since 2016, it has been collaborating with the Lagos Mainland local council to train kids in public schools for free. As of October 2018, some 1,400 school children around the Ebute-Metta district have benefited from this partnership.

AfDB program prepares African youth for demand-driven jobs

As part of its Jobs for Youth in Africa initiative, AfDB’s Coding for Employment Program will target youth aged 16-35, introducing ICT skills training for today’s digitally-driven workforce.

Last October, TechQuest commenced #TeachAKid2Code, a free eight-week coding program for primary and secondary schools. The program was part of Africa Code Week, an initiative of German-based software manufacturer SAP SE, which is building coding skills in young Africans across 36 African countries with support from several partners, including Google.

Through #TeachAKid2Code, TechQuest recruited about 300 local volunteers to train 5,200 kids across several states.

Tomorrow’s jobs

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is expected to usher in a transformation that will have a radical impact on job creation, mainly white collar jobs such as routine office and administrative roles. 

It is expected to alter jobs as much as it will create new ones, and make some skills such as data analysis, even more relevant.

Some 2 million jobs are expected to come from the computer, mathematical, architecture, and engineering fields, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2018 report.

WEF’s 2017 briefing notes that by 2025, some 1.9 million jobs and $20 billion in additional GDP will accrue to Nigeria as technology continues to offer people new opportunities to engage in online platform work and transition from informal to formal jobs. The briefing further predicts that 46 percent of all work activities in Nigeria are susceptible to automation.

“It is important that students are learning computer programming because they will be able to go into school and come out better prepared to face real-life situations,” said 16-year-old Onuma Emeaba, a student at Shalom Academy in Port Harcourt, one of the 56 private schools where Teencoders runs a paid coding program.

It seems there is no better time to equip young people with skills and competencies that would enable them to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is little wonder therefore that several NGOs and social enterprises are springing up in major cities with coding programs targeting different groups of learners.

The Pearls Africa Foundation, a nonprofit located in the Yaba district of Lagos, has a girls’ coding program, which offers free classes in user interface design, animation, and programming to girls mostly from informal urban settlements and underserved communities. Another nonprofit, Teens Can Code offers free coding classes, workshops, and after-school programs to students aged between 9-20 in low-income communities throughout Nigeria.

Even the Lagos state government doesn’t want students in the megacity to be left out. In May 2017, the Lagos State Ministry of Education kicked off CodeLagos to teach students in primary and secondary schools how to code. Teachers, known as facilitators, are recruited from schools to train students and classes run for up to an hour every day.

In November 2017, state authorities created out-of-school centers to expand the free program to reach other residents in the city, especially those from low-income and underrepresented communities.

For children with disabilities in Nigeria, educational opportunities remain scant

In Nigeria, which has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, discovering the percentage of those with learning disabilities is next to impossible. A handful of NGOs are seeking to fill the gap.

Some 46 out-of-school centers allow residents who are 16 years and above and not enrolled in any formal school to take a six-week training in Python, Java, and HTML programming languages as well as blockchain technology. So far, more than 20,000 Lagosians have been trained in these centers.

As of the end of 2018, the CodeLagos program was running in 648 primary and secondary schools, 226 of which are public schools.

A new breed of problem solvers

As part of the CodeLagos program, state authorities also organize competitions for students to use technology to address problems in several sectors, including health, education, transportation, environment, and finance.

The Lagos state government, which is aiming to teach 1 million Lagosians to code, is collaborating with tech companies, nonprofits, and private and corporate donors to provide equipment and regular training for 1,081 facilitators who receive monthly stipends. 

TechQuest, too, is working to build more coding clubs in schools and increase its pool of volunteers. It wants to reach 1 million young Africans before the end of next year using community programs and partnerships with corporate and private bodies.

The bigger goal, for Teencoders, is to get the state government to include coding into the curriculum and to create a special fund to promote coding in public schools before the end of 2019.

Also, its #CodeForSchoolsNG initiative is aiming also to reach 1,000 schools before the end of the year. It also hopes to make coding books available to these learners and train at least 250 teachers. To achieve this goal, it is reaching out to many more corporate and private donors to get funding to scale the project.

“We would not stop until we can help children, especially those in low-income communities and remote villages to learn how to code,” Teencoders’ Anyaji said.

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