If We Had Have Makerspaces In The Nigerian Schools

UCHE AJUONUMA
Oct 3, 2018 · 13 min read
Image Credit: Yefei Jin

So many years ago, growing up in my country was often accompanied with some sort of ingenuity in kids and young adults. There were some unconscious creativities that could easily be spotted among the children in the primary schools. Sadly, no one was seeing these. Not even the teachers who stayed all day with these kids understood or could interpret the science and technology involved in their daily recreational activities. In the secondary school, most students have intuitively learnt the skills of fixing broken gadgets and making stuff out of local or waste materials. In the eastern part of Nigeria, especially in Aba, Abia state, the youth are joining their parents in their dominant occupations which are handicraft and light manufacturing. Aba is a city in the eastern part of Nigeria. Textile, pharmaceutical, soaps, plastics, footwear and cosmetics are manufactured in the city, and there are also brewery and distillery. Aba has schools of art and science, and several technical and trade institute. The city is noted for handicraft with a population of 931,900 (Encyclopedia Britannica). It is possible to feed Africa, if not the world with products coming from Aba. But then, there is something missing.

Although there are significant differences between the global maker movement and Africa’s informal sector in terms of actors involved and their educational and economic backgrounds, the two share important characteristics. For instance, both have a strong “Do It Yourself” DIY ethos built on improvisation as a necessary condition for existence or survival — Jeremy de Beer

As a kid, I could remember how many times I got myself involved in advance practical physics, building a skateboard out of spoilt ball-bearings. Many times, we unconsciously performed some high-level chemistry, turning Styrofoam into adhesives with petrol. There were lots of ingenuity kids could display even in the poorest schools in the country. Some are intuitive while some are learnt from their elder ones and can be passed down to their successors. At 9 years old, my friends and I were making cooking stoves from spoilt buckets, with sawdust in them rammed around Bottles. We made this product for lots of people without an inkling of how much profit could be generated out of it, if properly designed for business. There are untapped potentials in the Nigerian youths. But then, there is something missing.

Similar to my skateboard. Image from Pinterest

How good will it be to inculcate earlier enough the makers’ mindset in the lives of these talented young minds? In case it appears difficult understanding the meaning of makers’ mindset. Here are the five among the other makers’ mindsets I have learnt of late;

1. Courage: They do not allow their ideas die untried. According to Mark Zuckerberg, “There is no full-grown idea. Your idea only mature as you work on them”. It is very easy to spot this mindset among many of the Nigeria youth. But then, there is something missing.

2. Collaboration: A maker with a right mindset is one who is not an island of knowledge. One of the things common in makers movement is openness. With open innovation, the world will become better than it is. To make wonderful things that are capable of solving problems, makers learn and share their knowledge. Collaboration is among the most treasured mindsets of a maker. This needs to be encouraged amongst the young African youth and youth all over the world. I mean youth because they are the co-creators of innovations. Collaboration can easily be promoted among our young Nigerian makers. But then, there is something missing.

3. Teachability: Staying teachable is another essential mindset of a maker. Asking questions helps makers to improve in their project. Experience from my primary school till date, and having worked with the makers on different occasions has convinced me beyond doubt that Nigerian makers are always teachable. But then, there is something missing.

4. Mistakes: From my stories below, you will find how my father allowed me to flow with my mistakes. Mistakes allow makers to learn better. As Albert Einstein would have it, “The only sure way to avoid mistakes is by not having ideas”. Makers’ mindset allows makers to stay put and only see their mistakes as an experience that has not yielded the expected results. Our makers often make mistakes and learn from them. But then, there is something missing.

5. Reflection: A maker looks back to his work to reflect on how well or how bad he has done. He set people as role models to compare and learn from their works. Having a mentor is something a Nigerian maker would unconsciously want to do. But then, there is something missing.

What is unfolding is a virtuoso system with a “started in Africa” mind-set that could potentially remake what Africans buy. This is especially exciting because it empowers people to use their local expertise, know-how, and hands-on skills to solve problems that exist in their daily lives. — Ndubisi Ekekwe

At the age of 5, I struggled to join my father’s apprentices and staff in the workshop. My father was a craftsman and can be considered the chief guild to our king from 1960s to 1990s. He had a small workshop where he did a variety of crafts works, ranging from woodworks, through metalworks, electrical-works, mason to art. There was a big inscription in front of the workshop that reads “Safety First” which has a picture of a man with a broken head and punctured feet. I was in love with the picture but little did I know that the same picture I love was the reason I was being restrained from the workshop. All my struggles to join his team at that age proved abortive. I patiently waited till I turned 9 years old. Then I was in Primary 6. I erroneously believed that I would be allowed access to the workshop at this age. But, I was wrong again. Previously, I was not this angry and disappointed as I have finally become. Yet, I had no idea why I was being restrained from the workshop. I was curious, just like most Nigerian young youth, to make stuff and solve problems. But then, there is something missing.

Similar Picture in My Father’s Workshop

One day, I picked a conversation with Mr. Paulinus Ekekwe who was at that time, my class teacher, my friend and my mentor (silly to say I had a mentor at 9 years old. But it is true). During our conversation, I pointed to him how I have been restricted access to my father’s workshop by his apprentices while my father was watching and could do nothing. I made him understand how much I have wished I could at least stay a minute in the workshop and play with the hacksaws and hammers for just a few seconds. I thought Mr. Ekekwe would advise me to consult my mother and beg her to convince my father to allow me in. Rather, he told me to study harder. As at then, I was already working on my string powered toy car inspired by my yo-yo. I have also won a scholarship to secondary school by our then local government chairman, Dr. Ugwa for making a beautiful portrait of his. I have passed the common entrance exam into the secondary school. So, I became surprised at his advice to study harder when I had no exam awaiting. I left for home disappointed on that day thinking that everyone has failed me. On my next day in school, Mr. Ekekwe called me to his desk during the break period to hand me over a paper. I reluctantly picked the paper thinking it was for another competition as usual when I thought I had bid farewell to the primary school and all its activities. Few people still believe in the potential of youth-led innovation in Nigeria. But then, there is something missing.

Similar to my string powered toy car

I was disappointed yesterday, and today it seems I will be faced with a bigger disappointment, I told myself. My face was contorted and my heart was beating with curiosity. I could not read a single line out of the paper. I had already concluded on what it could be. When Mr. Ekekwe looked at my face, he immediately understood that I did not, at that time know what the content of the paper was. I was not going to check in a hurry. He expected me to be happy. Then he approached me with smiles in his own face, coddled me and said to me. I know you have heard about Ideato Technical Craft College. They have a workshop, similar to that of your father. If you complete this form which I have paid for you and pass their exam, you can access a workshop similar to that of your father and no one will restrict you. He told me that he has already discussed this with my father and he is of approve of it. Oho! It was a special entrance exam form from Ideato Technical Craft College (ITCC). ITCC is a vocational school far away from my home. Immediately, my face cleared and my eyes shone on the paper. I picked my pen and completed the form, those I knew and those I did not know. I flipped the completed form to him without minding if I had made any mistake. I trust, Mr. Ekekwe had to complete and correct the rest of the form all by himself. There are good vocational schools in Nigeria. But then, there is something missing.

Finally, I passed the exam. My first day to the school was filled with expectation. Never think I was disappointed. No! I saw my mates with their wiring board, screw set, hammer and pliers in front of the school on the first day and that was a fulfilment of a dream while still in the sleep. The next I expected to see was the actual workshop. But that did not happen because it was actually my first day and the school seemed not to have any activity in the workshop. But later on, I was finally introduced to the workshop. It is a room with hand tools hung across the walls, a table in the centre and a blacksmith hearth set in the middle at the back of the room. The safety inscriptions were hung on the walls too. But these ones read a bit different from what was in my father’s workshop. They read things like, “Always Clear the Gangway”, “Put on Your Helmet”, “Always Wear Safety Boot”, “Do Not Play with Naked Cables”, etc. The Nigerian vocational schools are also well equipped. But then, there is something missing.

Another example of generative traditions that blur both the fixing/making and traditional/contemporary lines would be the famous wire toys that can be found throughout the African continent. — Ron Eglash (P2PF)

On the first day, I was taught about the rules of the workshop on the first day. Then on the next day, I was taught about the names of the hand tools in the workshop and was asked to draw five hand tools I have seen to be submitted as an assignment on the next day. It was my first day, so it was fun. But as days unfold, I found there was one thing I did not like. The teachers who showed the tools to me could not allow me to touch not even a single tool from the shelve. Though it was during my junior class. When I approached senior class, I was so privileged to become the workshop monitor. This meant I could access all the tools though with some supervision of our teachers. I could also decide who touches or uses them too. An access to equipment is also obtainable in the Nigerian vocational schools. But then, there is something missing.

We seemed to have everything tools. Sadly, you could not be allowed to make anything. Practical assignments were all ideas of our teachers. This is a complete murdering of innovation. Your projects are competitive and discourage collaboration. Accessing the tools were so political. The practical assignments were more test than exercise that it did not leave the “boring stuff” in the classroom. Some students escaped workshop so that they will not be flogged for improper handling of hand files and some other hand tools. At one point, my morale and love for the workshop were about dropping irrespective of the fact that I was the monitor in charge of the workshop and could possess more access to the tool and authority in the workshop than many others. Crafts are taught in the Nigerian schools. But then, there is something missing.

The best way to construct knowledge and understanding is through the construction of something shareable. — Seymour Papert

All thanks to Late Dr. Ferdinand Anaghara. He was a seasoned entrepreneur, an industrialist and the Chairman of Ferdinand Group of Companies. One of his companies (Ferdinand Aluminum Industry) was located at the back of our school workshop. So, he willingly approved that we can visit the company on Fridays to watch and work on his lathe machines. This was a point where we could have a democracy of working on machines, turn out metals without canes standing at our backs. Alas, the boring stuff was not brought over to this place. When we thought we could at least put our hands on some projects that would not be inspected by our teachers and graded based on our abilities to speak good English, the company was closed. There was and still to some extent, private sector/education partnerships in Nigeria. But then, there is something missing.

At 13 years old, I was already in the senior class. My father and his apprentices were then convinced that I could understand and obey the workshop precautions. I was allowed to enter my father’s workshop and use his tools. There was equally no one with a cane and I could work on whatsoever I could think of. My first independent project was a Wooden Manually Operated Cassava Grating Machine. I worked on this project alongside my father with four of his apprentices. It was so much fun how they were able to transform my idea from a rough sketch to something that actually worked. We asked questions together, reasoned out of the box and found the need for the machine. But one thing my father and his team did not want to change about the idea was the “manual operation” concept I brought. They wanted it to be my idea. Though, today, I am wishing I had made it electricity powered and built the body with metal instead. I am grateful to have learnt about the power of collaboration and critical thinking during the project period. To encourage me to do better, my father allowed me to serve the community with my machine, grinding people’s cassavas and understanding the areas my project needed improvement (the stress of turning the machine). Making can be informally taught in Nigeria. But then, there is something missing.

Manually Operated Cassava Grating Machine: SolidWorks Model

There were lots of my classmates who were better than myself in thinking out ideas. They are guys who were good at turning geometries into objects out of papers. Some of them could fix anything that is damaged. In my class, we had someone — his name is Erik — who was building car battery chargers, welding machines etc. We worked together, out of school to build our first nylon cutting and sealing machine. We were about 14 years old and in our final class. Sadly, to say, I met Erik recently during my father’s burial seeking a contract to conjure the rain. This means that he is now a witch doctor. There are more makers in Nigeria and they could be found in many classrooms. But then, there is something missing.

To foster innovation, breed makers mindset and localize skills born out of indigenous knowledge among the Nigeria youth, there is an inevitable need to support the global maker movement. Establishment of makerspaces across the communities will reduce skill wastage to the bare minimum and democratize making. It will bring open technology and encourage the makers to collaborate and to co-create the solution of Africa challenges. This will create a common room where people can gather and share ideas on innovations that could disrupt Africa’s development.

“The Maker Movement has a wide variety of economic and societal benefits. It spurs innovation by democratizing sophisticated technology, empowering people to produce complex designs or create rapid prototypes. It is also transforming the landscape of education by promoting student enrollment in courses that help them pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. Moreover, Makerspaces are urging cities to evolve from mere mass garbage production centres into true innovation factories, creating entrepreneurial solutions to urban challenges.” — Eva Clemente, World Bank blog June 2014.

There is an inevitable need for makerspaces in every communities, schools and library in Nigeria. This is what is missing.

Nigeria makers, over the years, have worked in isolation. The makers in your backyard, feel he is the only maker in the entire nation. There is a lack of openness in the ecosystem. Most of the makers have been stuck in a place in their ideas due to the poor availability of tools and resources. Those who would have been encouraged to make stuff that can solve our social problem have been discouraged by the cliche that says “hardware is hard”. Yes, “making” (hardware development) is seen to be harder than it appears due to the lack of specialized mentoring, IMHO. In 2017, the blueprint of the size of makers in Nigeria became clearer when I worked with the Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) to host what can be seen as the foremost Nigeria hardware hackathon. During the hackathon, YTF provided a common space with tools, training and resources where about 30 makers across Nigeria were brought together to collaborate on their ideas for 72 hours. In 2018, the same platform was set with a larger size (50 makers). The result of the hackathon was tremendous.

Youth prototyping their ideas in collaboration at the YTF HackforGood 2018

This is a sneak peek at the potentials of Makerspaces in Nigeria. Makerspace offers a more learner-centric form of education. My strong hypothesis is that, with the right basic infrastructures, Nigeria has the potentials to produce products that can serve the world. Another thing that is needed is an organized movement that will promote makers culture among the youth. If we had have makerspaces in all Nigerian schools, the youth would have been able to work together earlier enough to generate solutions that would have positioned the country to an enviable technology, manufacturing, art, and agricultural heights.

UCHE AJUONUMA

Written by

An Innovation evangelist| Maker Advocate| 3D Printing Expert| Design Engineer| STEM Educator| Makers Community Mobilizer| A Husband & A Father of 2 Whiz kids

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