UNLEASH Lab
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UNLEASH Lab

Youthful Collaboration for A Better Africa

Team Crea8-Good, building a Road Traffic Accident (RTA) Alert Device during HackforGood 2017

As a young graduate in 2013, I was on a compulsory one year National Youth Service of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in one of the of the nation’s most flamboyant States. I was posted for a primary assignment in a public girls’ science school named after the late wife of a former head of states of Nigeria, Maryam, Babangida. I was the only graduate engineer in the school that is supposed to be the only girls’ science school in the state with the largest landmark in Nigeria.
Maryam Babangida Girls’ Science College Minna, Niger State, is a senior high school that houses well over 1000 young girls between the ages of 13 to 18 years. The school has one of the best library, science laboratories, and technical workshop I have ever seen since my years as a student in Nigeria. There were over 500 computers in the school’s computer laboratory, making it the biggest I have ever since in Nigerian’s high schools. The classes are large with 10 arms of about 40 sitting capacity each.
Despite all these wonderful facilities it possesses, Maryam Babangida Girls’ Science College has a record of not have been able to make good result in all its external examinations in the past decade. The Laboratories were covered with cobwebs and the library, a gossiping station for the school librarians.
Most of the computers in the computer laboratory were partially boxed and have not been booted for the first time. This is a school where good number of the teachers are PhD holders. All these were the observations I made out of the curiosity that came from my learning about the school’s inability to make good results in the last decade.
Looking deeper into the cause of the bad record, I found that the students were unable to use the facilities because of the shortage of teachers with the right practical skills to teach those technical subjects. For this reason, the students were restricted from using these facilities against their wishes. Having found this, I made some few plans on how to revitalize some social science student clubs and creating new ones.
The plan was born out my experience that students learn better when they teach themselves and collaborate in their tasks. Hence, I re-established the dead Junior Engineers, Technologists and Scientist (JETS) club of the school, becoming deputy patron of the club in 2013. I equally initiated a sub-section of the clubs I called the She-Geeks where I prepare the girl students for competition on ICTs and computer programming and CAD modeling.
Re-establishment of the clubs prompted to the effective usage of the forlorn facilities. We dusted the computers and cleaned up the laboratories, and the library. The students were allowed to share the facilities and engage themselves in something more practical than the boring class theory teachings. In 2014, we developed three outstanding projects which are;
Electronic Pest Control Device (using Atmel micro-controller, 5000-SDK Sound chip, LCD and a megaphone) Geometry Display Board (using Atmel micro-controller and LEDs) Modeling and Simulation of a “Charcoal Powered Steam Turbine” (using Solidworks). Among the projects in 2014, Electronic Pest Control Device won the best position in the year’s National Science Festival (NaSFest) in Akwa-Ibom State and qualified to participate in the Intel Science competition in the USA the same year.
In summary, this inspired me to believe that if African youths can be equipped with the right tools, at the right places with a privilege to collaborate, they will be able to ideate, prototype and develop the products and services that will revolutionized the continent’s manufacturing industries. Africa is ready for the fourth industrial revolutions, though has encountered some bumps along the road. World Economic Forum (WEF) 2016, opined that the declined in the commodity prices, which is not altogether independent from the slowdown in China, have both been major contributors to the stall that many African economies are experiencing. African youths are not less smart than their Asian or European counterparts and can easily learn, even in the most unfavorable atmospheres. They are among the biggest key drivers of African economic reform. The only challenge I spot have been the unavailability of the right tools and spaces to enable them bring their innovations to live. Once this is achieved, there will be a pragmatic change in the African “making” culture and this will have a positive turn in the continent’s economy.
Among many other things, I am mostly interested in how to engage the youths between the ages of 13 to 35 in a common space and transform their mindsets for critical thinking, creative making, collaboration and as well as communication. If appropriate skills are created, innovation and entrepreneurship mindsets are instilled in the minds of the African youths, it will reduce the high rate of unemployment and youth dependency ratio in Africa. Taking Nigeria, my own country as a case — Nigeria is one of the African most populous country with a demographic size of over 186 million people. There is a high ratio of youth Dependency of about 82.6% against the total dependency ratio of 87.7% (CIA World Factbook, 2016). This large population is supposed to be an asset to the nation rather than liability if a proper skill gap evaluation is made and appropriate skill sets are provided to the youth. This will in turn, lead to a quantum leap to an industrial revolution in Nigeria and Africa at large.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics in its 2012 national youth survey report; youths of working age, in the age bracket of 15 to 35 years are over 70 million persons in a population of 186 million Nigerians; of these youths 54% are unemployed. The CBN on the other hand has more recently put the rate of youth unemployment at nearly 80%. This number of unemployed youth, I am contemplating, is not always as a result of scarcity of jobs, but also, at times, due to their inability to be workplace ready.
To further compound the issue, less than 15% of youths seeking admission into tertiary institutions ever get admitted annually. And yet there are no viable alternative structured vocational and skills acquisition institutions of a tertiary status to accommodate these teeming population of youths excluded from all rounded education (Jaye Gaskia, 2014).
Statistics from the new Roadmap for Nigerian Education Sector shows that there are well over 7,104 public secondary schools in Nigeria. The total number of higher institutions in Nigeria is 151 which is comprised of 70 universities, 44 polytechnics and 37 colleges of education. The future of the nation’s industrial revolution lies wholly on the ability to tap from the potentials of the youth found in these institutions.
Therefore, I belong to the worldview that the future and development of Africa is a function of how much transformation the youth have receive through, formal/informal education, makers movement and innovation campaign. This can be achieve promoting makers culture and creating something shareable where the youth can communicate with there peers and collaborate for innovative solutions to the SDGs.

Uchechukwu Ajuonuma.

Email: uchearistotle@gmail.com

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