Open Wonderland to be used as catalyst for African education

This year’s International Women’s Day theme, “equal access to education, training, and science and technology,” is a powerful affirmation of what I am about and why I am blazing the trail of bringing Open Wonderland to bridge the educational, gender, economic, social, and technological divides in Africa and worldwide.

Background

The world, according to UNESCO Information Statistic (UIS), has  67 million “out of school” children. 30 million of these children are from sub-Saharan Africa and 60% of them are girls! Although the gender gap in education has been decreasing over the past decade, many girls continue to lag behind their male counterparts in equal access to schooling and acquisition of basic skills such as literacy. Reasons include girls marrying early, fathers seeing training a girl that will leave the  family to marry as a waste of resources, and girls needed to help to raise other children. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 17 million girls are still out of school; in South Asia, another 9.5 million are shut out.

Education empowers women by improving their living standard. It is the starting point for women’s advancement in different fields of human endeavor. It is the basic tool that should be given to women in order to fulfill their role as full members of the society

Nigeria’s scenario

Nigeria is a federation of 36 states. The total population is 150+ million, making it the most populated country in Africa. There are 364 languages. English is the official language of business and is widely spoken. Nigeria’s  National Policy on Education segments the system into six years of primary education, allowing an exit point after nine years of schooling to continue careers through apprenticeship or other vocational programs.

In 2010, a joint UNESCO-UNICEF report estimated that over four million Nigerian girls between the ages of 6 and 11 have no access to primary education. Furthermore, the former Education Minister, Dr. Sam Egwu, once released worrisome and dismal statistics on Nigeria’s out-of-school children. In his ministry’s 2010 ministerial press briefing, Egwu revealed that 17 million Nigerian children had no access to education. This figure, he averred, was made of 11 million children who should be in primary school and six million who ought to be in Junior Secondary School (JSS).  He said the level of transition from JSS to Senior Secondary School (SSS) was put at 16 percent, while only six percent of applicants gain admission into universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, because of the crisis of access to the institute.

Problems include:

  1. Lack of classroom space leading to open air classrooms subject to weather fluctuations, leading to class cancellation.
  2. Quality of education offered is affected by poor attendance leading to low rate of educated students. Illness and hunger either of the children themselves or members of the family contribute to the attendance problem.
  3. Teachers are inadequately prepared and morale is low due to basic condition of the work environment and poor salaries.
  4. High cost of schooling includes the costs of books, stationery and basic equipment, uniforms, admission fees, registration and examination fees, contribution towards building and maintenance fund, construction fees, transportation, mid-day meals, Parents/Teachers Association (PTA) fees, sports fees, library fees (even where they are more or less  moribund) and extra tuition fees.
  5. Opportunity costs for parents sending children to school is high. The children’s time is often of economic importance to the family either in terms of income generating activities or in supporting the functioning of the household.
  6. Unemployment among school graduates dissuade people from going to school since they see limited economic benefits.
  7. Finally, the low quality of schooling, particularly with regards to poor physical infrastructures, lack of motivated staff, poor utilization of resources, content of curriculum, nature of teaching methods and relationship of the school and teachers with the wider community negatively impact the education system.

Solution: Public-private partnerships in education

It is not possible to grow a nation with uneducated people. Nigeria needs a well trained and motivated workforce to achieve her development objectives. The UNESCO has recommended 26% budgetary allocation to education. To correct the aforementioned problems and transfer the solution to other African countries, we see Open Wonderland as a solution of choice. With this open source technology and our focus on public schools regardless of the distance and level of income, we can be nearer to the Universal Basic Education portion of the Nigerian Millennium Development Goals by 2015, which has been looking unattainable. We need technologies that are simple to teach and learn for both teachers and students alike. They also need to be interactive and fun to encourage their interest, and increase student retention rates.

Using 3D virtual world technology as a catalyst to providing education for all in sub-Saharan Africa, 3D immersive education environments will offer significant improvements over the normal face-to-face, traditional teaching and learning styles. Their interactivity and capability for real-time collaboration across geographical distance, will raise the bar of excellence, promoting global peace through understanding and respecting of each other’s cultures.

To ensure that no child is left behind and education is truly global, Virtual Technology for Education (VT4E) will study, implement, operate and support 3D virtual world environments for schools in Nigeria and other regions of Africa, using collaborative, state-of-the-art platforms and toolkits. Within those worlds, users can communicate with fidelity and security using immersive audio, share live desktop applications, and collaborate in an educational context. Educators around the world are inventing Wonderland worlds for a vast array of topics and a wide range of student populations, which we will be able to take advantage of.

It has been said that to revolutionize the effectiveness of teaching, learning and communication, the workplace is the classroom and technologies are the tools for learning. Multimedia technology can help foster interactive group communication, which is a key to learning. Additionally, some studies have shown that people can absorb knowledge up to 40 percent faster with multimedia and improve retention by up to 50 percent. It is this result that led Yonkers (1195: Yonker, M., Executive Education and Leadership Development, New York; University Park, P.A. pg 20-23) and some other writers to agree that knowledge (K) equals the sum of the people (P), and information (I) multiplied by technology (T) or K = (P) +IT. The promising practice, therefore, is a combination of classroom and technology.

It would be unpardonably remiss if I don’t thank my business partner Michel M. Denis from Internet 3 Solutions for his invaluable belief in the VT4E project shown in his tenacious commitment and work ethic. Our team is just fabulous. He is detailed-oriented and in it for the long haul. He is an architect who is so committed that he even finds the school song of the Nigerian Pilot School without any help from me. Thank you Michel! We have a priceless collaboration in us.

(Article adapted with permission from Wonderblog.)

Juliana.Momodu@hypergridbusiness.com'

Juliana Momodu

Juliana Momodu is COO of Virtual Worlds Education and a trailblazer in using virtual technology as a sustainable tool for empowering women all over the world. Previously, she was CEO and executive director of the Endowment Consortium Foundation, a Nigerian non-profit organisation established in 2001 to focus national attention on sustainable financial support for higher education in Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @juliantweett.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lawrence-Pierce/1527884925 Lawrence Pierce

    A commendable development and undertaking.  I wonder how the issue of providing an adequate infrastructure will be addressed?  In my work with NGOs in Africa, this has been a stumbling block to greater adoption of computer technology.  For example, decent virtual world access requires very high-speed Internet access.

  • conofak

    The issue of infrastructure is critical, but the cup is not completely empty. Is the cup half full or half empty? It is a matter of perspective. If it is half full, then it is a good starting point. I have just completed a masters degree in distance education by distance education. In the last three years, Internet infrastucture has improved in Nigeria, where I live. While the program lasted I used Vroom platforms such as Adobe Connect, Elluminate (Blackboard collaborate) and LMS (Moodle) in spite of the level of infrastructure available. I think these educational technologies should be encouraged in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Charity Fakinlede

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lawrence-Pierce/1527884925 Lawrence Pierce

      I appreciate what you have to say about Nigeria, which sounds encouraging.  The perspective I’m seeking is not about attitude, however, as my assumption is that the attitude for these projects is entirely positive.  The issue is related to something more elemental.  Is there electricity, especially in the vast rural areas?  Are there fast computers with good graphics chips?  Is there truly high speed Internet?  Moodle and Blackboard can run on base model computers with integrated graphics chips and entry-level broadband speeds, while virtual world technologies require much more.  We recently faced those challenges even at the California State University level in the U.S.

      I agree that technology will be essential in Africa, and my curiosity remains about the development of the necessary infrastructure to make the virtual world approach to distance learning a reality.  In my work, the target country was Mozambique.  The project was solar cookers.  Millions live in rural areas without electricity, running water and other basic necessities.  Clearly it’s too broad to discuss “Africa”, as though it is one homogenous country.  Some areas are doing relatively well and I expect they can move ahead in ways other areas can only dream of.

      It sounds like Nigeria has a good beginning and will realize benefits immediately from continued development.  Hopefully the basic services it has created will come to other African countries, because I agree that the benefits of distance learning, including virtual world solutions, can be very great.

      • conofak

        “Clearly it’s too broad to discuss “Africa”, as though it is one homogenous country. Some areas are doing relatively well and I expect they can move ahead in ways other areas can only dream of”. This is a truism. Millions of children who are out of school are also found in urban areas. My point always is to deploy other measures that could expand opportunities where possible in order to create even more access for rural children.

        ________________________________
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        Sent: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:04 AM
        Subject: [hypergridbusiness] Re: Open Wonderland to be used as catalyst for African education

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        Lawrence Pierce wrote, in response to conofak:
        I appreciate what you have to say about Nigeria, which sounds encouraging.  The perspective I’m seeking is not about attitude, however, as my assumption is that the attitude for these projects is entirely positive.  The issue is related to something more elemental.  Is there electricity, especially in the vast rural areas?  Are there fast computers with good graphics chips?  Is there truly high speed Internet?  Moodle and Blackboard can run on base model computers with integrated graphics chips and entry-level broadband speeds, while virtual world technologies require much more.  We recently faced those challenges even at the California State University level in the U.S.
        I agree that technology will be essential in Africa, and my curiosity remains about the development of the necessary infrastructure to make the virtual world approach to distance learning a reality.  In my work, the target country was Mozambique.  The project was solar cookers.  Millions live in rural areas without electricity, running water and other basic necessities.  Clearly it’s too broad to discuss “Africa”, as though it is one homogenous country.  Some areas are doing relatively well and I expect they can move ahead in ways other areas can only dream of.
        It sounds like Nigeria has a good beginning and will realize benefits immediately from continued development.  Hopefully the basic services it has created will come to other African countries, because I agree that the benefits of distance learning, including virtual world solutions, can be very great. Link to comment

  • Rik Panganiban

    sounds like a very exciting project! We would love to have someone speak about it at the Nonprofit Commons in Second Life. We have a meetup every Friday morning starting at 8:30am PT. Ping me at rik -at- techsoup.org for details.