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.
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 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.
- Lack of classroom space leading to open air classrooms subject to weather fluctuations, leading to class cancellation.
- 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.
- Teachers are inadequately prepared and morale is low due to basic condition of the work environment and poor salaries.
- 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.
- 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.
- Unemployment among school graduates dissuade people from going to school since they see limited economic benefits.
- 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.)