The Chief Executive Officer, SlateCube, Chris Kwekowe, spoke on the value of Intel’s computer adoption campaign, as well as the need to redesign the computer education curriculum in tertiary institutions. Emma Okonji presents the excerpts:
You are a strong advocate of Intel’s campaign for computer adoption among Nigerians. What value is the campaign bringing to Nigeria?
It is good to note that mobile penetration was successful in Nigeria because people could readily relate to how it was useful and important to their lives. I guess with more projects highlighting stories like ours and that of others, and how we have been able to actually impact people’s lives with a computer, a lot more people would be motivated to see the computer as that window to make ideas possible. So the current personal computer (PC) campaign by Intel Corporation, will not only add value to individuals, but will also add value to rapid technology growth of the country, because it will provide more people access to computers, thereby increasing access to the internet.
So why did you choose to work with Intel on the PC adoption scheme?
I chose to work with Intel on the PC adoption campaign because I know it is a good initiative that will enhance individual and collective growth. Again, Intel has become a global brand that people will want to identify with, having revolutionised the PC experience globally. They continue to pioneer ground-breaking innovations and research in this space. We are excited that they have reached out to us and involved us in this laudable project. They believe that the PC can open doors for Nigerians, and we are excited about the initiative because it is laudable.
How laudable is this initiative?
It is laudable because the campaign is targeting at the youths of this country, which are Nigeria’s biggest asset and not the natural resources like oil and gas that are already failing the country. Nigeria should believe in her youth and make efforts to develop them. Whatever is geared towards positively developing them is laudable and worthy of mentioning. Intel’s initiative fits perfectly into that narrative.
What do your think are some of the challenges a student may face for not having personal computer?
Generally, having a computer/laptop has moved from being a privilege to being a necessity. While our books are important, most of what we had been doing with the rest of our lives would revolve greatly around a PC, one way or another. Considering the fact that the most effective way to up-skill a large number of largely dispersed graduates and job seekers across Nigeria and the African continent, was most feasibly going to be through the internet, it was pretty daunting to find out that a large number of this target market lacked their own PCs and Laptops, and even in cases where they could afford them, they would rather stick to their mobile devices.
What advice do you have for Nigerian youths in the area of computer skills acquisition?
It is pretty difficult to imagine people would feel comfortable without being computer literate or having computer skills. That is generally what gives people the edge. The youths who did not study Computer Science in school can actually learn and acquire the skills on their own. Best of, they can get in touch with us at SlateCube. We have free sessions on computer training. It is really never late to begin.
How easy it is to sign up on SlateCube?
It’s pretty easy. Visit www.slatecube.com and click the signup button. Since large population of internet users are on Facebook, we integrate the signup process with Facebook so all you have to do next is click the “Sign up with Facebook” button. You get access to over 300 professional courses cutting across Business, Technology, Finance, Media, and Sales. All courses are free. Best performing students are then qualified to enroll for the SlateCube iDeaLabs programme, which is a paid residential programme that further develops SlateCubers, pairs them with international professionals for mentoring, connects them to local startups for experience, and places them into companies globally for paid virtual internships, before eventually matching them with recruiters for jobs, or helping them start and scale viable businesses.
How do you balance computer knowledge with Job acquisition?
Truth must be told at all times. All facet of human endeavor depend on a computer-based utility to be productive. Hence, the fastest way a job candidate can distinguish themselves is by not just having the required grades, but also having accompanying skills, as well as being proficient with a computer.
What makes SlateCube different from other learning platforms?
We believe that knowledge should not just end at the acquisition stage, but should be used to solve the challenges in our communities. That’s why SlateCube goes beyond just a learning platform, it is a pipeline that helps Africans build skills from some of the best schools in the world, connects them to internships in leading local and international startups and established companies so they can build experience, and then matches them with well paying organisations across the globe.
There is huge gap between computer skills thought in tertiary institutions and skills needed in the labour market. How can SlateCube solution bridge the skills gap?
SlateCube partners with some of the best institutions like MIT and Harvard in the United States to provide industry relevant trainings designed to develop African talents into world-class professionals. Also, we believe in experience, however, since Nigerians are disperse based on different geographical locations, we offer virtual internships that ensure that SlateCubers work remotely with startups or established business anywhere in the world through a PC so they can build experience and connect with established professionals real time, and on real projects.
Employers of labour spend so much money and time retraining young school graduates after employment because they lack the required technology skills for the job. How can the anomaly be addressed?
Truth be told, our universities have a lot going for them and unfortunately haven’t really revised the technology curriculum to a point where they actually develop technology graduates fit for today’s job market. In order to stop, or at least reduce this sad reality, we offer our trainings in partnership with technology experts in order to ensure that skills taught on our platform, and majorly during our residential programme, are both industry relevant, practical and project driven. Learning shouldn’t stop at lecture rooms. We believe learning should involve, building a project to test comprehension, work/internships to gain experience, and finally impact driven so that learners have a sense of purpose and responsibility rather than entitlement.
Do you agree with the public outcry for a change in computer study curriculum at tertiary institutions. What should be the direction of change, if you were to advise school authorities and government?
Schools should work more closely with innovation and tech hubs to allow for experiential knowledge transfer. Also, the languages being taught in schools should be reviewed. Sadly, hardly any school is doing anything along the lines of Big Data/Data Science, and Virtual/Augmented Reality. Schools bombard students with way too many irrelevant courses. These need to be revised.
What are the industry skills and experience relevant for a Job seeker?
There are tons of skills and experience relevant for job seekers in today’s Job market. However, most of them are pretty specific to what exactly you are applying for. We have seen however that, soft skills like presentation, conflict management, computer literacy, among others are common place whenever companies look to recruit talents.
How can the knowledge of computer help youths start their own business?
Long story. Slatecube is a technology company. It won’t be as effective if it was simply a school. We developed the entire process from designing the structure and data scheme of the platform to implementing the codes, and designing the graphics and layout, all through a computer. The good thing is, even without the required capital, the joy that we could pull out what we had in our heads and make it real with our computers, always got us going.
Could you share your thoughts on the new trends in the tech industry in Nigeria today?
I’m pretty impressed at how tech has presented a huge opportunity for young people in Nigeria. The presence of incubators and labs as well as accelerator programmes are pretty laudable. My major concern, and the concern of most startups in Nigeria is the difficulty at accessing capital to scale. We had to bootstrap our way into raising enough to run a proof of concept. With difficulty in accessing capital, most young entrepreneurs simply get frustrated and resort to other alternatives.
How would you count the success achieved by SlateCube so far?
SlateCube has been in existence for 2 years now. In this period, we’ve maintained an 80 per cent success rate in converting unskilled graduates into world class professionals and matching them with well paying jobs. About 10 per cent of our testers have gone on to start their own business and also got access to funding between $5,000 to $10,000. In 2015, we became the first ever Nigerian winners of the Anzisha Prize, an award by the African Leadership Academy and the MasterCard foundation that celebrates Africa’s youngest and brightest entrepreneurs. We also presented the SlateCube model at the African Union during the e-Learning Africa Conference, as well as in Germany at the Online Educe Conference. In 2016, we were invited by President Barack Obama to attend and present at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at the Silicon Valley. I was also inducted into the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance. I also had the privilege of sitting and talking with Bill Gates last month, about our work at SlateCube, and how I think he should be more focused at investing in startups than solely giving out funds to charity.