L-R: Eniola Cameron Cole; Vice Principal Academic, International School, UNILAG, Mr. K.O Amusan; Executive Director, Lagos and West Bank, Marketing; Liadi Ayoku; Group Managing Director, United Bank for Africa, Mr. Kennedy Uzoka; Principal, Dr. M. Brai Malik; Vice Principal, Administration, International School, UNILAG. Mr. AO. Popoola and Group Head, Marketing and Corporate Communications, United Bank for Africa, Mrs. Bola Atta, flanked by students of ISL, during the launch of the bank's online learning platform 'UBA Learn' in Lagos...recently

UBA wants to change the way people, especially the youths, use their time, writes Peter Uzoho

Across the world, humans have become addicted to their smartphones. It is no more a strange phenomenon to spot people in public spaces peering into lit-up screens, largely unaware of their physical environment. In 2014, a 15-year-old, Nayomi Mendez, was killed in San Diego when, while using her phone, she stepped into the path of an oncoming semi-truck. Mendez case is not peculiar. The city of Montclair in California has had to ban walking across the street while using a phone or headphones. Honolulu has a similar law.

The smartphone craze is strong in Nigeria too, which has been described as one of the largest mobile internet users in the world. According to a 2017 report published by Jumia, Nigeria’s largest online retailer, the number of Nigeria’s mobile subscribers has reached 150 million, and the number of its internet users has climbed to 97.2 million at penetration rates of 81 per cent and 53 per cent, respectively. What these numbers suggest, of course, is that the smartphone craze is not going away. It is here to stay.

In 2008, author, Nicholas Carr, wrote an article, ‘Is Google Making us Stupid’, for the Atlantic that broke the internet. There, he examined the impact of the internet on human lives and recognised its incredible force. “Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory,” he wrote. “My mind isn’t going – so far as I can tell – but it is changing.”

Ten years after the article, the smartphone and the internet that drives it, have become more addictive and unbiquitous. It has been estimated that an average smartphone user picks up and touches the device more than 2,000 times a day. In Nigeria, this phenomenon has been blamed for falling academic grades among students in secondary and tertiary education institutions. It has also been credited for adding flame to young people’s interests in anti-social activities such as online scam and illegal pornography.

But the internet and the smartphone can also be a force for good. Recently, at the International School of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), the United Bank for Africa, launched an online learning platform, ‘UBA Learn’, which it said was aimed at helping students achieve all round academic success.

According to a promotional document released by UBA, which is one of Africa’s largest banks, the idea for UBA Learn sprung from the bank’s understanding of the increasing prominence of mobile phones in daily life as a conduit for negative values.

“Rather than serving its purpose of effective means of communication, the use of mobile phones, especially among children, has surprisingly done more damage than good,” the promotional document said. “Some features on the mobile phones such as messaging, rogue websites, social media platforms, and the increasing number of cheap call and data rate packages by service providers, have significantly affected the children’s lifestyles and education.

“Worst hit is the nation’s education sector, as stakeholders have regrettably linked the rising cases of examination malpractices and students’ poor performance in external examinations to the negative uses of phones.

“To many children, the use of cell phones has become an obsession, as they squander precious hours engaging in messaging activities, surfing the internet for frivolous and obscene things, or merely playing games.”

This frivolous use of time, UBA advocates, is what UBA Learn is set to combat. Meanwhile, rather than try to take people away from their smartphones, an impossible task, the bank is attempting to employ smartphones in helping people make better decisions.

UBA Learn is a Nigerian cum global curriculum-based learning application powered by Roducate, an education technology company. It is particularly targeted at students within five to 16 years and 17 to 24 years, and is designed to help them attain academic excellence, while ensuring that the parents and teachers keep track and monitor their wards’ educational development, activities and performance.

During the launch at UNILAG, the bank’s Group Head, Retail Consumer Banking, Mr. Tomiwa Sotiloye, explained that the product, which is accessible online through a downloadable mobile application and USSD, features academic curricula such as the West African Examination Council (WAEC) and the National Examination Council (NECO), continuous assessments and tests, financial education, learning and fun games, among many others.

He added that the product is open to both existing customers and non-customers, saying intending customers can have account numbers automatically generated once they enroll on the platform.

Also speaking, UBA’s Group Managing Director, Kennedy Uzoka said as a technology-driven company with enormous capability in business, extending such capability to a critical sector such as education was a worthy decision taken by the institution.

He said because education is key and a fundamental human right, the bank felt the need to extend its innovative capability to revolutionise access to education through technology.

Uzoka said: “That is the main reason we are here today; to bring knowledge to the doorstep of everyone across Africa and other parts of the world, through this unique innovation, called UBA Learn.

“The application is a distinctive and well-tailored product loaded with all the needed learning tools and required subjects put together in a robust manner that is guaranteed to grow with the students very early to when they become young adults.”

On his part, the company’s Group Executive, Digital and Consumer Banking, Anant Rao, said the product was carefully conceptualised to suit a niche focus of customers, who he noted, are mostly students.

He said: “This is because more than anything, we are a bank that is particularly passionate about the growth and development of youths especially as it concerns their academic growth as evidenced in the plethora of our campaigns and Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives (CSR) targeted at helping them find their paths in life. These initiatives include; Read Africa Initiative, Campus Ambassadors, National Essay Competition, among others.”

He added that apart from preparing the students academically, the platform also aids users to becoming financially independent, saying; “At this stage, account holders will enjoy exclusive invitations to job and career fairs as well as entrepreneurship workshops.”

Meanwhile, the Principal of the UNILAG International School, Dr. Brai Malik, applauded the bank for the innovation and for choosing his school for the launch, saying both students and teachers would benefit from the product.

He said: “UBA as a financial institution and innovator of this wonderful product deserves applause for demystifying learning with this application.”