A Commitment to Improving on Technology

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As part of efforts to drive growth in the education sector, a group of young entrepreneurs developed Acada plus, an advanced school management software, writes Ugo Aliogo

In the 21st century, technology has remained a vital component of human activities.
As a catalyst for change, it has transformed the way things are done, bringing convenience and creating a seamless process.

In Nigeria, individuals with strong knack for the tech ecosystem have cashed in on technology to transform the way things are done in various sectors.

Stephen Ovadje and Deji Mabogunle are two individuals, not just with a passion to use technology to improve the way things are done, but with a commitment to driving the growth of the education sector, through technology.
Their foray into the technology space was spurred through the experiences they had trying to get transcripts from their schools.

The time it took them to get that physical record was an ordeal they never bargained for.
Also, they considered current trends taking place in Africa and Nigeria; specifically, the place of big data and the willingness of companies to leverage on the big data to solve problems for themselves or consumers.
They also examined the advent of cloud computing in their desire to leverage on advantages offered by the technological age.

They argued that as a company or small business, “you don’t actually have to make huge investments to leverage on technology, to make things better for yourself.”

“So all those things put together and looking at the education sector, we decided to establish Acada plus, with a goal of seeing how we can take all the data that are generated within the education sector, either in classrooms or administrative level or national level, to actually put together analytics which we can use to serve the stakeholders in the system, to actually make better decisions.

“Therefore, at the policy-making level, there is the need to consider how to allocate scare resources in terms of investments in naira, to the right places?
“We have to examine first of all, where were the failures? Did we bring in the right people on board? Even when we brought in the right people, how were we ensuring that they were getting trained? How did we ensure that we were tracking that training to make sure that they continue to develop?

All of these things just are achievable, leveraging on the data that already exist in the system; you can actually put that in front of policy makers.

“As a decision maker, let’s look at all the teachers we have in all our public schools, what are their qualification levels, and where are the gaps?
“Let’s invest in teacher training programme for those people that we need to bring up to the right level; that is really the premise of what we are doing.
“We are saying take the data, arm teachers and policy makers with them, in order to make better decisions to drive improvement in the quality of education in Nigeria,” Ovadje noted.

Ovadje further explained that the concept came to them two years ago, but that they decided on coming to the Nigeria market to study and understand the mechanism of the market.
During their interaction with teachers and school owners, a lot of challenges were revealed.
The first thing they found out was that the premise that the education data existed was absolutely not good enough because most individuals were using physical papers to track admissions, students’ enrolment, and attendance, thereby making the process highly manual.

“There are a few start-ups that started to do things, but it wasn’t at the skills we could partner with them and use the data to drive their solutions we are trying to get to.

“So we had to take a step back and actually build a platform that meets and digitalise all those processes.”
The duo has succeeded in creating a modular solution that basically provides application to different stakeholders.
In the application, there is an application for attendance which teachers can use to track attendance, because from teachers’ perspective tracking attendance takes them time.

According to Ovadje, “There are also other apps around taking grades, and graduating report cards that takes away the administrative burden away from the teachers.

“Those apps help automate and digitalise things. Ultimately, what we are trying to do is gather all those data and send it back as analytics to the School. We have been in the market for a year.
“The first year was really around learning, where we could actually develop things and develop the solutions that will meet the needs of the market.

“The product was actually framed in the past year and we piloted it with couple of schools in Lagos. So now is the time for us to scale.

“It has been good. But it has not been without its challenges. We are really live fully into schools and piloting which is the third one has been in five locations in Lagos. People have realised the power of technology to simplify things for them.
“Teachers do spend a lot time generating report cards, but having a solution where it is just about keying information and the system is doing the calculations and carrying out the report generation is a God sent.
“But on the flip side, there is a challenge on basic computer literacy, depending on the school you are talking to or working with; that is where we have to be creative in marketing with those schools. In some cases, we actually provide training services to ensure that if it is something they want to, there is need to access the level of competence of your staff because this is not something that will be used by the IT department.

“The idea is to empower the teachers themselves to do most of the things that the system does. The teachers are the administrators. Technology should not be kept with the IT department.
“Therefore, spending time in that initial training and spending time to make sure that the schools’ management are key stakeholders is crucial.

They are either the administrators or the school owners, but should have that buy-in, because without their support, it becomes a challenge and we have seen that,”

On his part, Mabogunle noted that for businesses in Nigeria, there are many roadmap plans and blue prints, adding that the key remains to be agile and respond to the market place.
He explained that one of the challenges they faced was around staff capacity, technology and sophistication of IT staff and teachers.

He added that they also realised that it does not end in providing a product, but providing a service which includes the software to the training, the advisory, and strategy and helping schools solve problems; not just selling a product.
“The key to planning is to be agile and responsible in the marketplace. We have built a very big application that will help fill a need,” Mabogunle said.
He espoused that user experience design has come to the point where technology is simplified, adding that when they looked at the market, there were a couple of players, which he noted provided for validation.

Also,Ovadje said there are top 10 lists of School Management Systems providers (SMS) in the market, which he noted provided for the validation that, “there is a market for this particular service because there are people providing this solution.”

According to him, “In terms of the architecture of the system, we have built it in such a way that everything is modular.
“This allows the user to plug and play as needed so we don’t query to buy the entire platform, when we go to a school. “So we find out what are their challenges and understand them and see how our current product can solve those problems. We are learning as we go because we are really focused on the agile methodology.

“We went around Lagos and Abuja and spoke to Schools to find out if they have the technology that they use today and if they don’t, what do they rely on.

“We find out they the more sophisticated schools were using more a lot of the British and Australian products, which they try to modify to fit the environment and which does not work well sometimes such as language.
Trying to use a system built for another country doesn’t work. So the idea of building a local solution was very appealing.
“There were some macro trends, but at the micro-level having that validation that there are some players in the market. There is no one player that dominates the space today, but there are players in the market that have seen that problem and they are trying to address it.

“What we had to do was to say that there was a niche here that we had to focus on, in order to differentiate ourselves while contributing to the growth of the ecosystem as well.

“In terms of coverage, we spent the first year learning, and the second year was for building and piloting. Now, we are the point of taking off. Our numbers are very small.

“We have two schools that are using the platform fully. These two Schools are in Lagos. There is also a third that is in Lagos, but has six campuses across the state. Our goal is to be nationwide. But our strategy is to start with the large metropolitan areas such as Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, and Port Harcourt.

“We have a relationship in Enugu and that is actually helping the start-ups in the east. In Abuja, we are in early conversation with a body that has 40 schools under its umbrella, to provide services for them.

“Our goal is to use those relationships to expand. Our approach was to start with private schools before going into the public ones.
“We started conversation with the Federal Ministry of Education; our goal is start with the Federal Government Colleges (FGCs).”