Aina: Technology Will Profoundly Impact Future of Education

This Week In Tech by Nosa Alekhuogie

This Week In Tech by Nosa Alekhuogie

Dr. Segun Aina, the co-founder of Aitechscan, is an associate professor in the Computer Science & Engineering Department at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Balancing academia and entrepreneurship, he aims to bring practical insights to academic pursuits and excellence to business services. He has consulted for various private and public entities, including the Job Creation Unit of the Vice President’s Office, several State Governments, and Examination Bodies. His business interests span EduTech, Hospitality, Agriculture, Capacity Building, and Technical & Vocational Education and Training (TVET).

Aina served on the pioneer governing council of Bamidele Olumilua University of Education, Science and Technology and is the current chairman of the advisory board at Queensland Academy, Lagos. He has authored around 30 peer-reviewed papers and is a COREN-registered engineer. He is an active member of professional bodies, including the Nigerian Computer Society, the Nigerian Society of Engineers, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).Nosa Alekhuogie presents the excerpts:

What inspired you to start an edtech company in Nigeria?

The inspiration stems from a combination of several factors. Firstly, my personal passion for education has always been a driving force. From a young age, I have been fascinated by the power of knowledge and the impact it can have on individuals and communities. Secondly, there is an urgent need to fill a gap in the market. Throughout my career, I have observed significant shortcomings in the educational tools and resources available. Many existing solutions fail to address the specific needs of diverse learners, leaving a substantial portion of the population underserved. This gap presents an opportunity to develop innovative solutions that cater to these needs and improve educational outcomes.

Thirdly, the influence of my background has played a crucial role. My experiences, both personal and professional, have shaped my understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the education sector. I am particularly inspired by the potential of technology to revolutionise education. Technological advancements offer unprecedented opportunities to create personalised, engaging, and scalable learning experiences. Over the past 15 years, my mentorship in the testing and assessment space has allowed me to see the profound impact that technology can have on education. This deep-seated desire to address the challenges I have observed drives my commitment to leveraging technology to enhance learning and assessment processes.

Could you tell us a bit about Aitechscan?

AitechScan is a rapidly growing, technology-driven spinoff from a larger education consultancy business. We specialise in developing innovative technological solutions for stakeholders involved in both paper-based and computer-based testing and assessment.

Our flagship solution is a comprehensive, turnkey service built around our proprietary scanning software, which includes five independent modules. The first module is a bespoke web portal and offline application that facilitates the registration of examination candidates and continuous monitoring of student data. This includes features for tracking school and centre information, as well as continuous assessment (CAS) scores.

We also produce customised Optical Mark Reader (OMR) sheets for capturing candidate responses to objective and multiple-choice questions. These sheets are tailored based on specific requirements for candidates, subjects, grades, and schools.

Additionally, we offer customised Examiners Mark (EMS) sheets designed for capturing candidate scores in theory examinations, meeting the specific needs of examiners and institutions. Our robust, in-house-developed processing software is used for scanning and marking completed OMR and EMS forms, ensuring accuracy and efficiency in processing examination data. Finally, our reporting application analyses examination performance using a wide range of matrices. This data provides valuable insights and supports critical decision-making in education and social services. By integrating these modules, AitechScan offers a comprehensive solution that enhances the efficiency and accuracy of testing and assessment processes, benefiting educational institutions and stakeholders alike.

Can you share your background and how it has influenced your approach to education and technology?

I was born into academia. My father is a professor and my mother retired as an accomplished academic. My siblings, most of whom are older than me, are also very well-read, which sets the tone ab initio. An understudy of the people I perceived to be successful also reinforced the belief, growing up, that education is one of the only guaranteed ways to success. This influenced and increased my appetite for formal education. As I progressed, though, it became obvious that formal education was merely a primer for the mind and that an arguably greater resource lay rooted in self-development, apprenticeship and other forms of informal education. It then became my mission to not only tap into these informal sources but also be a bridge builder between academia and industry, which, for me, is characterised by pragmatism and these alternative sources of knowledge.

This pursuit, one could say, influenced the choices that led me to major in computer engineering and ultimately obtain a PhD in Digital Signal Processing whilst also in parallel building capacity in areas like Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET).

What are your main challenges in building and scaling the Aitechscan platform in Nigeria?

It is often said that a system is only as strong as its weakest link, and increasingly when it comes to technology systems, humans are often the weakest link. This is no different for us, human resource continues to be a challenge in terms of finding technically competent and dependable resources in the middle of the brain drain crisis in our sector is a major challenge. On the production and operational sides, market volatility and rising costs are also making it difficult to maintain the balance between excellent service delivery and profitability. The appetite of consumers for foreign solutions remains a challenge with prospecting new clients. This is exacerbated by the trust deficit between consumers, mostly in the public sector, and local technical service providers. We continue to take these and other challenges in good stride by remaining flexible and using dynamic approaches to respond in favour of our clients.

How do you ensure that your software addresses the unique educational needs and challenges faced by students and educators in Nigeria?

We began by selling solutions on behalf of foreign vendors, which gave us a deep understanding of both the technical and non-technical aspects of customer requirements. We soon realised that these foreign solutions often failed to meet specific local needs. This insight prompted us to develop a robust, ground-up solution tailored to address these unique requirements. Our solution is designed to be flexible, allowing it to adapt as needs evolve, ensuring it remains effective and relevant for our customers.

Could you tell us about your target market or audience, if you have one?

Our business model is centered around low margins from high volume in order to set ourselves apart on the basis of lower prices. As a result, the customers who have the volume are typically state examination boards, state ministries of education and federal examination boards. Tertiary institutions and all other agencies and establishments that have cause to assess candidates all form part of our target audience.

What role do you see technology playing in the future of education in Nigeria?

The impact of technology in the future of education will certainly be profound. We have a teaming youth population with an estimated 60% of our populace under the age of 25. When considered viz-a-viz the rising internet penetration (currently around 43%) and access to technology at large (evident from 50% of the population owning smart phones, it is clear to see the trajectory. As government policies continue to improve the ease of doing business index, more entrepreneurs will likely be trying to tap into the edtech market in Nigeria, which on the global scale is set to exceed $400 billion in about a year. I foresee the role of technology to be even more impactful in the technical and vocational education space alongside more informal education sectors.

How do you measure the effectiveness and impact of your software in institutions?

The feedback from the beneficiaries and our clients forms the primary basis on which we assess ourselves. With the very emotive place examinations, their outcomes and the integrity of the process hold in our society today, it is humbling for me to see the positive impact we have had, and our record is a testament to this.

What are your future plans and goals for expanding and improving your EdTech offerings in Nigeria and beyond?

We are currently amassing a wealth of knowledge from our experiences with each of our clients. The summation of which puts us in prime position to be agents of knowledge transfer between existing clients and potential ones. We plan to inch towards capturing a larger share of the market by onboarding more state examination boards and ministries of education, one cost-saving offering at a time while maintaining and exceeding the high standards for which we are currently known. We are also hard at work developing solutions for the future as they pertain to efficient and cost-effective test and assessment solutions.

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