Dr. Gbenga Olowoye is the Chairman of iklass.africa, a startup in E-learning for children and young students in Africa. He founded Swissplat Group LLC in Geneva, Switzerland in 2021 to address unique demands in global sourcing, market expansion services, and inward investments. Given the challenges that COVID-19 posed to global business transactions, Swissplat has evolved as a trusted business partner for enterprises seeking to do global business. Olowoye previously taught entrepreneurship and corporate strategy courses at UBIS University in Geneva and its satellite campuses, as well as managing the university’s African business development portfolio from 2014 to 2016. He is a published author on entrepreneurial innovation and funding sources in resource-constrained environment topics. In this interview with Obinna Chima, he spoke about how to transform education in Africa. Excerpts:
What is your take on the state of education in Africa? Can you also tell us about your iklass.Africa initiative?
A popular quote inscribed at the main gate of a prominent university in Sub-Saharan Africa sums this up. It reads: “Destroying any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or the use of long-range missiles…It only requires lowering the quality of education …The collapse of education is the collapse of the nation.” My goal is to provide children and young students in Africa with access to quality education through E-learning, it is also about the future of nations.
I have investigated lessons and best practices in developing capacities for learning initiatives and how resources can impact service quality in education delivery within African contexts in my Master’s and Doctorate degrees’ thesis and dissertations, which provided useful baseline information in developing the E-learning project.
This insight helped me to develop a successful approach for the iklass.Africa initiative. With a persistent teacher shortage in many African nations, where there is one certified teacher for every 43 pupils in secondary schools, E-learning remains a feasible choice for assisting learning. While a few firms are already taking the bull by the horns in providing this service, various initiatives are now needed to join the E-learning digital ecosystem across Africa following interruptions to the educational system caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. All African children require access to education that will equip them for profitable careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, commonly referred to as STEM fields. That is without a doubt, the next best advantage.
As a Diaspora Nigerian professional in Switzerland, this is a legacy project for me, demonstrating how the power of education can have a significant transformative effect on the next generation. My mother, late Madam Esther Arinola Olowoye, became a widow at the age of 35, leaving her with six children to care for. This occurred in an African country (Nigeria) in 1971 with no social welfare system in place, where women and children were defenseless (sadly, this is still the situation in 2023), and it looked like Esther’s life and the lives of her six children were doomed. I feel that education is life and liberating, and iklass.Africa will make it available for countless number of children in honour of Mama Arinola Olowoye.
So, how do you think technology can improve learning outcomes in the continent?
Africa should become a part of the business of every African who has benefited in some way from Africa. The beauty of the modern day is that we can use technology to solve many of the problems that people in Africa face. I feel immensely lucky today because of Nigeria where I had the best possible education in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s nearly for free. I was even more privileged to have met my wife who has been working for the United Nations as an esteemed professional for about 20 years, while we were university students together in Nigeria and we have been married for thirty years.
I am happy to have been able to raise the necessary seed capital to launch iklass.Africa. Africa, like the rest of the world, has to make technological leaps for the benefit of its young children. What iklass.Africa does differently as a co-created student-centric learning platform is to harvest the collective wisdom of students, parents, partner schools, sponsors, and other important stakeholders in education in order to develop one of the best innovative and affordable online educational platforms that will benefit our children and young students anywhere in Africa and globally. It is also quite inspirational to consider that all the young tech professionals and support staff who have worked relentlessly to create the platform are Africans.
We know that Africa is on the rise as we can all attest to, but we must guarantee that our young people are not treated as second-class citizens in their own nation just because the Chinese, Europeans, and Americans are investing billions across the continent.
The team believes that increasing access to high-quality online audiovisual content can enhance educational outcomes for an increased number of children and young people. They will be excellent leaders if they learn well. I am calling on all people of good will to join forces with me and my team, particularly parents, schools, government parastatals, and key stakeholders, to ensure that the iklass.Africa platform gains momentum in Nigeria.
So, what role is iKlass playing in deepening e-learning and education in Africa?
I noticed that there are barriers to education in resource-constrained environments endemic in many developing countries, particularly those in Sub-Sahara Africa, while consulting for schools in Tanzania between 2006 and 2014. The desire to establish an E-learning platform for Tanzanian students was initially conceptualised in 2013, but despite our best efforts, we were unable to provide it at the time owing to limited internet bandwidth, which made streaming audiovisual content difficult.
Things are different now, though, since improved internet access has been implemented in several nations across Africa. The Ebola and Covid-19 pandemics provided the final motivation to raise a new team of young Africans based in Nigeria and Tanzania who have worked steadfastly to deliver the mobile learning application, iklass.africa, that is set to join the digital ecosystem in Africa to widen access to education for children without any restrictions.
How affordable is your solution?
It must be stated once more that iklass.Africa will be one of the most accessible and cheap learning platforms for children and young students in Africa as a legacy initiative in honor of his late mother, a unique African amazon. To fulfill this commitment, iklass.Africa is at the moment onboarding students to utilise the site for free during the ongoing launch phase. We have also lined up several experienced teachers from selected African countries to help in creating the quality audiovisual content needed to make the learning platform a highly engaging online learning environment.
We cannot do it alone at this time to pay all the webmasters, teachers, content editors, multimedia specialists, and several support staff. That is why we need the help of partners and investors that want to make Africa a wonderful place for the future of our children.
Finally, your advice to the present administration in Nigeria on how to improve education?
The list is endless, but based on his past study on education service delivery in Nigeria, there are key high-level challenges that must be addressed. The president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should proclaim a state of emergency on education in Nigeria. Then, all stakeholders must be brought in to discuss how the country might negotiate resource limits in a climate fraught with unpredictability. The risk assessment and SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunities and threats) analysis should show where there is a need for education policy adjustment and iteration on how to make the education system competitive, unify institutional goals and direction, and bring clarity to brand messaging while producing an action plan to achieve the objectives for student achievement and school success in Nigeria.
A long-term solution for improving budget sufficiency and service quality perceptions will eventually impact performance of educators and service delivery. Second, the Federal and State Ministries of Education, as well as other players in the education sector, must return to the drawing board and investigate new cutting-edge experimental techniques for modifying service provision and delivery in education in accordance with evolving technological advances. This should provide an accountability framework for the system that influences policy guidelines and eliminates the prevalence of inconsistent finance policies, dishonesty among institutional management, reporting, and stakeholder involvement.
Third, there is an urgent need for value co-creation in Nigeria’s education and school administration systems. This notion of ‘town and gown’ might help restore the splendor of the public school system that many outstanding Nigerians in the diaspora benefitted from. The citizens must be encouraged to participate actively in the education of their children.
In economics, buyers want the marketplace with the most competition among sellers that leads to the greatest availability of products and the lowest prices. It is sometimes called supply-side increasing returns and demand-side increasing returns. Schools, on the other hand, aid in the facilitation of learning transactions between learners and educators. To develop new criteria for teaching our children, it is becoming increasingly vital to understand citizens’ expectations and values. One such requirement has been identified as service quality. It is critical to assess if the network effects are effective, as indicated by satisfied educators and students.