By Yahuza Abdulkadir
Even though the Federal Government of Nigeria has attempted to overcome the growing number of out-of-school children in the country through the Better Education Service Delivery (BESDA) program ( a World Bank project), its impact is yet to spread to many local communities, especially in areas where access to education is most fundamental to development.
A 2020 National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report shows that Taraba State has 499,923 out-of-school children, which is indicative of the dire state of education in the State. In response to the increasing figures of out-of-school children in the Zing Local Government Area of Taraba, BitLab Innovation Hub started in 2020. The organization first initiated a door-to-door campaign to promote enrolment into its STEM program, targeted at empowering out-of-school children with unique skills.
“We set out to equip out-of-school children with the knowledge of technology, sciences, engineering, and mathematical concepts which they can apply in providing solutions to the already existing problems in the society,” Shamsudeen Umar, the lead instructor and founder of the Hub said while highlighting the goal of the organziation.
“After the initial training, we assess their knowledge to know which category will suit them. Then we enroll them in that particular course,” Shamsudeen added.
However, the instructors of the program also pay attention to the categories the students perform well in to convince them to go with it. While also letting them choose their future career instead of forcing them to learn what’s not of interest to them.
Once a student enrolls in the program, they are trained for three months then they are assessed to ensure their capacity to move on to the next phase of training. By the time they get to the final phase of training, students are exposed to programming and design as well as how to use locally-sourced materials to create toy cars with electronic components.
An extra one-week class is revised for each child who fails to meet up with the requirements in each phase until they are able to scale through all the phases.
To hold the classes, BitLab leverages its strategic partnership with Al-huda Secondary School in Zing LGA which has a fully-equipped ICT centre and is solar-powered— to enable a conducive environment for the training.
Some Beneficiaries Share Their Experience
Most of the beneficiaries of the STEM program are young out-of-school children who now believe they can have a profitable career in tech.
“The training has impacted me with valuable knowledge which I don’t have access to before because where I come from, school(education) isn’t a priority, especially for the girl-child. But it’s a good feeling now that I have learned how to operate a computer in solving basic arithmetic problems and can be able to make amazing designs using programming tools. I’m also inspired to build a profitable career in tech while utilizing the knowledge I gained here,” said Fatima Abdullahi, 14, from Unguwan Fada.
Daniel Uduak, who is a beneficiary from Tudun Wada has learned how to make beautiful animations too. He is happy to be part of the training which has exposed him to logic and critical thinking through the game of chess that is being played during the break sessions.
“I look forward to passing the knowledge I have gathered here onto other children out there who are less privileged and cannot afford school,” he said.
Another beneficiary, Mujahid Abubakar, 15, from Unguwan Dosa expressed how the training helped him learn how to measure battery capacities and create toy cars.
“I’m optimistic that these are skills which we can learn to improve on to become professional engineers in the future instead of roaming the streets,” he said with enthusiasm.
An Expert Speaks
To address the issue of out-of-school children, especially in Northern Nigeria, Ibrahim Baba, CEO of The North Hub and a tech education specialist, highlighted that it is through the use of technology in education that any major progress will be recorded.
“This can include utilizing e-learning platforms, mobile apps, and online tutorials to provide access to education,” Ibrahim says. “Technology can be employed to connect remote and rural communities with educational resources.”
However, it’s through networking with organizations and individuals in the tech industry, that this initiative can find ways to thrive and continue to fill the gap in education in the communities.
“Collaborating with non-profit organizations and foundations that focus on education and youth development could provide funding and support for the program in terms of resources and infrastructure,” Ibrahim said while emphasizing the strategies to use in sustaining the program.
The initiative which in the last two years has trained 105 children is not free from shortcomings, because, at the beginning of the STEM program, it was initiated to train 40 children, 10 from each of the four different categories, which are (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). But the number of children becoming interested in the program is now increasing, and the limited training facilities and equipment make it difficult to enroll a larger number of students. In fact, one major challenge highlighted by Shamsudeen, is the lack of access to engineering equipment due to proximity. “Most equipment we can use for training is not readily available in the State and can be found in Lagos state,” he said.
There is also a lack of adequate funds to secure the latest electronic gadgets for students to apply and practice new knowledge. Another challenge is the issue of connectivity where in module 4 of the second phase the children are introduced to programming tools like MIT Scratch which require a strong internet connection and it becomes a challenge as the environment where the training is taking place has poor and unstable internet connection.
This story was produced in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.