‘‘The Digital Classroom System (DCS), is an integrated fully mobile system which comprises of a solar panel projector, power bank (50,000 MAH battery) and speakers such that with 3 – 5 units of DCS linked to interactive boards in a standard school of about 24 classrooms, every student can be affected simultaneously’’ – Inaku
Mr Patrick Inaku is the Managing Director of EduStabl Nigeria Limited, an Abuja based Hi-tech Educational Solutions Provider, which also specializes in educational technology products and services.
He donated N4.5m worth of Digital Classrooms Systems to more than six public and privately owned secondary schools in Akwa Ibom State recently to aid sustainable digital education.
In this interview with Dennis Udoma in Uyo, he explained the rationale behind his passion for technology in education, STABL Finishing School and, why the 21st century educational system should embrace the Digital Classroom Technology, otherwise known as the DCS for effective learning.
Sir, we would like to be more acquainted with you and why you are pioneering the awareness campaigns on the Digital Classroom System (DCS) in Nigeria?
I am Mr. Patrick Inaku. Professionally, I am a core Network Engineer and I have my first degree in Industrial Mathematics and Computer Science. I have a second degree in Advanced Wireless Communications. I studied in India and also have an MBA in IT and Telecommunications from ISTM in India.
I built my carrier excellently in IT and Telecommunications and have worked extensively in several deployments in the Middle East particularly, Qatar, Sager and Dubai. All I did there was fulltime telecommunications; setting up 2 – G, 3 – G Networks until I came back to Nigeria. I became particularly interested in technology in Education in 2011, which moved me to set up StaBl Finishing School Limited. A company registered in Nigeria, India and currently registered in the United Kingdom (UK). It is a technology finishing school where we build wholesome professionals especially, students who have just graduated from schools. We train them on wholesome competencies in whatever career. We do this because we understand that most of our graduates after school, don’t really know how to pursue a proper career path. So, we groom and put them in proper career path by training them accordingly in IT competencies.
You know, we are talking about cloud computing and artificial intelligence. For instance, if you want to build a career in telecommunications and networking, we guide you through the career path. Networking alone has a wide career path. So, for those in networking that want to focus on IT security, wireless communications or routing and switching; whatever career path you choose, we put you through accordingly.
Students get it wrong because they want to do it all. You cannot do it all. They have to choose a career path. We focus on wholesome competencies. We don’t just focus on graduates or people who are just coming out of schools also. We realize that even people who are working do not have those competencies. So, we don’t just give them the technical skills having realized that, a lot of people have fright challenge; they cannot talk to people in public, we train them on poise and give them full professional training platform within a short period of time, just like going for an Executive MBA programme.
What influenced your research in education technology?
Between 2011-2013, having gone through the educational system in Nigeria, I became very interested in seeing how we can leverage on technology, how we can make our educational contents much more fun and interactive. If you go to the rural communities or look at schools in Nigeria and most parts of Africa, you will observe that, it is only the private institutions that can actually afford the use of technology in schools.
Now, these private schools particularly have their own challenges in using technology to teach. A typical school that embraces technology uses it so that they can increase their brand, competence or make more money from parents. Most of these schools do not really utilize these technologies effectively. All they do is to purchase the Interactive Board because a typical Digital Classroom System (DCS) comprises of a Digital Interactive Board, which is fully fixed or stationary (not mobile). It is hugely dependent on electricity 100 per cent; you need to power it with a generator most of the time. The Interactive Boards mostly depend on computers, it needs projectors and speakers amongst other accessories to function. If you individualize the costs in setting up a standard classroom, you realize that, it goes above a million Naira because these interactive boards are very expensive.
And if you want to go for low standard interactive boards people usually rush for, there is usually a challenge of after sales support and once it crashes, that would be the end of it and there is really no value for your money.
These challenges propelled us to come into the education space. We were actually interested in contents and, we would launch our contents before end of 2018. We have a Mobile Curriculum (MC) coming up soon and it is focused on science and mathematics.
The Mobile Curriculum has contents for basic primary and secondary schools. So, we are focusing on Science and Mathematics like I said. We also have Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Geography etc.
For the infrastructure (hard wares); we have partnered very strategically to build our own Mobile Digital Classroom System (M – DCS). We have built that to address challenges that are very peculiar to us not just in Nigeria but, across Sub – Saharan Africa. These challenges are usually centered on electricity.
How can an educator utilize the Digital Classroom System (DCS)?
Before we started with the DCS, we wanted to produce our own brand of Digital Interactive Boards. We have gotten grants from the Federal Government of Nigeria through the U-WIN platform, United Nations (UN) and we have also won a few grants. These funds have actually supported our research but later, we felt the need not to go ahead in producing those interactive boards instead, we partnered with a company which had a production plant in Hong Kong and we came up with the DCS.
The DCS is an integrated system which has a panel with solar projector, power bank (50,000 MAH battery) which you cannot take out of China simply because, it is against the country’s aviation rule. It has speakers and so, it’s a complete flexible system that can be used to address the immediate challenge, in driving sustainable digital education in rural communities.
And, it takes government a lot of time to make their plans or implement a policy but, with the DCS, government or educators can instantly deploy solutions that can have measureable impact in the school system etc.
Therefore, our goal now is not particularly on sales because, we are aware that driving technology is scalable and takes time but, we want to promote the use of technology in schools. It’s however very difficult working with teachers in rural areas because most people always get it wrong. They impose technology on people although it’s not difficult to change from whatever you were used to.
Most times people donate laptops or equipment, they also provide contents but, some of these contents are not particularly in line with the school curriculum. Some of them are excellent learning aids and if teachers are taught how to utilize these contents they would perform excellently well.
However, our focus is not even on the students even though they are the end beneficiaries of whatever we are implementing but, our focus is on the teachers or educators because they coordinate the learning curve or the mindset of students. So, we focus a lot on improving the skills set and digital literacy of the teacher.
Having developed the DCS to facilitate learning by students, what have you done in the area of capacity development of teachers?
I like talking a lot about contents because it is relative in a way. Every school especially, the private institutions have their kind of curriculum even though it is in line with the national curriculum.
The kind of contents we develop is absolutely different from the ones available in the market place. Reason is because, we have laid a lot of emphasis and effort in using animation in 2D, 3D or whatever form of motion graphics to make our contents fun and interactive. Some people when it comes to digital contents like in the newspapers (soft copies or on – line publications), they only have text, some would have images, some have videos but, ours is a combination of all; mostly 90 per cent of animation and this is more expensive. So, content is relative.
Our company EduStabl, is a Microsoft innovative educator expert. We promote the Microsoft Imagine Academy. What that means is, we work closely with Microsoft to uplift the standard of schools and teachers and also students with digital literacy competencies as our focus.
We train them on how to use the everyday productivity tools like; Word, Power-Point, Excel etc to build their own content. So, a teacher does not necessarily need to wait until a donor gives him or her a laptop. If you run a statistics now most teachers even the ones in villages have smart phones. It may not be the standard smart phones that we use but their own smart phones have support with multi-media contents. With those kind of phones even with the Bluetooth or Wi-Fi enabled phones, a teacher can be taught how to have access to different categories and kinds of contents.
You know, using the DCS makes teaching and learning excellent. It’s an excellent tool, it’s not just fully mobile, it does not just provide you 8 hour uninterrupted power but, it gives the user the flexibility to network with whatever kind of multi-media device you have be it phones, tablets or personal computers etc. That’s’ what we have provided.
What plans have you to make the DCS available to rural schools in Nigeria?
To be honest with you, it’s not a brand new development. I called it an integrated system earlier because, we are not trying to re-invent the wheel. We have looked at our existing system, scenarios that are really peculiar to us and then, we have tried to collate different technologies into one to make it much more available. So, in line with your question, what we have done now is a proof of concept. We understand that, it’s difficult to train especially teachers in the rural areas.
We also know that, at the moment there have been a most recent recruitment of teachers and they have been spread across the state. First, we want to work with teachers that are inclined towards technology, we don’t just take anyone because it’s a special project. Those teachers who would be carefully selected would become our master trainers. We intend to use them to train others. Based on the success rate of this initial deployment, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), is waiting for us to run a documentary. And we want to prove to the world that, teachers in the rural areas can be taught to become better, even our leaders in government do not believe that those teachers in the villages would perform well.
So, we are trying to prove them wrong and we want to start from the grassroots, instead of starting from the top. People feel we should start from the top but, here we are not trying to impress anyone which is the reason we have done what we did (giving out those equipment to some of the rural schools you witnessed).
That is just to prove to the world and we are working with governments that are progressive. It was easy to get into Akwa Ibom because they already have the free, compulsory and qualitative education program. When it comes to qualitative education, we become interested; what kind of qualitative education are we talking about? What is the evidence? And people are particularly interested in results, how can this impact my child to pass exams? That’s very wrong and we should be more interested in experiential learning.
When we talk about computer in education, people think it’s only in computer laboratories, where you have a special session for laboratories No! It should be part of our learning curve. So, we want to do this and let the government see the value and the impact it has in the people and see the active participation of students in classrooms.
You know, those students have a lot of distractions. Their classrooms are densely populated; you have a teacher to students’ ratio of 68: 1. That’s a lot. 21st century schools should have less than 20 students per classroom. Governments invest wrongly most of the time. When they talk about investment in education you are talking about buildings; let the government build bigger classrooms. Because when government builds small classrooms in large quantities (one block with multiple classrooms) it becomes small to house 50 – 80 people and students start breaking up the windows. That’s not the idea.
The DCS, is a fully mobile system such that you don’t need to put an interactive board for instance in every classroom, with a few units, a standard school has about 24 classrooms so, with 3 – 5 DCS in a school, you can affect every student.
You cannot only network, you can move it from one classroom to another. But you cannot move the interactive boards or any digital classroom infrastructure as easily as the DCS. When you are talking about cost, you know, we want to prove to the world that this DCS would work.
Another objective is that, we are working towards organizing a summit, it’s going to be the first education summit in the Niger – Delta region and we hope, it will come on in November 2018. In that summit, we are bringing the right leaders in education in governments around the world. We are bringing Ministers of Trade of Ireland, United Kingdom, England and the Netherlands. We are looking at inviting the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates who is particularly interested in education in Nigeria and we are trying to see how we can make him one of our keynote speakers.
We are also having Strive Masiyiwa, Emir of Kano, Sanusi, Rihanna; the popular musician, is also interested in our cause and she wants to be here. These are just a few from the number of people we are looking out for.
Now, it would be impossible for us to host a summit without a proof of concept, because the idea of the summit is that, we want to show the world what government plans to do in education. Therefore, we do not expect that government can fund the entire deployment. Let government do a little even if its 500 – 1,000 unit’s deployment in Akwa Ibom State, as a model for digital education, we will through our network support the government by having wider schools deployment. If government does a 1, 000 we can ensure that the schools get up to 3, 000. These are things we can do. The international community cannot help government without seeing any government commitment.
So, the summit will only create a platform for us to expose and also make the government look good before the international community.
Having demonstrated the technology to the admiration of some teachers and top government functionaries recently, do you think government would be persuaded into embracing the new technology for use in schools?
For one, it’s very important for us. We are not doing this only to impress government. Absolutely not, we wish really that, government as a stakeholder sees the value of what we are bringing forward and what we can do. This is not just about us. The platform we are setting up now gives other companies opportunity to also thrive. We are talking about content; people who will be interested in e-publishing, mobile devices, because there would be need, eventually, with one DCS in a classroom, for a donor to support with tablets and phones. There would be need for data provision and internet etc. We don’t provide all those services. There would also be need for different levels of training and retraining of teachers.
So, we want to really empower them with knowledge and we can’t really do it all by ourselves.
Apart from the private schools, where else have you taken the DCS awareness campaign to for acceptability?
We have been working mostly with private schools. The public schools have a challenge with affordability. So, we have been partnering very strategically with banks, with high net worth companies, blue – chip companies etc. We are trying to see through their Corporate Social Responsibility programs, how they can strategically deploy the DCS to some of these schools.
The DCS is a very sustainable system because of the power support and the content availability. So, we have been working very closely with some schools here particularly, the private ones.
How about politicians who may wish to empower their constituency schools with the DCS technology?
Well! We have tried our best to reach out to them but, we do not want to have any political affiliation whatsoever. You know, we are a business organization, though we have spoken to a few and our deployment was very strategic. It covered all the Senatorial Districts in Akwa Ibom; about two, two units in each Senatorial District. We did not meet with any politician from those places to tell them what we were doing, even though we wrote them letters to just give them knowledge about it. We went out of our way to do it and, our focus is on the impact in those schools because we will monitor the impact. If it meets our expectation then, we can come up with proposals as to how we can affect more people because each school from our calculation of those schools that benefited from the equipment has at least 1,000 students. And if we train at least two teachers from each of those schools, then two teachers from each of the schools can train 10-20 teachers on the use of the DCS.
Now, we are looking at students who are end-users of these technologies. We would have easily impacted the lives of at least 6,000 people and beyond since we are talking about both students and teachers here. So, our focus is on the impact, it doesn’t necessarily matter on the politicians etc. Let them see the impact themselves, if they feel the impact and have need for more schools to have it, we are available for anyone.
How have you been able to measure the impact of this technology on the beneficiaries nationally and beyond?
The impact too is relative because we have different yardsticks for measuring impact. Every educator has different levels of digital literacy. So, before we ever start, we try to see how much you know about the DCS technology, your level of computing could be software and they are usually different. We measure impact differently. Based on the use of DCS for instance, the impact on students has been excellent. On the teachers also, it has been excellent and we have been doing a lot of programs in partnership with Microsoft. Together, we have trained over 8000 teachers across Africa within the last 3 – 4years and, we have been more successful outside Nigeria.
The reason we felt the need to come here, though it’s not been easy penetrating Nigeria but, that’s why most governments in Nigeria do not have education as a priority. They are just a select few that are really passionate about education.
Passion is one thing, implementing that passion is another. Funding the implementation too is another thing. First, they should be interested and we are after those people who are interested like I said, we are open to different categories of clients. The DCS is not only used in the classrooms, it can be used for home entertainment, it can be used in churches etc, and it serves the user the stress of going around with bulky systems, the stress of generator and whatever level of inconvenience you can think of.
Talking about its content, does it mean the DCS comes with packages in mathematics and sciences only?
The content available for now are just Khan Academy, Khan Academy off-line and it’s also available Online for every user but because of the stress of unavailability of broad band internet, large memory space that you may need to contain all the contents, we have partnered with Khan, Access Agriculture and we have also worked closely with Wikipedia particularly, in Spain to make these platforms and contents available for our users off-line. So, you don’t necessarily need internet to access those contents. On our DCS, you can access those contents off-line (without internet).
You are not only limited to these contents. If you go to the Play Store for instance, there are so many contents available, billions of them if possible. So, teachers ought to be taught on how to access these contents and use them.
Also, our focus like I said before is on experiential learning; if a teacher is teaching about the brain, a child should be able to see how the brain functions may be in some animation or mobile applications. So, our goal now is, to see that teachers enjoy and be satisfied with more interactive learning.
What would be your expectations on ensuring that, teachers or educators got the required training on the DCS technology?
My expectations are high and varied. I have an expectation for the teacher but, the DCS solves the stress of government taking time to deploy sustainable solutions. With the DCS you don’t necessarily need to bother about light. You can use any kind of content to either mirror from your phone or plug in your cable or use any other mobile wireless communications platforms to enjoy the use. My expectations are that, since we have been successful in other places outside Nigeria, therefore we will be successful in Nigeria.
We are looking out for teachers who are interested in technology because, some teachers are techno-phobic. Some cannot even use the phones they have since it’s not part of their life style but, the younger teachers are more inclined towards it. So, we are focusing on them, the older teachers who are interested we will embrace them. We only hope that government or private individuals or institutions can support the cause.
At the moment, we are not doing it as a paid service, we have a social entrepreneurship arm of our business where we do some of these things carefully. Just to see how it impacts on these students and currently, we are open to any educator who is interested in improving his or her skills set. That’s our position now.
What are your parting words?
Well! Technology will never replace any teacher but, teachers who do not know how to use technology will definitely be replaced by teachers who know how to use it, and that time is not too far from now.
So, I would only encourage our educators not to be afraid of using the DCS. Let them come out and we will support them in every way we can including funding. We will support any school that is willing to improve on its infrastructure with funding, technology and all these solutions. People always feel that technology is expensive, but we have solutions that we can start with and give you that clout that you seek as an institution.
So, we are available to support our schools, students and our educators on 21st century technology and skills sets that will improve their standard. We hope, we will get it and partner with them to get it right in the best way we can.