Called Project 10,000 Kids, the initiative is the brainchild of Olaoluwa Balogun, who founded an organization called ACI Computer Education in 2011 when he was an undergraduate at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife. The organization provides tech education to young people and has the larger goal of changing the way students are taught in Nigeria.
“I want young people to be more of creators than consumers of technology,” says Balogun. “Educators and parents see education as just about passing a series of examinations and getting a certificate at the end. At ACI, we believe education is about teaching people to solve problems.”
As Balogun explains, having kids build robots isn’t so much about populating Nigeria with high-tech gadgets as it is about getting students interested in learning about technology.
“This is not primarily about equipping the next generation to be robotics engineers,” he says. “It is about promoting computational thinking. Computational thinking is how software engineers solve problems. It combines mathematics, logic, and algorithms and teaches kids a new way to think about the world.”
Balogun says he founded ACI because he saw an opportunity for his country to take advantage of its young population, many of whom are underserved by the educational system. Sixty percent of the 170 million people living in Nigeria are under 30, and there are 30 million primary school-age children.
Unfortunately, around 10 million kids are not enrolled in school, and of the 20 million who are, only one-third will continue on to secondary school. Balogun sees vast untapped potential.
“We want to advance STEM education in Nigeria,” he says. “Our intention is to champion the beginning of a great paradigm in the Nigerian education industry. We want to expose our young students to real-world engineering challenges through hands-on LEGO-based robotics projects.
"Nigeria needs its own innovators and engineers to come up with Nigerian solutions to Nigerian problems. So it is very important to engage young Nigerians in stuff like this. We also need to let them know that ‘creating’ and ‘innovating’ is not only meant for the American or European brains.”
To do this, Balogun believes it’s important to change the culture of the education system in Nigeria.
“Anybody can memorize materials and pass exams. You don’t need to be a genius to do that,” he says. “The focus shouldn’t be passing exams. I think the focus should be about training young people to solve real-life problems with the basic principles of science and mathematics.”
Balogun is running a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds necessary to launch his program. He explains that he eventually wants to duplicate the program in other parts of the country, and that ACI is working seriously to create Africa’s first STEM high school by 2017.
“We want our schools to compete and flaunt their innovations,” he says.
• David McNair is an award-winning reporter and editor based in Charlottesville, Va. He runs the hyper-local news site The DTM and his fiction has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review.