BY: Shaban Abdur Rahman Alfa
In 2014, a young boy in Aba, capital of Nigeria’s southeastern Abia State, was positively exposed to a “very crucial” LIFE training program that he admits today, has been: “a stepping stone to more significant opportunities and now is the bedrock of my career.”
Today Kalu Wisdom Tochi is schooling in Ghana, in the best university in the former Gold Coast, his journey has been impacted by training he received from a social enterprise outfit, Paradigm Initiative, PIN.
Wisdom is a Computer Science and Information Systems student of Ashesi University. The institution currently ranks first in Ghana and ninth in Africa according to the 2020 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings.
Few years ago, Wisdom couldn’t see himself in a top-class university like the one he is currently studying in. “It (Ashesi) is known for its commitment to raising the next generation of ethical and entrepreneurial leaders who would change the African continent,” he adds.
But his journey to studying in the serene Brekuso hills in Ghana’s eastern region was made possibly largely due to the PIN training program and the opportunities and doors that it opened for him after completion of the ABALIFE program.
The program is one of three sectors of PIN’s annual digital inclusion school. The other two being Ajegunle LIFE in Lagos State (southwestern Nigeria) and DAKATA LIFE in Kano State (northwestern Nigeria).
In an interview with this writer – a 2020 fellow of the PIN digital rights fellowship, Wisdom discusses a range of issue from the impact of the training on his academic and career progression and why Nigeria needs to take technology seriously in schools.
Impact of 2014 ABALIFE program
On the impact of ABALIFE he said: “It made me able to adapt to the university environment. A lot of freshmen struggle with computing in general because most of them were not exposed to digital skills before their admission into the university.
“So it comes as a rude awakener when they finally get to a university like ours and realize that everything is powered by technology, including the submission of assignments. The training received by Paradigm Initiative (PI) helped brace me up for a life that was to revolve around technology – one I am currently living.”
Mirroring PIN’s digital inclusion model in Ghana, other activities
Wisdom is clear in his conviction that beneficiaries of LIFE training must always endeavor to give back to the program in particular and to the digital inclusion ecosystem in general.
Despite being away from home, he has secured funding to implement what is effectively a replica of the training he received in 2014. He told this fellow more about his program, the Code4All initiative.
“In 2019, I founded the Code4All Initiative with five international students on campus. The organization is accomplishing something similar to what Paradigm Initiative is doing – creating access to digital skills for students from under-served communities.
“The project currently runs on our campus and has received two international funding – one from the Ford Foundation and the other from Bard College Centre for Civic Engagement.
“Twice every week, we transport students to and from our university so they can be able to have access to the university’s ultra-modern computer labs for hands-on training in programming and computing.”
Before Code4All took off, back in 2018, Wisdom worked with Lionbridge Machine Intelligence Recruitment Team in a research project on the Igbo language spoken widely in southeastern Nigeria.
“The goal of the language research project was to aid in the development of speech recognition technology for the Igbo language,” he stressed.
The importance of ICT for Aba and whole of Nigeria
“I wish to see more young ones embrace programming or coding as it is popularly called. And since the South-East of Nigeria is known for its vibrant trading and business activities, it is my wish that every young one in Nigeria becomes a digital marketing expert, driving sales and innovation at the speed of light using technology.
For Nigeria in general Wisdom hopes Africa’s most populous nation will work to avert a tech ignorant society which he avers will be “headed for disaster.”
“A country with a backward technological system in the 21st century can be likened to one in the first century. It is no longer news that there has been a paradigm shift towards technology as never before.
“Countries with advanced technological systems are, without a doubt, the most successful. So if tech education is lacking amongst the upcoming generation of leaders, what would become of such a country? Doomed, to say the least,” he stressed.
Wisdom had the privilege of an ICT education that has propelled him to an academic height and continues to drive him towards professional accomplishment. He speaks fondly of the other non-ICT skills he got from the ABALIFE days.
The most impactful non-IT training he said was the “life skills” aspect of the curriculum. “Part of what I learnt was to keep pushing forward despite my background and current situation. I learnt not to give up, and most importantly, how to give back to my community through civic engagement projects.”
Wisdom walked out of ABALIFE a better person than he entered. Left Nigeria equipped to take on the continent and now the world is his oyster thanks to technology.
Shaban Abdur Rahman Alfa is a 2020 Paradigm Initiative digital rights fellow. The writer is a former English digital journalist with Africanews.