23 October 2007

Nigeria: Microsoft Releases 'Unlimited Potential to Learn'

Lagos — The Kaduna leg of the training of primary and secondary school teachers, under Microsoft Nigeria's Partners in Learning (PiL) programme winds down at the end of this week. The train moves to Abakaliki next week and Ibadan the week after.

At the end of it, 225 teachers, selected, nationwide, by the National Teachers' Institute and the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC); would have been impacted with skills in the use of ICT in education and Microsoft education applications.

Considering the number of teachers in the country, this number appears small. But as Microsoft's Citizenship Manager, Jummai Umar-Ajijola explained in an interview, the follow-up of this process is an important component of the programme. Each of the trainees is expected to go back and train 10 of his/her colleagues, each of whom are also expected to impact on a minimum of 40 pupils. In addition to this, NTI will also work with Microsoft to develop a world class ICT curriculum for Nigerian schools.

When THISDAY wondered why Microsoft was "just getting involved in the education sector", Umar-Ajijola disclosed that the company had indeed been involved in the sector for a while without talking about it. The Memorandum of Understanding for PiL, for instance, was signed with the Federal Government in 2004.

Pressed to put a figure to Microsoft's investment in recent times, she said "We avoid talking about costs. But in the area of citizenship intervention alone, in the last three years, over half a million dollars has been spent. This does not include all our heavy software subsidies in the education sector, or other subsidies in the public sector, such as the nine digital villages built around the country." PiL is a 215 million dollar project, worldwide project of Microsoft that aims to take ICT to over a billion people, through the multiplying effect of 'train the trainer' mentioned above. The programme builds capacity through training, supporting schools curriculum and soft ware donations and subsidies to primary and junior secondary schools in Nigeria.

"Last year, we trained about 3, 000 Nigerian teachers and students from different secondary schools and Colleges of Education. We partnered with a couple of organisations, such as SchoolNet Nigeria.

As part of the follow-up to its training, Microsoft is planning an innovative teachers' forum and competition for either the end of the year or early next year, in collaboration with SchoolNet and the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT). Teachers around the country are expected to enter the competition to show how they have applied IT in their curriculum.

The competition's blueprint is still being drawn up and will be advertised in the media. There will be a website for it and we are going to use all the technological tools that are available to advertise this as much as possible", Umar-Ajijola said.

She expressed delight that though this is the first competition to be held in Nigeria, some of the beneficiaries of Microsoft's training have performed very well in international competitions in which they participated through SchoolNet Partnerships, she said, is the core of the company's activities. It is therefore constantly seeking partners, with which it can pull its resources together to provide every individual with the tools that guarantee unlimited potential to learn. The Unlimited Potential (UP) plan, under which PiL is, is Microsoft's long-term commitment to use technology, training and partnerships to transform education, foster local innovation and enable jobs and opportunities to sustain a continuous cycle of social and economic growth for the estimated five billion people around the world, who are yet to realise the benefits of technology. Under UP, the company provides training and makes software donations to NGOs. "We work with NGOs in the states to be able to identify potential beneficiaries.

We are working with eight NGOs spread around the different Geo-political zones. For example, we have the Bola Ige Information Technology Centre, Abuja and other community resource centres in Abeokuta, Enugu, Kaduna, Bauchi, etc. We gave them grants early this year for the training of 1,500 people from around Nigeria.

"The interesting news is that we were able to zone and map it in such a way that the different zones captured different interest groups. For example, the Abuja centre which is representing the North central and FCT is working mostly with people living with disability and young female graduates. If you go to Bauchi (North East) we are working with women in seclusion, what people call women in purdah. In the North Central, Kaduna we are working with farmers and traders. In Calabar, the South South zone, we are working with fishermen and women. In Abeokuta, we are working with women in tie and dye."

Essentially, the company builds the capacity of these people to use technology to improve on their trade and livelihood. In the Home Makers' Programme for women in seclusion in Bauchi, Microsoft found that some of these women have PhDs, but they probably had not had anything to do with western education in decades until this programme. "They are now learning to use IT and also learning skills like sewing by the side. Learning to use the internet, they now visit sites that offer designs for them to make. They print them out, they are making them and selling them. They are doing Desktop Publishing, making greeting cards and wedding invitations. These are women who did not leave their house", the Citizenship Manager said.

The grant was given in March and the first programme started in May with 45 women. "But we are scaling up. Another cycle of grants is expected in November." To make the women realise full benefits of their training in IT, the Bauchi community resource centre devoted two hours everyday for women alone to use the cyber café.

Another partner of Microsoft is Fantsuam Foundation in Bayan Loko, Kafanchan, Kaduna State, which has been supported to build a Knowledge Resource Centre. Part of the grant is meant for the training of some information officers, who take the information from the Knowledge Resource Centre to the communities, in the manner of the Town Criers of old. Fantsuam's area of intervention is microfinance, so it has a huge clientele of over 2, 000 people. It also has a HIV/AIDS intervention programme and offers free computer training to orphans and vulnerable children, which Microsoft also supports.

Microsoft also trains civil servants. About 150 people have been trained in the Accountant General's Office, more than 100 in the EFCC and 250 in a combination of federal ministries. Another 100 are slated for training next month. Umar-Ajijola said the major challenge is "you wish you could do more. So we appreciate what partnership can do. Also, we wish things can go faster. But you have to plan well and sometimes, it means doing things slower."

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