School on Air: Learning without Borders, Walls --- Oluniyi Agbetunsin Featured

Thursday, 01 October 2015 00:00 Written by  Published in Advertorial Read 3212 times
Oluniyi Agbetunsin, MD Byteplus Limited Oluniyi Agbetunsin, MD Byteplus Limited

Mr Oluniyi Agbetunsin, MD/CEO of Byteplus Limited, one of the partners in the School on Air (SOA) project, speaks with Adam Alqali on the concept.

 

Tell us more about Byteplus Limited?

Byteplus Limited is an IT company with strong bias for the educational sector which was incorporated in 2000. We are basically systems integrators: we aggregate technology and use it in solving day-to-day challenges like we are currently doing in the educational sector. The company is into partnership with critical sectors of the Nigerian government as well as the private sector organisations including educational institutions as well as military installations and individuals, all of whom have benefitted from our technology solutions.

 

I understand you are into partnership with the Ibadan-based Education Advancement Centre the outcome of which is the School on Air concept. Tell us more about EAC and your partnership?

The Educational Advancement Centre is a digital content provider based in Ibadan, Oyo State. They have been around for a long time; they have various arms of schools– preparatory school for those going into tertiary institutions, regular secondary schools, as well as tutorial classes. Although they have got various divisions of schools, one of their greatest strengths is in content management, digitizing content and curriculum retooling and rejigging for tutorials. We partner with them in the deployment of their novel product, the mobile video tutorial. The mobile video tutorials are tools that aid students of senior secondary schools to advance their knowledge, in addition to the conventional system of teaching. So, we partner with them in the area of platform provision, both online and offline platforms. The mobile video tutorials were running on a digitalized video segment; using video to broadcast via satellite so we discussed with them and suggested that we could achieve more if we use the internet but as usual the internet has its own limitations: being expensive, being scarce and in Nigeria been highly unreliable or unstable. So, we teamed up to set up the mobile online platform for e-learning and at the same time provided an offline platform with embedded video players to play the video offline, in case there is an interruption of internet service and the concept have been largely successful.

 

How successful can you describe your partnership with EAC?

The partnership is about five years old now. I remember that our first partnership was in the area of provision of examination content for a university where we had already provided an offline examination solution for post UTME, which was in 2011. So, the questions were well aggregated, standardized and were well rendered in the test environment. That was our first partnership and it was largely successful. In terms of the mobile video tutorials, our collaboration has been fantastic because Byteplus has been able to customize and integrate an element from Harvard called EDX, to serve the purpose of mobile video tutorial which I think EAC has found very useful in the deployment of their solution. Currently, our embedded mobile offline player which sits on tablets and even cheap android phones has been able to serve their needs. In terms of encryption and protection of copyright, we have been able to do that by adding extended password generators on to the platform. So, I think our partnership has been very, very successful and collaborative and I honestly believe we are geared for greater things working together with EAC.

 

How effective is the e-schooling concept as a teaching tool, especially since it doesn’t provide the teacher-student kind of interaction?

Thank you for that question. Looking at the new age, the modern trends, technology is taking over so many things but there is no way technology will replace structure-led teaching, all these tools are just aids to complement regular teaching, no one can replace regular teaching in schools. E-learning is simply learning without borders, without classroom, without walls. You can learn more, teach more, and tutor more when you are borderless. You’re not confined to the classroom; your teaching hours are flexible. It has got all the good sides as well as its challenges in terms of honor codes, will you pledge allegiance to take the questions yourself without anyone trying to help you while you are at home. Are you going to be truthful to the course ethics in terms of learning and be honest when taking your exams and tests, all these combine to pose dangers to e-learning. But as I said, with the advent of technology and the way it is advancing, exam proctoring has gone to advance stage such that you can have a third party somewhere, which is why you can do supermatic authetification on the internet and across the board and you can take exams and verify the nature of the exam using the video conferencing tool. Traditional schooling will always be there; e-schooling will always support and probably add value to what exists now. Here in Nigeria, it is new and just emerging but the truth is that it is going to be limitless; it is going to take over the way we do many things in the educational sector. And I think the country is getting primed for the advent of e-learning.

 

You are into partnership with Nakura International Limited, which is your partner in northern Nigeria, a region considered to be educationally disadvantaged. How do you hope to use this opportunity to give northerners the opportunity to be educated and therefore compete with their fellow Nigerians from other parts of the country?

I don’t like the word disadvantaged, I will instead prefer challenged, northern Nigeria is currently challenged by many issues including security, political perception etc. we now have the Almajiri education, nomad education which are unique systems of the education peculiar to the region. First of all, we had to pick up a partner that understands the terrain, Nakura International has been around for a while in various areas of business and they understand the business dynamics, the socioeconomic perception of northern Nigeria towards education. The company understands what it takes to penetrate and reshape the psychological perception of learners in northern Nigeria. So, for us to work with Nakura International we must have done our due diligence on the company and its proprietor on the way they do business and I believe we have selected a partner that will be able to take us further into the hinterlands of northern Nigeria. So, the benefit is immense and it cannot be underestimated in terms of work ethics, professionalism and economic value for the two partners involved. And for the users, I tell you it is a novel idea that will revolutionize the way things are done.

 

How do you see the future of e-schooling and e-learning in Nigeria?

The future of e-schooling is as good as the future of GSM in Nigeria. It is not about introduction, it is also about sustainability, a lot of sustainability strategy is been brought into the e-learning environment. Now, in the next quarter, starting from June/July we will be launching the Nakura Educational Tablet which will come already embedded with a mobile offline player that will synchronize automatically with the online player once there is internet access.  So, you can largely learn 100% offline without the internet. The tablets will be manufactured in northern Nigeria, it is going to bring about affordability, technology and sustainability of e-learning into e-learning in the region. So, the vision is as bright as what we had when GSM came. It helped reduce the risk of traveling and financial risks and others. The next level will be sustainability. Now, the GSM companies are complaining of power. As such, we have carefully looked into that. Therefore, the tablets we will be producing in Kano will have a battery life of up to four to five days. So, these are areas we are looking towards bringing our expertise through our partnership with Nakura International.

How affordable would the e-schooling technology be?

It is unbelievably very, very affordable and due to the challenges of financial penetration in the region, our initial model of the tablets (seven and half inches) will come at a price that is less than $100, which is less than N20, 000. We can assure you that we will do everything possible to deal with the issue of cost.

What are the challenges of doing e-schooling business in Nigeria?

Infrastructure, as I have said earlier, access to the internet is still a scarce resource in Nigeria; the infrastructural limitation has not helped the growth of e-learning. Secondly, the perception of e-learning as a dishonorable learning method is also not encouraging e-learning. I doubt if any employer of labor in Nigeria will employ someone that has a certificate from a school that is 100% online. So, we need to build in trust into the delivery of e-learning. A couple of universities are borrowing a leaf in that respect including Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Ibadan as well as University of Port Harcourt and we are proud to be part of that process. So, there are lots of efforts from the tertiary institutions and most importantly from NUC to ensure that the programs are well regulated, well delivered and well-articulated and the honor codes and schemes can be built into it so that people can come to accept certificates from schools that are purely online.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 December 2015 03:46
Adam Alqali

Adam Alqali is an independent journalist whose stories have appeared
on africacheck.org, blueprint.ng andnewsdiaryonline.com. He can be
reached at aalqali@gmail.com