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Abuja startup training children robotics, coding for free  

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WITH excitement, Samuel Mbong, 13, held tightly to his android tablet used to control a robotic car. He had just completed a three-week summer boot camp at Venture Park Abuja  where he learnt how to build robots.

Samuel Mbong, a beneficiary of Dumena summer tech class

Samuel Mbong who hails from Calabar, the state capital of Cross River State, wants to be a surgeon, but he is also interested in tech.

He  plans to use tech skills as a side business.

“I didn’t really see this as a full future career, maybe as a side hustle because I want to study Medicine and become a surgeon, he told The ICIR

Mbong alongside 29 other children was trained on how to build Bluetooth Remote Control Car, using Javascript and Python.

He spoke about his enthusiasm for learning and building new things and how the summer boot camp exposed him to new skills. 

Peace Ukwenya Edward, 15, is another tech enthusiast who, despite wanting to study Law at University, sees a career in tech industry.

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Peace, an indigene of Kogi state told The ICIR that her parents inspired her to acquire tech skills.

At the free summer boot camps organised by Dumena Foundation, young students learned how to build and design circuits.

“We designed the circuit driver before building the car,” she said.

Though increasing number of students are showing interest in technology, especially in building websites, coding programmes, developing software and building artificial intelligence, only a few could access the opportunity for learning technology courses because of the exorbitant fee.

This is the gap that startup like Dumena Foundation is trying to fill.

How Dumena is bridging tech gaps

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Dumena Foundation, a non-governmental organisation based in Abuja, works to provide children between the age of 5 and 18 knowledge of  robotics engineering and programming.

The Executive Director, Kingsley Ezejiaku said since its inception in 2019, the organisation has trained over 3000 children across 22 schools in Abuja.

Kingsley Ezejiaku, Executive Director of Dumena Tech Company

Dumena Foundation believes there is a huge value in introducing children to science and technology right from the young age.

 Having realised the gap in tech education between Nigeria and the advanced  countries, Ezejiaku founded the technology startup in 2019 to bridge the gap.

He started by engaging pupils  through online coaching, and later realised the need to organise a physical summer class where students would meet with instructors to learn Robotics  Programming.

“There was a time when I wanted to do stuff, I couldn’t easily get access to the people I was going to work with. Then, I began to realise that to be able to solve this problem, we have to start with education. The tech talent shortage problem can only be solved by education in technology, so instead of just doing online school or using technology to teach, so why don’t we start teaching technology itself, that’s basically how it started for me.”

Ezejiaku told The ICIR that Dumena chose to work with children during holidays as a way of building their foundation.

Children demonstrating their Tech skills
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“I figured that we can make more impact when we work with younger children than adult. There are programs designed for graduate, under-graduate but I think that when you start earlier you will be able to have a proper foundation. People like Bill Gate, for instance, started at a very early age, so the earlier children can be engaged in this thing the more impact they can make in the long time.”

He said the mission of Dumena Foundation is to place children aged betwren 5 and 18 on track to careers in tech.

“In Africa and in Nigeria there’s a tech talent shortage and our mission is to actually bridge that gap, so what we are doing is that we are building a pipeline for tech talent in Africa. And this summer school is one of the things we are doing to achieve that mission.”

On Saturday Agust 27, Dumena organised a race competition  for the 30 kids who successfully completed their projects.

Bluetooth Remote Control Car

“This particular summer school is free, all they need is to come with a laptop and of course we asked them to buy a kit that they are going to use for their project, but it was completely free and I can say that that was mostly due to the support received from Venture Park,” he added.

 Dumena’s partnership with Ventures Park made the summer coaching possible, said the startup founder.

“The children only needed to come with a laptop and the materials for building their robots.”

On how the organisation gets funds to execute projects, Ezejiaku said the foundation has not received funding since launch.

 “We don’t have any other sponsor apart from the partnership with Venture Park for now. We basically fund most of the projects from our pockets.”

 

I want to help humanity through tech-participant

Soephanie Ukwenya, another beneficiary of Dumena tech class

Soephanie Ukwenya, 13, who is one of the beneficiaries of the summer boot camp told The ICIR that she would be willing to use her Tech skills to help humanity.

Ukwenya was happy that she learnt the basic of circuits, building, Java script and programming.

“I am a beginner programmer, I do some programming and Java script and I am also interested in building robots. In the future, I hope to help humankind, and make their work easier and better.

Eight-year-old Daramola Richard Ajibola, from Osun State was seen operating his robot car with an application called Bluetooth RC Controller.

“It’s fun. I like to build robot and I will like to be a robot engineer in the future.”

A very good approach-Experts

The information technology sector alone contributed 17.92% of Nigeria’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2021. Over the last five years, the sector has grown by 18 percent between 2016 and 2019.

Growing from less than 1 percent of GDP in 2001, the tremendous growth has now positioned Nigeria as the leading tech market on the African continent, with 90 tech hubs and a growing and vibrant customer base.

Bashar Muhammad, a software developer said  foundations such as Dumena that focuse on tech education for children would play a good role in boosting tech market in Nigeria.

“We need more young ones in the industry,” he said. 

Marvelous Mbah, an IT consultant and coding expert, also stressed the importance of including IT training in children curriculum.

Robotic Tech skill in particular helps broaden the knowledge of the children and  help them in their academic career.

“Tech skills are broad and of course related to every field. It can be used in medical field to detect disease and also can be used in the media too. So, it is great to start exposing children to the skill early in life.

Heaps of Challenges

Despite Dumena effort to widen access to tech education for children in Abuja, the challenges are many.

One of the major challenges according to Kingsley is funding.

“Funding is our major challenge. We want to grow beyond summer class but before we do that, we need funds.”

Dumena is further constrained by limited resources to carry other tasks that aid the process such as building of studios, schools and labs.

“To make our program more accessible to a lot more children, there are ways we can do that, but it requires a lot of resources to be able to create low price programme for children. 

“Right now we just finished building the online platforms, so we are looking to start creating content. One of the first things is to have a studio where content is being created and side by side with that, we’ll also introduce robotics skills that can be used for specific project,” he added.

Dumena currently is building this system with shoestring budget.

A tech expert, Babalola Shittu, said startups like Dumena are revolutionizing the tech industry in Nigeria, not only by providing employment opportunities for the youths but also solving critical problems facing in the country.

He said teaching children programming and coding will put Nigeria in the same league with other countries advanced in technology.

“The idea of teaching children betwen the age of 5 and 18 years of age is a commendable approach and will surely give Nigeria an edge in the future. It will make us a great nation.”

 

Author profile

Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: umustapha@icirnigeria.com. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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