Gideon Olanrewaju is the founder/CEO of Aid to Rural Education Initiative (AREAi), a non-profit that seeks to improve the access and quality of education available to disadvantaged children in rural communities across Africa
How far have you gone in achieving AREAi’s vision of improving access and quality of education available to poor and disadvantaged children in rural communities in the last 4 years?
From 2014 to date, we have impacted on the lives of 6,000 students from across 4 schools in 4 rural communities. Since we are a nonprofit organisation which relies on donations to fund its activities, each year we adopt and work with one school; this helps us achieve quality, impact and sustainability.
After adopting a particular school, we design a project that suits the school taking into cognizance their specific challenges; it is called context specific learning. And having recognized poverty as a huge barrier for access to education in such rural communities where we work, we provide economic empowerment opportunities for mothers so they are able to support their children’s education.
For example, in 2015, we built a library at a school called Apete Community High School in Ibadan, Nigeria; the construction of the library was made possible with the support of the MTN Foundation which provided customized chairs and desks for the library. We also partnered a group called SDG Nigeria to launch an online campaign aimed at securing book donations from across the world and within a short period of time, we were able to obtain about 5,000 educational materials for the library.
Another organisation called Teach for Nigeria also donated books which they also got from Teach For All in the US, the National Library of Nigeria donated some books as well and that was how we established a library for the school in a hitherto abandoned classroom. We were able to also source for laboratory equipment and set up a science laboratory for the school’s students of Physics, Chemistry and Biology.
Moreover, we have conducted academic excellence training workshops for the school’s teaching staff to improve their capacity. As a result of our intervention, the students of the school in Apete recorded a 43% improvement in their performance at the subsequent West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), against the previous year’s 12%.
The following year, we intervened at Government College, Ibadan (GCI) where we conducted a needs assessment survey and realized that what the students of the school needed was professional or rather 21st century skills – not literacy and numeracy skills. This was because we have realized that our educational system and curriculum in Nigeria has become outdated which means Nigerian graduates cannot compete with their counterparts from other parts of the world.
We, therefore, designed a non-conventional education for sustainable development (ESD) forum, which took the students out of their classrooms and gave them the opportunity to freely express themselves; artistically and vocally or in any way that make them felt free. It was based on the UNESCO model of quality education which comprises of five components: learners, learning environment, processes, content and outcomes.
So, our ESD forum was much more beyond providing infrastructural support instead it was more about providing content-driven interventions. And we were able to empower the students with skills that they could use in designing solutions for challenges in their families and communities, since the essence of being educated is to be able to solve family, community and global challenges. Our aim is to develop thinkers and social innovators and what we did was really transformative.
Nonprofits founded by young people such as yours always grapple with the challenge of access to funding, how are you able to source funds to execute projects?
I am able to overcome this challenge by leveraging my personal network, using a model called resource mobilization model which is about identifying the project we need to execute in a particular location and then costing it before approaching potential donors to ask them to directly fund a particular aspect of the project. We don’t ask for money. Therefore, in the past 3 years we have got donations of computers, books, etc. Of course it is limiting but if you know how to navigate your way it’s quite rewarding.
Where do you hope to see AREAi in the next 10 years, in terms of improving access and quality of education available to poor and disadvantaged children in rural communities across Africa?
One of the things we are trying to do at AREAi now is decentralize our intervention model to be able to reach more poor and rural communities across Africa, based on the experiences I have acquired studying educational development at the University of Sussex. We are designing a model that will respond to quite a number of issues when it comes to education. It will respond to issues around access, inclusivity, equity, and quality.
Now, this model is what we seek to duplicate across Africa in the next 10 years, therefore upon my return to Nigeria in January 2019, I will be piloting the model in the northeastern part of the country and the idea is to replicate the model 300, 000 times, by the year 2030. It is ambitious but achievable.
Having tested that model and measure its impact, we will then create an international movement of youth organisations and young people working to promote access to education. We want to come up with a community where young people can share ideas and resources as well as receive capacity building to ensure that the dream of achieving inclusive, equitable and qualitative education for every child is achieved by 2030.
That coalition will be used not only to build the capacity of young people but also to decentralize the solution AREAi is seeking to develop to address all the foundational challenges around access to education for poor children in marginalized communities of Africa.
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