Education in one Nigerian slum goes digital as charity creates virtual learning hub

Lagos, Nigeria CNN  — 

Seated outside her home in Makoko, a low-income community in Lagos, Nigeria’s bustling megacity, Margaret Okpoe is tapping away on her new tablet.

The 14-year-old is trying to connect to a virtual classroom with her classmates from other parts of Lagos using a video conferencing platform.

Margaret Okpoe learning virtually on her tablet.

Through Slum2School, a child development organization in Nigeria, she was given a data subscription, a mobile tablet and Microsoft Office Teams access to continue her education, which has been disrupted since schools were shut as Nigeria went on lockdown in March.

Okpoe told CNN that she started virtual classes on June 20 and is excited about it because initially studying on her own without a teacher was hard.

“I wanted to continue learning, but I couldn’t really understand because I didn’t have a teacher to explain things to me… I was so excited when some of my mentors informed us that even though schools were shut down, we were going to be able to learn.”

Barriers to virtual learning

Schools globally have shifted to online learning. However, children from disadvantaged communities face barriers that make it difficult for them to participate in remote learning.

Half of learners worldwide do not have a household computer, while in sub-Saharan Africa, 89% don’t have computers and 82% lack access to the internet, figures from UNESCO show.
Many children were consequently prevented from continuing their education during the pandemic.

As a way to ensure the running education of underprivileged communities, Slum2school built a virtual learning hub for children in Okpoe’s neighborhood, Makoko.

Makoko, a community surrounded by water and makeshift homes, is often described as “Nigeria’s floating slum.”

Founded in 2012, Slum2school provides scholarships, psychological support, and education for children living in slums.

‘Future of education is digital’

Before the spread of Covid-19 in Nigeria, Okpoe was in JSS3 (ninth grade) and attended physical classes with her friends, but schools remain shut in the West African nation, which has more than 37,000 confirmed cases as of July 22.

Orondaam Otto, founder of Slum2School, told CNN that 948 children from other rural and under-served communities have also been enrolled in the organization’s virtual classes. The plan is to reach up to 10,000 learners by the end of the year, he said.

“We have trained Slum2school teachers, facilitators…and professional counselors who engage them across various subjects,” he told CNN.

The classes are designed to mimic classroom interactions found in a traditional school setting and are billed as the first of its kind in the country and within the Sub-Saharan region, according to Slum2School.

With help from partners such as American sports channel ESPN and African food operator EatNGo, Otto says they have been able to supply tablets to 108 students.

Around 940 students have 40 teachers with laptops who oversee their learning via their clusters of learning.

They also provided internet connectivity and headphones to the children, ensuring they are able to join the classes. He added that some of the subjects taught include civic education, health and sex education, and verbal reasoning as the classes aim to teach them various life skills.

There is also a strong tech focus as the students also learn networking and basic programming among other subjects.

“At Slum2School we believe that the future of education is digital and every child deserves to have access to the best of educational tools to learn and succeed in the 21st century, regardless of their social and economic background,” Otto said.

Initially during the lockdown, Slum2School focused on providing safety information to protect against the virus, as well as donating food and relief items for affected students.

But soon the children started to miss school and relating with their peers. “They kept asking if there was ever a chance for them to continue learning,” Otto said.

“We also realized that without learning engagement, 92% of these children faced the risk of abuse and some of them wouldn’t return to school.”