With the doors wide open to any type of passionate about technology opens and, above all, technological DIY, Woelab has a specific program dedicated to a specific group that makes clear how they interpret technology.
By Bhavi Mandalia
In the Djidjolé neighborhood of Lomé (capital of Togo), which is right on the border with Ghana, is the local Woelab, a very particular innovation space. With the doors wide open to any type of passionate about technology opens and, above all, technological DIY, Woelab has a specific program dedicated to a specific group that makes clear how they interpret technology opens.
This innovation space offers free programming classes for children. And, in addition, he tries to spread his philosophy to the neighborhood in different ways, among others, he has infiltrated the schools in the area with 3D design classes for the little ones.
Yes, in Togo, a country that, despite having improved its indicators in recent years, in 2018 still ranked 165 (out of 189) in the Human Development Index classification and in which in December 2017 just over one in ten inhabitants had access to the Internet.
In Kenya, which has significantly better technological and human development indicators than Togo, the differences between rural and urban environments remain very significant.
To reduce that gap, in the technological innovation company BRCK they developed the Kio Kit, a set of digital devices that allows them to carry tablets with Internet access to rural schools located in enclaved or, at least, remote areas.
The arrival of a single “suitcase” has the capacity to turn the classrooms of any school into completely digital spaces.
These are just two examples of the efforts being made on the African continent to familiarize the little ones with the digital environment. A report by UNICEF last year asserted: “If properly harnessed and universally accessible, digital technology opens can change the situation for children left behind – whether due to poverty, race, ethnicity, gender, disability, displacement or geographic isolation – by connecting them to a world of opportunity and equipping them with the skills they need to be successful in a digital world. “
Although fleeing from the technological euphoria and posing all the possible risks, this analysis shows that denying children access to the digital universe means denying them a wide range of opportunities.
Africa is precisely the continent where children and adolescents are least connected, but it is also the space where the most creative initiatives are being deployed to bring these technologies closer to children.
In 2017, Unicef dedicated its annual report children in a digital world, which gives us an idea of the importance that is given from all sectors to the influence that the environment of these technologies is having on the smallest.
It points out that three out of five young Africans between the ages of 15 and 24 are not connected. And this has become a new challenge to reduce inequalities. “But unless we expand access, digital technology can create new gaps that prevent children from reaching their full potential.
And if we don’t act now to keep up with rapid changes, online risks can make vulnerable children more susceptible to exploitation, abuse and even trafficking, as well as other less obvious threats to their lives. welfare ”, warned the organizations dedicated to the defense of children’s rights.
On the African continent, international organizations, government programs, NGOs and social enterprises have launched themselves in this endeavor not to close the doors of the digital future, which is already present, to children.
International actors coincide in this fight with local organizations, groups or activists who are convinced that access to the Internet is a step towards equal opportunities.
Most of the programs show two strategies. On the one hand, the introduction of ICT through education, the easiest way to access large groups of children. And, on the other, the improvement of connectivity in remote areas.
In the first case, for example, Rwanda has launched a digitalization strategy for your classrooms, together with a technology transnational company, which aims to reach all classes in the country by 2020.
In the second approach, the Innovation Fund for Rural Connectivity, launched by the association of telephone operators GSMA, is supporting Sustainable initiatives in Uganda and Ghana to roll out rural mobile broadband networks, improving connectivity in remote areas; while SOS Aldeas Infantiles is developing a program with British Telecom to bring the Internet to remote villages with satellite connections.
The training of teachers is also essential to bring the little ones closer to the digital environment. That is the strong point of the project ProFuturo that the La Caixa Foundation and the Telefónica Foundation have deployed as a massive strategy.
In 2017, it had reached 5.8 million children in 23 countries around the world. Five of them were in Africa and in 2018 they were expanded to another five.
The program brings digital education closer to vulnerable environments, but the main peculiarity is that it emphasizes the training of teachers.
From there, the proposal is based on flexibility to be able to adapt it to different contexts. And due to these different contexts, the concrete answers are also different: mobile classrooms, for schools without connection; or a learning platform in cases where the centers even have the appropriate equipment.
In any case, the initiatives promoted by local actors stand out. Thus many of the innovation spaces that are flourishing on the continent offer proposals for the improvement of digital literacy, such as that of the Togolese laboratory for technological manufacturing Woelab.
Your responsible, Sénamé Koffi, explains that technologies in the future “will be very discriminatory, so denying access to technology may not exactly be a form of violence against children, but it is violence against future adults who will be, because if the child does not he has been impregnated since childhood with the possibilities offered by the digital revolution, he will have a disadvantageous position compared to others ”.
Nivi Sharma has a similar perception. She is the director of operations of the Kenyan technology opens company BRCK and the head of its education division and, therefore, of the Kio Kit project.
In this sense, Sharma emphasizes that the motivation for this initiative is that “digital access unlocks the broader network of knowledge, information and education ”. His sentence is clear: “Education is the best way out of poverty and technology can be a great help for education.”
“When we think of a girl sitting in the Samburu region. A girl who is curious about the world around her and perhaps passionate about renewable energy; It’s so sad to think that his access to knowledge is limited by the four walls of his classroom and by that of his teacher, ”Sharma explains.
In the Togolese case, Koffi points out that his projects are intended to be an educational complement for girls and boys. Open Code Academy are programming classes.
A first contact with the world of technology for the child, which completes what the school does, but at the same time offers them a different experience of education, with a much more open school , explains the head of Woelab. The children manage the entire project, from the identification of the problem they want to solve to its implementation.
“It can be a small application to help Mom, or a robot to go to space,” he says. In parallel, Woelab has introduced 3D printing and design in a dozen schools with the idea that these “become small factories of proximity and that they even have an economic model through 3D printing, both resources for the centers, as well as for the trainers ”. Koffi notes that they are trying to make a significant leap from those ten pilot schools to 300 across the country.
The objective behind this approach of the digital environment to children is to review the model of smartcities.
“We have made the bet that we can build the smartcities by the base, forming smartcitizens (intelligent citizens), people who can develop technological solutions to problems in their environment, be it waste management, mobility or the availability of food. And in this objective, children are fundamental, because they are the future users of the African city ”, confesses Koffi.
However, both Koffi and Sharma introduce nuances to this approach to technology. The Togolese puts the accent on instilling in the little ones some dynamics that are related to thought hacker and that it means being so familiar with technology that it allows them to detect when it is a drag because “the only way to be a free individual in the world of tomorrow will be to be able to disconnect technology when it is not working.”
Despite his efforts, the head of Woelab, questions the technological euphoria and warns of the risks involved in a digital environment, especially if you are not sufficiently familiar. That is the meaning of their training:
“We are talking about children who have started very early in all logic and ethics hacker, the reflection of ‘do it yourself’, so they will understand the new technologies intimately, to develop alternatives if they become too oppressive or alienating. Technology can also be a form of violence, ”he warns.
For his part, Sharma underlines the need for technology opens to be “appropriate and relevant to the infrastructure and environment in which it is used.”
The Kenyan technologist explains that the Kio Kit is the only one hardware technology opens for education that has been designed from the desks of African classrooms. And in a similar sense, Koffi insists on the need to introduce ethics in this approach of technologies to African minors.
“We train children in an interest in design, which is a challenge for Africa, to build things well made, to perfect them, to do them rigorously And, above all, to do them with a sense of economy of energy, to reduce the environmental footprint and not getting used to asking mom and dad to buy things from us, but how they can make them themselves ”.
Originally published at Pledge times