The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) through the Digital Access Program earlier in 2021 provided a grant to a non-governmental organisation, Aid for Rural Education Access initiative (AREAi), towards promoting community-based initiatives to enable students from low-income families access remote learning materials, digital education resources options and digital opportunities. The core of our collaboration is premised on ensuring children in low-income rural clusters have access to quality education through equal access to digital learning. The Education Digital Equity Initiative closed out with a National Digital Equity Focus Group Session on Wednesday 7th July, 2021 with key stakeholders in attendance from Internet Service Providers, Mobile Network Operators, Federal Ministry of Education, Development Practitioners and Civil Society Organizations. In attendance were: the Executive Secretary, NERDC ably represented by, Dr. A.M. Asebiomo; Director ICT, Federal Ministry of Education, Mallam Isa Abubakar; Director, Technical Standards & Network Integrity, Engr. Bako Wakil; Monitoring and Evaluation Consultant, UNICEF, Babagana Yahaya Aminu; Deputy Director, MacArthur Foundation, Oladayo Olaide among others.
In his opening remarks, the Head, United Kingdom’s Digital Access Programme and Country Adviser, Idongesit Udoh said, “The UK is keen to support the promotion of affordable, inclusive, safe and secure digital access for underserved or excluded populations in Nigeria, and this project has done significantly well in amplifying our interests to collaborate with diverse stakeholders to promote digital equity, particularly ensuring access to digital education for the unreached and the marginalized”. Extending his gratitude to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) for the grant awarded, Gideon Olanrewaju, the Program Manager for the Education Digital Equity Initiative and Founder of Aid for Rural Education Access Initiative said: “I would like to thank the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) for providing us with this funding support at this material time. Our organisation is happy to have produced and disseminated a comprehensive, actionable evidence-based toolkit that will provide information access and ensure digital learning support for schools and communities to leverage digital/online learning opportunities.”
Through its various proceedings, the National Digital Equity Focus Group Session focused on the roles of various actors driving meaningful digital connectivity and technology usage for improved learning access specifically on vulnerable groups. The event also presented an opportunity for different civil society and non-governmental actors to showcase and highlight what has worked for enabling remote learning for disadvantaged and and also co-create ideas that are workable for the future of digital learning access at school and community levels.
Speaking at the event, the Director, Technical Standards & Network Integrity, Engr. Bako Wakil acknowledged the need for a framework to bridge the education divide in rural and urban communities and highlighted that the federal government has key projects in the 774 LGAs to resolve this and other key connectivity issues.
During a panel session at the event which was centered on “Education for the unreached: Issues and Opportunities”, Key stakeholders in the digital inclusion, education and economy ecosystem, expressed concerns and commitment to making digital education accessible by all and for all regardless of socioeconomic status. They also emphasized the realities of digital exclusion and the corresponding negative effects of school closures during COVID19 which was greatly exacerbated by digital inequity.