Man works toward better education in Nigeria

Urges schools in his home country to link to colleges like Lincoln University

Students take notes during a video conference lecture. Idon Akogun is working to get this type of learning technique in schools in his native country of Nigeria.

Students take notes during a video conference lecture. Idon Akogun is working to get this type of learning technique in schools in his native country of Nigeria.

Idon Akogun fumbled through his pocket for his iPhone on that Monday afternoon. He knew he had to take a picture for his Facebook profile.

It was May 5, and the 36-year-old was standing in a classroom on the other side of the world with 80 Nigerian undergraduates, watching as the professor on the TV discussed integrated pest management. Most people in the room had never heard of videoconferencing before, but they welcomed the technology with open arms. The rows of pupils tilted their heads upward and stared into the slim black screen.

Akogun, the man responsible for the course, snapped a photo and proudly shared it with his followers.

“It was an amazing moment,” said Akogun, founder of the E-Don Electronic Education Initiative Program. “You have to remember this is the first time a program was doing this in Nigeria; this is the first videoconferencing linkage program between a Nigerian school and a foreign school outside the country.”

On that trip back to his native country of Nigeria, E-Don shared their videoconferencing technology with college students for the first time. It’s a goal Akogun and his colleagues have been working toward ever since the program’s inception.

Over the past four years, E-Don has strived to create linkages between Nigerian schools and instructors from colleges like Lincoln University in Jefferson City. It hasn’t been easy, either. The road to that first videoconference lecture was long and winding, Akogun said, filled with more than a few rejections.

In pitching the idea to Nigerian Universities, the responses were often the same. Not a lot of instructors liked being told another professional was going to come in and teach their class, and even fewer liked the idea of venturing into a new education system.

“It takes a lot of doing, but where there’s a will there’s a way,” Akogun said. “There’s a lot of people who say no, but there are people who say yes, and we tie our voices to those people.”

The videoconferencing technology isn’t meant to replace Nigerian teachers, he explained. Instead, it’s supposed to function as an outlet for students to receive additional instruction from a more diverse set of teachers.

“In Nigeria, most schools don’t have that opportunity to have the kids understand how business is run in the U.S., or how healthcare is run in India,” Akogun said. “They don’t have those options.”

Akogun knows the disadvantages of the Nigerian education system all too well. He spent the first 22 years of his life in the African country, going through public school, college and eventually military education. None of the schools he attended were bad in any way, he said, they just didn’t have the same resources of their American equivalents.

When he received a scholarship to come to Lincoln University in 2001, he was excited to experience a new educational system. The prospect of a new culture also excited Akogun, who had never been to America.

Visions of New York City’s Times Square filled his head on that flight to St. Louis, but the end result was a bit different, he remembers.

“During that long drive from the St. Louis airport to Jeff City, I was just like, ‘this was not in the brochure,’” Akogun said. “I was like, ‘where is all this land coming from?’”

It wasn’t until 2009 that he had the idea for E-Don. Around the time, Nigeria wasn’t generating the most positive press — it was the height of the country’s controversial email scams. Upset, he decided to visit his home country to see what was going on.

As soon as Akogun arrived, something else stuck out to him. Being back around the Nigerian education system, he realized a prominent problem: students weren’t exposed to the same resources he experienced abroad.

“I wanted to be able to be a part of the solution and not just talk about the problem” Akogun said. “I thought being part of the solution would be to find avenues to bring an answer to this divide.”

It was a goal that radically changed his life, causing him to sink a large chunk of his time into the E-Don project. It also led him to a paid consultant job with the Nigerian National University Commission, in which he advises on outreach in education.

Akogun said all of his efforts are for the younger generation of Nigerians. Through better education, he wants to inspire kids across the globe to pursue their passions.

“I’ve always felt that no matter how young a person is, if that person has a dream, if they have at a young age that thing that makes them want to be someone special and make a difference in society, then I think it’s up to us to empower that dream,” he said. “If we kill it at that young, tender age, then we’ve lost something beautiful going forward.”

Dr. Jaime Pinero, an assistant professor at Lincoln University, also wanted to get involved with the program to empower young people without sufficient resources. Even though Pinero said he experienced exceptional education growing up in Mexico, he knows it’s not a reality for everyone.

He met with Akogun in 2010. As soon as he heard the idea for the videoconference lectures, without hesitation, he said he wanted in.

“If I can give back to students that need help, that’s what I will do,” Pinero said.

An expert in agriculture and environmental science, it was Pinero who taught the course on integrated pest management in May. Sitting in his Jefferson City office, he remembers marvelling at the group of Nigerian students in his TV screen. The group asked close to 30 minutes of questions after the first lecture, he said, excited about the interactive technology.

When Akogun returned to Jefferson City from Nigeria, the two met at Panera and relived the week-long course. They also took some time to talk about the future of E-Don — a conversation that has continued since.

“We have been discussing the idea of doing this again, reaching other universities,” Pinero said. “I think it’s a very efficient use of resources.”

Akogun plans on continuing to pitch his program to Nigerian schools, and he’s headed back to the country this week to do just that. He knows he’ll do whatever he can to give students in his homeland an opportunity for improved education.

“People think the biggest thing African countries need is food or clothing, but that’s not true,” Akogun said. “A lot of the kids out there are very intelligent and they want to have a better grasp of information.”

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