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The Travelling classroom bridging the digital divide in Benin5 minutes read

“The idea isn’t to make computer scientists, but just to make children want to use digital technology.”

News Central

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Interior of the BloLab - (Photo by Yanick Folly / AFP)

School was out, but on an afternoon in rural Benin, 11-year-old Ambroise rushed to a tree-shaded parking lot, his day’s learning not yet done.

Parked beneath the cola trees was a lorry trailer loaded with computers — the kind of technology that few students in the West African country had ever seen, much less touched.

Designed by BloLab, a non-profit group based in Benin’s largest city Cotonou, the 13-metre (43-foot) trailer is powered by 12 solar panels and equipped with enough laptops to give rural students a chance to familiarise themselves with computers, which most families cannot afford.

Schoolchildren from Avrankou-Houeze school attend a training in the BloLab container at Avrankou city hall, in Avrankou, south of Benin. Photo by Yanick Folly / AFP)

“When the teacher told us that we’d start having computer class again, I quickly finished my work because I was so happy,” said Ambroise, from eastern Benin’s Avrankou district.

In his class of 48, only four pupils had even touched a computer before. Ambroise had used one at a photocopy shop, while the other three had a sibling who owned one.

In Benin, the digital divide is not just a concept but a reality, said BloLab founder Medard Agbayazon.

“In the towns, many people have technology, there are cybercafes. But in villages it is rare to find a computer or a smartphone,” he told AFP.

Benin’s internet penetration rate is just 42.2 percent, the Regulatory Authority for Electronic and Postal Communication said in a report last year.

Schoolchildren from Avrankou-Houeze school attend a BloLab training in a container with the founder of this non-profit group Medard Agbayazon at Avrankou city hall, in Avrankou, south of Benin. (Photo by Yanick Folly / AFP)

Among these, almost everyone (96 percent) used a mobile phone for accessing the web.

These are the conditions which spawned the idea for a mobile classroom furnished with desks as well as fans to ward off the tropical heat.

BloLab pays to rent a cab to two the trailer, which was donated by Swiss-based charity African Puzzle.

The classroom, which has visited two communities since last August, stays in one place for a month at a time, providing five two-hour computer skills classes per week, free of charge.

It is a drop in the ocean for Avrankou, which has a population of 128,000 scattered around 59 villages served by 88 primary schools.

“The idea isn’t to make computer scientists, but just to make children want to use digital technology. It’s a tool that can solve real problems in everyday life,” Agbayazon said.

As one group of pupils practises using a word processor on the trailer’s laptops, another works in a corner of the town hall, learning to build computers in jerrycans with recycled components from obsolete machines or donated by businesses and charities in Cotonou.

Schoolchildren from Avrankou-Houeze school enter the BloLab container to attend a training, at Avrankou city hall, in Avrankou, south of Benin, on January 18, 2019. – Designed by BloLab, a non-profit group, the 13-metre (43-foot) trailer is powered by 12 solar panels and equipped with enough laptops to give students in the countryside a chance to familiarise themselves with computers, which most families cannot afford. (Photo by Yanick Folly / AFP)

The students are already familiar with terms like “motherboard”, “hard drive”, and “power supply” from a previous lesson.

One of two trainers, Raoul Letchede, shows the kids the components they will use to assemble a makeshift computer in a 25-litre (6.6-gallon) yellow plastic container.

These home-fashioned machines must be hooked up to a computer screen to work.

“This lesson familiarises them with the inside of a computer, demystifies how it works, and shows them that they can make their own even without much money,” Letchede said.

One rule of the mobile classroom is that all the software used must be free to the public.

“We have to promote this practice because we don’t have the money here to buy the licences,” said Agbayazon. “We don’t want to encourage children to hack.”

The approach impressed local official Apollinaire Oussou Lio on a recent visit to the class.

“This is an opportunity to no longer be a slave to software from the big multinationals,” Lio said, adding he would himself like to be more computer savvy.

Schoolchildren from Avrankou-Houeze school attend a training in the BloLab container at Avrankou city hall, in Avrankou, south of Benin. (Photo by Yanick Folly / AFP)

“I’d also like to be trained,” he said, citing a wish to learn to use geo-location to better preserve the surrounding forests.

Teacher Guillaume Gnonlonfoun is happy for his students. The school where he works has no computer, and he himself first used one at university.

Many of Gnonlonfoun’s colleagues have never used a PC, and the BloLab class is open to them as well.

“These days, nothing can be done without digital technology,” he told AFP. 

“So that we don’t end up being the illiterates of this millennium, it is essential that we have equipment.”

But until real computers arrive in the community, pupils and teachers will have no option but to build their own.

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Environment

Namibia is Africa’s most prepared country on energy transition – WEF

Abimbola Awoyele

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Namibia is the best performing African country to make a successful energy transition. This is contained in the World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index 2020 released on Wednesday, May 13.

The report summarizes insights from the “Energy Transition Index” (ETI), which builds upon the previous series of “Global Energy Architecture Performance Index” by adding a forward looking element of country readiness for energy transition.

According to the Fostering Effective Energy Transition report, Nambia has an ETI score of 53,6%, system performance of 54% and transition readiness stands at 53%.
Ghana follows with 53.2% ETI, system performance of 59% and transition readiness of 47%.

The index ranks South Africa 106 out of 115 countries, improving nine places over the past 12 months. The countries are benchmarked on the performance of their energy systems and their readiness for transition to secure, sustainable, affordable and inclusive systems.
Kenya is 79th and rated 54% prepared to make the switch while Zambia and Botswana are ranked 98th and 99th respectively.

Nigeria is the least prepared African country, ranking 113th, one place above Cameroon. Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy, is 35% prepared to make the transition while Cameroon which the report ranks 114th is 42% ready.

In the report, the WEF also warned that the coronavirus pandemic risks cancelling out recent progress in transitioning to clean energy, with unprecedented falls in demand, price volatility and pressure to quickly mitigate socioeconomic costs placing the near-term trajectory of the transition in doubt.
According to the report, economic development and growth dimension of energy transition is currently being challenged by the cascading effects of Covid-19.
Sweden (1) leads the ETI for the third consecutive year, followed by Switzerland (2) and Finland (3). France (8) and United Kingdom (7) are the only G20 countries in the top 10.
Meanwhile, the trend has been moderately positive in Germany (20), Japan (22) and South Korea (48) and Russia (80).
On the other hand, scores for Canada (28), Chile (29), Lebanon (114), Malaysia (38), and Turkey (67) have declined since 2015. The United States ranks outside the top 25% for the first time, primarily due to the uncertain regulatory outlook for energy transition.

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Business News

Facebook, Telecom firms to build subsea cable networks

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Facebook is partnering with a consortium of African and global telecom firms to build one of the world’s largest underwater or subsea cable networks. This will boost Internet availability across three continents- Africa, Middle East and parts of Europe, The firms announced in a joint statement on Thursday.

The partners in this project are South Africa’s MTN GlobalConnect and Mauritius-based infrastructure provider WIOCC , alongside China Mobile International, French telecoms major, Orange SA, Saudi Arabia’s STC, Telecom Egypt, and Vodafone.

The project, called 2Africa, aims to build 37,000 kilometres of subsea cable infrastructure which will directly connect countries around the African coast to Europe and the Middle East, according to its website.

The network will have a design capacity of up to 150 terabytes per second (Tbps) on key parts of the system, according to the site . The 11 new cables rolled out between 2009 and 2016 in sub-Saharan Africa provided around 70 Tbps of design capacity.

Subsea infrastructure provider, Alcatel Submarine Networks will build the project, which is expected to be operational by 2023/24. The companies did not reveal how much money they are investing.

“2Africa… will interconnect Europe, the Middle East and 21 landings in 16 African countries,” according to the statement.

Subsea cables form the internet’s backbone , carrying 99% of the world’s data traffic.

However, with a population of 1.3 billion, Africa is still behind in internet connectivity, with average internet penetration at around 39% against a world average of 59%.

On completion, the subsea network looks to deliver more than the total combined capacity of all subsea cables serving Africa today.

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Business News

Emerging Trends in the financial service sector

Fintech set to disrupt over $4.7 billion in global financial sector revenue.

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Emerging trends disrupting financial services in Africa
Emerging trends disrupting financial services in Africa. Photo source: Shutterstock

Over the years, the financial sector has evolved and introduced what we now know as fintech – which is simply the application of digital technology to financial services and products. The evolution has been vast, ranging from mobile banking to payment processors, online investment and savings platform, loans and many more. The technologies are endless and it is believed that this is only the beginning. 

According to Goldman Sachs, fintech is set to disrupt over 4.7 billion dollars in global financial sector revenue. Fintech is the change that the financial sector has been waiting for but more innovations are set to disrupt already existing companies and the only way to stand out is to keep track of the incoming trends.

Digital-only banks

We have already seen the start of this with the likes of Prospa, a startup that is changing the way businesses bank by eliminating the need to visit brick and mortar banks, providing free transaction, free delivery of ATM cards, convenient invoice management, quick balance review features, and real-time analytics, all in all, providing better customer experience virtually. Thanks to digital banks, visits to brick and mortar banks are set to drop by almost 40% in 2022.

Digital banks are disrupting traditional brick & mortar banks
Digital Banks and Payments are disrupting traditional brick & mortar banks. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

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Artificial Intelligence

The financial sector is poised to depend more on AI to process and handle large transactions. Take the banking industry, for example, AI is projected to reduce its operating costs by 22%, this means saving almost a trillion dollars. AI is already being used by several institutions to enhance customer service e.g Leo by UBA. Its ability to work with unstructured data will make for easy dealing of cyber crimes and financial frauds.

Payments

Digital wallets, mobile and cashless payments will drive the financial sector in terms of payments. In 2019,  there were about 2.1 billion mobile wallet users. Add the use of blockchain to the mix and there is no telling how widely disrupted the sector will be. The main drivers of the disruption will be Generation X.

China takes the lead

China is an overwhelming leader in almost all fintech categories; from payment to lending to wealth management. With over 800 million internet users, 98% of whom are using mobile, it is no surprise that this is the prime area for fintech to thrive. China also has a high rate of investment than the rest of the world, this is equally an added factor. At this point, China is an exemplary leader and the best case study for how the fintech revolution is growing and evolving.

Read Also: Power of partnerships: harnessing the strengths of other businesses to grow

Smart contracts

Blockchain is enabling smart contracts
Blockchain is enabling smart contracts. Lawyers and paperwork are avoided.

Thanks to blockchain technology, we have what is called smart contracts. Basically smart contracts are a way to digitize contracts that would normally require the services of lawyers and tedious processes. In smart contracts, parties sign a smart contact using cryptographic keys as a digital signature. Instead of paper, the contracts are encoded in computer language. Thanks to blockchain the codes cannot be tampered or altered. All devices that get the first digital copy of the contract will serve as witnesses and these devices would all see to the execution of the contract and fulfilment of all terms.

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