NITDA Supports First Lego League to Inaugurate the Robotic League Program in Nigerian Schools

Last week,the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA)supported First Lego League to inaugurate the Robotic league program in Nigerian schools. The Director of Lego League, Mr Olajide Ajayi,spoke with our correspondent, Tony Nwakaegho, on the Robotics program. In this interview he gave an expose of how it all began and the future of First Lego League in Nigeria. Excerpts:

Let us into a brief background of yourself and the First Lego League Nigeria?

I am Olajide Ajayi, Director First Lego League (FLL) Nigeria and also the Technical Quality Manager with SAP in Ireland which is the number one Enterprise Software provider in the world. I am now coordinating the First Lego League Nigeria with the support of SAP and NITDA.

What is Robotic programme all about?

It is called the First Lego League and it is an alliance between Lego, the educational giant and First, an organization in the US. First was founded by Dean Karmen, an American and inventor, who made Segway , a motorized cycle which is like a bicycle that you can stand on instead of sitting.. They are used in terrains where you don’t use cars. He has a lot of patent in the US and just thought to himself, “ I can create tings why don’t I teach people how to create  things” So he founded the organization called First and then partnered with Lego to form the First Lego League. So First Lego League is a program that has four elements, one is the Robot game, the Robot performance where the kids are given mission annually which they perform on the table. They build the Robo and program the robot to carry out missions on a thematic table. We have another component called project where we give them topic to research and come up innovative ideas and they present it in front of judges. We also have another part called the Core Values and this teaches the kids how to work as a team to be gracious in defeat or when they win.  We want the kids even though in the face of stiff competition they can still work together as a team. That is where we coined the word “Coepetition”- It is a trade mark by the First Lego League. This is because they cooperate  and work together, hence there is now an award for gracious professionalism, best behaved team, team which displayed exceptional ability to assist other teams or to work with other teams. This teaches them live skills that will help them go through life as reasonable and sensible human beings.

Who are your target audience in this First Lego League initiative?

The demography is 9 years to 16 years because it is an age bracket we feel will have the mental capability to learn the programming and the rigorous task that we want to put them through.

Could this initiative also be extended to tertiary institutions? 

In the First Lego League, First has  field programs, one is the Junior FLL, which is targeted at the primary kids, then FLL which is targeted to nine to 16 years,  then FTC which is First Tech Challenge targeted at the university. So we will be bringing that as well.

How is your partnership with NITDA in Nigeria at the moment?

NITDA has supported us with SAP. They gave us equipment to run it and the equipment they gave us will only cover Lagos, and we need to do this not only in Lagos. We want it to spread across the Federation. So one of their Board of Directors approached NITDA and they have been very supportive for the initiative. They gave us resources too for Abuja and they are supporting it seriously.

Aside from NITDA, do you have other support from government?

We have nothing from the Federal Government yet. We are a Nongovernmental Organisation (NGO) and we have been running on shoe string budget and been working with people on a shoe string budget. You know that volunteering culture is not very popular in Nigeria, so everybody we have to work with we have to pay. And we are so short on resources that is unreal, but we just decided that we will carry this through. We will need organization like NITDA, USPF, Intel, Google, Telcos like MTN, Airtel, Globacom, Etisalat and any other organization that have the interest of kids at heart.

Has First Lego League approached these organization for assistance, sponsorship or funding?

No, we haven’t. We will approach them in due course.

Is this the first First Lego League competition in Nigeria?

This is the first First  Lego League competition in Nigeria and it is an annual event. So we give the kids the challenge about July, August  and they work till  September through November, December. They work for eight weeks and then we will do the tournament or championship for them. This year we started late because the resources didn’t come in until much later in the year. So  we started in November towards the vacation in December. That is why we are doing this at this time. Next year we will be doing the next one in December, so we can get the kids within the Regional championship in Lagos, Regional Championship in Abuja and the National championship. We hope to include Port Harcourt. We want to expand along the geopolitical zones. So we started in Abuja which is the North Central and Lagos which is the South West.  We hope to do the South South and South East this year so that we can have the National Championship in January. We have the Regional in December and National championship in January.

How did you select the schools that are partaking in this competition in Lagos?

In  Lagos we are working with public schools.  We approached the Education District and we asked for 10 schools as a pilot, but they gave us 20 schools so we merged the 20 schools to 12 teams, so the teams will be two to 10 teams merged into 12 schools. So we are working with 20 schools merged into 12 teams.

How do you assess the ICT industry in Nigeria?

ICT is an eye opener, but the schools lack resources and the teachers lack ICT skills. So one of the things we hope to achieve with this program is to teach the teachers so that we can build an ecosystem, and have the pool of knowledgeable teachers and an ecosystem of knowledge workers.

What is the fate of the students that were merged from different schools after this competition?

Each school will work in their own school and the ones we joined together could inter-relate and work from one school this week and another next, which will bring about cooperative learning between those schools and this, is a good thing. Actually it does not end there as the schools will continue knowing that another tournament is coming in December. Whatever you are going to see today will be improved upon by the schools next year.

Is the Government really funding knowledge economy?

The Federal Government will be interested in knowledge economy; they only need people to come up with this initiative. We can’t expect the government to do everything so we need a third sector, public private to come in to fill the gap, where the government and private can fill when they know that there is enough resources. What we are doing, is that we are developing human capital and we need the Federal Government to support this. And we can only get better.

How do you source for materials for the competition?

We gave them all the materials which Lego made abroad.

Is there any hope to localize the material in accordance with the local content policy of government?

What we do is that Lego gives us a challenge every year and the challenge for this year is going to be “how do you manage your waste”. Waste is generated everywhere across the world, so the kids in England will work on how to manage their waste looking at their environment. The kids in Nigeria will look at the Nigerian environment and see how to manage their waste. It is localized and it funnels down to the local environment. The kids in England will teach us how they want to learn. And the kids in Nigeria will teach us how they want to learn. It is an application and you apply it to your environment. It is a gestation that will determine the idea you are to throw forward.

Is Robot Technology not a new concept in Nigeria?

It is a new concept in Nigeria and we are one of the pioneers to bring it to Nigeria. Robotics is good for kids because it teaches them how to build, how to make things and relate with the mindset that we don’t really have to make much because other people will make them. This is a game changer and it will teach the kids that they can actually make something. Because we gave them robots in pieces and they built the software which you are seeing today, they are perfect and it is very good.

Where do you hope First Lego League will be in the next two to five years?

In the next two to five years we want First Lego League to be running across the Federation and we can now grow up horizontally within the states and we can now have a central  point where kids can now come ad partake in this program and we will take  it to the rural areas, and everywhere we can take it to  because this is the future of education.

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Ihesiulo Grace

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