Free access to education remains an enduring issue for a lot of children in Africa, especially those living in rural poor communities. According to UNICEF research, over 18 million children in Nigeria are out of school and girls make up 60% of this population. Major enhancing factors of out-of-school children include poverty, child labour, distance to school and cultural practices in some communities. As a woman who believes that education should be accessible to every child regardless of gender, tribe and background, Judith Okonkwo is using XR to provide access to education to underserved communities in Nigeria and Africa.
The Imisi 3D Mission
J. O. – I run Imisi 3D (link), an XR creation lab focused on developing the ecosystem for all extended reality technologies; virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality across the African continent. We’re headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria, but doing everything we can to support the growth of XR across Africa and exploring ways that it can be used to create solutions on the continent. We focus our activities into three main categories:
- Evangelization: Not enough people know about XR. Our first goal is to ensure that as many people as possible get to know about it, and we want to give them their first touch and feel of the technology. Our labs are open access spaces for people to experience XR. Our major lab is in Yaba, Lagos, and some other labs across Nigeria and Africa. Alongside providing access to XR, they are catalysts for building a community around the technology.
- Building a community of XR Creators: XR has various uses, we want to let people know there are so many use cases for XR beyond entertainment and gaming. We want them to start exploring how they might use these technologies to build locally – for us on the continent, but also the world. With this drive, we’re building a community of XR creators across Africa under the AR/VR Africa brand. We organise monthly meet-ups and free masterclasses. We also have an online community and a discord server with over 2,000 people from all across the continent.
We have also been running hackathons since 2016 because we want to encourage people to not just experience the technology, but also create with it. We want to ensure that everyone has access to the technology regardless of their background, to stir them towards using XR to create real-life impact in society.
- Investing Time and Resources in Impact: Beyond using XR to create, we are keen on working in areas where there is potential for immediate significant impact for society such as Education, Mental Healthcare, Storytelling and Digital Conservation. One of our core focus areas is Education, and we are investing resources and time to support the adoption of XR in this sector.
Women’s Inclusion in XR Creation
J. O. – Firstly, our goal to drive education for women starts with arming them with XR creation skills. We are keen to have women well represented in our masterclasses, as in-demand XR creation skills lead to a number of career pathways in XR ultimately providing financial independence. The last hackathon we hosted had 23% women participation. I am particularly interested in driving that number up and we’re exploring different methods to foster women’s inclusion in XR Creation. For example, we’re looking at partnering with SheCodes Africa because that’s a fantastic community of women who are involved in technology. We would love to attract more of these women to the XR creation space. We also provide opportunities for women to intern at our labs while exploring possible ways to collaborate with them.
J.O. – To showcase the current state and potential of XR on the continent, I worked on an African XR Report alongside Dale Deacon and Gareth Steele to map out the extended reality ecosystem in Africa. It is a first-hand account of how the XR industry continues to create jobs, empower artists, educate youth, solve business problems, and inspire experimentation. Here’s a link to the report. I look forward to seeing many more women tap into the diverse opportunities the extended realities present in Africa.
Access to Quality Education in low-income schools
J.O. – I believe XR is a very important tool for achieving SDG 4 – Quality Education. Since we started our VR for Schools program in 2017, we have been deliberate in our focus on the public school system that educates the majority of our children. We are going into resource-constrained environments where students may have access to little or no educational materials. We are also talking to teachers, to understand their needs and let us know how XR can be helpful in their teaching.
J.O. – I always argue that the money spent to set up the computer labs in our public schools would be better spent to set up VR labs instead. Where computers require power from the grid, which we know is unreliable, or generators, which are expensive; If you purchase an all-in-one VR headset, it can be charged with a solar portable instead. So, rather than have computer labs that are dormant, VR labs can be set up instead. There are other challenges like connectivity. UNICEF has a project called GIGA aimed at getting internet connectivity to every school, but before that, one of the great things about VR headsets is that they have storage systems, this means you can download educational content and store them on the headset which is a huge plus. If we’re looking at the bigger picture, it’s not as expensive in comparison to setting up some other facilities in schools.
J.O. – We worked with Jibowu High School in Yaba, the average number of students in the school is about seventy or eighty in a class, and everything is paper based. So, in introducing VR to the school, we worked closely with the teachers first. We want to support their work and create a positive experience for them and their students. As the experts in the classroom, they let us know how best we can help with VR. It’s not just about the technology, we have to ask ourselves important questions like: How can we get the right educational content that works for the public school system in Lagos. We were fortunate to be supported by UNICEF to develop educational content specific to the Nigerian curriculum.
J.O. – Right now, we have a few prototypes of the educational content for students in secondary school. I am now keen on finding partners so we can run a robust pilot study. We aim to demonstrate the impact of VR as a learning aid on learning outcomes. Gathering empirical data will allow us to more effectively advocate for the use of these technologies; we can present it to international organisations like UNICEF, the World Bank, and others invested in the realisation of SDG 4.
J.O. – We all know that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world and my goal has always been that even if these children cannot come to school, the school should be able to go to them. There are societal impediments to free access to education, but if we have the content that we know is delivering the learning outcomes we want, can we get it into the hands of every child?