Olajide Ajayi is the director FIRST LEGO LEAGUE (FLL) Nigeria. He is also a Software Engineer/Technical Quality Manager with SAP in Ireland.
SAP is the number one Enterprise Software Application provider in the world. Ajayi is currently coordinating the FIRST® LEGO® League Nigeria with the support of SAP and NITDA.
In this interview with Peter Ugwu, he spoke on their plans to develop next generation of scientists, technologies, engineers and mathematicians in Nigeria via FLL.
First LEGO League
This program is an alliance between LEGO®, the educational giant and FIRST, an organization in the USA. FIRST® was founded by Dean Kamen, an American and inventor, who made Segway, a motorized cycle. He has lots of patent in the US and just thought to himself, ‘I can create things 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. FIRST® LEGO® League is an Educational partnership between FIRST® and the LEGO® Group. It is a program for a team (comprising of 2-10) of children from ages 9 to 16 with a different challenge/theme issued annually. It has three (3) components comprising of Project, Robot Game and Core Values.
In the project, teams research a real-life issue related to the theme of the year, create or proffer a new and innovative solution, then present this information (using different presentation models and props) during a timed presentation to the judges.
This is followed up by a timed question and answer period. The robot game deals with robot design, build and programming to complete a set of missions on a thematic table-top playing surface. Core Values – the FLL Core Values are the cornerstones of the FLL program.
They are among the fundamental elements that distinguish FLL from other programs of its kind. By embracing the Core Values, participants learn that friendly competition and mutual gain are not separate goals, and that helping one another is the foundation of teamwork.
The values are: We are a team; we do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors; we know our coaches and mentors don't have all the answers; we learn together; we honour the spirit of friendly competition; what we discover is more important than what we win; we share our experiences with others; we display Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® in everything we do and we have FUN!
The program offers immense benefits to participating schools and students. It provides schools with a great opportunity to introduce technology into the curriculum to help sharpen students’ digital numeracy skills and also for teachers to get some good training in modern teaching and mentoring techniques.
Some benefits for students are highlighted by using the yearly Challenges, FLL: Entices kids to think like scientits and engineers; provides a fun, creative, hands-on learning experience; teaches kids to experiment and overcome obstacles; builds self-esteem and confidence; inspires kids to participate in science and technology; kids develop life skills such as communication, project, resources and time management and it also offers students unlimited opportunities to test their wits against those of their peers around the world and prepares them to compete favourably in the future within the global knowledge economy.
Partnership with SAP and NITDA
SAP supported us with equipment for Lagos and NITDA(National Information Technology Development Agency) responsible for Abuja.
As I said the program currently being supported by SAP and NITDA is open to more sponsors as number of teams grows year on year and more regions are added to existing ones.
SAP is channelling the future of kids age 9-16 by sponsoring the FIRST® LEGO® League in West Africa. The software giant have taken a leap of faith to support this program and the rewards are starting to show. Recently, at the University of Lagos Nigeria a group of young students called SAP Smart Teens from Onilekere Junior Secondary School Ikeja, a suburb of Lagos Nigeria came out victorious at the inaugural FLL program.
The event had over 300 students, mentors and members of the public in attendance. It was covered by most media houses including AIT, Daily Times, Daily Trust, Nigerian Communication Week etc. The program was hosted by the University of Lagos.
The FLL program is an annual event where kids demographic 9-16 are tasked with the responsibility of finding solution to real-life problems. It also embodies the Core Values of the FLL of Gracious Professionalism and Coopetition.
The most exciting for kids at the University of Lagos event was the Robot Game where the competitors have to carry out several missions on thematic tables using autonomous robots.
Target Demographic Under FIRST LEGO LEAGUE Initiative
The target age 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.
Possible Extension to Tertiary Institutions
FIRST® as an organization have other 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.
Place of Government in Pushing FLL
We have nothing from the Federal Government yet. We are a Non-Governmental /Not for Profit Organisation (NGO) and we have been running on a 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 most of these payments have been coming from personal pockets. We are so short on resources it is unreal, but we just decided that we will carry this through.
We will need other organizations within the public and private sector to support this initiative. e.g. Intel, Google, Telcos like MTN, Airtel, Globacom, Etisalat and other organizations that have the interest of kids at heart.
First LEGO League Competition in Nigeria
This is the inaugural FIRST LEGO LEAGUE competition in Nigeria and it is an annual event. So we give the kids the challenge about August and they work till September through November, December. They work for eight weeks and then we will organize a 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 however schools vacation in December delayed things a bit further. That is why we are doing this at this time.
Next year we will be doing the next one in November/December, so we can get the winners of the Regional championships in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Enugu (Which we plan on including this year) to compete at a National championship.
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.
Selection of Schools
In Lagos we are working with public schools. We approached the Education District and we asked for 10 schools for the pilot phase, but they gave us 20 schools so we merged the 20 schools to 12 teams. Each team comprises of 2-10 students.
Assessment of ICT industry In Nigeria?
ICT in Nigeria is growing. It takes a visionary leader to turn things around and the Minister in charge is doing a lot I think some collaboration between the Ministries of Education and Communication Tech would help strengthen TechEd(Technology Education). Some of the schools we work with lack resources and the teachers lack basic 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 of trained ICT teachers who are able to impart STEM Skills to their students.
Fate of Participating Students and Schools after the Competition
Each school will work in their own school and the ones we joined together have been working cooperatively.
The program does not end after the season as the schools will continue working on honing their programming skills in readiness for the next season.
Government and Funding of Nigeria’s Knowledge Economy
The Federal Government is interested in capacity building for youth within the knowledge economy; thankfully we have a Minister of Communication Technology who is a technocrat and knows that technology should be placed at the core of our development.
We only need people to come up with initiatives such as this and I am certain that she would embrace them. We can’t expect the government to do everything so we need the third sector, public private to come in to fill these gaps.
Hope of Localizing FLL Tools for Local Content Development
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 Robotic Technology Not a New Concept In Nigeria?
It is a new concept in Nigeria and CODERINA is one of the pioneers to bring it to Nigeria. I must say the CODERINA team who are the regional operational partner of FLL have performed really well in such a short time. They only saw this program through my eyes and they hit the ground running and have been able to put together two regional championships in the first year.
Robotics is good for kids because it teaches them how to build, how to create things and changes the mindset that we don’t really have to make much because other people will make them anyway. This is a game changer and it will teach the kids that they can actually create something. Because we gave the students these robots in parts and they built the robots with the software we gave them. You have seen the results of their hard-work today.
First LEGO Legague 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 grow horizontally within the states and we can eventually have central points where kids can come and partake and learn about technology and its application for FREE. We want to take this program to the rural areas, and everywhere we can take it to because this is the future of education.
How Do You Recruit Teams For The Program
The FLL program is open to teams of 2-10kids (having two adult mentors) from public and private schools, after-school groups, churches or mosques group of kids.
The next recruitment session for teams starts in April through May and spaces are limited. Registration of teams is done by registering an interest on the organisers website www.fllnigeria.org or by requesting a demo through the outreach contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.