Abayomi Akanji is a Nigerian entrepreneur and education technology enthusiast. R:Ed sat down with him at Reimagine Education in London to discuss a start-up he launched at 19, and the role of technology in entrepreneurship across Africa.
R:Ed: Could you give us a short introduction to yourself and what you do?
My name is Abayomi Akanji, I’m a specialist in education technology. In Africa, the inequality in quality education is very wide so I’m looking to reduce this gap. In Nigeria for instance, about 70% of students fail the university admission examination annually. The issue is that you can only resit the examination the following year. In between, then need to keep studying and preparing, and of course, this is often expensive. So Pass.ng, my startup develops tech solutions to help students pass the examination with more success. I also volunteer with LEAP Africa, which focuses on equipping students with the necessary skills to make them change agents in their communities. LEAP Africa doesn’t only focus on students, but also on teachers who are role models to the students.
R:Ed: You mentioned that you started Pass.ng to tackle the issues related to accessing higher education. How did you find the process of launching your own startup?
I and my friends started Pass.ng we were at school, I was 19 years old and we were studying computer science. Prep for college-entrance examinations was very challenging, and we wanted to do something to change that. Launching Pass.ng was a very challenging day because we had to take classes in school during the day. At night stayed at a lecturer’s office and wrote code. Eventually, people could start to prepare for the examinations on our platform. We published it on the App store, developed desktop applications and mobile applications, and it really started growing… The rest is history!
R:Ed: That sounds great. Pass.ng’s aim is to tackle the gap between higher education and school, and it operates in addition to the government-designed state curriculum, so what do you see as being some of the shortcomings, perhaps, of the way that primary, middle and high school is structured in Nigeria? And how do you think those issues could be tackled going forward?
I believe one of the issues is to do with leveraging more technology. Pass.ng, for instance, has helped over 350 000 students prepare for examinations, have excellent results and get accepted. I don’t think we could have achieved these results with traditional methods, but by using the technology our success rates skyrocketed. I believe that leveraging more technology could reduce the inequality gap in education. Something like personalized learning online would be helpful. Teachers also need to know about these so that they can teach necessary skills. Technology is the main thing that the education system should incorporate more.
R:Ed: Could you give an example of a specific type of education technology that you would like to see implemented in primary, middle or higher education in Nigeria in the next 10 years or so?
In schools in Nigeria today, students are not allowed to use mobile devices in the classroom. And there are some good reasons for that: technology can cause distractions, for instance. So instead I would go for the likes of machine learning and artificial intelligence, which supports personalized learning. This would allow everyone to learn at their own pace. Not every student is at the same level of understanding what they’re being taught in the classroom, so personalized learning would allow students to progress at their own pace. This would also allow teachers to better understand students’ specific needs.
R:Ed: Many of Right for Education’s readers at an age where they’re interested in startups and entrepreneurship, but there might be challenges that hold this entrepreneurial spirit back; you yourself mentioned your start-up journey wasn’t always easy. What advice would you give to our entrepreneurially-minded readers?
I would advise that it is very important to offer a solution. It is essential that you tackle a real-life problem. The other thing you need is a team. The team is very important because they will determine your interaction with your audience, the team will determine the code that you build as well. When you get it right in building the team you will definitely get it right in building the product. So overall what matters is the team, and make sure what you’re building is solving a problem.