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uLesson Obtains $7.5m to Reach East, South African Markets

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uLesson Sim Shagaya

By Adedapo Adesanya

African learning technology platform, uLesson has secured a $7.5 million Series A round led by Owl Ventures, with inclusion from existing investors, TLcom Capital and Founder Collective, and participation from new investor LocalGlobe.

This will allow the education startup’s push to deliver affordable, high-quality, and accessible education across Africa using technology.

The move will also see Mr Tory Patterson, Managing Director of Owl Ventures, joining the uLesson board.

It was announced that the funding will be deployed to power uLesson’s expansion into Eastern and Southern Africa, as well as secure new talent, and build its product development and production infrastructure.

Alongside uLesson’s expansion into Eastern and Southern Africa, the startup is set to launch a host of new products including a new pan-African primary school library, 1:1 tutoring sessions, and Challenge – its new app feature that allows learners to challenge friends to a quiz. The platform has also set its sights on launching an iOS app in the near future.

Speaking on the funding, uLesson founder and CEO, Mr Sim Shagaya, noted that, “Africa is not one place. Different needs, cultures, and curricula mean that uLesson has to carefully and deliberately think about how to design products and distribution channels to serve such a vast market.

“Almost daily we receive emails from families across the continent asking us to make services available to them. And in 2021, we will.

“The appreciation of the importance of education has always been there; the means of delivering digital, relevant education has previously been lacking. We are now witnessing an increased availability of data networks in Africa and with more affordable smartphones and the change in attitudes towards online learning accelerated by COVID-19, the foundations are now in place for an education revolution.

“At uLesson, we know we have a critical role to play in this ‘new normal’ and this funding will be crucial in our drive to fill the major gaps in Africa’s education system through tech.”

Adding to this, Mr Tory Patterson, Managing Director of Owl Ventures, the world’s largest education-focused VC firm and an investor in leading edtech players such as Byjus, MasterClass, Whitehat Jr, and Quizlet, said “Owl Ventures is honoured to be partnering with uLesson for their Series A.

“The company has quickly grown into the premier platform supporting students in Africa and we are excited to support their global expansion, as they seek to empower students around the world.”

On his part, Mr David Frankel, Managing Partner at Founder Collective and an investor in PillPack, Olo, and Coupang noted, “As an investor, it’s rare to find a massive, under-served market being addressed by an entrepreneur whose skills are tailor-made for the opportunity.

“Sim Shagaya is assembling a world-class team to help realize his vision of a modernized education system for one of the highest potential places in the world today, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.”

Mr Ido Sum, Partner at TLcom Capital stated that, “Since we partnered with Sim in 2019, uLesson has shown exceptional growth and fully validated our belief in its huge potential.

“We welcome Owl Ventures and LocalGlobe, as combining their domain expertise from other markets with our local presence and expertise, we can together further support the company to become a world-class EdTech platform.”

Ms Suzanne Ashman, Partner at LocalGlobe, also stated, “We are thrilled to add uLesson to our emerging portfolio of Africa-based companies.

“We, like many investors and entrepreneurs, are excited by Africa’s future and the potential for a wave of category-defining tech companies to emerge in the region. We were hugely impressed by the foundational DNA of uLesson’s team in Nigeria.

The team has purpose-built the product to make the learning experience significantly more engaging and effective than a large classroom experience. We are delighted to be part of uLesson’s journey.”

This is, however, not uLesson’s first raise as it made an initial $3.1 million seed round in November 2019, led by TLcom Capital with participation from the company’s Founder and CEO.

Founded by serial entrepreneur, Mr Sim Shagaya, uLesson curates personalised, curriculum-relevant content via mobile and PC devices for students in the K-7 to K-12 segment across the continent.

Students can access the lessons via streaming and SD cards, where they can download and store the content, allowing them to study remotely, removing challenges around internet access limitations and costs.

uLesson’s content is originally tailored for Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Gambia within the K-12 segment and now includes the IGCSE curriculum which is relevant for the other markets.

The team has to-date produced over 5,000 richly animated video lessons, 30,000 quizzes, and tests across senior and junior classes on its Android app that supports each country’s curriculum.

Adedapo Adesanya is a journalist, polymath, and connoisseur of everything art. When he is not writing, he has his nose buried in one of the many books or articles he has bookmarked or simply listening to good music with a bottle of beer or wine. He supports the greatest club in the world, Manchester United F.C.

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Education

USAID Shares Textbooks to Public Schools in Oyo to Boost Reading Skills

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USAID Oyo Textbook reading skills

By Aduragbemi Omiyale

In order to improve the reading skills of children in Oyo State, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has distributed textbooks in public schools.

The agency hopes to disburse over 10,000 textbooks to nearly 2, 450 public schools in the state.

At the ceremony held last Friday at the Oyo State Universal Basic Education Board (Oyo SUBEB), the USAID Northern Education Initiative Plus Chief of Party, Mr Nurudeen Lawal, handed over copies of Yoruba Early Grade Reading materials Je Ka Kawe to the Executive Chairman of Oyo SUBEB, Mr Dr. Nureni Adeniran.

The executive chairman said the Oyo State Government remains committed to investing in the future of children in public schools through education.

He thanked the United States Government for being a worthy partner in the Mr Seyi Makinde-led administration’s vision to ensure all children learn to read and write fluently, especially in their mother tongue.

“Every child deserves quality basic education and we thank The United States, who we believe is a proud partner with the Oyo State Government.

“They have invested in the future of our children who will grow to make a positive contribution in their communities,” he said.

Mr Adeniran said the Oyo State Government from inception was committed to increase budget allocations to improve basic education, adding that this has also yielded in USAID providing technical assistance and support to the State.

He promised that the state government would reach its goal of improved education for children and more effective and efficient management of the entire education system.

Speaking earlier, the leader of USAID delegation, Nurudeen Lawal said the agency was committed to ridding African nations of out-of-school-children, and to ensure they access education.

He noted that the importance of the mother-tongue cannot be over flogged, hence the mass production of Je ka kawe which he noted will boost the literacy level of children and youths.

Mr Lawal revealed that the success of Let’s Read and Mu Karanta in the Northern part of Nigeria inspired the initiative for Je ka kawe for South Western Nigeria and Ka Anyi Guo for South Eastern Nigeria.

He added that the development of Je ka kawe was premised on the language provisions in the National Policy on Education, that the mother-tongue of the immediate community should be the medium of instruction at the lower primary level of education.

The Chief of Party said the initiative seeks to reach 1.6 million children in grades P 1-3, along with more than 500,000 out-of-school-chil­dren and youth attending some community learning centres.

“The program will train and equip teachers and learning facilitators who can reach children in schools and non-formal learning centres,” he said.

The books were developed by Language Experts with the support of local professionals from the Board. It contains stories and pictures that promote positive social values, written in Yoruba language for Primary 1, 2 and 3.

The event was witnessed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Mrs Aminat Atere, Directors from the Ministry; Representatives of Nigeria Union of Teachers; Association of Primary Schools Head Teachers of Nigeria; Reading Advisors from USAID among other stakeholders.

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Non-Teaching Workers of Universities Suspend Strike

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NASU strike

By Ahmed Rahma

The leadership of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of non-teaching staff unions of universities has announced the suspension of its three-week-old strike with effect from midnight of Friday, February 26.

The General Secretary of the Non-Academic Staff Union of the Universities (NASU), Mr Peters Adeyemi, confirmed this development while addressing newsmen at the end of a conciliatory meeting with the federal government on Thursday in Abuja.

Mr Adeyemi said the union agreed to suspend the national strike after extracting some concessions from the national government that had to do with the grievances it presented.

“We have eight items which we negotiated and which form the basis for our ongoing national strike in the universities.

“We have held the meeting with the government side and those areas that needed to be harmonised have been done to the satisfaction of both parties and resulting from that development.

“We have agreed that the ongoing national strike in universities and inter universities centres should be suspended with effect from 12 midnight, Friday, February 26, 2021.

“We use this opportunity to appreciate our members for their commitment to this struggles, this strike is hereby suspended,” he said.

Mr Adeyemi stated that the unions would continue to monitor the agreements that had been reached that had a timeline and hoped that the government would implement its own side of the bargain.

According to him, if the government doesn’t, they will call their members to resume the suspended strike, but for now, the strike is suspended.

Earlier, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Mr Chris Ngige, said the meeting was very fruitful as all the rough edges arising from the former negotiations had been smoothened.

“Today’s deliberations have been very fruitful; we have also issued a conciliation document called Joint Action Memorandum of Action (MoA), and the two unions will get back to their members today and in good faith.

“So, we keep our fingers crossed, believing that their communications with their union members will be as quick and swift as they have promised us.

“This is more so, as the government is desirous that normal activities should return to the University system so that we can take the action one after the other.

“Also with the normalcy restored in the university system, we intend to do the visitation panel which is one of the agreements reached with them and which cannot be carried out without normalcy in the university system,” Mr Ngige said.

JAC non-teaching staff comprises the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and NASU.

The unions demand included rectifying inconsistencies in the Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System (IPPIS), non-payment of arrears of minimum wage, delay in renegotiation with government, NASU and SSANU 2009 agreement, among others.

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Kwara Approves Use of Hijab in Public Schools

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Kwara schools Hijab

By Dipo Olowookere

The Kwara State government has approved the use of the Hijab, a veil worn by female Muslims, in public schools in the state.

In a statement issued on Thursday by the Secretary to the Kwara State Government, Prof Mamma Sabah Jibril, it was emphasised that every Muslim schoolgirl has the right to put on the veil.

The government said it authorised the use of the Hijab in schools after consultations with the relevant stakeholders in the state, including leaders of both Muslim and Christian communities.

Recently, tensions were high over the use of the covering in some schools in the predominantly Muslim state. This led to the closure of 10 schools in the state to calm nerves.

Announcing the position of the Kwara State government on the Hijab controversy yesterday, Prof Sabah said any willing schoolgirl is permitted to wear Hijab, but emphasised that an approved type of the religious clothing would be designed and unveiled.

“The government hereby acknowledges and approves the right of the Muslim schoolgirl to wear the hijab, and directs the Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development to come up with a uniform hijab for all public/ grant-aided schools, which will be the accepted mode of head covering in schools.

“Any willing schoolgirl with the approved (uniform) hijab shall have the right to wear same in public/grant-aided schools.

“Also, the government affirms the right of every child in public schools to freedom of worship,” the SSG said in the statement.

The Kwara State government, which said “there is no victor or vanquished on the Hijab question,” urged the “two faith communities, especially the leaders, opinion moulders and media personalities to act with restraint and great responsibility in their public utterances and actions, and continue to live in peace and harmony with one another.”

“The government commends all the thought and religious leaders on both sides for their forbearance, understanding and commitment to peace,” it added.

The state government, thereafter, directed that the 10 schools shut a few days ago to reopen and resume classes from Monday, March 8, 2021.

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LASU Declares New VC Selection Process Credible

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LASU Lagos State University

By Ahmed Rahma

The management of the Lagos State University (LASU) has declared that the ongoing process of selecting a substantive Vice-Chancellor for the institution is credible and warned against attempts by some people to discredit the process.

This  was disclosed in a statement on Wednesday by the Coordinator, Centre for Information Press and Public Relations (CIPPR), Mr Ademola Adekoya.

“Our attention has been drawn to a viral video by one @Baloguneko making the rounds on the social media, where he accused the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman Governing Council of the University, Prof. Adebayo Ninalowo, of attempting to manipulate the ongoing selection process of the next Vice-Chancellor of the University, purportedly to favour some candidates and shortchange others.

“Before now, we have maintained a deliberate silence on the various media reports and propaganda that have greeted the first, and the currently ongoing selection process in order to avoid joining issues with those seeking to, and by all means, rubbish the process, in order to achieve their personal gains.

“But after critically assessing the latest video, and aware of the damage the misinformation it contains could cause to the good name of the university, we are compelled to provide some clarifications,” the statement read.

It further stated that, “First, the Council Chairman, Prof. Adebayo Ninalowo, does not have any grouse with a particular candidate and regardless of his personal preferences, cannot unilaterally determine who applies for, is shortlisted for, or is eventually appointed as the next Vice-Chancellor of the University, as @Baloguneko alleged.

“For the avoidance of doubt, a committee, headed by the Chairman Council, made up of representatives of the council and the Senate of the university, is only responsible for shortlisting, screening and interviewing applicants for the position of Vice-Chancellor, in a transparent manner.

“The job of the selection committee, however, ends with recommending the names of the three best performing candidates to the Visitor (the Governor of the state) who has the prerogative to appoint *any of the three candidates recommended* to him.

“Second, the poster’s allegation that the immediate past Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Olanrewaju Fagbohun, attempted to foist a particular candidate on the university is untrue and very unfortunate. The poster again betrays a lack of knowledge of the process of appointment. No where in the LASU Laws is an incumbent (or former) VC empowered to decide his successor.

“Being a stickler for rule of law and due process, the immediate past VC consistently maintained his neutrality in the process of the appointment of the new Vice Chancellor. If he was not able to determine his successor while in office, one wonders how he would do that now that he is out of office.

“Finally, we must state that the process for the appointment of the 9th Substantive Vice Chancellor of the University has been very transparent and credible.

“We, therefore, urge all well-meaning stakeholders to resist any effort to undermine the ongoing selection process, but rather  continue to pray for the best candidate to emerge while supporting the University to attain her goal of becoming the best in the country.”

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Gradely Rolls out Homegrown Learning Management System

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Gradely

By Adedapo Adesanya

A Nigerian education technology startup, Gradely, has unveiled a homegrown and virtual learning management system (LMS) for schools.

The startup, which has raised $150,000 in pre-seed funding from angel investors and venture capital firms such as Ventures Platform and Microtraction, has now launched its LMS, known as Gradely For Schools.

Gradely For Schools is a teacher-led LMS, built for personalised learning, with features such as live classes to organise and hold engaging class experiences, assessment tools to set up robust and relevant assessment formats fitted with the Nigerian and British curriculum-aligned question pool, a proctored examination system to hold credible remote academic evaluations, and a suite of personalised video lessons, practice quizzes and games library known as Gradely CatchUp! to support in-class efforts with students at home.

Speaking on the system in a recent interview with a tech-based platform, Disrupt Africa, Mr Boye Oshinaga noted that, “The personalisation works by having tonnes of assessment content mapped by topic and difficulty, and following the performance on adaptive tests, students are provided recommendations daily to catch up on weak areas.

“This leads to measurable improvement in student’s performance and a learning path that is unique to each child.

“It is possible to use Gradely at home as a standalone learning supplement or in conjunction with school, so that homework and class material can be viewed directly on the app as well. In this case, where the app is school-integrated, parents see a report that is the most representative source of truth of the child’s learning progress.”

So far, Gradely has been used by over 5,000 Nigerian parents and 200 schools as part of its beta testing, and it is now planning a wider rollout.

“We saw that while African schools had begun to adopt technology, they had not figured out how to leverage it to improve learning outcomes,” said Mr Oshinaga.

“Today, 200 million African students, many in private schools as well as public schools, are in school but not learning. This is nine out of every 10 students on the continent.”

As internet penetration and device access accelerate, however, Gradely believes every school and parent in Africa will require a digital learning environment that complements classroom education and gives students a leg up in future exams. Gradely is such a solution, and charges schools an annual per-student fee for LMS access and an additional fee for content access. It also charges parents a monthly subscription for content access as well as fees per live tutor session.

“We are currently making revenues from existing users.

“We are launching first in Nigeria but plan to expand region-by-region across Africa and potentially globally as the use-cases for a content-driven personalised learning platform are very scalable,” Mr Oshinaga added.

Founded in 2019 by Boye Oshinaga, Femi Ibiwoye, Seyi Adelaju and Babatunde Caleb, Gradely uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help parents and schools intervene in real-time to plug student learning gaps.

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Education

Alleged Widespread Corruption at UBEC, SUBEBs Worries SERAP

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Universal Basic Education Commission UBEC

By Adedapo Adesanya

An advocacy organisation in Nigeria, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has expressed strong concern over the allegations of corruption at the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs).

The group wants the federal government and relevant agencies to probe the alleged missing N3.84 billion documented in the 2017 annual report submitted by the Auditor-General of the Federation (AGF).

It was alleged that the two agencies in the education sector in Nigeria recorded widespread and systemic corruption, misappropriation and mismanagement of funds between 2004 and 2020.

SERAP wants the government to act fast and decisively and make public the outcome of any investigation, and to prosecute suspected perpetrators if there is relevant admissible evidence, as well as fully recover any missing public funds.

SERAP stated that allegations of corruption in UBEC and SUBEBs violate the right to education of millions of Nigerian children who continue to face unsuitable learning conditions, as shown by the poor learning and boarding facilities at the Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State.

In a statement, SERAP stressed that, “We would be grateful if your government would indicate the measures being taken to address the allegations and to implement the proposed recommendations within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter If we have not heard from by then as to the steps being taken in this direction, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel his government to implement these recommendations in the public interest, & to promote transparency & accountability in UBEC and SUBEBs.

“Allegations of corruption in UBEC & SUBEBs undermine public confidence in the education sector, lead to the erosion of education quality & access, & if not urgently addressed will lead to an increase in out-of-school children, & exacerbate educational inequalities in the country.

“According to the 2017 Annual Report by the Auditor-General of the Federation, UBEC spent N7,712,000.00 to engage external solicitors between January to December 2015 without due process and the approval of the Attorney General of the Federation.

“UBEC also reportedly failed to explain the nature of the legal services rendered. The Auditor-General is concerned UBEC may have engaged ‘unqualified solicitors.

“The Plateau State Universal Basic Education Board also reportedly failed to account for N37, 200,000.00 despite repeated requests by the Auditor-General.

“The Plateau SUBEB also spent N9,709,989 without any payment vouchers. The SUBEB spent N1,607,007,353.72 Special Intervention funds by the federal government without any documents.

“The Plateau SUBEB also paid N10, 341,575.00 to various contractors without evidence of advance payment guarantee. The SUBEB paid N70,569,471.00 through cheques to a member of staff, in violation of the Federal Government e-payment policy.

“The SUBEB also failed to explain the purpose of the payment. It spent N120,948,000.00 on the professional development of teachers but failed to retire and account for the money.

“The Imo State Universal Basic Education Board reportedly spent N482,560,000.00 as mobilization fees to some contractors without due process and any advance payment guarantee. The contracts were funded from the Matching Grant Account.

“The Auditor-General stated that the contractors selected lacked ‘the financial capacity to handle the contracts.’ The SUBEB has also failed to account for N140,774,702.12 of project fund since 2015.

“The Kano State Universal Basic Education Board reportedly paid N71,263,000.15 to contractors without due process and without open competitive bidding.

“Similarly, the Ebonyi SUBEB paid N569,758,938.00 to ‘unqualified contractors and companies’ for the reconstruction and renovation of classrooms. The Ebonyi SUBEB also spent N10,123,892.46 to buy store items but without any documents.

“The Gombe SUBEB paid N31,822,600.00 to a staff from its teachers’ professional development funds but failed to account for the money. The Auditor-General is concerned that ‘the payment is fictitious’, and that ‘the funds did not benefit the intended beneficiaries.’

“The SUBEB also reportedly paid N41,277,983.00 as cash advance to staff to ‘buy some materials and for press coverage but failed to account for the money.

“SERAP is concerned about allegations of widespread and systemic corruption, misappropriation and mismanagement within UBEC and several SUBEBs, the failure to investigate these allegations, and to recover any missing public funds.

“The federal government bears responsibility for ensuring that every Nigerian child has access to quality education in a conducive learning environment, and to safeguard education as a public good, govt’s responsibility to guarantee & ensure the right to quality education for every Nigerian child is interlinked with the responsibility under Section 15(5) of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 [as amended] to ‘abolish all corrupt practices & abuse of office.’

“This imposes a fundamental obligation to investigate the missing public funds from UBEC and SUBEBs, to prosecute suspected perpetrators, recover the money, and to remove opportunities for corruption in these institutions.

“Access to quality education would empower children to be full and active participants in society, able to exercise their rights and engage in civil and political life.”

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