Welcome to Beni American University: My Stroll With Gossy Ukanwoke

Gossy is the founder and President of Beni American University, Nigeria's first online university, and his dream is to leverage on technology to transform how education is provided in this 21st-Century-Africa.
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Despite being called the ultimate profession, that is, the profession that makes other professions, over the years, teaching has been relegated to the bottom of the pyramid in many countries around the world. For many university graduates today, it's only a last resort when they can't find white collar jobs, and I guess the question you're asking is why is this so?

October 5th is World Teachers day and today's guest, Gossy Ukanwoke, and I take a walk to discuss possible answers to this question, as well as the future of education and the evolution of the traditional classroom.

Gossy is the founder and President of Beni American University, Nigeria's first online university, and his dream is to leverage on technology to transform how education is provided in this 21st-Century-Africa. Previously featured on CNN African Startups and Forbes, in 2010 Gossy also founded Students Circle Network; an international, educational social network for college and high school students, providing free course resources, peer to peer learning, study groups and support services.

Join us. Here's my stroll with Gossy.

Ebenezar: Thank you for joining me on the stroll, Mr Ukanwoke.

Gossy: You are welcome, Ebenezar.

Ebenezar: At 26, you've done so many great things already. Forbes called you "Nigeria's Mark Zuckerberg", you've been featured on CNN African Start-ups, won the 2011 African Top Tech Entrepreneur Award, to mention a few. How have you been able to do this much in such a short period of time?

Gossy: I will start by saying that there is no age too early to pursue whatever it is you have desired to do. I have been blessed. The idea has been to reach out to people in ways I believe we can provide a better education to them and hope that they accept it. This is simply what we have done in the past few years.

Ebenezar: The intersection of technology and education seems to be your forte, and I'm just curious, What got you interested in education in the first place?

Gossy: I have always believed that Technology can provide an efficient way of tackling some of the worlds major challenges. Education is not an exception. It started off when we were looking at the most cost effective way of providing high quality learning to thousands of students. Technology provided that answer and we have continued to seek more ways to advance this integration and delivery.


Ebenezar: Your vision is quite simply stated. "To transform Education in Africa, using technology". How close are you to realizing this vision?

Gossy: That vision is a moving target. You can never really say - We have realized the vision of Transforming Education in Africa. However we are realizing that vision with every student that signs up from all parts of the continent to take our programs. We are realizing that by carrying out adequate research on the sector and implementing our findings at our institutions and for others.

Ebenezar: Okay, I asked that because, recent statistics from the West African Examinations Council exams conducted this year(2014) showed a sharp decline in the performance of students. We've seen this trend go on for a couple of years now, What do you think can be done about this?

Gossy: There are so many factors contributing to this perceived decline. I cannot also simply state here, a magic solution to solve the problem being faced in our primary and secondary schools. However, my thought is that a careful analysis of the problem should be carried out. A lot of things should be reviewed in that segment of education and fine tuned to ensure adequate learning and of course, relevant testing.

Ebenezar: Closely related to that, is the number of Out-of-school children world wide. UNESCO statistics, as of 2012, says 58 million children of primary school age and another 63 million children of lower secondary school age were still out of school. Considering that the deadline for our MDGs is next year, how can BAU R&D come in to help such a situation?

Gossy: BAU R&D is pioneering technology backed institutions. Our pilot online institution BAU Online is already training a lot of students. We will continue to strive to grow the number of students who take our programs and ensure we deliver the value that we have promised to deliver to them. BAU R&D can also provide Research Assistance to the appropriate bodies to investigate the rot being faced in the lower level segments of education. We can also provide Advisory based on our experiences in the Higher Education industry and hope they are practical.


Ebenezar: BAU is also committed to Research and Development, what can you say about the relevance of research to a university's operation?

Gossy: It is as important as the learning and teaching being done at the university. Higher Education learning is not only for job market preparation. It is also an avenue to consider the issues being faced in our different communities and actively seeking for methods to solve them. It is also about finding new and innovative ways of living. This is what Research takes care of.

Ebenezar: I totally agree with you on that one. Can you tell us more about the BAU Online learning program?

Gossy: BAU Online is a provider of university level executive programs for students, graduates, professionals and public officials. Students from all parts of the world can visit the portal - http://online.bau.edu.ng and sign up for any program of their choice. After completing the registration process, they will be able to take their program lessons - Video, Text, Slides, Illustrations for a period of 12 weeks. They will have to complete their assignments, tests, quizzes and examinations and score a minimum cumulative score of 65% to pass.

Ebenezar: October 5th is World Teachers Day, and the aim is to celebrate teachers as well as draw attention to the challenges they are facing globally. Is there any teacher you'll like to celebrate who has left a lasting impact on your life?

Gossy: Prof Beran Necat taught me for 3 years while I was studying Management Information Systems. He encouraged me to start my projects, ensured the school took notice of the work I was doing and continued to provide advise on how we could grow the relevance of the projects I was working on. One of such projects was the BAU Online project. He also provided my first few research participation and the chance to speak at PhD seminars, directing the discussions on research with PhD students.

Ebenezar: Wow, that's really cool. God bless Prof Beran, but despite how important the teaching profession is, we've always noticed incessant disputes between teachers unions and governments around the world. In Nigeria for instance, University and Polytechnic Lecturers went on strike for nearly 12 months to get their voices heard. Can anything be done to solve the problem of teachers' welfare once and for all?

Gossy: Honest, Unbiased and Unselfish discussions between all parties at all times. Let the government be open to listen and Let the demands of the teachers come from an honest place that will be in line with the services they have delivered. If teachers were paid more and they still delivered the same teaching they delivered before, how does that pay relate to quality the students will gain?


Ebenezar: Before Beni American University, you founded Students Circle Network. A social network for students, teachers, researchers, etc. In other words, you took the classroom online, which to me is an awesome invention. What has happened to Students Circle?

Gossy: Students Circle Network on one part grew to became BAU Online. On the other part, we are re-developing the social and content integration technology that powers SCN and it will be relaunched shortly. BAU Online is still a classroom online in its real sense. This is because learning is done, teachers are there to teach, tests are taken, questions are asked /answered and of course it is as structured as the traditional classroom.

Ebenezar: Okay, Finally, one of my favourite TED talks of all time is Prof Sugata Mitra's "School in the Cloud". In that 2013 TED Prize winning talk, Sugata talks about the formation of one big online classroom and he further explained how our current system of education, designed in the time of colonialism, has gone obsolete. This leads to my last question. What do you think is the future of education? Is it perhaps online?

Gossy: The future of Education is Hybrid. It is both online and in highly reinvented physical classrooms. The winners will be those who find the best way to reinvent the traditional classroom. There will aspects of Technology Assisted Learning and Learning via Technology. These concepts will continue to be modified with new generations to meet the demands of their age.

Ebenezar: Many thanks for taking this stroll with me Gossy, I wish you all the best with BAU.

Gossy: You are welcome and thank you for the opportunity to share some of these thoughts.

For more about Gossy, you can follow him on twitter @gossyomega or visit BAU Online to try out a few courses.

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