When an organization that builds support systems for young people living in under-served communities crash, what happens? The past 5 months have taken a turn on Paradigm Initiative’s LIFE program. A training program that trains, equips and connects young boys and girls to the digital economy. The program offers relevant digital skills training to over 300 young adults at no cost yearly in order to bridge the digital gap/divide in these under-served communities across Nigeria. The beneficiaries of this program are youth from humble backgrounds that their parents can’t afford to pay their way through college or send them to institutions that offer the kind of training the LIFE program offers.
Paradigm Initiative’s LIFE (Life Skills, ICTs, Financial literacy and Entrepreneurship) Program has been running for over a decade now and is still committed to ensuring that every young person that passes through the program doesn’t just get trained but also connect to either job/internship or start their own entrepreneurial journey for an improved livelihood.
For 5 months now, the LIFE program operation has not been the same. The training centers in the 3 regions (North West, South West, and South East) where the training happens are on total lock down. All physical activities are suspended, both the potential students and beneficiaries of the program don’t have access to the facilities to learn or interact with peers and the program staff. Before the pandemic, the program had an ongoing training class that was affected by the official directives that lead to the National lock down.
Covid-19 has pointed out the importance of access to the internet, without access to reliable and meaningful connectivity young people from under-served communities’ risk being further cut off from vital information and online learning. The Program ongoing class as of March 2020 took a break from its usual mode of operation and that got the program staff thinking of better and improved strategies to continue engaging with the students. This process led to the program staff moving the training program to an immediate solution for the students to continue learning—WhatsApp.
As half of the world population is now online, many people still lack the quality of access they need to use the internet’s most powerful features, such as online learning. This is the case with young people living in under-served communities in Nigeria and around the World. With the fast response from the LIFE team to the Covid-19 lockdown, the WhatsApp learning initiative was not sustainable after a while. It was not long before different challenges began to arise—from students not being familiar with working remotely/virtually, to making themselves available for training, to finding it difficult to manage distraction, to them not having enough data (access to the internet), and to them not having the right device for the task at hand.
A smartphone offers the functionality to create and consume content in a way that basic phones don’t and the portability to use the internet anywhere. At some point during the training, Paradigm Initiative committed to providing data for the students weekly, just to keep them on the learning platform but this still couldn’t solve other issues. The team learnt that there is a need for a proper orientation for both the students and their parents. This will allow both parties to understand that in times of crises like the current pandemic there is a need to embrace technology, remote and virtual work/collaboration. There is also the fact that youth from these communities need the right device to stay connected to learning platforms and resources online. We can’t over lay emphasis on the fact that access to the internet/Web is not luxury but a lifeline. This population is highly affected and left behind from the needed information and resources that keep them relevant in the society.
The global pandemic had a huge effect on the processes and structure of Paradigm Initiative’s LIFE program and also presented a learning opportunity for the program to collaborate with other organizations in the ecosystem, partner with other Non-profits/NGOs working to achieve similar goals through putting resources together, and the opportunity to scale the program beyond its existing communities. As the unemployment and poverty rate increases by the day in these communities, there is a need for interventions like the LIFE program to continue to pull these young boys and girls up from the bottom of the pyramids.
The pandemic has made Paradigm Initiative Digital Inclusion teams realize the huge gap they have been bridging/closing for over a decade now in the host communities. The program’s training facilities in the 3 regions they currently operate from, has the needed learning equipment that assures maximum impact of the training on the students.
The Author of this article, Tosin Abolaji is Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Inclusion Program Manager