July 17, 2021

Tragedy of young girl who dropped out of school spurred me on to become an education activist

Motunrayo Fatoke, a Theirworld Global Youth Ambassador from Nigeria, also reveals why she is passionate about tackling the digital divide.

Motunrayo Fatoke is a 23-year-old campaigner from Nigeria who cares deeply about ensuring that every child has access to quality education and digital skills.

She is a Theirworld Global Youth Ambassador and a member of our Project Amplify cohort of 12 young activists who are working hard to take their education campaigning to the next level. Motunrayo is among the Project Amplify group who are focusing on education financing.

She is also actively involved in initiatives in Nigeria that aim to bridge the education gap between the privileged and the marginalised. To mark World Youth Skills Day this week, she wrote a blog about about using digital learning to close the skills gaps.

Here we ask Motunrayo about her experiences in the latest in our Spotlight On ... series, which features inspiring people from the world of education.

Tell us about your journey to becoming an education activist.

It began when I gained admission into the University of Ibadan. I noticed there were so many children between the ages of three and 19 hawking food and household items on the street. This made them prone to rape, gangsterism and theft. 

One major occurrence that scarred me was the case of a 14-year-old girl called Uswat, who was usually sitting at my university gate while she was meant to be school. I had a series of conversations with her. 

She could express herself well, which showed she had received some level of education. She was very skilled at beautifying the hands of women with henna, a very popular craft amongst northern girls and women. She had to drop out of school because her parent couldn’t afford to pay exam fees. 

Several months later, I observed she was no longer at the usual spot. I asked after her from the women she was always with at the gate. They told me Uswat was given out in marriage to a 47-year-old man who already had four wives, she got pregnant and passed on during labour. 

Uswat wanted to be a nurse because she lost her elder brother to a tetanus infection as a result of an injury that was not properly cared for. 

This is sad, because young girls like Uswat around the world are being deprived of their fundamental human rights, education, freedom from violence, reproductive rights, employment, access to sexual health care and the right to consensual marriage. 

This experience spurred my interest in education and advocating for equal access to education. If Uswat was given the opportunity to be educated, she would have pursued her dream of becoming a nurse and probably been a formidable voice and a model for other young girls in her community. 

Why is tackling the digital divide so important to you? 

Recently, it has become so important to me because the Covid-19 pandemic further escalated the already large gap between the privileged and the marginalised, who were already behind on the learning scale. For millions of schoolchildren around the world, education became based on digital platforms and digital communication. 

Some countries had digital devices and tools to fall back on, which made learning continue for many children. But for developing countries like Nigeria, learning stopped except for the few students from middle and high-income families who could afford digital devices and data subscription. 

Many EdTech (education technology) startups with promising and innovative solutions have become prominent as a result of the pandemic. This shows the reality and the possible way forward in recovering education post-pandemic. 

The big question is what happens to the children from low-income families who do not have digital skills. They cannot afford the cost of getting a digital device and running a continuous data subscription to use learning platforms. 

It has become glaring that the need for digital skills should be prioritised at all learning levels, as the world is rapidly going digital. More than ever, we need to design innovative models that cater for children in hard-to-reach, nomadic communities for us to achieve the goal of equal access to education. 

How has the pandemic affected education in Nigeria and specifically the digital divide? 

We have EdTech companies whose learning platforms were used to make learning continuous. However, most of the EdTech solutions available during the lockdown required the use of data and an active internet connection. 

Only a small population of school-age children from privileged homes could afford to continue learning digitally with few limitations like slow broadband speed. 

The narrative is bleaker among those from low-income households in northern Nigeria, where access to smartphones is low and online learning is out of reach given the high costs of broadband access. Many children were out of school before the pandemic struck and even more have dropped out due to the pandemic. 

The government introduced a method of teaching and learning which was not sustainable. The use of radios and television to teach students during lockdown was hindered due to poor power supply and abject poverty, which makes getting radios and television a luxury in poor homes. 

Why did you become a GYA and join the Project Amplify team? 

I was really excited to be part of the GYA community because of how they help to amplify the voices of young people, as well as the access to helpful and tailored advocacy materials which have helped me in my journey as an education activist.

As a member of Project Amplify, I have learned how to effectively advocate for education such that it reaches my desired audience - the government, international funders, parents, teachers and other advocates across the world. 

What do you hope to achieve through the Project Amplify programme? 

I look forward to harnessing and leveraging opportunities to lend my voice on a global platform, as well as teaming up with fellow members of the GYA community in pressuring governments, persuading the G7 leaders and mobilising more young people in providing education for all. 

What are some skills you have gained through the GYA programme?  

I have been able to develop my advocacy and public speaking skills as a result of working and delivering tailored assignments. 

As a young campaigner, one of the most important skills to build is communication for advocacy purposes, the ability to effectively communicate your message to your audience. 

What keeps you motivated when you are campaigning for change? 

One thing is the awareness that the trajectory of many young children in my community can be changed from being deprived to having access - just by being a voice for them when vital decisions are being made. 

What is the achievement you are most proud of? 

The EdTech solution Digilearns, which my team and I designed during the pandemic. We made learning continuous for students in our community by designing and providing a low-cost technology model that leverages the use of adaptive learning strategies.

It makes tailored learning content readily available, easily accessible and extremely affordable for learners from underserved groups, refugee camps and nomadic settlements without the use of internet connectivity. 

What would be your advice to young people who want to be campaigners and advocates like you?  

They should join communities of like-minded young people who they are able to share ideas with, be accountable to, learn from and team up with in amplifying their voice towards a cause. 

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