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How ‘little’ Onitsha Catholic school shocked the world at Technovation

By Marcel Mbamalu, News Editor
13 August 2018   |   4:28 am
Nigeria has every reason to celebrate her five golden girls of the Regina Pacies Secondary School Onitsha, who took the world by storm, silencing bigger challengers like the United States...

• Nigeria’s ‘golden girls’ sack US, China, Spain to clinch trophy
• It takes human capital to create other capitals, says Archbishop Okeke
• Experts hail Obi, urge FG to invest more in education, human capital

Nigeria has every reason to celebrate her five golden girls of the Regina Pacies Secondary School Onitsha, who took the world by storm, silencing bigger challengers like the United States of America, China, Spain and Turkey among others in the just-concluded World Technovation Challenge.

Technovation is a programme that offers girls around the world the opportunity to learn programming skills needed to become tech-entrepreneurs and leaders. Girls, all over the world, are invited to identify a problem in their communities and are then challenged to solve it by developing Andriod applications.

Tagged Save-A-Soul, the girls at the event held at Silicon Valley, San Francisco, United States of America, developed an app called FD-Detector to tackle the challenges of fake pharmaceutical drugs in Nigeria.

The teens — Promise Nnalue, Jessica Osita, Nwabuaku Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo and Vivian Okoye, who have now become Africa’s Golden Girls swept through over 2000 competing applications to get to the finals.

Acting president Yemi Osinbajo in his Twitter handle praised the team, saying: “These young ladies in Junior Secondary School developed a mobile application called ‘FD Detector’ to tackle the problems of fake pharmaceutical products in Nigeria. Yesterday, they won the 2018 Technovation World Pitch in California. Congratulations! We are very proud of you.”

Under the tutelage of Chief Executive Officer, Edufun Technik STEM, Uchenna Onwuamaegbu Ugwu, the Nigerian schoolgirls defeated representatives of other technological giants, including the USA, Spain, Turkey, Uzbekistan and China, to clinch the gold medal.

Justifying the innovation, the team argued that Nigeria has the largest market for fake drugs, and they plan to partner with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), using the app, to tackle the challenge. They will also be pitching their app to investors in Silicon Valley, California.

“Leveraging technology to save lives is our utmost priority. That is why we have decided to maximise this opportunity to solve the incessant rate of death caused by fake drugs,” said the Team.

But the feat, as the Archbishop of Onitsha and The Metropolitan of the Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, Most Reverend Dr Valerian Okeke, told The Guardian, has drawn attention to the need for “intentional investment in education as government would do for bridges, roads and other infrastructure projects.”

The ‘golden girls’ are students of an “obscure’ school run by the Catholic Church under the leadership of Archbishop Okeke in Onitsha, Anambra State. Okeke in a telephone chat said he saw a nexus between the girls’ sterling performance in far-away United States and the decision of the Anambra State government, under Mr. Peter Obi, to return ‘Mission schools’ to their original owners. He also traced the girls’ achievement to the Church’s commitment to moral discipline, which, according to him, enhances learning and retention of knowledge in schools run by the Church.

Okeke congratulated the students and their teachers for the honour to the nation. He reiterated that well-formed youths are the best legacy and heritage any society will bequeath to the world. “No sacrifice is too much in educating children,” he said, noting, “It takes a human capital to create other capitals and in turn transform the world.

“I commend the Anambra State government for the partnership with the Church and civil society in the education of our children and challenge the Federal Government to look in that direction because, in the end, the students are assets for the entire society.”

Manager and Director of the school, Rev. Fr Jerome Ezenwelu, explained that the victory is a public manifestation that the best materials are found in Nigeria.

According to him, the success, which started from the state and national competitions, is a testimony of the extraordinary abilities to translate the vision of the archbishop for educational excellence of children in the state.

“The young students who proudly raised the Nigerian flag in the USA have really brought honour to the fatherland in a public manifestation that the best materials are found in Nigeria. It is certainly a great image-maker for Nigeria and it is hoped that the Federal Government will reciprocate the patriotism of our young girls and honour them.”

The state government had in 2010, under Mr. Obi, returned some schools that were forcefully taken over from churches many years ago and initiated state-wide Information and Communications Technology (ICT) programmes by his successor Willie Obiano with related complementary programmes.

Archbishop Okeke believes that government’s ICT project is useful but insists that as the Regina Pacies Secondary School situation shows, “kids will only do well in school and imbibe whatever principle and skills they are thought if they are properly guided.” He, therefore, called on government to pay more attention to funding of education, much more than it does physical infrastructure.

“Beyond the provision of necessary infrastructure to Anambra Schools, I think the most important factor that contributed to the award is the courage of the former Governor of Anambra State to return schools to the Church,” said Valentine Obienyem, an aide to the former governor. He noted that before the education sector reforms under Mr. Obi, Anambra State had performed poorly in national examinations. “But soon after the return of schools (to churches), Anambra schools came tops in WAEC, NECO and other external examinations for three consecutive years.”

“So, the return of schools,” he continued, “was the most pivotal factor, but other variables equally intervened. The Technovation Award was computer and technology-based and one should ask what those children would have achieved if not for the provision of computers and Internet connectivity, trained computer teachers and generators, as well as buses to schools in the state by former Governor Obi.”

In what appeared a deliberate circumvention of undue bureaucracy, the Obi administration had directly doled out more than N6 billion to schools, a move that was criticised by civil servants at the time. 

“What could be deduced from the award is that good decisions of today will bear lasting fruits in the future. Regrettably, most leaders are not concerned with decisions and actions that will have far-reaching future benefits,” Obienyem posited.

Mr. Imeh Umoh, the former Managing Director of Hewlett Packard (HP) Nigeria Ltd that partnered the Anambra State government in the computerisation of 330 secondary schools in 2014, said the girls’ feat for Nigeria “cannot be divorced from the good ICT programme of the state as well as the return of schools to churches.”

The project was done in concert with Zinox Computers and Galaxy Backbone. While HP provided 22, 300 laptop computers and printers for the 330 secondary schools in the state, Zinox Computers ensured that the systems had integrated applications deployed professionally. Galaxy Backbone created the last-mile Internet connectivity for the schools.

The State-wide ICT project also provided for a service centre in Awka for the equipment.

“I will give the credit to Peter Obi,” Mr. Imeh, former HP director, said. “Education system is at its lowest ebb now. At the time, Obi had the school curriculum stored in all the laptops and the children had access to learning materials.

Zinox’s chairman, Stan Ekeh, said the firm partnered the state government to install 25,000 complete units deployed professionally. According to him, the project was the “largest single ICT investment by any state in the country in terms of deployment and training.”

On Nigeria’s performance at the World Technovation Challenge, Ekeh advised the Federal Government to do more for the children.

“The leadership should know that the kids are now global leaders. If Nigeria was being traded on the stock market, we would have moved 5,000 per cent; if they are graduates, those kids would have been employed anywhere in the world and paid the best salaries. This challenges us to invest more in knowledge,” Ekeh advised.

For Gerald Ilukwe who ran Galaxy Backbone at the time, “it is about laying the foundation and government paying the right attention. Obi realised that he did not have to wait for the Federal Government and emphasis was placed on education; the Catholic school took it more seriously. Kudos to Governor Obiano for supporting continuity.”