Rollercoaster. As I scanned my word bank, this is the only word that comes close in describing the journey of Edugist; my undying passion for this project because of the transformation I think it’ll bring to that one African child somewhere in Africa. The one African leader that will be questioned and made to make the right investment in education. Or that one company in Africa that might prioritize education in its corporate social responsibility (CSR) like Oando PLC has done through the Oando foundation.
For the records, how old is Edugist? Attempting to answer this question often makes me feel like a failure, a big one for that matter. Considering how many months and years have passed since I published the first post under that brand on the internet, March 11, 2011. Many new media startups and nonprofits founded after this period have become extremely successful. Yet Edugist is still here, crawling. I constantly remind myself of this always in my quest for brutal self-evaluation. Needless to say, it has affected my mental health tremendously.
‘Elvis, you’re the biggest inspiration of my entire 58 years of living’, my therapist in London told me after pushing and staying patient with me to tell her where I am coming from and my life’s journey in four sessions. Well, she said the consistency of keeping Edugist to date is uncanny.
I will share briefly since I beat myself too hard. When I published Edugist’s first post in 2011, I wasn’t enrolled in the university. I was homeless on the streets of Lagos – sleeping in churches, had no computer of mine and working as an Attendant at the Botanical Garden of the University of Lagos. This is after previously working as a cleaner in the same university. For 3 years I kept two jobs as a cleaner in the university in the morning and newspaper vendor in Lagos traffic during the day.
I attended a community secondary school in a tiny village called Akparabong in Cross River State, Nigeria. A very large school serving 4 communities. As a young boy that left home at about 10 and was lucky to be adopted by a woman whose name I can only remember as Mummy Grace today, I loved the experience of our school, Community Secondary School, Akparabong. COSSA for short. But I started thinking deeply in my senior secondary school at SS 1. I discovered the people ahead of us do not end up in the university. This was contrary to my personal dream of becoming a graduate. Our school had a culture of not passing the West African Senior School Certificate Examination administered by the Council. I started asking questions. We did not have teachers in key subjects. The school relied on Corps members posted there for the mandatory one-year service. In our time, we had no full-time teachers in Physics and Chemistry. Yes, I was a science student. One teacher taught Mathematics in the entire school.
I dreamt of being in university. There has to be a way. In SS 2, I was made the senior prefect of the school. I had some power now. I would go to the closest urban town, Ikom, to recruit unemployed graduates as teachers for after-school classes. Who paid? We, the students. Students paid for these classes not because they loved education or had so much aspiration. The classes helped us to escape going to the farm after schooling hours. As an agrarian society, this was the communal culture. This was my first foray into education intervention. My therapist calls it education entrepreneurship. In 2007, we wrote WASSCE and 89 percent of students in my set passed with a minimum of five credits including Mathematics and English Language without examination malpractice. It is possible.
The mission is unaltered, changing the education narrative using media and technology as veritable tools, with far-reaching initiatives.
Post secondary school, the university aspiration remained a dream. In reality, I ended up on the farm. It was this frustration that led me to pick up my two shirts and one pants and run to Lagos to chase my dream, university education. Reality again, hawking newspapers and other items in traffic from where one of my clients referred me for a cleaning job at the University of Lagos. My beat was sweeping the outside part of the Senate Building and the Faculty of Law. This environment inspired me in no small measure. I’ll save all my earnings to purchase the JAMB (university entrance examination in Nigeria) form. Prepared, passed and got admission into Computer Science. Fulfilled. Then, the unthinkable happened. I needed a credit pass in Further Mathematics to be admitted. I did not have that. But that wasn’t the problem. That was the first time I was hearing about a subject called Further Mathematics. Remember, I was a Senior Prefect. This is how wide the gap between education in rural and urban Africa is. I was disqualified. Back to my cleaning job and eventually promoted to an Attendant at the University’s semi zoo, Botanical Gardens.
Outside the few animals there, the garden had a football viewing centre and the first fiber optics wireless internet in Lagos. Students and visitors pay to enter. I issue the tickets. It was here that I first touched a computer (students’ laptops. when they came to use the internet) and accessed the internet for the first time in all my life. On the internet I found sites like Linda Ikeji Blog and Nairaland. I became addicted to the latter. I will register. Upon approval, I started protesting my disqualification in the education section of the forum using one of the student’s laptops, Tolulope Akindiya, an Economics undergraduate student at the time.
My protestation yielded no result. I will attempt JAMB again after two years and get admitted again. This time to study education. I wanted to be part of change in that sector. From my ordeals, I thought a knowledge of education policy and pedagogy combined with the power of the media will have a positive impact.
This is how Edugist was born on a free wordpress blog from my musings on Nairaland. The mission is unaltered, changing the education narrative using media and technology as veritable tools, with far-reaching initiatives.
I will go on to graduate, work in education consulting and policy frameworking, serving clients in the private and public sector in Nigeria, Rwanda, Ghana, Gabon, South Africa, Ethiopia and Botswana while running Edugist as a hobbyist part-time blog. It was scary leaving my full-time job to face this uncertainty, especially in a niche where there was nobody to look up to. I decided to stay in my comfort zone. October 31, 2017 while still keeping a full-time job, I launched a nationwide 30 mins education radio show on Radio Nigeria called “Education Dialogue with Elvis Boniface”. My first episode was on Early Childhood Education with the President of the Early Childhood Association of Nigeria at the time. Second, Aya Chebi, first African Union Youth Envoy. Third, Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education. We had gained acceptance and popularity so fast in just one year. This is when I started considering doing this full-time.
I quit my full-time job for the first time in 2019 to face this head-on without incorporating. I wanted to prove the concept. By the end of the year, beyond my radio program and managing the blog. I had launched two other initiatives, Educators Keep Fit and Nigerian Student Venture Prize with a 4-man team. Myself and Etimbuk Brownson working full-time without salaries. Abigael Ibikunle and Akeem Alao work part-time with consistent stipends. Global education think-tanks like the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), the Yidan Prize Foundation, E-Learning Africa, amongst others have worked with us. By the end of 2019, we were optimistic and excited for the journey in the coming year, 2020. So many deals sealed ahead. Proper incorporation planned. Then the pandemic. From one termination to the next, everything gone. Ground zero.
Everybody moved on, trying to survive first.
In both my professional and personal life, I was on hiatus. Confused and battered for the entire year, I thought it was time to job search again but what will be my advantage? I thought about getting a graduate degree. I’ll start an application spree and get unconditional admission for the MA Education and Technology at the Institute of Education, University College London. There, I go. The UCL experience is priceless, especially meeting some of the best people in education and technology who came from every part of the world and the vibrant city of London. I had moved on to another journey, though uncertain. At this point, I have seen the best of education in practice and theory.
My biggest bet on what we’re building at Edugist is the people – A-list team of young and energetic veteran journalists and educators passionate about changing the education narrative.
Why are we still behind in Africa? Can my home country, Nigeria, ever meet up in this century? Yet restless! From being a newbie in the United Kingdom, things were gradually aligning but still restless. How can Edugist contribute to be part of the change needed in the education in Africa, albeit small?
Last October, I packed my luggage. Said a silent prayer and headed back home for Edugist 2.0 with one promise. Win or win. I have no home to go back to. My biggest confidant and best friend, my wife, cried and counseled me not to take such a risk. The economic uncertainty and political incognizance. For the first time, I decided to hurt the one I love and promised to protect for as long as we live. I flew Royal Maroc to Casablanca, then Lagos for this journey that I didn’t know where it would lead to but one decision was made the night before. This is my life commitment.
The first thing I did upon returning to Nigeria was an office search – a small space I can start from with one or two people that might join me later. Maybe a table and two chairs but fate had a different plan. In the course of the search, I found this abandoned property in Ebute Metta, Lagos. Stepping here. I knew this was the facility we needed. Again, my wife thought I was insane. I will go on to sell my car, do away with my sports business and liquidate my other investments to be able to afford this facility. Cautiously, I didn’t get into debt to achieve this phase for the next journey.
All legal processes completed, where are the resources to give this facility the needed facelift? Our new facility signaled something; we can do more than journalism. I’ll go on to design a plan for this facility. Short, medium and long-term. Alas, in building Edugist 2.0, we’re more than a newsroom.
Working at the intersection of education and media, our journalism gives education a voice and principally, the rebranded Edugist exists to lead change and advance development by enabling quality and inclusive education for people and government in Africa. Today, Edugist operates with four subsidiaries planned; the Newsroom, Edugist Lab, Edugist Studio and Edugist Academy.
With engagement letters signed after rigorous interviews, we had our onboarding session on January 4 with our office barely completed – we had no windows at the time and on January 9, we officially commenced operations for Edugist 2.0.
Growth Team – Co-Builders
My biggest bet on what we’re building at Edugist is the people – A-list team of young and energetic veteran journalists and educators passionate about changing the education narrative. From our Managing Editor, Ikechukwu Onyekwelu to our communication and consulting practice Lead, Grace Aderemi-John to Blessing Chinwe Agbo that leads our digital media engagement and strategy so well. To our staff reporters, Abdulafeez Olaitan, Folaranmi Ajayi, Akeem Alao. Adesewa Adetoro led the process of overhauling our website. Tolu, who lent me her laptop over a decade ago to experiment with Edugist, now leads our operations whilst Stella Nekabari leads the business and partnership desk.
Rebranded, Bold and Upgraded Website
First thing we did was to rebrand our website. We brainstormed for days and weeks during the UX process and proceeded to the UI, doing a lot of iteration in the process. As well as changing our host. And here we are.
First Twitter Space
In commemoration of the International Day of Education in January, we hosted our first Twitter space bringing notable education stakeholders to discuss how to prioritise education in Africa.
First event – community impact, the girl child and STEM
February 10, International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we wanted our host community to feel our presence, thus, we organized and hosted a science quiz competition for girls in science for select secondary schools in Ebute Metta. Following the quiz competition, Payday cofounder, Yvonne Obike engaged the attendees, comprising female secondary school students and their teachers, on what the future holds for girls in science.
In the period under review, we constituted our Board and held the Board’s first meeting. The Board plays a critical role in the task of setting strategy, overseeing our work and governance, and ensuring that we are able to meet the ambitious tasks of changing the education narrative in Africa.
The stellar men and women that agreed to commit their time, knowledge and network for Edugist is humbling and one of the inspirations to pursue the mission of giving education a voice.
Voices: students, educators, parents, policymakers and experts weigh in
Edugist is beyond a newsroom covering education, it’s an interposition for the sector. We exist to bring voices together to amplify the conversation with the sole objective of changing the narrative.
March 15, we launched Education Voices Network bringing together voices that matter and care about change – parents, educators – students, teachers, researchers and professors, policymakers, business leaders, top experts, advocates and community members who are telling their stories and speaking out for education. We’ve received over 60 applications and are already working with a select few.
In May, we launched Campus Gist, appointing Edugist Campus Ambassadors in 5 Nigerian universities. Edugist Campus Ambassadors are full-time student journalists covering first-hand, accurate reportage and happenings in campuses across various institutions in Africa. Core to our journalism is journalism education vis-a-vis media information literacy (MIL) through our lab. We don’t only promote journalism education; we present a platform for implementation. You too can be a voice for education, join the Education Voices Network here.
In May, we launched the Edugist Roundtable. The monthly roundtable brings together experts, policymakers, educators, students and other stakeholders in the education sector to address key challenges and opportunities in education, and to explore innovative solutions and best practices. They discuss and share ideas on how to improve the educational system in Africa.
We had our maiden edition in partnership with UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report and discussed a burning topic, The Financing Gap for Education: Can African countries afford their SGD 4 benchmark? Highlights of the session here and the recording here.
Support for our work
As an impact newsroom covering a critical sector like education in a clime where advertising is on the decline daily, especially in a niche like ours, education. Whilst developed nations have the advantage of funding for media startups and grants for impact newsrooms like Edugist, in Africa, such support is nonexistent. So, building Edugist 2.0 in the last 6 months has cost us blood and sweat.
Outside bootstrapping, our only external support yet has come from the Nigeria Media Innovation Program (NAMIP) where Edugist is a participant of the 24 cohorts in the program. The objectives of NAMIP includes; developing new approaches for collecting news and information and supporting new models for distribution that saves costs, add value and/or reach new audiences, pioneering new revenue opportunities, testing innovative ways to reach under-served communities with attempt to engage and distribute in vernacular languages and helping legacy media to transition with less hassle to digital.
Having participated in many accelerator programs in Europe, Asia and Africa, NAMIP is a perfect program, with undisputable five-star rating, at least for me and an intervention of a lifetime – what I call the gift of destiny – for organizations like Edugist who the program served as a lifeline. for.
One of the offerings of NAMIP is funding, $50,000 given in tranches. Whilst important, this is the least benefit for me. I think NAMIP is a model that impact investors and program managers should understudy and adopt. The other offerings of the program are priceless. For us, we can compete with any global newsroom in our niche because of the foundation we have had with NAMIP. First, we were assigned a coach, Tomi Bolade who has been incredible in supporting us. Then the availability and willingness to help from the people at the program secretariat, Bilah, Deji and Dara is just laudable. Assembling our stellar team was made possible through the program. The peak of it for me is the consistent training from MDIF’s Media Advisory Services that has helped some of our people who had no prior training/experience in media/journalism but are now stalwarts. Take for example our Digital Media Lead, Blessing, who in January knew nothing in journalism but for the hunger to learn. Barely 6 months and she’s one of the magic makers in our newsroom, overseeing our entire digital strategy, including designing and launching our newsletter. NAMIP also showed me running a business is not a one-man show. This has enthroned a strong sense of ownership.
Partnerships and content licensing
As a pioneer newsroom in our niche, we want to be the most authoritative source in covering education, asking hard questions and bringing key sector players to a roundtable. Partnership plays a critical role in actualizing that. In the last 6 months, we have partnered with education authorities at the Federal, states and local governments. At the continental level, we partnered with ICWE to plan and host the E-Learning Africa Summit in Dakar, Senegal. We also have a full year partnership with UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report to provide local data for different ongoing reports and to publicize upon release like this one.
We started our syndication process with content licensing from Newstex, a leading provider of high-quality news and commentary about emerging trends in business, law, politics, lifestyle, technology and more.
What is next?
We have used the last 6 months to test a lot of things and can confidently say what works and what doesn’t in our niche. Essential and above everything is our editorial independence. If we must achieve that, then fighting for our sustainability is a no brainer. Sustainability is a key focus for the remainder of the year.
First, our journalism
Education is one of the most important issues of our time. At Edugist, we’re pushing education reporting to new levels of quality, clarity, depth and breadth, to explain why education policy matters and how it’s affecting the people and economy. We exist for in-depth journalism that uses research, data, and stories from our villages, classrooms, campuses, Edtech, education consulting and multinational HQs, and the third sector to show the public how education can be improved and why it matters.
Community journalism, our bureau system
As a national newsroom operating out of Lagos, Nigeria is quite big with a total land area of 923,768 sq. Km and total coastline of 853 km with an estimate of 215 million people. 6 geo-political regions, 36 states, 774 local government areas. Over 60 per cent of the population live in rural settings. Any intervention that doesn’t cater to rural dwellers has not scratched the surface, education being no exception. Already, education is not a priority across mainstream media and digital platforms. This is why we exist to bridge the gap. Our rural schools remain the beating hearts of our villages and education signals the only hope for that poor boy/girl in one community in the South, North or West. Politicians have failed the Nigerian state and daily, countrymen struggle for survival. 130 million Nigerians now live below the poverty line. Education presents the only glimmer of hope.
We’ll be launching two bureaus in Northern Nigerian and the South-East. The quality of basic education in northern Nigeria is extremely poor, leading to low demand and unacceptably low academic performance, especially in the Koranic school system. The state of rot, decay and looming catastrophe is scary. In the south-east, schools don’t open on Mondays on the orders of the criminals parading themselves as members of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The Nigerian state is a disgrace to her citizenry for not being able to protect life and properties. Our bureaus in these two regions will work with community journalists, local teachers and students to beam a searchlight on the struggles to get education.
All effort to complete our state-of-the-art studio in the period under review proved abortive due to lack of resources. We’ll give this a push again and optimistic we will launch. The studio powers our multimedia journalism and will stand as an independent business unit specializing in impact storytelling, documentary, campaigns and disseminations. The studio will also work with clients in government, NGOs, multinationals, top schools and Edtech companies to produce content that makes learning and marketing efficient.
Given the enormous challenges bedeviling the education sector compounded over the years, a new approach is required on any intervention, from policy to school safety and in our case, media. For us to have the needed impact, beyond being a pioneer education newsroom, we need to go the extra mile for lasting impact. This is why it’s beyond just reporting education for us. In addition to covering education, we’re here to provide trusted local data and insights, lead sectoral change cum thought leadership, build a strong community of reformers and innovators to advance development and strengthen education for achievement.
They were weeks our team couldn’t come to work or attend events because they couldn’t access the naira – one of Nigeria’s lowest moments of political ineptitude. Then the campaign and the general election with all its uncertainties yet we are here.
Like Edugist Studio, our Lab is a vital unit for achieving our mission. Edugist Lab will drive our new thinking in education and developmental communication as well as serve as an innovation hub with workspace, private offices, meeting and training rooms for innovators and researchers in education, media and expanded creative sector.
The Lab will power our non-journalism activities such as promoting entrepreneurship education, climate change in education, wellbeing in education and education intel. The lab will also drive our media information literacy (MIL) activity that will launch across schools in September.
For the remaining part of the year, we’ll be out of the office a lot more meeting the people and places we report about through third party events and our own events. Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on all social media to stay updated.
In closing, whilst it’s been a maddening ride doing this full-time amid the many challenges, I am super excited for what we’re building. They were weeks our team couldn’t come to work or attend events because they couldn’t access the naira – one of Nigeria’s lowest moments of political ineptitude. Then the campaign and the general election with all its uncertainties yet we are here.
As we count down to one year of Edugist 2.0 in another 6 months, I am grateful for the support we have gotten, from the team, the board, advisors, NAMIP and the extensive education community in Nigeria and across different countries in Africa that have trusted us as an authoritative source. On a personal note, I am grateful in no small measure to my wife who has stood by me and tolerated my working round the clock for this vision. Thank you, My Love.
I’ll be updating this regularly as we keep building.