Ridwan Ibidunni,creator, Akomelede, a Yoruba language app, is a passionate problem solver from an underprivileged area of Lagos, has dedicated himself to creating tools that address the pressing challenges faced by his community leveraging on Collective Intelligence. His journey from the local primary school to pursuing a second degree in Collective Intelligence at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P) in Morocco is a testament to his unwavering determination and thirst for knowledge. With his interdisciplinary background and a deep understanding of mathematics, programming, and collective intelligence, Ridwan envisions a future where he can create transformative tools and technologies that uplift marginalised communities. He remains committed to leveraging his skills to address social issues and make a lasting impact on the world around him. Driven by this newfound passion, Ridwan embarked on a self-guided journey of learning coding, investing his free time to master this powerful tool. His dedication to both mathematics and programming paid off, despite the challenges of balancing his academic pursuits, as he emerged as the top student in his class.Ridwan Ibidunni exemplifies the power of determination, resilience, and an unwavering passion for knowledge. Through his pursuit of mathematics and collective intelligence, he is on a journey to shape a brighter and more inclusive future for communities in need. In this exclusive interview with Folaranmi Ajayi, he shares his academic journey and his sterling innovation ‘Akomolede’, a Yoruba language App which according to him is to safeguard the core essence of Yoruba language in this digital era. Excerpts:
Can you tell Edugist about your academic background?
My name is Ridwan Ibidunni. I commenced my primary education at Lyday Primary School located in Ojuwoye, Mushin, Lagos. Subsequently, for my Junior secondary education, I enrolled at Stephen Glorious College situated in Onipanu, Mushin. However, due to an increase in tuition and other fees, I was unable to continue my Senior secondary education at Stephen Glorious College as my parents couldn’t afford it. Consequently, I had to transfer to a public school, namely Ilupeju Grammar School in Oshodi, Lagos. After completing my secondary education, I proceeded to pursue my undergraduate studies at Adekunle Ajasin University in Ondo state, where I focused on Mathematics for my first degree. Currently, I am pursuing my second degree in Collective Intelligence at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P) in Morocco.
What inspired you to create the Akomolede app with a focus on preserving the Yoruba language?
Growing up in an underprivileged area of Lagos, I have always had a deep interest in creating tools that can solve the pressing problems within my community. This passion guided me during my undergraduate studies, where I became particularly fascinated with utilising mathematics as a problem-solving tool. It was during one of my semesters that I was introduced to computer programming, and it completely blew my mind! It felt like entering a mathematics laboratory that I had eagerly anticipated. Within this laboratory, I could implement all the theoretical concepts taught in class and also develop tools that would advance my knowledge of mathematics. Driven by this newfound passion, I began to learn coding in my free time while pursuing my undergraduate degree. I became so engrossed in it that it partially affected my final grades, but I still managed to come out on top of my class. My pursuit of this field continued as I embarked on my second degree in Collective Intelligence. During one of the semesters, I took a course called “Computer Science Method in Collective Intelligence.” This course emphasised building computer tools that harness the wisdom of crowds to solve societal problems. Our instructor, Professor Mark Klein, encouraged us to tackle issues within our own society using the collective intelligence of the people around us. This motivated me to revisit a neglected aspect of my education during my secondary school days as a native Yoruba speaker. Unfortunately, the language had been marginalised and labeled as a mere vernacular. As a result, effective communication and writing in Yoruba became challenging for those of us attending school in Lagos.Before diving into the implementation of my idea, I sought the opinions of native Yoruba speakers and explored the availability of well-structured Yoruba learning applications on the Play Store, with a focus on correct tonal pronunciation. Surprisingly, most of the available apps lacked the true essence of the Yoruba language as a structured and tonal language. This realisation compelled me to develop an application that could bridge this gap and preserve our cultural heritage for future generations.
Can you share some specific g
oals you aimed to achieve with the Akomolede app? How have you worked towards accomplishing them?
Certainly! The primary objective is to safeguard the core essence of my culture, particularly the Yoruba language, in this digital era. It aims to ensure that the language is represented accurately, with proper signs and correct pronunciation as used by native speakers. It seeks to promote the authentic way of speaking, rather than the diluted versions often found in cosmopolitan cities like Lagos.Moreover, the app is designed to cater to learners at all levels, placing special emphasis on beginners. The app’s design prioritises well-structured content accompanied by appropriate signs and pronunciations. The content itself is curated from native speakers who possess expertise in the language. Additionally, the app focuses on harnessing the collective wisdom of its users, employing a powerful technique to address modern challenges. Users are encouraged to provide feedback on aspects of the app that can be improved in future updates.Looking ahead, a future goal for the app is to incorporate self-learning components using machine learning algorithms, similar to the approach employed by the popular app ‘Duolingo.’ This advancement will enhance the app’s efficiency, ensuring an improved experience for its users.
What challenges did you encounter during the development of the app, particularly in incorporating native Yoruba speakers and maintaining cultural authenticity?
This question is truly intriguing! As a Yoruba speaker myself, I am well aware that the language has undergone dilution over time. Consequently, finding the most suitable candidate for this project was a challenge. Due to budget constraints and time limitations, it took some effort to secure a native speaker who is also a specialist in Yoruba linguistics. Eventually, I connected with Olúkúnlé Joseph Ọláyínká, a Yoruba native speaker with expertise in the field. He played a crucial role in designing the app’s content and structure.Another crucial aspect was ensuring accurate pronunciation of the words, as the meaning can vary based on pronunciation. To address this concern, I collaborated with another native Yoruba speaker, Adejumo Olubukola Esther, who is also a Yoruba language graduate. Her voiceover work has received praise from app users.Although we aimed to provide an appealing user experience by creating a user-friendly interface, I believe there is still room for improvement in future updates.
How does the Akomolede app differ from other language learning apps currently available on the market, especially in terms of Yoruba language learning?
As mentioned earlier, we conducted a market survey to assess the existing apps available on the Play Store in order to determine the features to incorporate into our app. Our findings revealed that many Yoruba language learning apps, such as “Learn Yoruba Language” and “Learn Yoruba by Voice,” lacked the true essence of the language, particularly in terms of accurate pronunciation of Yoruba words and a well-structured approach for beginners. Additionally, other available apps suffered from a lack of sufficient content on specific topics. Given these noticeable issues, we recognised the need to address them and provide a comprehensive solution that would accurately represent our cultural heritage.
Could you highlight some unique features of the Akomolede app that enhance the learning experience for its users?
Absolutely! In our app, we have diligently included the appropriate sign (ami ohun) for each word to ensure the correct pronunciation, just as a native speaker would use. The topics in the app are carefully designed in a well-structured manner. It follows a logical progression, where you cannot proceed to joining words without first learning the alphabets. Similarly, differentiating between words becomes impossible without grasping the significance of tone signs (ami ohun) in the language. This emphasis on orderliness and accurate pronunciation sets our app apart from its counterparts on the Play Store.
What steps have you taken to ensure that the Akomolede app caters to learners with different proficiency levels, from beginners to advanced speakers?
Indeed, the initial version of the app primarily centers around acquiring a solid understanding of the fundamental aspects of the language and establishing a strong foundation for future updates. Our key focus is on simplicity, ensuring that it appeals to users who are encountering the language for the first time. To aid first-time users, we have also included basic translations of certain content into English. This approach gradually increases in complexity as the user progresses through the app, gradually introducing more challenging concepts.
Have you collaborated with any educational institutions, organisations, or experts in the field of Yoruba language to develop and promote the Akomolede app?
If yes, how has this collaboration helped you in your mission?
Indeed, the development of the app aims to emphasise the concepts of collective intelligence that I am currently exploring in my master’s programme. The main objective is to showcase how a group can collectively be more intelligent than any individual within the group. While I am a Yoruba speaker myself, I recognised the need for expert input to ensure the app’s content and pronunciation are of the highest quality, akin to that of a native speaker. Therefore, the development process involved collaborating with specialists in the Yoruba language. Regarding promotion, I have not yet established partnerships with organisations that can help us reach a wider audience and fully realise the app’s optimal goals. Forming such partnerships would enable us to increase visibility and ensure the app’s maximum potential is achieved.
Can you share any success stories or feedback from users who have benefited from the Akomolede app?
How has it impacted their language learning journey?
As of May 2023, the app has already garnered over 250 downloads on the Play Store (Akomolede, 2023), and we have received several suggestions from users on how to improve it further. Some of these suggestions are listed below:
As you strive to make the Akomolede app more sophisticated, like Duolingo, what specific improvements or features do you envision adding in the future?
I’ve observed that individuals tend to learn more effectively through the incorporation of gamification and repetition, which are key elements in language learning apps like Duolingo. Furthermore, the Duolingo app has demonstrated the capability to autonomously learn and enhance its contents using machine learning algorithms, thereby benefiting its users. These aspects represent the primary focus of our future app updates as we aim to leverage gamification, repetition, and machine learning to further improve the learning experience for our users.
What are your plans for expanding the reach of the Akomolede app? Are you targeting a specific audience or considering localizing it for other languages and cultures?
I am currently in the process of creating a marketing strategy to run advertisements on various platforms, with an initial focus on targeting a local audience. The intention is to gradually scale up the campaign as the number of app downloads and users increases. My primary objective is to ensure that the app reaches its critical mass within the local audience before expanding to a wider user base.Naturally, this endeavor requires a significant financial investment. However, I am hopeful that as more users join and engage with the app, there will be individuals who are enthusiastic about promoting it to a broader audience in the future. Their support will be instrumental in spreading awareness and expanding the reach of the app.