“If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow”
Douglas, the force behind The MakersPlace, is steadfast in his mission. He wishes to empower the youth of Africa with the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in the rapidly evolving digital landscape. His ultimate objective is to, “create job opportunities for young Africans to stay in Africa, work in Africa, and make it in Africa”.
Douglas is the fifth founder to be featured in our series on Africa’s Hidden Gems which amplifies the voices of African entrepreneurs who are leading the charge in tackling some of the continent’s most pressing Sustainability challenges.
The Journey to The MakersPlace.
Educated entirely within the Ghanaian school system, Douglas' childhood experience profoundly shaped his perspective on education. From his early years, Douglas witnessed the need for quality teachers. He sees the importance of filling the educational voids that hinder students' growth and opportunities.
Douglas went on to university where he achieved a BSc in Electrical and Electronics Engineering and then a Master’s in Energy and Sustainable Management.
What is perhaps most remarkable about Douglas – who is now a STEM Certified Master Trainer– is that his knowledge of coding, AI and robotics is, all self-taught. “If I'm able to build a robot, I did not learn it in a classroom. If I know how to code today, I did not learn it in the classroom. I taught myself”.
He goes on to tell me that this is the same for most of his friends in the technology ecosystem in Ghana - and possibly across Africa. Rather than classrooms being the arena in which people learn computing skills, it is often left to individuals to find their own solutions.
This is something Douglas is determined to change. While he appreciates that governments and other stakeholders are doing their part, he knows from his own experience that there are huge gaps in Ghana’s education system that cannot be filled by Government alone. Hence the birth of The MakersPlace.
Addressing the Challenges: Equipping Africa's Students for a Tech-Driven World
Douglas passionately quotes John Dewey, American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer. “If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow”. This, for Douglas, underscores the growing significance of advanced computer skills, “Coding has become like basic literacy. You cannot live without it”.
He understandably shows frustration at not only the lack of computer skills being taught in schools but also in the fundamental lack of access to devices. “We are denying children devices. We are denying them internet connectivity”.
His fears are echoed in statistics.
The highest rates of educational exclusion are found in Sub-Saharan Africa where around one-fifth of children between the ages of 6 and 11 do not attend school.
However, getting children into school is only half of the challenge. For many school children in Sub-Saharan Africa, the quality of education remains poor. As the African Union states, “It is widely accepted that most of Africa’s education and training programs suffer from low-quality teaching and learning, as well as inequalities and exclusion at all levels”.
Of the world's 20 countries with the weakest digital skills, 12 are in Africa.
Only 11% of Africa’s tertiary education graduates have formal digital training.
These statistics are made all the more staggering when you consider the fact that by 2050 Africa will be home to 40% of the world’s population under 18 years of age, making the continent the world’s fastest growing workforce.
If we don’t equip our youth with quality education – which includes advanced digital skills – they simply won’t possess the capabilities employers need, now and in the immediate future. Around 87% of African business leaders identify digital skills development as a priority. An International Finance Corporation (IFC) report estimates that 230 million jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa will require digital skills by 2030.
This is the grand challenge Douglas wants to help solve. He wants to ensure that Africa has a “globally competitive” workforce. More importantly, he wants children across Africa to be given the same opportunities as their peers elsewhere in the world.
The Solution: Empowering Students to Become Problem Solvers
Through The MakersPlace, Douglas has implemented comprehensive solutions that address some of the challenges faced by the education system in Africa.
The MakersPlace is a technology-driven learning and skills development organisation with a primary focus on kindergarten to 12th Grade (K-12) learners. The K-12 Lab, which opened at The MakersPlace Accra centre, is the combination of an engineering lab, focusing on Coding, Drones, 3D Printing and Robotics, as well as a classroom offering teachers and students an engaging learning environment to foster creativity, collaboration and the development of critical skills.
The MakersPlace also provides in-school programmes and after-school clubs, with a focus on embedding digital skills into school curriculums. This ensures that beyond whetting their appetites, children are actually able to learn and implement the new skills.
Currently, the after-school clubs are run by The MakersPlace facilitators who are highly qualified individuals with backgrounds in engineering and computer science. However, Douglas is on another mission to train more teachers with the knowledge and skills to teach children coding and robotics as a part of everyday lessons in their classrooms.
The lessons conducted by The MakersPlace are highly practical. They want children to enjoy creating and building new systems so that one day “a hobby may become a career”. The lessons are designed to ignite children’s curiosity, encourage them to think creatively and help them find technological solutions to the problems they see in their communities.
Douglas tells me how some of their lessons are structured around finding solutions to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “The goal is for students to identify a problem reflected in the SDGs and use their knowledge and the skills to build a solution”.
For example, for a 10-year-old girl, access to quality education means everyone in the class must be able to participate in the learning experience – including those who are shy to speak out. She therefore built “a teacher and student communication device” that allowed shy students to ask questions anonymously in class. There was a device for the teacher and one for the student. The student could send questions to the teacher who gets a notification and answers the question.
Douglas believes in partnerships. The MakersPlace has recently became an implementation partner in a Coral Reef  project that will together see them deploy 45,000 devices, enter 700 schools and train 1,400 teachers. Douglas excitedly told me that “Alone we have trained over 40 teachers and over 3000 students. But that’s not enough. Together we will now train over 1400 teachers. That’s impact!” As the African proverb goes “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Through their focus on problem-solving and real-world applications of technology, The MakersPlace are equipping students with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to become active contributors and change-makers in their communities.
The Bigger Vision and What Lies Ahead
During my conversation with Douglas, his passion and unwavering determination left an indelible mark. “The children The MakersPlace trains today start from Grade 1. Tomorrow, they are going to be leaders of industry in Africa and beyond”. By fostering creativity, critical thinking, and a deep sense of purpose, he envisions a continent that is brimming with youthful talent and potential, a future where African youth can take ownership of their careers and where they become a generation of leaders who will shape the continent's success.
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 Coral Reef is another of our African Hidden Gems and we will be telling their story soon. It is an innovation hub that sets up educational centres with digital labs to train and resource teachers with the necessary information to deliver world-class education across Africa.