INSPIRING AFRICANS : SPEEDING UP AFRICA’S RURAL EDUCATION

03 Jul 2018

The statistics are grim. Around 89 million youth aged between 12 and 24 are out of schools in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank. Nearly half of them will never set foot in a classroom. 

One of the main barriers to education is transport, and Seye Odukogbe has a plan to mitigate that and curb dropouts. The Cycle to Class initiative he founded in 2016 provides bicycles to children in deprived rural communities in Nigeria, helping them to get to class. 

His father's experience of trekking long, winding, deserted roads to get to school was what inspired the 32-year-old Lagos-born transport specialist. But it wasn't until he returned to Nigeria for a research trip in 2015 that he was able to truly relate what his father had told him. 

"I was driving in the northern region of Nigeria and I saw children walking", says Odukogbe "That story and experience of my dad came back to me and became real, and I felt I needed to do something about it."

USING PRIVILEGE FOR GOOD

Odukogbe would use his expertise in transport, where he deals in reducing traffic congestion for UK and Nigerian governments, to improve access to education for the underprivileged. He links his desire to wanting to bring about positive change to the opportunities he was given. 

"My coming to the UK from Nigeria was a privilege. Knowing that opportunity is rare, I wanted to maximise that to support people," he says.

He started to first become involved in projects to tackle homelessness. 

"While I couldn't do that immediately back home, there was still inequality and people who needed help," he says. 

A mentor to refugees and asylum-seekers during his engineering degree at London's Queen Mary University, he describes the feeling of reward he felt from helping a British-Somali woman learn English. 

"She'd been living in the UK for over a decade but couldn't speak a word." After several months and enrolling in college, she was able to speak fluently. "It was remarkable".

TACKLING NON-SCHOOL ENROLMENT

"Those things shaped me," says Odukogbe whose unrelenting desire for change earned him a place in Windsor Fellowship's leadership development programme. 

"We've seen the families, not just the kids alone, benefit," he boasts, adding that cultural attitudes to education are improving. "Ninety-eight percent of parents today acknowledge the importance of education."

Odukogbe is currently working on delivering the next batch of 70 bikes, with a goal post of 100 beyond that, the distributions coming from fundraising and donations. The next step is forging partnerships. Odukogbe sees a long future for this programme. 

"Some things will work, some disappointment will come," he says. "As long as the problem you're seeking to address still exists, there's always going to be a need for it."