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Improving Education In Africa Via ML, AI

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One of the immediate challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic threw up was the challenge of maintaining the education system, as social interaction was almost impossible. It then becomes an urgent task to device a means to continue educating the young people.

The most viable means was to use technologies to solve this problem. To be precise, Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) came beckoning.

There is no doubt that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be the dominant technology of the future and will impact every aspect of the human civilisation. Most importantly, AI/ML (machine learning) will influence how communication networks, a lifeline of our society, will be run.

And more so, when there is also the need to bring to its barest minimum communication barrier in diverse cultures and languages as found in Nigeria and Africa at large, a reason Nigerian Experts in the field of Information and communication technology (ICT) are proposing the: “AI‑Based Classroom” project. With AI‑based Natural Language Processing (NLP), classroom conversations between pupils and teachers are processed at the network edge to extract keywords while maintaining speaker anonymity.

These keywords are then transmitted to a trained classifier in a central server, which is able to recommend captivating media content based on the input, providing students with intuitive examples, supporting a teacher’s explanations. The media content can then be shared on a digital display in the classroom or used in any other format.

Though, rather than attempting to replace the efforts of elementary school teachers, the proposed system is designed to augment it, maximizing both school hours and off-school hours in the learning process. Regrettably, development of AI-based classrooms depends on efficient speech recognition libraries as a critical prerequisite. This proved very difficult to find.

A group of students are driving one of such projects, under the guidance of Dr. James Agajo, Associate Professor and Head of Wireless Networks and Embedded Systems Technologies (WINEST) Research Group in the Department of Computer Engineering at the Federal University of Technology in Minna, Nigeria.

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WINEST Research Group launched a study on “use cases and solutions for migrating to IMT‑2020/5G networks in emerging markets” and the focus was to determine how machine learning could help emerging markets to leapfrog technology generations to take advantage of emerging and future networks while optimizing energy consumption, network coverage, and communication overheads.

Dr. Agajo said, “What we did was to come up with Automatic Speech Recognition as it relates to African Languages. You know ordinarily, this thing exists but in foreign languages. When you go to a high profile international meeting, you see people using a speech translator, language translator in their ear. When they are speaking French, the other person is reading it to you in English.

“And we are saying that why do we need to always surrender to technologies from the west? Why not come down and equally do our own so that there would be no barrier? If you are speaking Hausa, the other person speaking; who probably does not have an interpreter can easily use this ASR, that is an Automatic Speech Recognition mechanism we are putting together to hear what you are saying. So it has to break that barrier and at the same time lessen that gap.

“But to achieve this, one needs a database for all the speeches because how the stuff  works is that; for every term you have in a particular language, English has a lot of words, those words are actually kept in a database; so that if you have Hausa, Yoruba, English, Idoma, whichever you are going to have, you can have all the words in a particular database.

“So, if you are able to capture all of the words in a database, then you could come up with a high level sophisticated program that would be selecting the item from a database and matching it with your own.

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For instance, when you say in Yoruba, “wa”, then Hausa says “zo”, so you have the Yoruba word in the database, the Hausa word in the database too. When you speak each of these words in a language, it would check through the database and match it with an equivalent in a language of your choice.

That is why an issue of language barrier is not an issue in countries like the United States of America.

Dr James Agajo that has presented papers in high profile Conferences Organised by IEEE, Institute of Engineering Technology (IET), ITU, United States Environmental Protection Agency, National Space Research Development Agency, also said that: “We were in search of a speech recognition library which was able to function locally, meet users’ privacy concerns, and was freely available. In view of the extraordinary number of languages spoken across Nigeria, and Africa at large, we also needed a library able to perform well in processing the English language accented in many different ways.

“We evaluated many software libraries, but none of them succeeded in meeting all of these requirements. This led to the launch of a new WINEST Research Group project in February 2020 to develop a new speech recognition framework able to meet the unique requirements of the AI‑Based Classroom project.

“The project evolved from the discussions sparked by our presentation of the AI‑Based Classroom project at the 7th Regional Workshop on “Standardization of future networks towards building a better-connected Africa” in Abuja, Nigeria, 3–4 February 2020, convened by ITU’s standardization expert group for future networks and cloud computing, ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU–T) Study Group 13.

“The expert feedback provided by the Abuja workshop motivated our launch of a pilot project in Nigeria to develop African Automatic Speech Recognition System (AASRS)”.

“We are collecting speech data and developing the ASR engine to deliver a prototype able to guide the development of a system ready for market deployment. We have developed the “Wazobia” mobile application, to support the necessary data collection, where Nigerian “voice donors” read displayed text aloud and donate the recording anonymously”. Agajo further revealed.

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“Wazobia” is an amalgam of three words meaning “come” in Yoruba (wa), Hausa (zo) and Igbo (bia), Nigeria’s three largest linguistics groups.

Agajo also said that, “The speech data is stored on our server as “invalidated” by default, pending the crowd-sourced validation of this data by volunteers via the Wazobia mobile app. This validation results in Boolean evaluations of the accuracy of the ASR engine’s transcriptions of recorded speech.

To date, the project through the freely available Wazobia mobile app has collected over three hours of speech corpus from over 170 voice donors. This is a welcome development.

It is almost impossible to believe that the majority of the whole world would be on its knees begging for the Pfizer vaccine for the COVID-19; a Coronavirus that, 15 months ago little was known about. Africa should be proactive in developing solutions for Africans and the whole world.

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Abdulrahman Obaje
Abdulrahman Obaje
Prince Abdulrahman Obaje is a Media and ICT Consultant, Journalist, online marketer, social media strategist, Mathematician and Computer Scientist based in Abuja, Nigeria. He is the Founder and the Publisher of The Informavores!. You can reach me on +234 805 939 5252 or send i-witness report directly to me on news@informavores.com.ng.

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ICT

New SIM Registration to Resume April 19 As FG Lifts Embargo

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The Federal Government on Thursday, 15th April, 2021 directed telecommunication providers to commence new SIM cards registration from Monday, April 19 with the provision of National Identification Number (NIN).

Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Pantami, said thursday in Abuja that the approval was in line with the Revised National Digital Identity Policy for SIM Card Registration.

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In a statement signed by his Technical Assistant, Information Technology, Dr Femi Adeluyi, the minister said Monday April 19, 2021 was adopted for the implementation of the policy.

Adeluyi said other suspended activities would also resume on the same date, as long as verification was done and guidelines fully adhered to. adsbygoogle || []).push({});

The minister also directed NCC and NIMC to ensure that the provisions of the Policy were strictly followed by all operators and subscribers.

The Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003, Section 23(a), specifies the role of the Minister to include the formulation, determination, and monitoring of the general policy for the communications sector.

“The Minister had coordinated and led the development of the Revised National Digital Identity Policy for SIM Card Registration in collaboration with all other stakeholders.

“An earlier Policy was approved on the 4th of February 2020, while the Revised Policy was developed in early March 2021.

“The final amendments to the revised Policy based on the directives of Mr President to make the use of NIN mandatory for all SIM registration were completed yesterday, 14th of April, 2021.

“Prior to that, the key aspects of the draft Policy were presented to the stakeholders at the 4th Review Meeting of the Ministerial Task Force (MTF) on the NIN-SIM registration which held on Friday, 26th of February, 2021,” he said.

The Policy includes Guidelines on New SIM Acquisition and Activation, SIM Replacement, New SIM Activation for Corporates and Internet-of-Things/Machineto-Machine (IoT/M2M), amongst others.

The possession of a National Identity number will be a prerequisite for each of these categories. For the Corporate registration, he said institutions will be required to appoint a Telecoms Master (at the minimum of an Executive Management level) to provide the operational Primary NIN representation.

“The Telecoms Master will also be responsible for ensuring that the users provide their NINs to serve as a Secondary NIN. “For IoT/M2M activations, SIM security protocols would be implemented on the SIM profile to ensure that SIMs can only be used for point-to-point data services specific to the URL they are working with.

On NIN registration, Adeluyi stated that significant progress has been made in the process across the country, noting that the Federal Government was committed to supporting all Nigerians and legal residents to obtain a NIN.

“The biometric verification process has been slower than anticipated, owing largely to the non-adherence of many previous SIM biometric capture processes to the NIMC standards.

“The Revised Policy will ensure that operators conform to the required standards for biometric capture. The Guidelines in the Policy have been painstakingly developed and while they are thorough, it should be noted that they have been developed that way in National interest since the SIM is essentially a national resource,” he explained.

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Abdulrahman Obaje
Abdulrahman Obaje
Prince Abdulrahman Obaje is a Media and ICT Consultant, Journalist, online marketer, social media strategist, Mathematician and Computer Scientist based in Abuja, Nigeria. He is the Founder and the Publisher of The Informavores!. You can reach me on +234 805 939 5252 or send i-witness report directly to me on news@informavores.com.ng.

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Digital Economy: Why N’Assembly Must Repeal NITDA Act Now – Dr. Inuwa

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Yemi Itodo

As Nigeria’s economy continues to drift from oil and gas to digital economy and data technology, the Director-General (DG) of National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Dr.

Kashifu Inuwa, has called on both chambers of the National Assembly to repeal the NITDA Act of 2007.

Dr. Inuwa made this call Thursday evening, while playing host to the Senate Committee Chairman on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Surajudeen Ajibola Bashiru at NITDA headquarters, Abuja.

According to Inuwa, the NITDA Act, which was signed in 2007, has become obsolete, irrelevant and unfit to assist Nigeria achieve her objectives of digital economy and green energy policies.

He added that, the agency was already on the right pedestal to make information and data technology, artificial intelligence development and other components of digital economy work for Nigeria, but expressed fears and worries that such policies would not work without an enabling laws, such as repealing the NITDA Act.

“We need a law to help us institutionalize and make it work. Even some of the vocabularies used in that law are obsolete and no longer in use. We need to change a lot of things and we need to do that as soon as possible, to enable us succeed in the area of green energy and information technology.

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“We see IT or digital devices as enabling everything we do. About 80% of what we do everyday is powered by digital technology.

“How do we use artificial intelligence to improve our farm products and how to predict and share information about our farm. It is through the technology made available to us”, Inuwa said.

He said the agency was already working with the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and relevant authorities, to submit a clean amendment Bill to the National Assembly for legislative work.

When repealed, the new NITDA Act would guarantee the safety of personal data of Nigerians as well as empowering NITDA in implementing the digital economy and data technology.

The law would also give the agency the capacity to regulate information technology based on Federal Government’s objectives, while promoting local and indigenous products and making Nigeria a hub for innovations.

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Earlier, the Spokesman of the Senate, Senator Bashiru expressed satisfaction, on behalf of the Senate, over the progress made by NITDA in information technology and digital economy.

The lawmaker, while assuring the agency of possible collaborations in its duties, also alluded to the need for an enabling law to allow the agency function optimally.

“The 9th Senate would not hesitate to work with any agency that is willing to help the country move.

“We have a country that the population is growing and it is projected that in the next 10 years it would overshoot. The areas of green energy, ecosystem and agricultural productivity would be a great challenge, if we do not plan ahead. We look forward to your agency to assist in information technology by giving the needed guide for the growth of agriculture and our national economy.

“We should be net exporters of foods and not to he relying on other countries for food productions”, the lawmaker said.

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Senator Bashiru also charged the DG to stern the capacity of his organization to be able to match the workforce needed for the education of the younger generations and in meeting up with the global trend of digital technology.

NITDA was established by President Olusegun Obasanjo in year 2001, as a hub for developing information technology for Nigeria. The agency, under the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, is expected to champion the roadmap for the implementation of digital economy policy of the Federal Government.

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Pantami Charges Galaxy Backbone on Innovation, Customer Relations

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The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, has urged management and members of staff of the Galaxy Backbone (GBB), Limited, on rapid innovation and unflinching drive to put customers first.

This was contained in a statement signed by the Managing Director of GBB, Prof. Muhammad Abubakar, on Tuesday.

Pantami, was speaking in his capacity as minister and also as chairman of a four-day retreat for members of staff of GBB in Abuja.

“I will like to encourage all the Management team of Galaxy Backbone to support the Managing Director to ensure that GBB continues to make innovations such that the perceived and yet to be perceived needs of the customer come first.

“It is my hope that after this retreat, GBB will adopt the exploration, rather than exploitation approach in its long-term critical thinking, to set the nation on a new branded Galaxy Backbone,” Pantami was quoted as saying in the statement.

Also speaking, Abubakar said the minister had set the policy direction for GBB through the Digital Economy Policy and Strategy document, hence the need for the management retreat to strategise on how to execute it.

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He highlighted the great achievements of GBB in the past one year and recognised that the successes made were great because of the support of the ministry.

According to him, Galaxy Backbone has in the last one year, with the support of the minister, risen to the challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic, by providing digital and network communication services to Federal Government offices.

“Homes of top government functionaries, which has allowed effective government business continuity, while obeying COVID-19 protocols of social distancing and remote working.”

Abubakar promised that he would continue to do everything within his capacity to ensure that GBB’s internal and external stakeholders and customers received improved and committed digital services and make GBB ICT service provider of choice.

He described the Minister’s presence at the retreat as a commitment to the digitalisation of Nigeria and belief in GBB’s capability to provide digital services to government institutions, as well as its ability to deliver on the implementation of the Digital transformation drive of Nigeria.

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While describing GBB staff as the organisation’s assets, Abubakar thanked them for their efforts in the development of the organisation.

“This was driven by stakeholder (both internal and external), and Industry perspectives meant to ensure that Galaxy Backbone prepares itself adequately for the challenges and opportunities.

“Not just for the COVID era, but also in the area of digital transformational changes going on in Nigeria and across the world,” he said.

Abubakar noted that the retreat deliberated on a five-year business plan, anchored on six strategic pillars of: Government Policies; Data Sovereignty; Financial Sustainability; Customer Satisfaction; Operational Excellence, Improved Capacity and Capability.

According to him, adequate initiatives and strategies have been developed around these pillars to ensure GBB provides effective, efficient and reliable high speed connectivity services across all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), of Government and the country at large.

He also said that this would help in deepening broadband penetration and adding greater value for a digital Nigeria and beyond, saying the vision of GBB remained “to become a leading enabler of digital inclusion for Africa.”

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He stated that in the next few years (2021-2025), the services of Galaxy Backbone would be driven by excellence and a customer centric mindset.

Author Profile

Abdulrahman Obaje
Abdulrahman Obaje
Prince Abdulrahman Obaje is a Media and ICT Consultant, Journalist, online marketer, social media strategist, Mathematician and Computer Scientist based in Abuja, Nigeria. He is the Founder and the Publisher of The Informavores!. You can reach me on +234 805 939 5252 or send i-witness report directly to me on news@informavores.com.ng.

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