Julius Ilori grew up in the suburbs of Lagos with a grievance. As a child, he noticed the gross income inequality that is emblematic of life in Nigeria. And so when he became an adult, he started the Learner’s Corner, a project with which he plans to make education, quality education accessible to all who would have it.
“Some people can afford some things and some others can’t afford them. Whenever I went out and see other people from other schools I felt like an injustice was being done,” he said in a recent interview with Technext.
On starting the Learner’s Corner
One day, as an undergraduate pursuing a Business Administration degree, his Head of Department (HOD) called him into his office and gave him the information that will change the course of his life forever. He told him about an American company that had come to his campus to recruit interns. That company was the Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE).
He said of his experience with CIPE. “We were close to 17 of us that went for the interview and the company picked only me. I started attending training sessions. I started working with the [United States Information Agency] USID team. I started to learn how the international community works. A bit about advocacy, social impact etc. The exposure came from here.”
During his time at CIPE, Julius Ilori started to study the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 17 development goals that the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 introduced to be the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. It was in those days that discovered what education could do and so he focused on it.
“That changed my perspective on the education divide,” he said.
Before his internship ended, he had completed a gazillion of courses on the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) platform and worked with a series of international NGOs.
Then, he was at the famous educationalist, Patrick Utomi’s birthday when he heard the Governor of Lagos at the time, Akinwunmi Ambode speak about the Ibile Academy. Not knowing what it was, he checked their website and saw it was a program organised by the Ministry of Youth and Social Development for the youth of Lagos seeking to be involved in policy-making.
“As a sharp guy, I packed my stuff and went to the youth shelter and I was selected. We worked with the UN population fund. We became youth advocates,” he said. “We were trained about volunteerism, leadership and things like that,” he said.
With the Ibile Academy, Julius Ilori worked on the Comprehensive Sexuality Education bill in Lagos among other projects.
In 2017, he started the foundation, the Save African Future Leaders initiative, with which he campaigned against drug misuse in secondary school and provided school materials for the economically vulnerable.
Then the pandemic came in early 2020, and so did the armed robbery squad, one million boys. He knew from his own experience growing up that some of the boys that made up the one million boys had only resorted to armed robbery because they didn’t have access to quality education.
“Baba, I grew up in the slum,” he said. “It’s difficult for people to access education. I struggled big time too. I saw a lot of my colleagues who dropped out of school. I have my colleagues in the classroom that are in the prison right now. We are currently trying to raise money for one right now. He was arrested. The community is something else. This is part of my motivation to do what I am doing,” he said.
So, with his team, he started the Learner’s Corner to make courses available for all on the internet.
“What we did then was just to review class notes from JS1 to SS3 and we were able to support about 2000 people, from different parts of Nigeria,” he said.
It was then that the emails and calls started. Parents, schools and students started reaching out, asking questions about the courses. “I was getting emails and calls from people that I don’t even know,” he said.
But they could not sustain keeping the website afloat with no funds. Late last year he got the company registered and he began the process of transforming the Learner’s Corner from an advocacy NGO to a business.
Monetising the Learner’s Corner
He rented office space in Ikeja. Divided it into two parts. Commissioned a studio in one part and turned the other into a co-working space. He called it the Learner’s Corner Education Tech Hub.
He then went on a recruiting spree, getting teachers to come into the studio to record over 600 lessons (in 3D) in ways that everybody can understand. Now, he is working on an app where people can signup and access the classes for a fee.
The goal he said is to “democratise access to quality education. To use technology to see how we can reach all the unreachable. So much is happening in this space”.
But his advocacy days are not behind him just yet. Now he is in the process of setting up a library for students and teachers. He said he wants to get laptops where students on the street can come in here to learn for free.
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“We have a partnership with the Lagos State Ministry of Education to see how we can reach more public school students, to push our solutions to the unreachable,” he said.
“When you bring technology into the classroom there is a need for more training. And so a lot of people have been trained to use google classroom. We want to use technology to build a community of teachers to see how we can empower them to create change in the classroom through what we call educational leadership.”
To do this, he went into partnership with some schools in the United State that supply his team with research materials on advanced educational leadership. These days, he spends his time in PTA meetings, speaking with teacher networks and associations and getting schools to sign up for the Learner’s Corner.
He said that with his team he is also working on providing some form of certification to people who take their courses.
All of this he said is to “reduce the number of out-of-school children.”
But the question of whether or not underprivileged Nigerian children have access to the internet remains. This is where the partnership with the government comes in. His plan is to leverage ICT centres to help the children have access to the courses.
For as low as 1500 naira, students will have access to courses for an entire term.
“The truth is that quality education is not cheap. It’s quality work”, he explained.
The future of the Learner’s Corner
His goals with the Learner’s Corner are ambitious.
Julius Ilori has big plans to make the platform available to children everywhere that WAEC is taught. Not just Lagos. But also Northern Nigeria, Accra, Ghana. But now he is focused on the Southwest.
“The strategy is clear,” he said “What we want to do is clear. How we want to do it, is clear.“
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