On one of many his trips abroad, Paul Akwabi was stunned by the abilities of a nine-year-old who was essentially a genius in coding at such a precocious age. Like it was a healthy mix of awe and exasperation, Paul was both astounded and challenged by the prodigious techie who he thought should instead be struggling with basic algebra. This young geek gave Paul a run for his money and even bested him in some aspects of technology, and through utter disbelief, he came upon something of a Eureka moment.
How about we make innovators out of kids back home from as early as the age of nine? Wouldn’t that be awesome? That was what Paul took home from the encounter. And ever since, he has been relentlessly pulling down all the steps to achieving that goal.
To understand how it happened that a European kid was leaving him in the dirt on aspects of technology that were supposed to be his forte, it soon dawned on Paul that technology clubs and academies were made available to children in Europe, Asia, and North America. This exposed them to basic technological concepts from a tender age and helped them quickly get to grips with complex ones as they progressed. Paul scoured his sources for any sign of that sort of venture back in his home country, Kenya, but he came up short and undone.
This only served to renew his fascination at how children can imbibe important aspects of technology from an early age, as well as buoy his resolve to wrap his head around it all and begin something similar in his country of birth. Determined to get the hang of it, Paul rolled up his sleeves and got to work. He was somewhat taken aback when he realized that some children in the western world knew so much about software development and a number of them have even been able to put that knowledge to use for practical purposes. This became evident when he went through with research on the contents that were taught to these kids.
With the knowledge garnered and the resolve to bring it back home, the 28-year-old techie set out on a mission to prove that African children can as well be taught to code from a precocious age and that mission gave birth to Tech Kidz Africa; where he holds the reins as Director. He tutors children on various concepts of technology through the club dubbed; Swahilipot Hub.
As at when the Mombasa-based club kicked off operations a little over a year ago, five children and one laptop were all it could muster. However, around a total of 50 young innovators aged between nine and seventeen are currently signed up on the platform, and this was the product of extensive advertising and referrals which is a testament to the commitment of the Kenyan techie.
Through the training provided by the club, children are encouraged to uncover novel, innovative ideas and execute them. Last March, Paul put together an event tagged Teck Kidz Expo which essentially served up a platform for children to showcase their innovations. The kids who participated in the exhibition were rewarded with gift hampers as a way of sparking further creativity and constructiveness.
In such a relatively short while, Paul can be thought to have made remarkable strides and a significant headway. And it would appear his efforts haven’t gone unnoticed as the club was named in Africa’s top ten having been placed in the top three by Global Social Ventures; an organization that seeks to encourage innovative solutions to some of society’s most pressing problems.
The club also finished in a respectable position in the “Make it in Africa” competition — finishing in the top thirty of a competition that is believed to have attracted as many as 600 applications. Paul also had the opportunity to embark on a working trip to Germany in June this after he saw Tech Kidz Africa through to the top five in a global contest that featured innovative projects from around the world.
Paul’s efforts have been anything but an exercise in futility as, under his tutelage, some Kenyan children have been able to develop and create applications that address issues in such fields as security, communication, and entertainment. He takes delight and revels in the achievement of one of his students; a 12-year-old who he claims got paid for creating an app for a company that is in the business of automobile sales.
However, the platform could use support from the authorities as the Kenyan coder is soliciting for government recognition and participation especially now that the Kenyan techie is working towards organizing exchange programs with other countries. Such support could serve to grow the platform in terms of human and material resources, as well further its cause.
Going forward, the club has set its sights on adding on more partners and sponsors whose assistance would be instrumental in helping young innovators develop ideas and showcase their technology-driven solutions to the world. Paul also has his sights trained on building a technology academy for children aged between seven and seventeen. Through Tech KIdz Africa, he aims to champion the unearthing of future innovations that can help solve some of the challenges bedeviling the Kenyan society, as well as spread the tentacles of the platform to different parts of the country.
Interestingly, for all the achievements he has so far achieved in the field, technology did not cut it for Paul in the beginning. Born and brought up in Mumias, Kakamega County, Paul was leaning towards a career in the military after the completion of his secondary education. His favored career path received a boost somewhat when he was promised a job in the army as a cadet officer by a friend — his dream job at the time.
Things took a turn, however, when Paul opted to enroll in the Technical University of Mombasa (TUM) in 2011, to pursue a course in Information Technology (IT) while waiting for his friend to come through with the job offer. Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately, that was not to be.
Devastated and dejected as a result of the failure of the job in the armed forces to pan out, Paul decided to take the one thing he had going on for him earnestly. Although financial constraints hampered him, he was determined to immerse himself in his studies and complete his academic program. And the dearth of funds and privations may have helped him discover his innovative side as it wasn’t long before he launched his first creation with the help of a friend. Launched in his freshman year, this creation was a mobile application that digitized the students’ handbook at TUM.
This first foray on to the technology scene heralded creations that were to follow, of which an application that could be used to track ships in the ocean is a notable example. Paul also claims to have assisted and mentored some of his colleagues in college in building their projects. He juggled these roles with his research on the contents that form the basis of teaching technology to children.
In retrospect, Paul may have dodged a bullet in the failure of the military job to materialize. Having it fail to come to fruition has indeed proved something of a blessing in disguise as he can be thought to have found fulfillment in his present vocation. The entrepreneur is known to have visited various parts of the world to work on various technology projects. He was also the recipient of the Best Innovation in ICT and Entrepreneurship Award in Kenya back in 2012.