Nigerian tech talent developing and outsourcing company, TalentQL has launched a digital tech training institution, AltSchool. Touted to be Africa’s first certificate-awarding institution for developers and other tech talents, the institution went live today and is currently open to applicants.
According to TalentQL Co-founder and CEO, Adewale Yusuf, Nigeria has a population of more than 200 million. More than 60% of them are under-25. With a jobless rate of nearly 34% and an illiteracy rate of 35%, many of these young Nigerians are both uneducated and jobless.
AltSchool is, therefore, an institution that not only helps them acquire valuable tech skills, it also ensures they get tech jobs once they complete their schooling and bag their certificates.
“We are banking on them to succeed that is why we are willing to invest in their education,” Adewale told me. “Tuition fee is zero dollars. The students don’t have to pay a kobo. We will take care of that,” he said.
Speaking on the reason behind establishing such an institution, the CEO said his own background was a major reference point. Not being able to attend school due to lack of funds, he resorted to doing menial jobs until someone hinted to him about tech.
“That was how I decided to learn how to code and today this is where I am. So what we are doing with AltSchool is to expand and democratise this awareness and access to these tech skills,” the CEO said.
How AltSchool works
AltSchool is an online institution running basically on a remote study model. However, TalentQL says it is partnering with workstations to establish catchment areas where students could go and study together. Since the learning will be mainly virtual, it is open to everyone in countries around Africa.
Prospective students can start by signing up on the platform. They, however, must be at least 16 years old and must have completed their secondary school education or its equivalent. No prior tech knowledge is required.
To apply, candidates only need to pay an application fee of $20 (roughly N10,000). They will receive an email containing home study kits. The candidates will be required to study with these kits as their assessment would be based on the contents of those kits.
“We want to know if you are good enough to get into the program because we need the extremely smart ones,” AltSchool’s Chief Operating Officer, Racheal Onoja said. “Candidates will be tested on the basis of the home study kit. There will be two phases of the assessment; early bird and latecomers,” she said.
According to her, the ‘early bird’ phase will be for the early applicants who apply between now and the end of November. These ones will write their first assessment in early January. This gives them at least one month to prepare. Their assessment result would determine if their application is successful or not.
Learning would focus on three core areas; front end, back end and cloud engineering. It would also be mentor-based as the school says it would guarantee a mentor-mentee relationship. The program would last for 9 months after which students would be placed on internship programs for 3 months.
Speaking about AltSchool tuition fees, CEO, Adewale Yusuf said the tuition would cost zero dollars. He said since the school will be training the students for the job market and not just for the knowledge, it will be extracting its fee bit by bit from the graduate’s salary in an income-sharing agreement (ISA).
As such, it would be the ultimate duty of the school to provide support to help them get suitable job placements so they could start fulfilling their obligations. The CEO said this model was adopted instead of the school fees model because the school fees model would ultimately defeat the purpose of establishing AltSchool.
“The reality of the market is that people that can afford it aren’t the people it was meant for,” Adewale said. “People that are indigent and extremely smart are the target. When I was poor, if someone asked me to pay for this skill, I won’t be able to afford it even though I so much wanted it,” he finished.
First developer certificate awarding institution in Africa
In a bid to validate the acquired skills, AltSchool will also be awarding certificates to students who successfully complete their programs. This, according to the CEO will make it the first African institution to award certificates to developers.
However, since it isn’t a degree-awarding institution for now, it has partnered with Michael and Cecilia Ibru University (MCIU), Ughelli Delta State which would be the certificate awarding institution.
Speaking on the partnership, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Michael and Cecilia Foundation which owns MCIU, Omatseye Oti told me that her university would be the degree-awarding institution backing up AltSchool.
MCIU is the degree-awarding university that is partnering with AltSchool. We don’t want it to be like just any regular program. The vision is for the certificate to come from a nationally recognised university empowered to issue degrees.
She said the certificate awarded will be like an intermediate degree. She said MCIU decided to partner with AltSchool because they both share the same vision of equipping youths with marketable skills in a bid to help eradicate poverty.
“If we are eradicating poverty and then AltSchool is coming up with this kind of program where you don’t even have to pay right from the start, it opens a whole lot of opportunities for those who ordinarily won’t have been able to afford this kind of opportunity. So it’s just a perfect alignment,” she said.
The Andela question
While AltSchool’s plan looks like a very lofty one, its model seems quite similar to the first Andela model. The renowned talent outsourcing company trained junior tech talents with the purpose of hiring them out. Andela would later count its losses and abandon this model after it discovered that senior developers were more in demand than junior ones.
Asked if he isn’t worried AltSchool would hit the same obstacle and be forced to reconsider its model, Adewale Yusuf told me he’s not. According to him, Andela’s model was to put the developers on their payroll and this was the hitch they encountered.
He said AltSchool wasn’t trying to train tech talents to retain them, rather it would be training them to be employed by organisations that need their skills. Their salaries would then be split based on agreement. But ultimately, the bigger plan is really to equip young Africans with employable tech skills because someone has to do it.
“When there’s no alternative, people go for what they see. Take for instance these Yahoo guys as well, they are active. They have training schools now. They are actively training and they are busy. So we also have to get busy too. Most of the developers we have did overnight coding. They taught themselves. If we help them from the start, they will become world-class,” he finished.
Asides from the core tech skills, AltSchool would also be training students on soft skills like ethics and discipline, communications, time management and a host of other relevant skills.