Student helps education sector to embrace digital technology
Felix Fomengia, a final-year masters student in computer engineering at the University of Buea in Cameroon, is also a tech entrepreneur and innovator. University World News spoke to Fomengia about his app and his views on digital technology to aid learning at tertiary institutions.
UWN: What motivated you to create the GCE Guide App in 2018?
FF: My goal was to solve the problem that many school students were facing at the time: accessing exam resources. I was an [undergraduate] engineering student at the University of Buea then.
The Cameroon GCE Guide App … is a learning tool for school students to study remotely .... This application has helped over 15,000 students across the country.
I think my university education was instrumental. I was already studying engineering and growing in the field; I was simply putting my skills together, coupled with the knowledge I acquired during lessons in class. And that was how everything started. My studies greatly helped me as I was making use of what I was taught in class to solve a problem I identified.
UWN: Given that the app is currently aimed at the secondary education sector, how are you planning to develop it to meet the needs of the tertiary education sector?
FF: Yes, the Cameroon GCE Guide App is meant for secondary and high school students. With the support we receive from the European Union, we are benefiting from a four-month special incubation programme.
During this time, we have been able to develop a new version of our solution, the Cameroon Concours App, which will provide examination resources to students preparing for competitive national exams and other examinations in higher professional schools in Cameroon.
Our key objective is to give high school students who used our first app to complete their GCE another opportunity to prepare for their higher education entrance exams with the Cameroon Concours App.
The app will help them with materials for several competitive entrance exams for admission to public, engineering and administrative schools. There are also preparatory content and resources for people sitting for the ASTI, COT, FET, ENS [all exams for entry into higher institutions of learning] and many other examinations to enter professional schools and universities.
This is how we are making use of this support to improve our solutions and extend our platform to the tertiary education sector.
UWN: As a masters degree student and tech specialist, how would you assess the use of technology to facilitate learning in Cameroonian universities?
FF: Some advanced higher institutions in the country have been able to develop their own systems and platforms that facilitate learning and teaching between their lecturers and students. I will not say we are there yet, compared to other higher institutions in the world when it comes to making use of technology in learning. But we can see the evolution of many of our own solutions, which are being developed and made available daily to facilitate e-learning.
For example, some higher institutions in Cameroon have been able to develop their own student portal and systems which permit them to do online tutoring. In circumstances where students cannot make it to school, lecturers can continue teaching through their platforms.
We also have higher education institutions like the University of Buea which makes use of the digital platform Go-Student as an online service that connects students with tutors. Through this platform, students are able to pay their fees, register for their courses and access their student records, CA and exam results per semester. This is innovative and we can attest it eliminates the manual methods of payment of fees, registering courses and accessing results.
UWN: Must one go through higher education training in Cameroon to be able to create tech solutions like you have done? How effective are Cameroonian universities in training tech specialists?
FF: No, one must not necessarily go through higher education training in Cameroon to be able to create or develop tech solutions. This is a skill and just like any other skill, it can be learned and built on and acquired.
We have self-taught developers and programmers, meaning they studied all that they can do on their own. We’re in the 21st century and, today, there exist many online tutorial platforms that offer coding lessons in every field. This means that, with platforms such as Udacity, Pluralsight and Lynda.com, individuals with the basics can gain knowledge on how to develop websites and applications on their own.
Though higher education is recommended, these skills can be acquired online. For instance, there are many skills I acquired online, just by studying and practising on my own.
Meanwhile, Cameroonian universities are effective in training tech specialists and engineers. We have faculties and schools under universities which are strictly about engineering.
Some of these schools include the Faculty of Engineering and Technology and the College of Technology of the University of Buea where I study, and the National Advanced School of Engineering, Yaounde – all of which are institutions under public universities.
They focus on training engineers. Some of these schools are entrance-based, meaning you need to meet the requirements and pass the entrance exam to get admission. They are effective, I would say. And there are trainers and lecturers who, in most cases, are engineers and specialists in the field who hand out their knowledge to students seeking a career on the same path.
UWN: In March 2020, when the coronavirus was first diagnosed in Cameroon, universities switched to online learning. Technology played a key part in higher education but, over time, this system has more or less been abandoned for in-person lessons. What factors could be preventing Cameroonian universities from permanently embracing digital technology as an accompanying method of learning?
FF: I would say one of the factors is that they do not have self-developed digital educational technology platforms which can be used for learning. Some universities in Cameroon had developed their own platforms which they used during the pandemic, but other universities with no such platforms had to adapt to existing e-learning methods and platforms at that time like Zoom, Google Meet, and Google Classroom to deliver lessons. They later had to migrate to the conventional in-person teaching method when it was possible for school doors to be reopened.
UWN: Judging from the way things are now, how do you envisage technology in Cameroonian universities and other higher institutions 10 years from now?
FF: Technology plays a great role in the world today and is widely used in several areas and fields to address issues and problems. I think, in 10 years, technology will have greatly advanced our higher educational system. There will be so many innovative platforms and solutions which will improve our current educational systems.
We all know some innovative platforms that aim to improve access to quality education, just like what we started with: the Cameroon GCE Guide App. I believe that, 10 years from now, we will have more innovative platforms and solutions to boost access to educational resources and e-learning across our universities and other higher institutions across Cameroon.
UWN: Finally, what advice would you give to university students who, just like you, also want to create tech solutions to promote education?
FF: Every dream is possible, and everything big today started small. You have to believe in yourself and see that, aside from school, you get skills in the desired domain [you want to work in].