What AI Saturdays Lagos Taught Me About Education


Ideas & InnovationThe Muse

The mind, once stretched by a new experience, can never go back to its original dimension – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I will never forget the first time I entered that class. I wish I took a picture, made a mental note because from that day my life would never be the same. I was bombarded by lots of theories I had never heard before, gibberish chanting, just gibberish. It was as though I had stepped into another world entirely, in its entirety and these theories, concepts were strange to me. But the more I heard, the more I was confused, the more I was challenged to read more, the more I was fascinated.

First, by the brilliant chaps in the class, who understood gibberish and even had smart questions to ask. Next, I was super motivated by the refreshment — Oh Lawd! Tejumade Afonja is a superwoman; she is in charge of planning, refreshment and she takes the Tensorflow class. Though she knew I was a beginner in AI, she was the proper host, making it all seem easy to learn, and giving me materials and links to practice. But I was struck most by the sense of community. I had never experienced such commonwealth, chaps that will go all the way to pull one another up, group learning e.t.c. Break time was worth looking forward to as I was sure to be entertained by intellectual discussion about everything and anything from Nigerian politics, to the latest development in tech — you know, nerdy stuff about Ian Goodfellow, Andrej Karpathy, Fei Fei Li et al.

The thought of being confused in class was enough motivation to start reading when I lagged behind. I started from the rudiments (linear algebra, matrix), skimmed through videos and practiced alot. A very interesting period for me was the brainstorming that brought about our baby, CHOWNET. The intellectual energy is always undeniable and ideas are constantly in the air, waiting to be harnessed. It was simply a stunningly stimulating place to be and our presentation on different frameworks (was Beautiful!) fast-tracked our learning, showed us that there was nothing we could not achieve through determination. I will never forget our open air brainstorming (at the beach) and our quest to find Dubai (inside gist).


AI6 Lagos at the beach

As much as I have acclimatized, in our weekly classes there are always at least three times I ask myself what am I doing here, the point when I am confused. Still, I give it my all because nobody leaves earth alive; we all DIE HERE! A step at a time, a thought at a time makes it manageable.

I am enchanted by the brain, its ability to learn anything it is determined to. Neuroplasticity: that ability of the brain to change structurally and functionally when it is introduced to a new concept. So at every point in life when we learn anything new, our brain changes perhaps slightly and it never goes back. This is the scientific explanation to Emerson’s philosophical quote of times past. It brings into perspective why almost anyone can learn almost anything, as long as they put their mind to it. It is why doggedness, persistence, hardwork are almost better traits than high I.Q and I assume it is Mother Nature’s way of creating a balance between nature-bestowed gift (I.Q) and self-learned nurture, ultimately putting your progress in life in your own hands.

As opposed to the traditional learning environment where an uninterested student is taught by unenthusiastic lecturer, I was fascinated by how our facilitator Azeez Oluwafemi (Jedi Sensei) pours his heart into unveiling concepts. Everyone is willing to learn one more concept, one more theory for one more hour, the facilitator ready to take one more question, do a little more. This extra effort is enough to make a difference. It is also really helpful that really abstract concepts are explained and related to their practical applications. So Linear Algebra, Differential Calculus, Matrices are not just jargon and abstract concepts; they are tools to achieving machine learning. It makes it more relatable this way and brings things to an appreciable perspective.


Femi handling a session

I look forward to the creation of structured work/institutions like Andela that will teach just core concepts of AI, machine learning, deep learning and their practical application. I believe that the human resource is already in existence; a little bit of funding and planning and we are off. If the AI6 Lagos class were a microcosm of Nigeria’s educational system, we would make real progress as a nation.There will be a group of outliers in tech in Nigeria, non conformist ordinary young people that can move the world. These groups will implement state-of-the-art discoveries and move Nigeria from a country filled with tech people to a tech nation where all our innovations actually improve our quality of life.

The most fascinating of all at this moment for me is that my brain will never be the same as it was when I started writing this and that’s a beautiful discovery. It affirms the certainty that there are still infinitesimal unique experiences, progress in my quest in life, AI, that will stretch my brain to the nth-dimension (tensor) and that I am capable of learning so much more, being so much more.

By Adetola Adetunji | Republished from Medium with the author’s permission | Featured image: Thinkstock

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