Interview Sylvère Boussamba: « There are 700,000 developers in Africa; 4 million are needed»

Ogooué Labs founder, Sylvère Boussamba, who launched Qwasar in Gabon, tells ANA about this program which is designed on Silicon Valley standards and that trains high-level developers needed by Africa.

By Merieme Alaoui

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After the Schools 241 founded on the model of Xavier Niel’s famous “42” digital school in Paris, you are launching a new university for the start of the 2022 academic year with the totally online platform Qwasar. Can you explain the concept ? 

Sylvère Boussamba: The School 241 and StartX 241 have been training people to digital professions and entrepreneurship since 2018. Therefore, the possibility of being financially independent thanks to some free training, but with limited places. These schools are face-to-face or in hybrid mode. But this time, we opt for 100% e-learning, to reach the maximum number of people, in an unlimited way, with an innovative learning method. School 241 Business is the first university to offer several programs completely online.

Qwasar was born in Silicon Valley, its co-founder and CEO (already co-founder of School 42), Kwamé Yamgnane, is originally from Togo. He was keen to deploy this training platform on the African continent to catch up on the number of developers in the world. There are 700,000 developers in Africa, and today there should be 4 million. (The number slightly increased by 3.8% to reach 716,000 in 2021, according to the Africa Developer Report by Google, Editor’s note)

So, the main point is to train an army of developers as soon as possible?

In emerging markets, the best developers are now in China and India. Sub-Saharan Africa is starting to be well represented with a large community coming from Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. It’s easy to see how the boom in a country’s digital economy matches the number of developers. This shortage persists despite the fact that the profession offers good salaries and prospects on the continent.

From Gabon, where I work, we are driving a dynamic to open other schools with some Central African countries. We have built partnerships with Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Congo Brazzaville and the DRC… Jacky Felly Nafack Institute of Technology (JFN-IT) in Douala was the first to sign an agreement with Qwasar Silicon Valley; an agreement that we now benefit from in Gabon.

The Qwasar Silicon Valley online university is not free. It costs 1,500,000 CFA francs, or about 2,286 euros, for a 12-month course. But the job is so under-staffed that we have set up a student loan with the microfinance institution “SFE”, coupled with a promise of hiring. Once the young person has graduated, he or she joins a company that is ready to hire him or her in order to pay back the loan.

Qwasar is based on Silicon Valley standards. And much more than distance learning, you offer a particular learning methodology, to fit the 21st century… 

Yes, the usual e-learning standard is video lessons, notes, then intermediate tests to validate the course content, then a final test… It is finally based on a very old school learning method: memorization and repetition with or without practice, therefore without skill development. We want to use commitment and rely on the learner’s motivation to want to solve problems or projects to be done by and for himself. So, there are no courses, but micro-projects that we set up and solve with code. And this, with individual and collective projects. The level of difficulty and the level of correction of the projects match the complexity and requirement of Silicon Valley companies.

What does the concept of peer learning mean? 

There are no courses and there is no teacher either. You have to find the knowledge yourself online, or in libraries. 

The school of the 21st century no longer wants to transmit knowledge, but to test skills to solve practical cases. With this method, you are evaluated by your peers. A learner in Gabon can be evaluated by another in Silicon Valley, for example. This method gives very good and quick results. We also offer a diversity of cultures and approaches. We bring together people who were never meant to meet because of geographical distance, skin color, or social background. This is very important when creating code, because the algorithm needs diversity. To get as closer as possible to different people. To all this, we add gamification to make learning fun. As a reminder, peer learning allows to retain 90% of the shared knowledge, compared to a lecture which only allows to retain 10%.

Is this highly innovative method revolutionary compared to other e-learning programs? 

Yes, Africa has what is called the “last man standing” advantage. When we start, we start from almost nothing. But the latest innovations allow us to move forward very quickly and catch up with those who have difficulty changing their methods. We also give a lot of importance to the project. The young person must have an idea for a startup or a personal project. That’s what will make them move forward. If they don’t have one, we encourage them to offer their services. For instance, ask the doctors at the local clinic if they want to improve their software… We also appeal to the African culture of resourcefulness. Whether you have a degree or not, money or not, a specific project or not, everyone has the same chance. Just work hard.

If the backlog is caught up, what difference could it make to the continent?

This digital revolution is a pure blessing for Africans. Thanks to their ideas, African youth are able to raise money. In 2021, we had an explosion of fundraising with $5 billion. The African Tech ecosystem is the fastest growing in the world, according to the Partech Africa report. Africa already has several unicorns. There is a real hope for the youth, thanks to digital technology.

The African population is very young, with an average age of 19. In 10 years, the generation of digital natives will be part of the active population, they will impose their very digital way of consuming and paying to the 20th century companies which, to turn into 21st century companies, will need to massively hire well trained digital professionals.

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