By Abdulrosheed Fadipe
In an era where information flows ceaselessly through digital channels, linguistic diversity can sometimes find itself at odds with digital inclusion. However, amidst this challenge, a language advocate is revolutionizing the landscape of language barriers and the digital divide by teaching scientific and technological concepts in Yoruba through digital platforms.
With the world becoming increasingly interconnected, Dr. Taofeeq Adebayo recognized that language should never be a barrier to accessing knowledge that empowers individuals to understand complex subjects. Armed with this belief, he embarked on a journey to bridge this gap by collaborating with other graduates of STEM fields and linguistics to start the Science in Yoruba Project in 2017. This team translated all STEM textbooks into Yoruba and taught the translated concepts to students of three secondary schools in Ibadan, Nigeria in 2019.
Dr. Adebayo is a trailblazer linking scientific and technological concepts with the Yoruba community. He is an assistant professor of linguistics at California State University, San Bernardino, California, United States. His innovative approach involves harnessing the power of social media and online platforms to deliver well-crafted, bite-sized, visually captivating content that breaks down intricate ideas into digestible pieces.
During a WhatsApp call with this author, Dr. Adebayo provided insights into his work:
Abdulrosheed Fadipe (AF): What sparked your interest in digital inclusion and led you to share scientific and tech concepts on social media platforms in the Yoruba language?
Taofeeq Adebayo (TA):People who speak English have access to common science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) knowledge. However, many people who speak African languages, including some of my siblings and friends, do not speak any European languages like English. As a result, they are automatically excluded from participating in the reception, dissemination, and reproduction of this body of knowledge. I became interested in digital inclusion when I was in high school. My friends and I would often sit under a tree after our exams and talk about the work of Daniel O. Fagunwa, a Yoruba author. We enjoyed these discussions, and I began to wonder how we could talk about biology, physics, or mathematics in the same way that we talked about Fagunwa's work in Yoruba. When I attended Obafemi Awolowo University, my interest in digital inclusion continued to grow. I wrote articles for national newspapers like The Nation about the importance of ensuring that Yoruba and other African languages can be used to express scientific knowledge, describe technological knowledge, and describe STEM knowledge in general. In 2016, I began my PhD at Tulane University and received a scholarship from the Mellon Graduate Program in Community-Engaged Scholarship. I thought that this was the perfect opportunity to start working on what I had always talked about.
AF: How did you begin your journey of teaching these concepts online? Did you encounter any challenges in reaching your audience effectively through social media channels?
TA: The project began in 2017 with the goal of translating basic science textbooks for Grade 7 students in Nigeria. We completed the translation in 2019 and taught the textbooks at three schools in Ibadan. However, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to continue our work in the classroom. This led me to consider how we could reach more people and extend our work beyond the classroom. I began learning how to make videos and recordings, and I started producing illustrated videos on topics such as COVID-19, the universe, biology, and physics. Initially, it was difficult to reach an audience online because it takes time for people to discover your work before social media platforms will suggest it to others. However, we have since been able to reach a larger audience. We have over 150,000 followers on Facebook alone, and we are also present on other social media platforms.
AF: In what ways have you witnessed your online teachings positively impacting your audience? Can you share a story of someone who benefited significantly from your educational content?
TA: Our work has demonstrated its impact through several noteworthy examples. For instance, we empowered an individual who had completed only high school education to gain a profound understanding of science from our educational materials. This individual now actively contributes to discussions about general science among their peers. Also, a professor from Covenant University reached out to us for a video we made on the layers of Earth to use in their lectures. And a professor of linguistics from the University of Ilorin was interested in showing her students how we use Yoruba words for STEM concepts. These examples show that our work has the potential to reach a wide audience and make a real difference in people's lives. We are committed to continuing to create high-quality educational content that is accessible to everyone.
AF: Looking ahead, how do you envision furthering your mission of digital inclusion and expanding the reach of your educational content? Are there any plans to collaborate with organizations or initiatives that align with your goals?
TA: In the future, my plan is to collaborate with organizations to expand our initiatives. Currently, I am focused on generating a substantial content library. This will enable us to venture into communities and offer offline access. Our intention is to traverse various communities, sharing the content already available on social media with people on the streets, ensuring its accessibility.
Moreover, we aim to collaborate with local organizations in different Nigerian states that share our objectives. Additionally, I am exploring partnerships with TV stations to broadcast our content on a daily or weekly basis, enhancing its reach. Ultimately, I aspire to integrate our content into educational settings, facilitating teaching and learning. The Science in Yoruba Project's core objective revolves around translating more science textbooks. This endeavor will synergize with our digital content, creating a dynamic interaction with the translated textbooks we intend to produce.
The author of this article, Abdulrosheed Fadipe, is a freelance writer from Nigeria. His areas of focus encompass culture, history, politics, media, human rights, digital inclusion, and good governance.