renaldo_rheederThis blog was guest written by Renaldo Rheeder, director of professional and vocational development at the American University of Nigeria

Nigeria has the highest number of children out of school, according to A World at School. Of the 57 million youngsters worldwide who are not receiving a formal education, more than 10 million live in Nigeria. The majority of non-attendees are girls, mainly in the majority-Muslim north. Of those fortunate enough to enroll, less than two-thirds complete primary school and even fewer girls finish secondary school.

Despite these challenges, approximately 150 girls have successfully completed Cisco Networking Academy courses at the American University of Nigeria (AUN). According to their instructors, the girls’ performance in the courses was on par with the male students – ample proof supporting our already firm belief that networking is not a gender-specific field.

AUN was established in 2004 with the mission of becoming Africa’s premier development university. In teaching, research, and community service, AUN addresses our community and region’s most pressing challenges: poverty, economic barriers to growth, lack of education, gender discrimination, lack of opportunities for disabled youth, environmental degradation, violence, and problematic governance. We are an agent of peace and development through myriad programs.

Students in the Cisco CCNA Routing &  Switching course work in  the practical lab at American University of Nigeria.
Students in the Cisco CCNA Routing & Switching course work in the practical lab at American University of Nigeria (AUN). Photo courtesy AUN.

AUN began offering Cisco Networking Academy courses in 2007 to provide our local youth and adults (typically ranging in age from 19 to 35) with technology skills that will train them for jobs and to participate in a global economy — both of which are the key to sustainable development, a stable economy, and peace in Nigeria and the region.

Our students come to the academy through a variety of ways. In 2010 AUN formed the Adamawa Peace Initiative, or API, through which community and religious leaders help us identify vulnerable youth who have little or no education and no jobs or job prospects.

An estimated 60% of students complete more than one course at the academy. The program has expanded from offering two courses to four, and AUN became an Academy Support Center and Instructor Training Center in 2013, providing operational support to other institutions offering Cisco Networking Academy courses.

One of our students, Shehu, joined the academy program in 2012 as a Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching student while he was serving as a National Youth Service Corp member at our training center. (All Nigerian graduates of universities are required to participate in a national service year.) Shehu’s aptitude and passion for networking were clear from the beginning. He was a top performer and assisted other students in his class. Graduating in the second quarter of 2013, he subsequently passed his CCNA industry certification exams. Realizing his special talent, we hired Shehu at the training center and in only one year from when he began the Networking Academy program, he qualified as a CCNA instructor. He proceeded with his Cisco CCNP studies and successfully sat for his CCNP certification exams in 2014 – a remarkable two-year journey!

While we endeavor to recruit both male and female candidates for our Cisco Academy programs, we have started to target the female market more specifically, given the challenges they face in this climate.

Students at the American University of Nigeria
Students at the American University of Nigeria (AUN). Photo courtesy AUN.

Winning the War on Girls

Among the students at AUN are 21 young women whose kidnapping by terrorists and subsequent escape captured the world’s attention in 2014.

One year ago on April 14, 2014, 276 girls were kidnapped from Chibok village in northeast Nigeria by Boko Haram, whose members vow relentless war against western influences, especially education of girls and women.

Tragically, most of the girls remain missing. But 58 escaped during the night when armed men dressed as soldiers came to abduct them. Of these, 21 are exacting the best possible revenge: attending AUN, the only American-style university in sub-Sahara Africa, about 250 miles from where their friends and sisters were seized in April 2014.

The war against the education of females and their right to equality in all aspects of life is a war that Nigeria—and increasingly we in the U.S.—can’t afford to lose. We know countries that deny these rights do worse economically than those that protect them.

Take as an example Rwanda, an African country regrettably best known for its descent into ethnic genocide some 20 years ago. Today, it has one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, literacy rates for girls and boys are up, corruption is down, and 64 percent of elected officials are women.  We are arguing cause and effect: Enable women to reach their full potential, and the country will follow suit.

Technology as a Force for Change

As Africa’s first university devoted entirely to national development issues, we believe that learning technology skills can help these young women escape the cycle of violence and inequality that exists in the country, and be advocates for change.

All of the students who attend AUN work with laptops and tablets connected to a WiFi network with 24/7 electricity—rare in this part of the world. They have access to Africa’s largest e-library with more than 210,000 e-books. The Cisco Networking Academy IT Essentials course teaches them computer basics like installing and upgrading hardware and software and troubleshooting systems.

They also take a course in development as it applies to their local communities, which in this part of Nigeria means high poverty and low literacy rates. Jobs are hard to find, infrastructure is poor, and the environment shows signs of the effects of global warming. There’s much to learn and even more to do.

One of the young Chibok students, who wants to become a doctor, said about her village and its burned-out school: “I really want to change the place because of our road, we didn’t have a good road for transport, and it makes it difficult for us to come places.”

Development in Nigeria involves reconciling tribal, ethnic, and religious differences because the northern part of the country is mostly Muslim, while the south is mostly Christian. In response, AUN created API, which takes the university’s development principles and expertise to the surrounding communities, facilitating interfaith dialog and what we call peace through sports, entrepreneurship, literacy, and technology training.  This initiative has provided humanitarian relief to over 270,000 people in the region.

In addition to supporting the 21 young women who escaped Boko Haram, our goal is to provide a scholarship to all of the now-captive Chibok girls when they are freed. Soon those who escaped will be completing their first year with us. They are doing well and working hard in a preparatory program that is helping them adjust academically and emotionally before entering our 4-year undergraduate program.

When they first came to us, in some cases delivered by parents deeply torn by the prospect of a long separation, many had only the clothes on their back and no shoes to protect feet bloodied in the effort to evade the kidnappers.  With their determination, they will have a good chance to live lives of freedom, dignity, and meaning. These young women will change Nigeria – and Africa – for the better.

To support AUN and scholarships for the young women who escaped Boko Haram, donate to the AUN Foundation. The annual cost per student is $5,000 for the preparatory program and $12,000 for AUN’s 4-year undergraduate program.

Renaldo Rheeder is director of AUN’s Department of Professional and Vocational Development & Auxiliaries. He oversees the professional and vocational development program, as well as the training unit that includes Cisco Networking Academy course offerings. Rheeder first became involved with the Cisco Networking Academy program in 2000, when, at Port Elizabeth Technikon in South Africa (now Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University), he established the first Networking Academy Instructor Training Center in Africa.


Alexis Raymond

Senior Manager

Chief Sustainability Office