By Ahmed Lateef
Not less than 45 pupils of secondary schools in Kwara State have been trained on Radio-Controlled Aircrafts operation in a bid to prepare them for future challenges in the aviation industry.
The participants picked from selected secondary schools within Ilorin metropolis were at the three days workshop on AeroSTEM Fellowship, which Project Sunshine, a nongovernmental organization, funded and held at the International Aviation College, Ilorin.
Project Sunshine is a pet project of an Owo, Odo State-born, Idris Ekungba, who is a Line Check Pilot and Captain at American Eagle, a United States-based airline.
Speaking at the end of the workshop, Captain Ekungba, whose father, Alhaji Jamiu Ekungba, graced the event, recalled that his organization was set up in 2020 to encourage and instil in pupils passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) studies in schools.
He said the participants were trained on how to build remote-controlled planes and expressed satisfaction with the performance of the students throughout the duration of the exercise.
Ekungba, a graduate of Political Science from the University of Ilorin, disclosed that the initiative started in United States, adding that all his projects were domiciled in Nigeria with none in the United States.
He said, “We have been at the International Aviation College, Ilorin for about three days. What we came here to do is to inspire the next generation of not only aviators but scientists, engineers. What we came here to do is to show them that STEM is important to the education and give them the opportunity to not just learn them but see through the length of the aviation.
“What we did initially when we came up with the programme scope is to look at public school system, see where there were challenges and see how we can be of assistance. We selected (participants) from different schools within the Ilorin metropolis.
“We brought them to the Aviation College. We camped them at the hostel of the college and provided feeding for them. We also added teachers from each of those schools to come and be with the students because we are going to be calling up on them over the next year.
“It is a long term process but the short term goal for us is to reach them here, let them take it back to their schools, share with their friends and when we see the number of pupils that are enthusiastic about it, we provide more equipment for them to continue to come back and support them. The next visit would be to come to their schools, see those who want to be part of it and give them whatever we need to continue to encourage them to do the job.
“Initially, we have 40 pupils but we add five that came and said they wanted to join us. We have 45 kids that had been trained on how to build Remote Control Planes. We are going to be leaving the equipment and materials with them and provide scholarship for each of those teams so they can have enough money to buy some equipment that they are going to need and source locally and the equipment that they cannot source locally, we are going to continue to provide it to them so that they can continue to develop their skills”.
Also speaking, Captain Uchena Abali, who is a pilot with Delta Airline in the United States, said Ilorin community was considered for the project because of what the town did in nurturing Captain Idris in his formative years.
He noted that the participants surpassed the expectations of the Project Sunshine with their level of assimilation throughout the short period of the workshop.
Abali said, “What they have done is a manifestation of the quality education instilled in them. They have successfully created fly-able drones within the last few days that we started”.
The Principal, Senior Section of Queen Elizabeth Secondary School, Ilorin, Hajia Gobir, expressed delight over the workshop and thanked the organizers for finding Kwara worthy of hosting it.
In his remarks, the acting Rector of the International Aviation College, Ilorin, Captain Yakubu Okatahi, thanked the convener for the workshop and for remembering home to give back for the pupils to learn.
He encouraged the participants to be studious and make good grades for them to be celebrated in the future and give back to the community afterwards.
The acting Rector applauded the state government for providing enabling environment and as well as funding for the college to operate.
He, however, pleaded with the government to provide additional funds for the institution to tackle some of the challenges currently bedeviling it.
“This activity we are having here is sponsored by two gentlemen from America but they are Nigerians. We have to give them kudos because they did not forget their homes. They wanted to give back to their community and that is what they have done.
“This programme would not have been here if not for the fact that the Governor of this state has put full hands for us to be able to develop and improve. He has been sending us money to pay our salaries, buy spare parts for our aircrafts and repair fuel dump.
“We have new students in the class now and we need to have aircrafts that they will fly. So, we are asking him to please grant us some money so that we can continue. The one he granted before was N75million. With the exchange rate, it is not enough to do so much”, Okatahi said.
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Hajia Habibah Salman-Saidu, who spoke through the Press Secretary of the ministry, Mansurat Kannike, said the state government was proud of Project Sunshine for sponsoring the pupils on the training.
She also applauded the parents of the pupils for supporting their wards to undergo the three days’ training, urging the trainees to utilize the opportunity properly.
“The organizers of this programme have done so well. We are proud of you, your kind gesture is worthy of emulation. I encourage the pupils to take and use the opportunity very well because most of you can find yourselves in the aviation industry in the future”, the permanent secretary said.
The Emir of Ilorin and Chairman, State Council of Chiefs, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, was represented at the event by Magaji Ngeri of Ilorin, Alhaji Mohammed Adebayo Magaji.
Schools selected for the workshop include Queen Elizabeth Secondary School, Baboko Community Secondary School, Ilorin Grammar School, GHS, Ilorin; Federal Government College, Ilorin; Government Secondary School, Ilorin, Unilorin Secondary School, Ebenezer High School, Sarod Academy and Adrin School.
Others are Gifted Model School, Lamond College, Minaret Islamic School, Bright Star College, Hallmark School, Sheikh Abdulsalam Secondary School, Faith International School, Focal Point School, Government Day Junior Secondary School, Great Success Step College, Everest High School, Glorious Vision School, all in Ilorin, the state capital.
The participants, who were arranged into different teams during the workshop, built prototypes of Radio-Controlled Planes, which they exhibited to the admiration of invited guests at the end of the event.plllp