25 February 2010

Nigeria: Showcasing the ICT Knowledge of Our Children

On February 19 and 20, 2010, I was delighted to be in the midst of secondary school students from various states of the federation in the 8th Annual Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Quiz for secondary school students organized by the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD).

The event which held at the Auditorium of the School of Technology, Kano State Polytechnic, Kano, brought students from 28 schools to showcase their knowledge and skill in ICTs. The objectives of the quiz were to sensitize the school communities to the need for computers, encourage students to take computer studies seriously and aid advocacy on the need for school proprietors and governments to provide computers in schools. The opening session was chaired by Prof. A. M. Jega, the Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, who in his opening remarks reminded the students of the importance of ICT in their future career. The guest speaker for the opening round, Dr. Kole Ahmed Shettima of MacArthur Foundation spoke on the topic Role of ICT in Career Development and Advancement. He discussed the various uses of ICTs in the education sector, and how students could take the opportunities ICTs offer to advance their learning and career. As a political scientist, and director of a development foundation, Dr. Shettima also took time to discuss the uses of ICTs in advancing human rights and in promoting good governance. What Dr. Shittima said was further amplified by one of the guests who recalled his experience way back in the early 1980s when he was a graduate students in the USA in a university which had by the time introduced a regulation that required all prospective graduate students to be computer literate for its graduate programmes. While our universities are yet to add such requirement, already the National Information Technology Policy of the country has provided that any person desiring a job in the federal civil service must be computer literate. I am not sure if this is being complied with, but it is obvious that it has become clear that no one needs to be told that in the emerging information society, computer skills are simply indispensable.

The afternoon session saw the Vice Chancellor of the Kano State University of Science and Technology as the Chairman. Unlike in the morning session there was no lecture but a presentation of the Hausa film, Naura, produced by the CITAD to raise awareness about ICTs. Acted by young people and children, the students found the film speaking directly to them. The final day of the quiz started with a guest lecture by the President of the Computer Professional Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN), Mr. Ibrahim Tizhe, who was represented by Mr. Kayode Shobajo, Managing Director, Hands-on Institute of Information Technology (HIIT), Lagos and Council Member of the CPN. He dwelt on the importance of ICTs to the economic development of the country, and especially on how the country can use ICTs in achieving the MDGs as well as propelling the national vision 20-2020 that hopes to see Nigeria among the top 20 economies of the world. The session was chaired by Prof. Umar G. Danbatta, Vice President of the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI), a special telecommunication training institute set up by the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) to provide higher level manpower to the telecommunication industry in the country. The Guest of Honour, Dr. Bashir S. Galadanci, the Kano State Commissioner for Science and Technology, who spoke on state's effort to use ICTs as a means to enhance its economic development, said that there were huge career opportunities in the ICT sector for our young people who opt for a career in the sector.

After a keen contest, which spread into several rounds of tie-breakers, prizes were distributed to the winners of the event. In the first day of the event, a teacher from one of the participating schools had launched a debate as whether it was not better to give the teachers of the students bigger prizes than their students. This question arose when the participants were told that the best student would carry home the gift of a desktop computer. At the moment of the distribution of the prizes, a visibly happy Mr. Shabajo provided the answer to this question when he announced a personal donation of N50, 000 to the wining team with the bigger chunk of the money going to the teacher of the school. Watching the quiz from the sideline, I made a number of observations. The first was the enthusiasm with which the students took the competition. This was very pleasing and edifying. The second was that while the students showed an admirable level of mastery of the subject, they had very little knowledge of the regulatory environment. For example questions dealing with the roles of NCC, the Nigeria Information Technology Development Agency (NIDTA) and the CPN, among others were not answered by the students. These are aspects in the current senior secondary schools curriculum on computer studies approved by the National Council for Education.

Third, for many of the students, you could see that they have read or where told, but lacked the practical skills of the use of the computer. This is obvious when the questions related to specific use of the computer. That this was so was itself not surprising given that many of the schools do not have adequate computers with which to train the students. The import of the last two observations is that the curriculum is hardly touched or followed in our schools. But even much more important is that very few students have the opportunity to learn to use the computer in their schools. We simply are not ready for the information age. The education system in Nigeria is facing a severe crisis whose dimensions include infrastructure constraints, shortage of personnel and inadequate instruction and training materials. The result of this crisis is such that access to education is contracting at the time when demand is expanding, quality is decreasing at the period the economy should be knowledge driven and there is a crisis of relevance when there is huge unemployment crisis that is simultaneous with critical shortage of skilled manpower and lack of entrepreneurship skills. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) can be used to address the crisis in the education sector such that access can be expanded, quality improved while producing persons that can be competitive in terms of their skills and knowledge. Here is a clarion call for those in the education sector and indeed all stakeholders to play their part in leading us out of the woods.

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