This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: 'Our Educational System Needs to Reconnect to the Marketplace'

interview

The Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative of Nigeria (PIN), Mr. Gbenga Sesan, speaks with Amaka Eze on the Techie Entrepreneurial Nigerian Talented (TENT), an initiative aimed at maximising students' four-year stay in tertiary institutions to build actual ICT businesses and business ideas. Excerpts:

What in your opinion is the status of unemployment in Nigeria?

Well the unemployment rate in the country today is relatively high. We all know unemployment is a crisis that feeds many societal ills like corruption, terrorism, crimes, to name but a few. The fact that about 40 million young people are out of jobs (based on information from the ministry of youth) points to a detrimental crisis. Also, the official figure of unemployment in the country was put at about 23.9 per cent; although that figure stands to be corrected because we all agree that the figure is much lower than reality.

Our educational system is no doubt disconnected from the reality of the marketplace. While attempts such as YouWIN and 24-hour business registration are seen by government as possible interventions, the core problems are yet to be taken care of; our psychologists, doctors, engineers and other professionals who should help us address relevant problems end up in banking halls where they count money thus not doing what they should do.

Another core problem is the assumption that government should create jobs; government's business with jobs is providing a comfortable environment through credit systems and the ease of doing business, among others. We also have a major problem with societal models; as long as government cronies feed fat off Wednesday contract announcements and hardworking Nigerians keep fueling generators with their profits, unemployment will only increase.

We have what should be a youth advantage, with about 70 per cent of Nigerians classified as active youth who are willing to work, Nigeria, indeed has a bright future but it will remain a crisis until we tackle the problem of unemployment properly.

That is where TENT comes in; to help students of tertiary institutions in Nigeria who have keen interest in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) solutions to maximise the years spent while in school, on building ICT businesses and business ideas.

What is TENT?

TENT is acronym for Techie Entrepreneurial Nigerian Talented, a first edition initiative by Paradigm Initiative of Nigeria (PIN). PIN is a social enterprise which seeks to connect the under-served Nigerian youth with ICT opportunities with specific concern about the ill effects of unemployment, cybercrime and other vices that might limit the potential contribution of young Nigerians to the nation's economy.

The need to ensure that Nigeria students graduate with actual business plans, ideas or businesses, instead of just Curriculum Vitae (CV) is the reason behind TENT. The vision of TENT is to help jump-start the culture of innovation and enterprise in the world of global technology companies which all started as ideas that were developed into products right from the university halls of young students.

With the TENT initiative, comes the opportunity to reverse the trend of producing job seekers, and moving towards grooming competent ready hands and employers of labour.

TENT is therefore a Paradigm Initiative Nigeria project that seeks to add value to Nigeria's the ICT industry and also dent the Nigerian unemployment problem. TENT seeks to expose today's Nigerian student to technical, business and leadership requirements for ICT innovation. The big vision is to help jump-start the culture of innovation and enterprise in the mold of the Facebook, Microsoft and Google which all began from the university halls of their young founders.

What inspired and motivated the initiative?

TENT was inspired by the challenge that Nigeria's official unemployment figure is 23.9 per cent. A minister was also once quoted as saying that only 10 per cent of graduates get decent jobs two years after graduation. That is a very poor figure for a nation as great as Nigeria.

We also noticed how many students do not make the best use of their time in school, to prepare for possible future careers. TENT is PIN's response to this huge need, based on analysis of the current circumstances and our team's experience with national and global best practices spanning a period of over 10 years - and over 30 countries.

What are your objectives with TENT?

TENT is a platform that will showcase, connect, add value and inspire. The platform fills an existing gap and will also provide a place where budding Nigerian technopreneurs can showcase their work, connect with resources, add value to market and inspire innovation, while building a sustainable business that they will run after graduation.

What will be the benefit of this initiative to the country at large?

TENT aims to reduce the number of students who graduate from school to join the unemployment market, who graduate without any skill whatsoever, or who graduate and unemployable. TENT will also increase the volume (and quality) of innovative ideas that come out of Nigerian campuses to make the student business minded.

What are the goals of the project, and TENT implementation?

The goal is to have at least 100 students graduating with ICT businesses from each of our partner schools annually. We also intend to see that number grow as well as grow the number of partner schools by 10 in 2016.

How positive do you think TENT will be to a graduate's future?

Extremely positive. The best case is that they will graduate with businesses or business ideas, but even those who don't will pick up skills required after graduation. They will also have the needed capacity building which most employees complain Nigerian graduates lack these days. TENT will change the way students use their time while in tertiary institutions in Nigeria, in an age where ICTs are easier to embrace.

How many university partners does TENT work with?

At the moment, we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) while two other Universities (University of Lagos and Edo) are in consideration.

What's the awareness level for the students?

The awareness is more for the 99 students we have been working with since April 2012, but the next few days and weeks, as we approach the December event, will see us reach more students across Nigerian schools.

How critical is creating businesses for graduates to the nation's economy?

The Nigerian economy needs to create at least 40 million jobs to offset youth unemployment immediately, and then at least half a million jobs annually to remove the menace of unemployment. This is unrealistic and means that more Nigerians must move as fast as possible away from being job seekers to job creators. Of course, some are best working on projects for others, but at least few must create the jobs for most to work on. Nigeria is in urgent need of students who will graduate with ideas that will add economic value. And ICTs provide the opportunity for this steep curve to become less threatening.

How many graduates do you think TENT will be able to impact on?

With 100 students in our first university partner, we can reach up to 1,000 students per year via 10 partners. And the annual TENT gathering will reach about 500 students each year, so the numbers are not in the millions, but the quality of the few thousands over few years can become a major game-changer.

What is the level of government support for TENT as well as creating businesses for students?

None at the moment.

What word do you have for the Nigerian youths?

Young people must take responsibility for their future and decline from adding to the unemployment rate in Nigeria. They must also realise that the government has a lot up itself, and work towards aiding themselves.

Students must move away from the culture of Cram-Pass-Forget (CPF) which most students indulge in until they graduate from school to start dusting their CVs, and start studying in the classroom with their workplace in mind so everyone will benefit.

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