21 June 2018

Nigeria: Adinde - Nigeria Must Invest in ICT Education for Youth Empowerment

Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde is the Administrator, Digital Bridge Institute, an information and communications technology capacity building institute. He spoke with Emma Okonji on the need for government to invest more in technology to enhance capacity building among youths

Nigerian youths are technology savvy. How can their skills be channelled to positive use?

If you look at the demographics of our young people you will find out that they are very savvy, entrepreneurial and talented but I think there are a number of environmental factors that also limit opportunities which is why some of them, in a bid to survive, deploy these talents negatively. Some of them make use of the right technology tools to do negative things because they are looking for short cuts.

India was able to identify the need to mainstream the talents and skills of their young people positively by consciously building a structure and framework to enable them acquire these skills and it became an export product for India and the rest of the world and that is what Nigeria has not done.

If we are able to harness the potential of these young people, especially in the area of information communication technology (ICT), it will amaze you how much they will unleash. Many of the Africa economies are waiting for Nigeria. A lot of our young people can go into Sub-Saharan countries in West, East and North Africa by exporting their skills to do things but that has not happened because there has not been a conscious effort to actually develop these things and tap into them.

What is the mandate of Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) and how can the institution address the challenges of Nigerian savvy youths?

The mandate of the institute keeps evolving with time; the original mandate is essentially to build ICT capacity for the economy. DBI has continuously and deliberately invested in fulfilling that mandate by building that manpower and infrastructure requirement, to a large extent that mandate is being focused on very strongly. Over the last one decade or more that the institute has been in place it has been the major thrust to fulfil that mandate, particularly in the wake of the ICT revolution that is happening across the world where today all economies are going digital. DBI sees itself increasingly challenged to fulfil its original mandate and it's doing so well in that regard.

How has DBI been achieving this?

We have been involved in a whole lot of activities in that direction. We have deployed a lot of capacity building programmes across professional areas in the ICT sector. We have been involved in doing a lot of capacity building programme for the telecoms sector. DBI launched an academic programme called the National Innovation Diploma programme which essentially builds middle level skills; practical usable skills for the sector, with the goal that the graduates of the programme will be able to be absorbed in the ICT sector as people who have functional ICT skills. These courses are in the areas where we believe the demand is today and will continue to be in the future and that is in hard and software engineering, multimedia in telecommunications and other related disciplines. DBI has also developed strong affiliations with some universities such ad University of Nigeria Nsukka, (UNN). We have academic programmes that have helped young people who are also seeking to acquire higher level professional education.

The affiliation works in such a way that the programmes are run jointly with the universities. We have one with UNN where we offer Masters Degree in ICT, Telecommunications Economics and Policy and Telecommunications Engineering. These are run partly in DBI and UNN. In these three areas we have graduated students at Masters Level over the last one decade and quite a number of them are doing well in the industry. We also have an affiliation with the University of Ibadan, which is essentially also to professionalise the telecommunications and ICT education. We run a Master in Business Administration in telecommunications management; that is essentially for people who are looking at becoming administrators or managers in the telecoms sector without getting involved in the technicalities, but they understand the environment and the business of telecommunications as business people and they can make contributions and we also have MBA and PGD programmes in telecommunications management in the University of Ibadan.

Having developed educational programmes for DBI, how will you rate the quality of its graduates on the global scale?

Based on our curriculum, we would say that our graduates can compete favourably anywhere they find themselves in the world, because the way we have designed the curriculum in the last three years is to focus more on building practical capacity. Our course curriculum is designed in such a way that it has 70 per cent practical and 30 per cent theory. We have deployed labs and workshops where the students can get hands-on-experience, so that way when they graduate they're able to get employed. We are looking at the next couple of years that DBI graduates will actually be in hot demand in the market, giving the way that we have redesigned and refocused the contents our programmes both at the professional and academic levels.

What category of students does DBI offer admission?

We have a mix of people who want to take on our programmes. We have young people who have just finished from the secondary school and are looking to pursue a career in ICT. They join our National Innovation Diploma programme, which is a two year programme in Telecommunications Technology, Multimedia Technology, Networking and Systems Security and Computer Hardware and Software Engineering. After the training, they can move on or if they want to continue at a higher level they can pursue a degree in any higher institution of learning.

Within the NID programme we have people with degrees who come into the programme because the course is practical based, where the students are mostly in the lab. We have computer science graduates who are currently taking this programme in Lagos and in Kano. The reason they're in the programme is because they want to get hands-on-experience from our labs and workshops. We also have professors, PhD graduates and those in the public sectors with us; our programmes attract participants from across wide range of the market.

How will you rank Nigeria in the area of digital economy development?

If you look at the global ICT ranking, Nigeria will not come among the top 10 in the world. The reason is not that we are not doing a lot, but in terms of the pace at which other countries are moving, especially countries in Asia, Europe and America, we are still far behind. There are a lot that requires to be done and today we find that a lot of the software we use are not developed by Nigerians and we still source for software from outside the country, we hire expertise from outside the country. There is a lot more that needs to be done and our young people are eager, they are ICT savvy but huge investment is required to consciously prepare them through a structured programme supported by government and other organisations to ensure that we mainstream very quickly into the global ICT arena. One would be looking at a day when a young Nigerian will come up with a disruptive technology like we have found in Facebook and Google. That is yet to happen but Nigeria has the demographics of young people who have ICT background and there're a lot of them out there doing a lot.

How can government and the private sector help to address the skills gap between Nigeria and developed countries of the world?

We have recognised that it is an important agenda for the government, private sector and the individual who lives in the society to make conscious efforts in bridging existing skills gap. They know that the digital economy is a reality and that in a couple of years many of the things that we are doing today, if you are not digitally aware, knowledgeable or skilled then businesses will be out of business. Take for example we are talking of digital currency today, so these are the kind of things that technology does.

A whole lot of areas are emerging, using Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things (IoTs), Machine Learning, Big Data, among others, to drive technology development. These are things that will continue to be of relevance. Block chain technology is what is driving crypto currency and Nigeria has to understand what it takes. This said, for Nigeria to be competitive globally Nigeria as the largest populated black nation can only but take a lead in ICT.

How will you describe the National Occupational Standard?

The National Occupational Standard (NOS) seeks to harness talents of our young people. Many of the people you see doing very impressive things in ICT have not even gone to formal schools but they have got talent and skills. The NOS seeks to identify these skills rate and grade them such that these people will be recognised as acquiring and possessing certain skills at certain levels that are equivalent to someone who has gone through a higher institution and earned a BSc, OND or PhD and then become employable within certain sectors of the economy, within the public and private sector. It is to give relevance to these pull of people who have skills and competencies that are outside the main academic programmes that universities run, but whose contributions are making impact and contributing significantly to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Do we have enough funding for ICT programmes in Nigeria?

There are two ways to fund ICT: infrastructure side and soft side (skills and knowledge). On the hard side which is the infrastructure side, it is easy to perceive the investment that is being made and often times that is what the government talk about such as buying computers, equipment, installing gadgets among others, but the most important part is the skills and the knowledge that people need to even harness the potentials in those investments.

We had made a case sometime in 2016 at the capacity building symposium organised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) that the investments in Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) across Africa, that some of those skills instead of being channelled wholly and exclusively to ICT infrastructure, should be dedicated to ICT skills development, in that if someone is investing $10 million to ICT infrastructure, for instance, 10 per cent of the money should go for ICT skills development especially targeted at the youths who are called the millennials.

They are the ones who will use the infrastructure to innovate, create and develop the things that will make the future happen, but as long as we don't make that investment then it means that you'll put a piece of ICT equipment in an office and nobody is using it because the skills are not there. A typical phone for example, can do a lot for us but because the knowledge of the use of the phone is not available, minimal features of the phone are put to use, meanwhile we have invested a lot of money buying this device.

There is a critical need and that need is urgent for a country like Nigeria to invest in building ICT capacity for the young people and that's why DBI continues to innovate programmes that target the young people so that we fulfil our mandate in that area.

How will you project development in DBI in the next five years?

Last year we developed a five year strategic plan and we engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers to relook DBI's entire mandate from a strategic point of view, given the context of today's market and where we want to be. In the next five years DBI would have a radical transformation given the strategy that we are deploying. We are planning to become a functional ICT capacity developing institute. In the next five years DBI would have produced graduates who the industry will recognise as people who have functional ICT skills. We would have positioned as a centre of excellence not just in Africa but globally in terms of ICT. We want to be the reference point in terms of ICT education and skills development for the economy, at both public and private sector level.

When we talk of ICT we are talking about the whole spectrum of the economy spanning telecom, oil and gas, banking among others. The strategy we have deployed is to leapfrog DBI from our current position to actually becoming Nigeria's reference point for functional ICT education.

What is your advice for the federal government in deepening ICT development in Nigeria?

I will like to advise the federal government, the President of the country in particular, to allocate more resources to ICT education, targeted at young people. Here I am talking of young people who are even yet to get into the higher institutions because the reality of ICT is that you do not need a Ph.D to become ICT literate or savvy. We should consciously develop our young people; excite their interests in ICT at every level, especially at primary and secondary levels of education, and that is what the government needs to do. There has to be a conscious programme by the government to catalyse ICT education because that is where the future is. In the budgetary allocation, there should be dedicated fund for ICT skills development for the economy.

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