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Going to school in Nigeria may leave students stranded in 5G world

From electricity to internet-based life-styles, the world is changing at a dizzying pace and Nigeria comes across as unprepared to take advantage of the opportunities that come with deep technology-driven societal transformations.

One sign that Nigeria is wobbling through these fast-paced changes is in the state of its educational sector, which determines the quality of the country’s human capital stock. In a world where countries battle to deploy and exploit 5G networks. This is the fifth-generation wireless technology for digital cellular networks that began wide deployment in 2019, which is set to enhance new levels of innovations.

Many Federal universities in Nigeria are yet to reap the benefits that came with the application of electricity since the 1900s. They lack electric sockets in lecture halls and Masters Students are still compelled to produce handwritten research works. A practice that is unimaginable among the country’s peers in Asia and Europe where students are registering patents for artificial intelligence.

With a labour market that has become both global and borderless this means that Nigerian students are failing to acquire the required skillsets needed to compete with peers from more advanced economies in a fast-changing world. Additionally, half of the white and blue-collar jobs that exist today will be automated away and the jobs of the future may elude these Nigerian students.

“Nigerian universities at this point are struggling to modernise and equip their computer science laboratories. Some of the universities are still not able to introduce and use basic technology in the classroom,” said Terae Onyeje, managing director, Wowbii Limited a technology company that produces interactive board and classroom teleconference facilities.

In the race for innovation in technologies including artificial intelligence and 5G networks, Universities from China, Korea and Taiwan are registering more patents than even their US peers in wireless communications but Nigerian computer science faculties are still looking for funds to buy computers.

Emmanuel Mkporjiogu, head of department computer science, Veritas University, Abuja said curriculum is a big problem as old computer science professors regard artificial intelligence as a component of computer science.

“Artificial intelligence comprises natural language, voice and text processing. It also includes robotics, machine learning and big data analytics. These things are not taught in our universities,” Mkporjiogu said.

To prepare for the future, in China primary and secondary schools teach AI courses in classrooms and technology like Squirrel. AI is building personalised learning platforms with AI. But many public secondary school students in Nigeria still stare at laptops with a sense of wonder.

Nigeria has ranked poorly on the World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index, a measure of the extent to which countries and economies optimise human capital through education, skills development and deployment throughout the life-course.

Although on the average, sub-Saharan Africa presently captures 55 percent of its full human capital potential compared to the global average of 65 percent, many African peers have left Nigeria behind. Mauritius, Ghana and South Africa fall with within 67 – 63percent range but Nigeria joined Mali and Chad in occupying the 49 to 44 percent range, below the sub-Saharan Africa average.

Based on another of WEF’s reports, ‘The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa’ there are four core strategic focus areas Nigeria needs prioritise at this point including: “ensuring the ‘future-readiness’ of curricula, especially through a focus on Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.  Investing in digital fluency and ICT literacy skills is another critical area.

Providing solid, respected technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and creating a culture of lifelong learning, including the provision of adult training and upskilling infrastructure are all necessary components Nigeria needs to factor into a Grand National strategic plan for human capital development.

No Nigerian university has a patent in any of the latest technologies. The most some Nigerian universities have done is set up discussion groups pretending to be hubs or mention AI in passing at an introduction to computer classes.

“The National Universities Commission needs to invite professionals who understand current AI trends to review the curriculum. Some older professors of computer science still see it as an arm of mathematics but this has to change,” Mkporjiogu said.

 

STEPHEN ONYEKWELU

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