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A megacity without ICT facilities

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A typical information and communications technology centre

Although Lagos prides itself as a megacity, with booming business and state-of-the-art infrastructure and road networks, pupils of government-owned schools may end up as cave children due to lack of educational computer infrastructure, Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL reports.

Laide will enrol for junior secondary school certificate examination in a few months, after nine years of formal education but she still regards computers with starry wonder.

That little television-like object with a black screen sitting atop a box that she has been told wields the power to change the world. Only that she has but a vague idea of how it works.

Computer lessons have been part of her classes since primary school. She has managed to pick up concepts like the names of the parts of a computer – CPU, keyboard, monitor and a tenuous grasp of their importance but knowledge of the functions of a computer still eludes her.

Thousands of young Nigerians like Laide (not real name) in over 1,775 secondary schools in Lagos, lack computers for instructions as part of regular classes though Lagos is called a mega city.

If demographics is the only consideration, Lagos is a quintessential mega city. Only half the estimated 20 million residents in the state are required for a city to be included in the classification.

It also helps that the city is the country’s economic nerve centre housing many financial institutions, big oil companies and a generous sprinkling of manufacturing enterprises.

Buoyed by oil revenue, taxes on businesses and relatively good governance by Nigerian standards, Lagos has seen rapid transformation in recent times. Sprawling skyscrapers have emerged from the shards of slums, road networks have been expanded to hitherto remote areas and introduction of Bus Rapid Transportation (BRT) system is leading to phasing out of derelict commercial buses. The skyline is seeing a cluster of exquisite luxury real estate developments in upscale parts of the city like Ikoyi, Lekki and Victoria Island by property developers with international funding. An entire city is quietly emerging on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

Yet, developing physical structures without commensurate efforts at developing intellectual capacity of school children in the state through efficient information communication technology tools, may contravene the state’s claim to a mega city status.

Strides in development
The activities of the state government as regards education signify good intentions – free education, payment of public examination fees, upgrade of facilities and improved attention to the welfare of teaching staff.

It is as a result of these, many parents from private schools who, on account of the present economic downturn, cannot sustain high tuition costs are turning to government-owned public schools which indicate a measure of confidence in these schools.

In September last year, the permanent secretary, Lagos State ministry of education, Mr Adesina Odeyemi, disclosed that over 10,000 applications for admission into state-owned educational institutions were from those who wished to move their children from private to public schools during the new academic session.

Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in January, during the sixth quarterly town hall meeting at Ajelogo Housing Scheme, Mile 12, said the state required about N60 billion to transform public schools in the state.

Both private and public officials have also been encouraged to adopt a school in their community as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts to help in rehabilitating the schools.

However these initiatives would amount to naught if the school children in the state are not equipped with relevant skills to be functional in the current digital economy.
According to a recent data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s population grew from about 140 million to 183 million by 2014 indicating that the country produced additional 43 million, children below 10 years, nearly twice the size of Ghana.

Further, NBS data shows that Nigeria has 62,406 public primary schools in 2014 that has the capacity to take in about 23 million children. The schools have 574,579 teachers indicating a student ratio of 1:40.

Against this backdrop, ‎the news by the Principal Information Officer, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Rasak Musbau, that the state government in collaboration with System Specs, Google, SAP and Praeklt, is planning to progressively introduce software programming classes into public schools seems implausible.

“The aim is to give students an opportunity to write code in a classroom setting. Obviously, this is the fence that divides technologically powerful cities and African countries especially Nigeria in a world that is becoming ever more tech-focused. It is that divide  that Lagos state government is making efforts to cross with its recent unveiling of “code Lagos’’ computer programming initiative,” says Musbau on the state government’s website.

Considerable efforts have been made to improve infrastructure in Lagos public schools but many still lack electricity, lightning fixtures are broken, switches are not functioning, damaged fans and many schools have no computers.

Coding, or writing software programme requires a deeper knowledge of computer applications and mathematical skills which are sorely lacking in Nigeria.All over the world, Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) have become the standard to shape young minds to prepare them for the future in a digital economy where robots are now seen as a potential threat to thousands of jobs in the near future.

STEM approach develops curriculum to assist students gain knowledge in these key areas but it does not see the subjects as separate disciplines, it highlights their interrelations by fusing them into a concept showing their practical applications in everyday life.

However, the performance of Nigerian students in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) last Nov/Dec 2016 session showed that only 38.50 per cent of the students who participated had credit pass in Mathematics and English Language.

Many students are even quick to say that they hate mathematics and that is why thousands even in higher institutions studying science-related courses are choosing careers not relevant to their areas of specialisation. But these are hardly the skills required when thousands of jobs could be lost to automation.

“We need to invest more in education but fundamentally we need to reinvent how education is done. Most of our education today is geared towards an industrial economy. We have people sit in rows of desk, quietly and we say please follow the instruction, do not get out of sync with anyone, memorise these facts,” said Eric Bryrijolfsson, director, Initiative on the Digital Economy at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts, USA at the 2017 WEF.

Bryrijolfsson further said, “Following instruction and memorising facts are activities machines do better than humans. What humans have comparative advantage in are creativity, thinking-outside-the-box and large scale problem solving. The other areas are in interpersonal relationships, emotional intelligence and connecting with people.”

Musbau noted that initiatives like “Eko n Keko” (Lagos is learning), a mass literacy scheme, shows the state is in a hurry to use education as a veritable tool of socio-economic development hence it wants a solid foundation for children in quality formal and trending education.

“Lagos state has an ambition to make the state a technology frontier and has developed a smart city agenda. The ambition is to make the state technologically compliant that is why starting from April; Code Lagos centers would be launched in 500 primary, secondary and tertiary institutions (private and public), including all public libraries and ICT spaces.”

“When fully operational, Code Lagos would, in the short term, enable students harness, create and leverage on local and global opportunities of the 21st century. While in the long term, it would increase employment and business opportunities in the technology space, thus enhancing the state’s global competitiveness,” Musbau added.

In the same vein, the Director, Public Affairs, in the state ministry of education, Mr Adesegun Ogundeji said a lot of infrastructural development is presently ongoing while cases of equipment deficit in schools are being addressed.

Ogundeji disclosed that new structures currently being put in place have facilities for science laboratories and computer rooms. Besides, he added that 30 of the existing schools are being supplied with state of the art laboratory equipment while the computer rooms are being refurbished.

According to the official, “Government is trying to ensure that the learning atmosphere is conducive with maximum security in place because the equipment can easily be stolen if not adequately protected.”

He continued,” The present administration is not unaware that there are some things not in place in our schools to aid modern learning but efforts are being made to ensure that the needed facilities are made available. Already, solar power is being installed in most of our schools to ensure that these facilities are powered.

Ogundeji disclosed that entrance examinations into the state public schools are now computer based although he clarified that the pupils still have the paper-pencil option, adding that Lagos is the only state that has embraced the concept for its common entrance examinations.

Although the computer-based examination which started four years ago is presently optional, the official said more pupils are fast embracing it.“What this means is that our children are running along the trend, government is committed to ensure that all our pupils are computer literates. Even our model colleges are well equipped with modern learning facilities aimed at further enhancing their knowledge.

Like Laide, these pupils earnestly yearn for digital learning and the least the government can do to realise this lofty objective is to equip the classrooms with computer systems.


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