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Retooling the art of learning for emerging information society

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Chris Uwaje

The world is already witnessing the emergence of the fourth industrial revolution; hence the need for Nigerian universities to unlearn and relearn their practices and prepare students for the critical challenges of society. UJUNWA ATUEYI writes.

As futurist and philosopher Alvin Toffler once wrote: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

What this implies according to Information Technology (IT) experts is that the domain of learning has changed and will continue to witness more critical changes as the world navigates the technology-driven 21st century.

The ultimate outcome of the trend is this: new jobs will emerge, new posts will also emerge and only those who are rightly prepared and exposed will benefit from the revolution. And so the question is, has the nation’s tertiary institutions positioned themselves to produce graduates that will be relevant at that time?

And so there is an urgent need for universities to unlearn and relearn its practices in order to prepare students for the world of work, as continuing the conventional style of teaching and learning might cause the nation much harm than good.

From the perspective of software experts and industry practitioners, Nigerian universities are still lagging behind in terms of exposure to real world IT issues, thus teaching and research methods must undergo massive structural change to enable the society move towards creating the critical mass necessary for development direction.

And so the Federal Government and managers of the university system must rise to the challenge, as sooner or later future schools will emerge in space, and without the proper training and exposure to the general IT world, Nigerian graduates will become misfits in the industrialised world.

The African Chair for IEEE World Internet of Things (WIoT), Dr. Chris Uwaje, strongly maintained that there is need for a total overhauling of education policies, strategies, standards, curriculum and overwhelming multi-disciplinary concepts.

According to him, “The world of learning will continue to witness more critical changes as we navigate the technology-driven 21st century. For example,

‘Future Schools’ will emerge in space very sooner than later. It simply means that as Nigerians travel overseas to UK, USA, Germany, etc to study and acquire new knowledge in the technology frontier, so will citizens of many nations of the world orbit into Space for new forms of knowledge and education, commanding totally new education different from what is currently obtainable on Earth.

“There are many job openings out there, but no commensurate skills to fill them up. The national curriculum should focus and ensure on mandatory ICT knowledge delivery from kindergarten to university levels. The world of software is as vast as the oceans of food and drug in the world. Not only that, it has become the centre of gravity and sustainable blood that runs through the veins of humanity and our entire living environment.

“Therefore, it is not only the education sector of Nigeria that should recognise that its overdue to retool the art of learning and working, in preparation of the emerging critical challenges of Information Society (IS), but indeed the entire faculties of the national workforce and related ecosystem: from tradition, culture, agriculture, among others,” he said.

Embracing Software Engineering
Uwaje who is also the former President, Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), said it may take Nigeria about 75 years to catch-up with real-life technology innovation unless the country’s research and development (R&D) ecosystem is given a radical facelift.

Nevertheless, “the time to achieve that mission may be shortened by embracing the mastery of Software Engineering Development. Since hardware roadmap may take us over a century in the global competitiveness curve.  Indeed, today, it can be said with all clarity that the new food and drug that feeds and keeps the global world economy alive is software!

“We now live in a Software-First World. What is our national policy direction, strategy and regulatory Framework on Software? How do we protect the nation and her citizenry from the dangerous impact of the usage of Application Software with ability to take us digital hostage and re-colonize our people? It will be grossly naïve not to consciously advocate for strategic legislation, and fair regulation of software application and usage in a developing nation such as Nigeria. Mastery of software will deliver the future assurances of sustainable employment and innovative entrepreneurship,” he assured.

Acquiring Artificial Intelligence Skills
Also Chief Executive Officer, Infosoft Nigeria Limited, Pius Okigbo, Jr who affirmed that the fourth industrial revolution is being driven at its very core by artificial intelligence (AI), asserted that AI is slowly reshaping human lives.

He said with the strong influence of AI in consumer products it is easy to see that the impact is greater in this decade than in other decade’s past. This according to him is evident in the products we use daily, whether it’s with cell phones—Apple iPhone, Samsung and Microsoft phones, or like Netflix and Amazon, they are powered by artificial intelligence.

“What makes all this very interesting and exciting is that the tech giants are engaging in ground-breaking research in partnership with top academic institutions. For instance, Google partnered with Stanford University on neural networks and its affiliation with University of Alberta and the Google Deep Mind team. Microsoft on the other hand, acquired a Canadian AI firm, Maluuba, located in Montreal in 2017, and is focusing its AI research out of Montreal.

Okigbo

“The fourth industrial revolution is not imagined, it’s real! For us to be relevant as a nation, in a globally interconnected society, we must first channel the development of our human resources toward relevant and quality education for our own development needs and growth. Quality education is a strategic necessity at all levels and should never be compromised. Our government must be dogged and fierce in its execution of a policy that delivers quality education.

“Without the proper exposure to the quality and foundation of education in AI our graduates simply become dysfunctional in an AI ecosystem and IT in general. This also impacts our ability to compete with our counterparts abroad. The teaching and research methods must undergo massive structural change to enable us to move towards creating the critical mass necessary for our development,” he said.

Citing the case of India, he said, “India is adopting a unique approach in ramping up the skills they need in AI and are moving at an incredibly alarming rate. The Chinese government, in turn, has set aside billions of dollars to firmly secure its place in the global AI ecosystem by 2021. A failure of our policy makers to be strategic and far-reaching will cost on nation dearly and may take a generation to correct it. We must recognise as a nation the unique attributes, strength and capabilities of our human capital and harness it. Such capabilities were clearly displayed during the Nigerian civil war.

“Research is key. Quality education is supreme. A medical student who goes through six years of medical school without ever seeing a cadaver is criminal and a disservice to society. Similarly, a software engineer who trains without a computer is functionally unprepared for the AI world. We must address the fundamentals and get it right at the core to enable us achieve excellence in an AI ecosystem.”

Canvassing for a synergy between universities and software IT firms, Okigbo stressed that research is very imperative, thus software IT firms need to partner with universities for research and also become a hub for potential employment of its AI students.
On the implications of churning out graduates who might be oblivion of new jobs/posts that will emerge in the future, he urged universities to embrace modern teaching methods with practical hands-on knowledge starting very early in a students’ first year.

“Unfortunately, inadequate quality graduates are a major strain on organisations and by extension a strain on the economy. In my experience in the software space we have had to retrain graduates in their core body of knowledge to meet our needs for quality software developers. This is at a major cost to the business. Fundamental principles, which should be taught in the universities, are learned outside the four walls of the universities. The era of cramming and regurgitating antiquated lecture notes must end.

“When our institutions of higher learning do not respond to the needs of the industry, in terms of quality and critical numbers, it creates a gap in resourcing. For instance, in national planning it is the responsibility of the FG to determine the number of doctors and nurses our population and growth require and ensure that our universities work towards that goal. Where there’s a shortfall then expertise is sought outside. We are losing our medical professionals to the US and Europe because of the advancement in medicine.

“If the federal government does not deem it fit to invest in human capital to accelerate our own development, then we might as well fold up and return to our respective villages and become subsistent farmers. The job of the future is in AI. That future is here already. A failure to recognise it is a failure of the collective leadership,” he concluded.

The international perspective
The situation is already worrisome even at the global stage. This is the reason the IE University, owned by the Instituto de Empresa SL in Spain, recently organised international conference on “Reinventing Higher Education.” The conference held last month, saw captains of industries discussing how universities will adapt to the new face of learning.

Global Chief Learning Officer at McKinsey, Nick Van Dam, who spoke during the convention, revealed that his company’s research predicted that 14 per cent of the workforce’s jobs would be automated by 2030.

Van Dam during a panel discussion argued that a lot of new jobs and new posts would also be created, in the same way that the iPhone produced 15 million new jobs for app developers around the world. “The question is: how do we prepare students for jobs that don’t exist today?”

“The old model of doing a degree and then getting experience [has been replaced by] a model where we keep going back to school to learn. People need to continually ask themselves what they will do over the next 12 months to keep up to date. If their job is not going to exist in 12 months, what can they do to retrain to work within the organisation? And/or what qualifications would they need to apply for a job outside the organisation?” he said.

While emphasising that new technologies are impacting the world of work, Van Dam argued that universities worldwide would have a vital role in adapting to and serving this changing demand.



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