By Babatunde Okunoye
On July 17, 2017, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) released the results of the May/June 2017 West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE) conducted across the West African region, including Nigeria. In the past decade in Nigeria, the release of WAEC results is an exercise few look forward to, because of high failure rates of students over the years. The 2017 statistics, however, shows that 59.22% of students obtained a minimum of credits in at least five subjects, including Mathematics and English. In an examination written by 1,559,162 students, some of whom were not writing the examination for the first time, how to react to that statistic is a matter of personal perspective. This perspective might be helped by learning that the pass rate was 38.68% and 52.97% in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
My concern here is not the result itself – which is a manifestation of the travails of the Nigerian students within an educational system that can offer them so much more. My main concern is the perennial emphasis on the number of students “obtaining a minimum of credits in 5 subjects and above, including Mathematics and English” as the benchmark of the health of the outcome. Our current curriculum might just be preparing 21st-century students for the 20th century.
Particularly in Information Technology, our secondary school curriculum in its current form does not prepare young Nigerians for our world as it is today. Although students are offered the chance to study Computer studies in secondary school, a combination of an inadequate curriculum, inadequate facilities and a lack of skilled teachers defeats the purpose. Gauging by the quality of students who go on to become university graduates in computer science – majority of whom do not know how to code competently- it can be said that our educational policy on ICTs isn’t working for a sector which is definitely at the core of the modern economy.
To be effective, interventions to improve the quality of ICT education and manpower in Nigeria must at the least commence at secondary education. Studies of successful ICT entrepreneurs have shown that it takes about 10,000 hours to master the skills required to build world leading ICT products and services. This can amount to about 5 – 8 years of practice for many people. Nigerian students are not different from the young people in the United States for instance who start world class ICT firms while in university, the latter just had the benefit of a better educational system and the benefit of an early start. Improving classroom facilities, the quality of teachers and the curriculum will contribute to improving the quality of post-primary school ICT education in Nigeria.
In addition to improving the quality of ICT education in secondary schools, another avenue the Federal government can explore in improving ICT skills among young people in Nigeria is by collaborating with non-profits who are already working to improve these skills among young people. Paradigm Initiative has, for example, built a record of accomplishment of working with young people in underserved communities to develop their digital skills. Through our LIFE (an acronym for “Life skills. ICTs. Financial Readiness. Entrepreneurship”) program with offices in Ajegunle Lagos, Ngwa road Aba and Dakata Kano, we help improve the livelihoods of underserved youth through ICT skills. Our success stories are numerous and include Martins Olajide, who has created an app that helps young people stay away from the age-inappropriate online content. Through a voice recognition algorithm, it can detect the age of online visitors and shield vulnerable age groups. Brenda Okoro has also created an app called MobiCheck that allows patients to access medical information in real time. Our Echoes from LIFE publication contains the stories of many other stories of young people from underserved communities in Nigeria, who have been connected to opportunities through learning in-demand valuable digital skills. In order to reach more students and make more impact, our LIFE programme is moving into schools across the country and is poised to raise an army of digital perceptive Nigerian youth creating excellent ICT products and services.
Due to the scale of the knowledge and skills deficit, every effort should not be spared to improve the lot of a generation who deserve to be apprised not just with “obtaining minimum of credits in 5 subjects and above, including Mathematics and English” but in the quality of their ICT skills, innovations and inventions.