In the coming years, we might actually be facing a major problem, so the way to go is to begin at the lowest possible levels, to teach children and young people the technologically relevant skills and education, and in that respect is what we really need to focus on. Just the point I was making earlier about how to educate a large numbers of people in Nigeria, for example, we’re going to be the third largest population, as I said, in the world, twenty odd years or so. Now, that means that we may not be able to build classrooms as quickly as well as there are babies. So clearly we may not have the sort of classrooms that we have today, so we’re already thinking through how to deal with that, so how do we deliver education to young people without necessarily putting them in the sort of spaces that we have today, right. So, that might involve using various forms or a combination of technology applications to teach. So, the challenges are huge but obviously, there are opportunities as well, you know, and I think that we must really deal with those issues of education and training, so as to be able to match the opportunities, as much as the challenges that will come.
It was with rapt attention and great admiration that I listened to your fireside chat at the LinkeIn head office in Silicon Valley (YouTube) while you were on a working tour visit. I have to say that it’s been a long time that I’ve heard a major politician, needless to say top government official of the Federal Republic of Nigeria talk so passionately about education and training, and with so much conviction on what the two could mean for the future of the teeming youths in the country and more importantly the future of the country. A future that I think is already with us in this year of 2018.
Millions of jobs will be at risk of automation in coming decades. By 2050, countries would have to adjust to the new economy.
— UNICEF Education (@UNICEFEducation) July 14, 2018
I noticed that during the course of the interview you emphasised the key role that digital technology will play on the future of employment, education and training going forward in the country, and this very important role of digital technology, perhaps must have played a significant role in your decision to visit the Silicon Valley, which I think is great! However, I want to call your attention to the period 33:00 to 35:00 of the video recording of the chat. Within those two minutes you highlighted some of the key policy plans or decisions that your government is planning to make or has made around the future of education in the country and the important role technology will have to play in making education accessible to a population that, to quote you, “we may not be able to build classrooms as quickly as well as there are babies.” For the first time in recent history of public education in Nigeria I heard from a top public officer on the need to use means that are not necessarily conventional to deliver education to the ever growing young population in the country, and to this end I felt eureka! Finally, someone in top position in government realises the need to look to non-conventional means to address this very urgent and fundamental problem – the problem of over 10.5 Million out-of-school children easily comes to mind in this regards. Nonetheless, I would like to call your attention, your Excellency Sir, to the role technology can and can’t play in the whole process but before I go further on that, please could we take a minute to talk about the N-Power project.
I know you emphasised in the interview that the N-Power project was to provide young Nigerians with some of the much needed and missing employability skills through the use of tablets that have been loaded with training materials for the 500,000 N-Power’s participants to make use of. While that’s great and is very laudable as a project and as an achievement, notwithstanding, I was just thinking maybe if you ask the folks at N-Power to make these resources freely available for downloads as PDFs, audios and/or videos on N-Power’s website such that those Nigerians in the country and perhaps anyone from any part of the world can access the course materials and use them to learn and practice as self-directed, cooperative or tutor led learners. Going this way will bring the scalability of the programmme to a level that the government wouldn’t have been able to achieve in years to come, especially if the Route 1 of government recruiting volunteers into the programme is to be continued as the sole means of accessing these educational materials.
Secondly, sustainability is another issue that I know that your government – through a comment made by the head of N-Power, Afolabi Imoukhuede, in one of his Facebook chats with N-Power volunteers – has mentioned as a challenge on taking the project into the future. It is in light of this issue of sustainability of the project that I am strongly convinced that your government need to democratize the accessibility of these course materials to the TVET sector and secondary schools as well. This accessibility should be supported with access to a training package on training the trainers/instructors/tutors. And in the midst of all these opportunities I hope the materials will be made accessible to individuals that have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) or specific educational needs like dyslexia and dyspraxia.
Lest I forget, on the issue of using technology to provide access to education to children in the country; I want to suggest that you consider the realities on ground vis-a-vis the use of technology in education. And the easiest way to go about this is to look at what has worked in the past and what did not yield the expected outcomes. To this end, the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project in Nigeria readily comes to mind and I know you very well remember that Nigeria was a major signatory to the idea until everything fell apart like a pack of cards. Another key issue that I hope you would consider is that technology at the end of the day will only achieve as much as possible to the best of the know-how or capabilities of its users and if the Nigerian child is to stand a very good chance of maximizing the potentials in any technology, either today or in the future, then that child will need to have some basic skills and knowledge that might not directly fall within the domain of technology and its role in education.
I hope you will consider basic skills like numeracy and literacy as needing more urgent attention and resources than technology in the Nigerian education sector. Likewise, other important skills like social, emotional and physical are more important areas to invest in in the education of the Nigerian child. While technology can be of immense help in these areas of the development of a child, however, the cost implications of investing in it might mean that the money will be better spent on core areas like teacher’s salary, continuing professional development, expansion of recruitment pools into the Nigerian teaching profession, that is, going beyond the traditional routes and embracing retirees and career changers from other sectors into the education sector. Furthermore, there’s the need to invest in R&D in the education sector and high quality teaching and learning resources along with the provision of basic amenities and facilities that keep popping up their needy heads every time there is a discussion on the provision of public education in the country. And most importantly, the continuation of the very successful National Home Grown School Feeding Programme, which I hope will be made a constitutional right of every child in Nigeria’s public compulsory education sector in the nearest future.
Thirdly, you mentioned in the LinkedIn chat that you were in Silicon Valley to look at methods of education that can be used in addressing some of the challenges of providing education for a burgeoning young population like that of Nigeria, and this I am very pleased that you’ve given priority to. However, I’ll suggest you make history in the country’s education sector and fund a meta-analysis research into different models of providing effective mass education in a developing country, as well as the integration and role of technology in such models. Likewise, the country is blessed with many local early years and basic education settings that have very good practices which the country can learn from and integrate into the national education policy and implementation. Also, the country’s public education sector can learn from other nations, particularly those nations that are at similar development stage and challenges like Nigeria, and TETFUND can be of immense help in this area by funding researches that will look at some of these specific needs in the nation’s public education sector.
Fourthly, your Excellency Sir, there’s a digital divide that is fast becoming alarming at the rate at which it is happening and this I hope you will pay attention to and address. While technology as offered us many brilliant opportunities and access to facilities that we wouldn’t have considered possible at individual’s level about a decade ago, it has also act as a means of entrenching and increasing social disadvantages among people. For instance, there seems to be very few active senior (elderly) citizens and people with low educational level attainment in the country that are active within that digital space. Likewise, those that are: socioeconomically disadvantaged, living in the villages or remote parts of the country. This divide could be as a result of an agglomeration of many factors, for instance, poor or lack of internet connection, poor digital literacy, cost of accessing internet connection, and the dearth or absence of digital information in native Nigerian languages on the internet. This issue of digital divide, I hope you would see as an issue of equity and social justice that the government must try its utmost best to address and bridge as much as possible, if the country is to have an inclusive society.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a quote from OECD’s Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection (PDF), that says “all students first need to be equipped with basic literacy and numeracy skills so that they can participate fully in the hyper-connected, digitised societies of the 21st century.”