Uwaje: Without mastery of ICT knowhow, Nigeria may be awaiting bleaker days
• ICT Varsity Can Aid Country’s Knowledge Economy Drive
Former president, Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), Chris Uwaje, in this interview with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, said Nigeria and Nigerians must embrace the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) frontier as the emerging salvation for her current and future development. Uwaje, who is also Director-General, Delta State Innovation Hub, said that national prosperity resides in the acquisition of ICT-knowledge, skills and intelligence, as well as their effective deployment.
How can an information and communications technology (ICT) university help the country play catch up in this era of knowledge economy, as well as complement its economic diversification drive?
For the records, it is instructive to state that the idea is not to build a new university, but to convert an existing platform of government infrastructure to a most useful, strategic and knowledge-productive enterprise. Indeed, Nigeria may not develop her God given potential to play a significant role in the 21st century knowledge economy and information society ecosystem, unless she aggressively revisits the structural make-ups of her national ICT ecosystem, especially in software development and engineering realm. With youths making up to about 70 per cent of our population, we are naively doing nothing and waiting for the time-bomb to explode before our eyes.
One of the reasons why the e-Readiness index and global competitiveness status of Nigeria is at an abysmal low level is based on the fact that the nation lacks the pre-requisite, enabling environment/strategies for building and molding critical smart-skills and specialised capacities and capabilities in the Information and Communications Technology knowledge frontier. The ICT University idea, from the Minister of Communications Technology, Adebayo Shittu, in my opinion, is anchored on two fundamental premises.
First, Nigeria, as the single largest concentration and population of people of African origin is, and remains a late-comer to the world of science, technology and innovation, and ICT presents the nation an invaluable window of opportunity to leapfrog the acceleration of her dreams and vision to strategically reclaim the past glory of her civilisation before the colonial conquest.
Secondly, the proposed ICT University is conceptualised as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, where the private sector, corporate investment, and intellectual property are pulled together to augment government policy on education. In addition, it is a grand strategy to rescue the imminent, abysmal infrastructure waste, and monumental decay of the infrastructure already on ground in six regional locations nationwide. Of course, this also involves colossal investments estimated at multi-billion naira. Though this investment has been going on in the last 12 years, it is indeed sad that we are delaying in taking advantage of those strategic facilities and turning them into a powerhouse of Intellectual Property (IP). Going forward, our brain drain can be turned into a massive brain gain.
What prospects does the school have at this time of our national development?
First, let’s share a thought from John Dewey: “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” This translates to: The world of education has changed forever. Today, no one questions the relevance of technology in education. The focus has become how to effectively use ICT to enhance quality education and deliver the promise of the knowledge revolution.
Today, we are confronted with the enormous challenge of taking a deeper look at our national education framework, skill sets, and knowledge systems, which are currently disconnected from ICT. This is a very critical issue as the dynamics of ICT character and strategies are fundamental variables for responding to the challenges, opportunities, benefits and risks of emerging information society (IS). And by extension, we are also challenged on how to share knowledge and deal with the dynamism and uniqueness of thoughts on innovation, skill, work and national development strategy.
All the above are within the context of globalisation, global population surge, and the increased velocity of 21st Century learning-technologies, which requires engaging brave energy in creative development processes, e-Government, leadership and national survivability in the rapidly emerging knowledge economy and society. As the world transits into the knowledge cluster and information society cloud, new conditions are being created for future education models, economic (industrial) direction and creation of wealth. Therefore, this subject matter further propels us to redefine the character of education for innovation, creativity, competitiveness and national reward system. By extension, it challenges us to re-evaluate the e-Readiness status of our nation and her future survivability.
In exploring these new challenges, we are compelled to look at radically re-tooling the national workforce with disruptive parameters of global information super-highway now known as the Internet or cyberspace.
According to the government, the sole purpose of the proposed school is that of providing training environment and training facilities to make the industry have enough skilled manpower in various sub-sectors of the ICT sector. How realistic is this idea considering the peculiar nature of the country?
The world of today and tomorrow has changed and will discontinue from the direction of extracting natural resources from the ground, at sea and elsewhere, to that of knowledge extraction of the most critical intellectual resources in our brains. The proposed ICTU is special in the sense that it is conceptualised to become the first multi-campus ICT knowledge cluster with regional settings in Africa.
The idea is a revolutionary attempt to equalise the current divergent knowledge and technology skill colorations of Nigeria, in preparation for the stiff global competitiveness in innovation at the Nano scale, involving complex levels of artificial intelligence (AI). With the world population projected to hit 10 billion by 2050, conventional wisdom dictates that Nigeria, as one of the most rapidly growing population on earth cannot continue to develop with 18th century strategies, which have only produced Okada and pure-water economy amidst abundant and untapped creative talents at many levels. This development model is leading us nowhere near the table of committee of smart nations and is unacceptable.
The Federal Ministry of Communications is looking at getting the services of operators at the international level including, Facebook, Motorola, Ericsson etc., to come and adopt the university campuses as their own, how will this play out?
The ICTU project concept and focus is to leverage the Nigerian Content Law of 2010 to build innovative technology capacities for the sustainable development of the country, in the face of the rapidly dwindling oil and gas resources. The campus adoption concept is not the absolute way to proceed. No one corporate entity has the absolute wherewithal in knowledge acquisition, leadership and governance of the ICT ecosystem. Therefore, total knowledge dominance is not feasible and definitely not the way forward. Rather, what the project intends to accomplish, if we understand the body-language of the Communications Minister, Adebayo Shittu, is to attract huge investment from the private sector to create and drive an innovative research and competitive multi-disciplinary entities, as an efficient ICT ecosystem where corporate entities set-up presence and compete to build exemplary ICT skill capacities for the benefit of Nigeria.
Today, we are confronted with the enormous challenge of taking a deeper look at our national education framework and knowledge systems, which are currently disconnected from ICT. This is a critical issue. The dynamics of ICT character and strategies are fundamental variables for responding to the challenges, opportunities, benefits and risks of emerging Information Society (IS). And by extension, we are also here to share knowledge on how to deal with the dynamism and uniqueness of thought on innovation, skill, work and national development strategy. All the above are within the context of globalisation, global population surge, the increased velocity of 21st Century learning technologies and energy in creative development processes, e-Government, leadership and national survivability in the rapidly emerging knowledge economy and society.
Coming at a time government is being harangued for its inability to respect agreements with university teachers, what awaits the proposed ICT University?
The PPP structure works in the technology education sector world-wide. It is about techno-knowledge-business model, and nothing can be further from the truth. Nigerian will be in charge and in control. There are many ICT institutions, academies and universities all over the world. Austria for example, has three of such new knowledge campuses. Malaysia, Singapore, India, China are other examples. The ICTU would be regulated by NUC and the Ministry of Education. It is fearsome to note that there are about 10 million of out-of-school children (OSC) in the country, this is even more than the entire population of some African nations like Libya. In other words, Nigeria accounts for about 47 per cent of the world’s OSC population.
How realistic is the take-off of the Enugu Campus of the institution without a budgetary provision for the school in the 2017 budget?
I agree that the ICTU implementation timeline is ambitious. However, the go-to-market plans and strategies if well packaged, can be actualised by the passion, commitment, expertise and experience layers of the actualisation processes of the project. Nothing in this project is cast in stone. Indeed, it is an inclusiveness proposition for a common goal of sustainable national development.
What do Nigerians need to know about the school?
The new knowledge entity/school is the hidden conduit to the survivability of Nigeria’s and Africa’s future. I therefore wish to encourage Nigeria and Nigerians to embrace the ICT frontier as the emerging salvation for her current and future development. Without the mastery and control of ICT knowhow, the nation may be building her dooms-day. Or put differently, aiding and abetting her return to knowledge enslavement by becoming a digital colony of other nations.
The time to act responsively is now. The art of knowledge, education, learning and teaching has changed forever, and Nigeria cannot and must not be left behind. In the last few decades, the education environment underwent a dramatic paradigm shift in the transformation of the 21st Century knowledge ecosystem. The key factor responsible for this change is ICT. The truth is that there is a deep conflict in transmission and reception of knowledge between teachers and students in the education environment. The complexities of these conflicts are created by the disruptive tendencies of information technology. Ironically, the solutions to those challenges also reside in the ICT ecosystem.
Therefore, the survivability of sustainable knowledge in the globalised world can only be attained by developing and designing multi-disciplinary and skill-based innovative learning strategies and systems. It also means that teachers must learn and adapt to these new changes through continuous professional development training and peer networks to add new values to their existing knowledge and skill-sets. In the 21st century service-oriented economy, the role of education and task for policy-makers has grown exponentially, due to the fact that the basis of competition has shifted more and more to the creation and intensive assimilation of innovative knowledge-education.
Today, national prosperity resides in the acquisition of ICT-knowledge, skills and intelligence, though the art of research innovation and development, particularly in software and digital knowledge-ware solutions. This structure of new-knowledge is a fusion of research and innovative education (teaching). Indeed, many nations have now succeeded in creating national prosperity by consciously and proactively ensuring a forward-looking, dynamic and innovative education system, reinforced by the capability to tame the critical challenges of the local and international environment.
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