The big question is, can you live a week without internet?
written by AMARAIZU GENIUS
The question does not mean that one will die without the internet, but what is the opportunity cost? You need to sincerely answer this question before we proceed. Okay, whatever your sincere response is, which will likely be a big NO, how then do we expect quality education to strive in Nigeria where internet opportunities are yet to become part of the education system? How can the students of today become leaders of our technology and the innovation-driven world? The future of these students looks bleak. I’m not trying to monger fear nor pessimism, but I want to remind you that in every capacity you can, we must join hands and make impact through embracing digital education. In Igbo, it is said, “emee ngwa ngwa, emehara odachi- meaning- a stitch in time saves nine,” but again, whose job is it to make the stitch that saves nine? In this article, I will be sharing what can be done to achieve digitalization in the Nigerian education system.
In the days of my grandfather and even my father, they grew socially, got married, did business, and lived their successful and happy lives. All these, were without the internet. So, one could be tempted to imagine that anyone can also live today and thrive without the internet. But how right is such imagination? Terrible! Wrong! In fact, it is close to impossible to live a successful life in our world today without an internet presence. The reason is simple- social life, economic life, political relevance and so many other culturally significant aspects of living is connected to the internet. Many researchers have experimented on the consequences of staying a day without the internet, and while some applauded their reconnection to nature, others confirmed that more than a day would be depressive. Even, researches have gone further to analyze the concentration of digital or internet power in the hands of a few, those we call the “The Tech Giants”. Can you stay a day without using any of the tech giants? This is another question. I mean, can you stay without using Google, or Apple or Facebook or Amazon in a day? A week? Do not think your answer is a yes. Using Google or any of these tech giants is more than the surface and everyday services the populace patronize. There is more to it. Kashmir Hill in July 2020 published her experience in the New York Times, trying to stay a day without these tech giants, and she concluded that it is impossible. First, she had to cut off from Amazon, and this also means that she could not access Amazon web services aside from the ecommerce. Remember, many apps and a large portion of the internet use Amazon’s servers to host their digital content, and by cutting off Amazon, she lost access to many internet services. When she now blocked Google, in her words, “the entire internet slowed down for me, because almost every site I visited was using Google to supply its fonts, run its ads, track its users, or determine if its users were humans or bots. While blocking Google, I couldn’t sign into the data storage service Dropbox because the site thought I wasn’t a real person. Uber and Lyft stopped working for me because they were both dependent on Google Maps for navigating the world.” To cut the long story short, it is impossible to even use the internet without the tech giants in today’s world. Now ask, is there any tech giant that is African owned, controlled or influenced? I mean, just one of the giants. Okay, let’s narrow down to Nigeria- what roles are visible towards creating a breeding ground for innovators that will build a tech giant out of Nigeria, the supposed ‘giant of Africa’ in the near future? These questions will awake your consciousness on the true nature of the situation on ground and the need for us to start right now to make that stitch that will save nine. We need to strengthen our ability to maximize the intelligence of machines and embrace the technological shift that is required for prosperity across sectors including agriculture, manufacturing and health. The way to go is to start the Nigerian digital evolution from the education system.
Counting One, and then Two
There are problems, huge ones, but it will be unfortunate that we all relax echoing the Nigerian maxim that says, “Problem no dey finish,” meaning that “problem never ends” and continue to wallow in our carefree attitude. UNICEF maintains that the major education challenge in Nigeria is – “One in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria,” that is, the kids are not yet in a classroom, and we have to put them there first. In their report, they wrote, “Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school. Only 61 percent of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 percent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education. In the north of the country, the picture is even bleaker, with a net attendance rate of 53 percent. Getting out-of-school children back into education poses a massive challenge.” The verifiable factors behind this very challenge include religion, poverty and gender. Security has also come tops as UNICEF reports, “In north-eastern Nigeria, 2.8 million children are in need of education-in-emergencies support in three conflict-affected states (Borno, Yobe, Adamawa). In these States, at least 802 schools remain closed and 497 classrooms are listed as destroyed, with another 1,392 damaged but repairable.” The situation is appalling, and we cannot blame any authority other than the government. Also, the needed change lies mainly on the government’s ability to make bolder policy moves that adopt digital education. Here are a few things that can be done:
· Make a political and determined affirmation to digital education
First, Nigeria should embed digital education into primary schools. However, the political authorities must recognize the need for an educated society. In the Nigerian 2021 budget, education received about a meagre 5.6 per cent of the total budget, which is about N742.5 billion. This budget alone shows the political disinterest in revitalizing the education sector, and the minister for education has severally mentioned poor funding as the reason behind the current state of Nigeria’s education. This must change for there to be a positive outlook in this sector, starting with policy development and implementation of digital learning as part of primary education. Moreover, sponsoring this policy do not require much funding. At the primary level, a child should be learning artificial intelligence, robotics, coding and programming, internet safety and other forms of digital literacy. A thorough revision of the current curriculum is a matter of urgency and must be taken up immediately. This is the way to go, but it is not a one-way situation. While the classroom curriculum for primary learners is changing, the requirements in becoming a teacher must be reviewed to adopt digital literacy of these teachers as an important criterion. At least, a period of one semester in the circle of teacher-education must include a dedicated development of the teacher in digital skills. At the current measure, there are evident inadequacies among teachers, especially at the primary level. The teaching profession should be revered as noble and complimented with a worthwhile minimum wage while the present teachers should be subjected to training and retraining to equip them with the needed digital expertise.
· Invite Ed-tech companies
Education technology companies can change the narrative, but they have not been invited to this ‘party’ yet. Both the state and the federal government have neglected this responsibility and opportunity. The few Ed-tech companies in Nigeria are functioning by their private efforts and external funding, with no supplementary support by the government in most cases. In 2017, I founded a social enterprise called Brainfacio (www.brainfacio.com), dedicated to changing learning processes in Africa by introducing digital education to schools. With the help of my two co-founders, we pushed for state governments to adopt a seamless free digital education, but all our efforts failed. For example, we were in partnership with Technovation Global who supports us to train families and girls on artificial intelligence and mobile app development respectively within 10 weeks. This training qualifies the participants to participate in a global competition where they stand a chance to join other students from all over the world to present a technological innovation that solves any of their community challenges. We had requested access to public schools, provision of a conducive learning environment while we train these students free, but the government would not buy that. At the end of the day, out of an accessible 200,000 students that could benefit from such training with the support of the government, less than 5,000 eventually did. A progressive embrace of ed-tech companies to deliver the education system will welcome unprecedented development and innovation in this sector. In most cases, ed-tech companies can develop strategies that would solve the factors of poverty or security that limit access to quality education, and the government at all levels must see this, accept it, and allow a smooth ride while they monitor the operations.
COVID 19 pandemic should have been a revelation in Nigeria, but it rarely did. The political leadership didn’t think so, and that is the only reason why the education budget of 2021 is the lowest in the past 10years. A Nigerian education system that accommodates digital literacy at the primary school level through to tertiary level, and actively supports ed-tech companies to lead innovation in education would definitely not have her student population stay at home for close to a year without schooling, while the rest of the world went online.
Note: This article was originally published with INTEL MAGAZINE