‘Our Leaders are not thinking in a sufficiently scientific manner to champion technology’
by STEPHEN ONYEKWELU
February 7, 2017 | 1:18 am| | | Start Conversation
The world appears to be moving towards a second machine age marked by Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. Nigeria’s absence in the league of high digital skill economies is glaring. In this interview OYEWUSI IBIDAPO-OBE, distinguished professor of Systems Engineering and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos paints a picture of the scientific and technological situation. He spoke with STEPHEN ONYEKWELU. Excerpts:
What is the state of technology education in Nigeria?
Science and Technology has not developed sufficiently well in Nigeria to influence national policies and ethos. Our Leaders are not thinking in a sufficiently scientific manner to champion technology as a vehicle to enhance accelerated national development. Unfortunately, in our world, driven by science and technology-no significant improvement in our lives can happen without focused development of science and technology.
There is a growing complain that graduates of science, technology, engineering and mathematics know mostly theories but little practice, why is this so?
First is the issue of infrastructure and where they can practice the theories- unfortunately the industrial backbone has been very weak and the entire economy has been run as one big consumer market dominated by imports from all over the world especially China. Hence there are no outlets to practice these theories.
Secondly, the institutions themselves need to be upgraded both for the human ware as well as the soft and hardware to enable the students study in a 21st Century. We have started to have “in-breeding” in our University System. This is anti-innovation and progress. The quality of lecturers in our institutions needs an urgent audit.
Nigerian Universities rank poorly in the world ranking of universities- they rarely make the first 50 in Africa?
Based on the current criteria; it is difficult to expect much more than we are getting! The parameters for the ranking of world universities vary slightly from one ranking agency to the other. At present there are three known ranking agencies in the world. However the major indices include visibility through publications, patents and inventions. Where the students go work upon graduation also count.
Some of our older universities that were able to have these parameters lost it during the incessant strikes by staff and students of the universities. We need steady calendar to attract international staff and students. We need a reasonable level of research infrastructure to publish peer reviewed articles in high impact journals and we need excellent teachers to enable our graduates to perform confidently in the work place.
Sometimes, I wonder if our universities are the way they are classified at least in Africa. I have been to several universities in Africa and I can say that in spite of everything that apart from a few iconic universities in South Africa and Egypt; few of them are better than our 1st and 2nd generation universities. In any case; I have advocated that we set up under the National Universities Commission (NUC) – the Nigerian Ranking System. I know that very soon our ranking will improve worldwide with the support from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund).
How might Nigerian universities reposition to lead the field in this fourth industrial revolution?
We need to push on with an increased support from Government at all levels to contribute to the development of infrastructure in the universities. The education system is in a dire strait and requires a drastic rescue such that every organization to have a special Corporate Social Responsibility for Education. We have the bright and brilliant young minds that can easily pull us to the driving seat of the knowledge revolution but they need to be enabled!
One of the early fruits will come from Entrepreneurial education as part as parcel of our general curriculum in the university that is, whatever you teach must be demonstrable and applicable to our day-to-day living. When I survey the positions that our young ones are occupying in the United States and Europe and the impact that these young chaps are making on their resident economies; I have confidence that a transformation is latent if we can enable our youths here in Nigeria and Nigeria will be happier with it.
What projects are you working on that you want the public to know about?
We have several projects on and in the offing, most of which are about youth emancipation with emphasis on enhanced learning at both the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. For example, I have a project with some of my colleagues to support through voluntarism public schools in the learning of English, Mathematics and Science. I have long realized that we cannot look up to governments all the time- we need to get together a strong coalition of public spirited nationals to support our efforts to “rebirth” Nigeria and bring back the learning enthusiasm- the way our own generation met in 1950s, 1960s, and for the good part of 1970s.
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