Arit Okpo: The learning gap [NEW VOICES]

by Arit Okpo

This post is very personal to me as a Nigerian, and I would love to see to what extent it resonates with people in other parts of the continent.

I recently moderated a panel with the topic – “Helping Students Prepare for Work.” It was a mixed panel of academicians, employers and of course, students as well as recent graduates. The panel was proceeding somewhat predictably until I asked the young people 2 questions.

Question 1 – How prepared do you feel for employment based on your school experiences and Question 2 – How relevant does your degree feel to you?

In answer to my first question, a guy stood up to say he was learning the same way things had been taught in the 60s and 70s and that no one in the world still used the learning tools he was taught with. Answer Number 2 came from a girl who said that she wished she had gotten the option not to go to University as it didn’t have any personal relevance for her beyond the mockery that people give to non-graduates. She said she went because she didn’t feel like she had a choice, and that her career (dancing) had no bearing on or benefit from her degree.

Now you can’t say stuff like that in a room of academicians and not get a spirited response, and so began a round of assertions and counter assertions about what education really is in the 21st century.

We live in a world where a degree is not relevant, where bloggers and influencers are the curators and deciders of culture and relevance in our day. We live in a world where drones are our eyes and where someone in one country can find a home in another country in the house of a stranger, with assurances of safety from another bunch of strangers. Are we equipped and equipping ourselves for this new strange world? When lecturers in departments of agric teach, do they lecture on aeroponic and hydroponic farming? Do they teach about urban farming and how vertical farming is the wave of the future?

We have universities that still teach ICT as a subject. ICT is not a subject; it is the teaching medium by which we must teach other subjects. If our only exposure is for 30 minutes twice a week in a lab, is it any surprise that we have no idea how to apply this knowledge to our everyday world?

Do we teach coding, 3D design and robotics in our universities? Are we ready?

We have a world where young people read about or watch the infinite possibilities that exist in the world. We see young people doing outstanding things and going to unexplored places and then we come back to earth to a continent that hasn’t provided us the tools to bring that reality to life in our own communities. It is a very frustrating existence, seeing a reality that you know you are miles away from living.

Inventions are often accidental rather than the result of sponsored and carefully monitored research. People who create new things have to fight mistrust and ignorance rather than the excited exploration we expect. People are inventing new things so far ahead of our current reality that they are irrelevant.

The countries in Africa don’t have to go step by step in the footsteps of the countries who have achieved what we are working towards. We can leapfrog our development by decades and come out shoulder to shoulder with the world’s most advanced countries, but to achieve that, we must invest. We must invest financially in bringing our learning institutions to speed with what exists in other parts of the world; we must invest in bridging the gap between academics and the everyday world, that way, students are taught skills that are relevant to current realities. Finally, more than any of the topics we teach or experiments we conduct, we must teach young people how to learn, teach them how to break the box and expand their minds, teach them that realities exist that are unimagined.

There is a world out there speeding past faster than we can see. We can equip ourselves to catch up with it, but we have to start now

Arit is a highly versatile Content Producer, Presenter, Writer and Speaker. She currently produces and presents The Crunch, the flagship news show for the Ebonylife TV platform, where she discusses and analyses current affairs issues and stories. Arit has also presented travel show Destinations Africa; politics show Naija Politics and cooking show Chefrican, also on the Ebonylife TV platform. She is passionate about telling the African story from a positive and powerful perspective

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