Femi Longe: Re-imagining Information Technology education in Nigerian universities (Y! Policy Hub)

by Femi Longe

Femi Longe (Y! Policy Hub)

Except for personal interest, graduating in computer science from a Nigerian university prepares you more for further academic study than for application of the concepts learnt in the workplace.

There are 99 universities in Nigeria running a Bachelor’s degree programme in information technology with more than 95% running a Computer Science BSc. Graduates from these programmes form the core of the pool that the technology sector will tap into for talent, alongside counterparts from polytechnics and independent IT institutes.

Unfortunately fundamental flaws in the way Computer Science is run in Nigeria makes the selection process a pain for prospective employers as they end up training candidates in areas that ordinarily the university should have covered. This was the treatise in my last article.

 

Definition

“Computer science is a discipline that involves the understanding and design of computers and computational processes. In its most general form it is concerned with the understanding of information transfer and transformation. Particular interest is placed on making processes efficient and endowing them with some form of intelligence. The discipline ranges from theoretical studies of algorithms to practical problems of implementation in terms of computational hardware and software” – What is Computer Science?

Being a relatively new field, computer science combines theoretical methods, experimental methods and engineering design all in one discipline. This is unlike most other physical sciences that separate the understanding and advancement of the science from the practical application of the science in fields like engineering design and implementation.

 

The Nigerian Scenario

Unfortunately a skew in the competence of the lecturers in our universities has tipped the scale more towards a focus on the theoretical and abstract parts of the course while the core competencies required for application are not sufficiently developed.

The problem with this is that students are bombarded with the theory of the field in the university and are then suddenly expected to apply the theory when they graduate and enter the world of work. Unfortunately, knowing all the theory about boxing does not mean I will be able to survive a round in the ring with even an average boxer.

Thus, except for personal interest, graduating in computer science from a Nigerian university prepares you more for further academic study than for application of the concepts learnt in the workplace.

The Nigerian IT revolution which I’ve written about in my previous articles hinges on contextualising and applying technology tools to address the unique business and social challenges faced by Nigerian consumers which can then be potentially scaled to other economies. For this we need hands-on expertise formed from reinforcing cycles of theory and practice ideally in the university.

 

The Way Forward

We need to deploy radically different mechanisms if we are to bridge the apparent disconnect between our approach to training computer scientists and the needs/realities of our society.

Some of my proposals to start this discourse include:

1. Potential Course Splits: To ensure we can focus on the different elements of this broad discipline, more universities should consider splitting their courses so that Computer Science focuses squarely on advancing the science with courses like Software Engineering, Computer Engineering, Information Science etc being delivered at Bachelor’s level as well to focus more on application.

 

2. Portfolio Development: A strong focus should be on students building a body of work that reflects their application of the concepts taught on real life projects while studying. These projects could be the result of working on client projects supervised by a lecturer or mentor, participating in hackathons run on campus, launching a technology startup while in university, apprenticeship schemes/industrial attachments. This ensure that the students are firmly on their path to clocking their 10000 hours required of mastery as espoused by Malcolm Gladwell in his bestseller, Outliers. It also improves their employment prospects as potential employers have a sense of their mettle during recruitment.

 

3. Lecturer Secondments: Computer Science lecturers should be required to work in industry at regular intervals to get practical hands on experience of advances in the field in the context of actual projects, products and services. This gives them an idea of where industry is heading and helps them to keep the curriculum delivery fresh with actual experience doing what their students will be required to do upon graduation.

 

4. Lecturers from the Marketplace: Technology entrepreneurs and IT professionals should be engaged to deliver different aspects of the curriculum so that they can bring added perspective from the market to energize the content that students are exposed to. This will also help for forming critical mentorship relationships that can help students better prepare for the application of the knowledge in the real world.

 

5. Regular Curriculum Review: Computer Science is a rapidly expanding field with new knowledge being generated everyday. There is need for regular review (annually or biennially) of the curriculum to ensure it remains fresh in the face of these changes. Representatives of industry who are actually involved at the frontline should give input to the curriculum review process.

 

6. Complementary Skill Development: A number of critical skills are required for the effective application of IT skills, which should be given prominent place in the curriculum. These include project management, design thinking, problem solving and entrepreneurship amongst others. In addition, students should be given a broad education in liberal studies so they get better understanding of the societal implications of their work.

Implementing these solutions require a re-envisioning of the role our universities need to play beyond being a place to hold young adults in their formative years. What happens to them when they graduate is important to ensure they can contribute firmly to Nigeria’s economic development. This is the way we will make Nigeria’s IT revolution scalable and sustainable.

 

Do you have other ideas on how we can improve IT education in Nigeria? Please share in the comments below.

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Femi Longe is a co-founder and Director at Co-Creation Hub Nigeria (CcHub), an uber-cool social enterprise dedicated to co-creating innovative solutions to social and commercial challenges in Nigeria using technology. He is a learning experience designer, facilitator and social enterprise consultant. Follow him on twitter @femilonge and he blogs at www.femilonge.com

 

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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