UNIVERSITY EDUCATION IN NIGERIA AND ICT ADOPTION:
PROSPECTS AND CHALLENGES
One day in 1938, John Dewey addressed a room of professional educators and urged them to take up the task of “finding out just what education is?” Philip W. Jackson took Dewey’s charge to heart and spent the next sixty years contemplating his words, he finally came up to say that education is a profound philosophical exploration of how we transmit knowledge in human society and how we think about accomplishing the vital task? Taking a walk through memory lane, Universities’ early history dates back to the twelfth and thirteenth century, where they arose as a means to providing further training on law, theology, and medicine, and as centers of study for the re-discovered works of Aristotle and the Arab scholars.
Many universities originated in that manner until the middle ages where their set-up was now through royal or ecclesiastical initiative or through migration of students from other universities. It continued as such till now where they are largely established as a result of social and governmental demands for education, research and community development.
University education in Nigeria and ICT adoption
The history of University Education in modern Nigeria dates from 1948, when the University College of Ibadan was established, although Yaba College of technology was already in existence having been established in 1947. For more than a decade the college remained the only institution of University standing in Nigeria. Although the Eastern Nigeria Government had enacted a Law establishing the University of Nigeria Nsukka, in 1955, it was not until 1961, that the University came into existence. In that year also a commission was set up by the Federal Government to survey the needs of post-secondary and higher education in Nigeria for the next twenty years. One of the most lasting results of the commission is the establishment, between 1961 and 1962, three Universities in Nigeria. In that manner, universities sprung up to the much proliferated level it is now.
Basically, adoption of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) in university education is our society’s efforts to teach its current and emerging citizens valuable knowledge and skills around computing and communications devices, software that operates them, applications that run on them, and systems that are built with them. However, some of the merits of ICT adoption in education include the following.
First digital literacy, everyone today requires a basic understanding of ICT and how to make productive use of it. The rate at which ICT has developed makes it mandatory in all fields, academic and professional, to be able to participate efficiently in modern technical society. The society at large requires now, technical people to deploy, manage and maintain ICT equipments, software and systems as technology improves.
Furthermore, it is obvious that ICT is quickly changing. It is used strategically in almost all businesses and industries, for example financial services industries rely on ICT to maintain customer records, trade, for financial reports, secure information amongst others. In manufacturing, specialized computer controlled systems and machines are used to produce and test products. Electric utilities use it to monitor and manage electricity distribution, customer billing and smart metering systems. Since graduates at the end of their programmes are supposed to pick up these various tasks, so adoption of ICT in university education in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized.
Finally, for research and development areas in schools and industries, the knowledge and expertise of ICT is used particularly in the management and dissemination of information. The awareness of ICT started gathering momentum in universities in Akwa Ibom and Cross River States in 2004 when University of Calabar entered into a partnership with Socket Works to process students’ records in the aspects of registration and school charges. Thereafter, other universities followed suit and since then, the evolution of ICT has grown in leaps and bounds. A good example is the giant stride recorded in University of Nigeria. The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Bartho Okolo, disclosed that the UNN i-transcript service was borne out of the on-going work on digitizing academic records in the institution at a press conference at Nsukka.
The National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) conceived in 2004 (1) is currently boosting supply from the national grid and with privatisation going on, the days of epileptic power supply is gradually a thing of the past. Alternative sources of power like solar energy, biogas, and geothermal energy, being deployed massively in Nigerian universities is encouraging. This is mandatory in ICT adoption as ICT equipment would require power to run on.
At the commissioning of the new company new multi-national head office in Gbagada, Lagos, the chairman of Zinox computers blamed high cost of computers and related devices on high import duties and too many delays at the country’s ports, with recently promulgated laws more favourable to indigenous companies involved in ICT infrastructures acquisition, ICT adoption is definitely on the rise.
Despite being the fastest growing telecommunications market in Africa and the forage of some indigenous investors : Omatek Computers and Zinox Technologies into the local production and assembly of computer and its related accessories, Nigeria’s PC penetration is at an abysmal low rate of 7 per 1,000 inhabitants, according to data from International Telecommunications Union. The high cost of computer equipment and the grossly under-developed technological base are the major reasons for low personal computers penetration in Nigeria. (2). The Computers for All Nigerians Initiatives (CANI) is a government-private sector collaboration aimed at increasing PC penetration in Nigeria, thus creating a more computer-literate workforce. The initiative is also expected to stimulate the Information and Communication Technology sector particularly in hardware and software development. According to reliable sources, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Intel, Microsoft and some local-based ICT firms will play major roles in this program. In fact, Microsoft agreed to some form of price discount, according to Technology Times (3). This will in no doubt boost ICT adoption in education as there would be improved access to PC for personal study and development.
A 2009 survey of the online presence of 70 higher education institutions found that 46 Nigerian universities have an online presence whereas 24 are not online. The University of Jos, for example, has an online library (eGranary) and select infrastructure on campus to support basic forms of ICT integration in education. Some of the other university websites have online-learning portals with downloadable tutorials and provisions for online chatting; however, none support virtual classrooms, tele-conferencing and other synchronous forms of online-learning. Government departments, non-governmental organizations, financial institutions and individuals are all beginning to understand the need for these types of learning tools and have begun to fund ICT implementation in Nigerian educational institutions. Some of these organizations include the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and Education Trust Funds (ETF) (Iloanusi & Osuagwu, 2009)
The executive Vice Chairman of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Eugene Juwah stated that ‘it is worrisome that broadband penetration in the country is still less than 2 per cent, while the average penetration in Africa is just 4 percent’, he said the commission is now taking the bull by the horn to ensure broadband is ubiquitous in Nigeria. He added that the regulator will also be giving incentives for operators to deploy broadband infrastructure. (5). In the same light, the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited has sealed a partnership deal with Newtec of Belgium for Ka-broadband services. It will ride on Nigeria’s premier communications satellite, NigComSat 1R (6). State Accelerated Broadband Initiative (SABI) offers government support and incentives to encourage the private sector to build and run a broadband infrastructure in all state capitals and selected major commercial cities in the country, Wire Nigeria Project (WiN) provides a Nationwide Fiber Optic Transmission Infrastructure to facilitate upgrading of information and communications technological structures in the country. (7)
ICT foundation classes now taught compulsorily in primary and secondary schools as ICT is now integrated in curriculum of schools as mandated and supervised by the Ministry of Education. (8) There is increased integration of new ICT literacy knowledge into academic courses and programs in Nigerian universities. E-learning is now generally encouraged. In fact, there are many examples where tertiary education institutions seek to share the costs of e-learning development through partnerships and networking. Partnership and network building are also useful for accessing new knowledge, to learn from others’ experiences and exchange information about the latest developments in e-learning. This may involve many different organizations, such as traditional colleges and universities, virtual universities, libraries, for-profit ICTs and training companies from different sectors, etc. These activities can range from sharing material, joint technology and software development, joint research and development, joint marketing, joint training, connectivity and may be regional, national, and/or international (OECD, 2004b; Cunningham et al., 2000).
With more people coming from abroad to take up positions in Nigeria, they are impacting positively on ICT adoption in Nigerian universities’. They usually try to replicate practices in advanced societies here and it goes a long way to spur growth of ICT in Nigeria.
The conservative nature of people to new developments is a major reason. It can be said to be normal for people who didn’t grow up with the system (ICT fundamentals) to be reluctant in blending in.
The lack of maintenance culture is another issue that could hinder ICT adoption in some Nigerian universities.
The bad image created by internet scammers popularly known as ‘yahoo-yahoo’ now paints any youth found regularly with a laptop as a scammer. This is another constrain in ICT adoption in Nigeria.
One sure argument any typical Nigerian would try to put is that the lack of faith in the Nigerian government, particularly due to their inconsistent policies. A typical example is the recent publication going viral that the house of reps directed the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) to suspend its newly introduced computer-based test (CBT) for the 2013 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) scheduled for Saturday, April 27.(2013; 18). This is the same arm of the government that promulgated a law that established JAMB and you would wonder why the same body established and empowered to take decisions with regards to admission now do so and be rebuked? Was due consultations with appropriate bodies not made? Little would wonder. Another past example is that by the National Universities Commission (NUC), which prescribed personal computer ownership as follows: 1 PC to 2 lecturers below the rank of Lecturer I, 1 PC per lecturer I/senior lecturer, and 1 notebook per professor/reader (Okhiria, 2007). This is yet to be implemented in the universities under study
People think they are not placing too much emphasis on technology by not fully adopting it. They tend to argue that technology fails when needed most, so feel safer with minimal implementation in their core activities neglecting its amazing prowess.
Lack of cyber security is another reason for the aversion towards ICT adoption in Nigeria. Due to the persistent attach on databases and infringement on ‘cyber-privacy’, ICT became less popular in Nigeria. Evident still is the low level of patronage and penchant for online shopping and business. The high level of illiteracy is not helping matters.
Since the economic situation in the country is not too favourable, people tend to cut cost to save more. This is easily identifiable as the major effacing menace ensuring a southward drive towards ICT adoption in Nigerian Universities. Even an average middle income earner cannot afford basic technological communication gadgets. Thus, computer related telecommunication facilities might not be overly useful for most Nigerian students and faculty members, as computers are still very much a luxury in institutions, offices and homes. This has made the integration of necessary on-line resources (e-mail, world-wide-web, etc.) into higher education most difficult.
Despite the problems eating up Nigerian universities, some are cogent though; Nigerian universities still have found a way around the situation to ‘fairly’ adopt ICT in the education of students and in other core areas, especially as the pros outdo the cons.
No system is impeccable, every system has its challenges as ICT in education, clearly the advantages exceed the demerits and has great prospect in Nigeria.