In 2005 Thomas Friedman declared, ‘The world is flat’. He was not refuting the scientific claim that the world is ’round’. He was making a case for the influence of globalization on the way we think, act, conduct business and do international politics. He found that the creation of the interenet, open resource softwares, blogs and the social media as well as their world wide use formed the most important building blocks in the worldwide transformation that is taking place. He made a very interesting note on the very idea that since the world is fast becoming something quite different than what we used to know, our approach to studying it and getting prepared to work in it ought to keep up with it’s pace as well. This means drafting in fundamental changes to how we learn. A refusal to adapt to these trends might just prove disastrous for our country.
People can now work away from their office desks. This also means that certain important office work can now be outsourced to foreigners who do not have to be ‘in sight’ but on ‘dot com’. Big business deals are being conducted online. There are more and more e-markets for virtually everything from e-books to vehicles. Government data is stored online as well. As this trend becomes the norm than the exception, now is the time to start taking steps to meet up with the opportunities and challenges that it presents.
The flattening of the world, to borrow Friedman’s language, places a priority on e-learning. This appears to be the way forward for education in the 21st century. ‘Webplaces’ such as Google scholar, Wikipedia, ask.com, and similar search engines provide enormous information on virtually every thing and quite importantly, they also provide vast academic literature. My B.Sc project work, a study on an ongoing conflict, might have been almost impossible without these platforms. What if these platforms are available but I could not figure out how to use them?
In all my six years through Secondary school I hardly used a desktop. Personal Computers were impossible to imagine for me. Entering the University, I found myself in a scenario where I had a lot to do with computers and on the Web. At first I was scared! By the end of my first year, I had gained some abilities around personal computers.
There is a lot of digitalization happening in the Nigerian education space. While this seems to be in keeping with what is going on elsewhere in the world, our system is at best, very weak. One only has to consider that it is still a small fraction of the population that uses the internet. Only a few millions are on facebook. This ‘fact’, by itself, does not say much. After all, facebook is just a social media. But think of it, social media attracts a lot of youths. Young people want to stay connected to their school friends and find ‘lost’ ones. Or perhaps they just want a feel of the world wide web. And they have to be computer literate to do that. Here, if one is not educated, he would most likely not be computer literate. That only a couple of millions use facebook is sign that very few people are integrated into the new trends of doing business online. If we push this thought further we might say that small scale enterprises may not reach their full capacity to produce value since they would be limited to their local space. As similar small competing brands outside the country find their way in here to those few millions who are presently on facebook, they could easily establish a market here for themselves and further reduce the market share of those ICT-less ventures.
What do we do? The education model we run needs some re-structuring. Thanks to the Millenium Developmental Goals on literacy, the Nigerian government has a target to hit. This means that more children would be brought into the literacy circle. Making more young people literate through hard copies and cane-wielding teachers does not help them become competitive in the global market as it is today. Several privately owned schools are already taking the initiative to include interactive computer lessons in their teaching packages. But this stops short of using these equipment for active learning, and it comes at a higher tuition cost.
It is imperative that the Nigerian government pays attention to this trend and invest in e-learning especially in cheaper public schools. There is a viable market for e-learning tools in Nigeria, especially now when most mobile users have access to connect to the internet. But the government must also realize that there is a security aspect to these trends. As more government data, business deals, and intellectal properties are placed online, securing the Web space is not something we can put off any longer. Waiting for other governments to take the lead in this direction may prove to hold only marginal gains for us. It is time to decide how to protect our online properties while promoting its positive uses across all sectors in the economy, starting with education.