The Lagos state government elaborated on its plans to drive the knowledge-economy at the 2018 Lagos Social Media Week. The government intends to train one million residents in coding by 2030. This is desirable and attainable — even before 2030 — but considering the inconsistency in policies by successive administrations, how does this government ensure that the plan is followed up by the next administration and how can this metamorphose into a national agenda?
On Monday, the 2018 Lagos Social Media Week kicked off with a lot of fanfare and topical discussions regarding media and the digital future of the country. Corporate bodies, entrepreneurs and youth converged to discuss issues and trends in the digital world, and also to pitch technology-driven innovations.
The Lagos state government held its own session on day one to shed some light on the successful collaboration with the private sector to drive its “CodeLagos” initiative. The public-private participation that the government employs is an effective model in the ICT sector and skills development for other states and the federal government.
Mr Obafela Bank Olemoh, the special adviser to Lagos state governor on education, presented the ideas and plans of the government to make an average resident of Lagos compete globally for employment opportunities. While giving a background on the initiative, he said: “Lagos population is 65 percent young; so, you have to give them skills that will make them succeed. How do we ensure that the workforce in Lagos succeeds? Technology has to play a role.”
“We want Lagos to continue to prosper and the average workforce able to deliver,” he added.
African states will soon be exposed to the disruption of digital technology, with automation set to take about 46 percent of existing jobs in Nigeria, according to a World Economic Forum report. As technology plays a larger role, growth in IT jobs will outstrip overall job growth. Around the world, the widening and deepening of demand for computer scientists have led to above average wages and faster wage growth in this field relative to the others.
Considering the foregoing, teaching students and the already existing workforce coding and computer skills is imperative. As Ed Lazowska, the Bill and Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, states: “Every field is becoming an information field, and if you can program at a level beyond an intro course, it’s a huge value to you.” So to build a pipeline of future skills, the CodeLagos initiative is a commendable effort to prepare those living in Lagos for the future of work.
However, to maintain the current momentum on a broader scale, the perception of computer science in our schools needs to shift from being considered a fringe, elective offering or a skills-based course designed to teach basic computer literacy or coding alone. Instead, should be seen as a core science on par with more traditional secondary school offerings such as biology, chemistry and physics.
Deremi Atanda, the Executive Director at SystemSpecs, a Nigerian software giant, spoke about adopting the CodeLagos on a national scale. “CodeLagos is a socio-economic construct. The new economy is a knowledge economy. So Lagos state is essentially giving us a template for national development – I see a code Nigeria. There is a difference between entrepreneurship and employability.”
Also, we can’t afford to rely only on training centres to teach coding. Coding is a powerful educational tool for fostering critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity that can be used in a wide range of industries, not just the tech industry. Legislations are needed to support and maintain this initiative.
To this end, the policymakers should seek to reform curricula to focus on core concepts of computer science in primary and secondary schools and provide resources to train and recruit high-quality teachers. Of course, the challenges for schools will be access to quality teachers as most computer scientists qualified to train students would rather opt for high-paying jobs in other industries. And a class can only go as deep as the teacher’s bank of knowledge. As a result, it is important for states and the federal government to incentivize primary, secondary and tertiary education institutions, startups and non governmental organisations with credible work on this line to expand their ability to train a broader group of students and teachers.
CodeLagos was unveiled to the public in November 2016 and originally proposed to teach 1 million Lagosians to code by 2019, but the deadline of 2019 looks farfetched now. The first phrase that ended last year August trained only 5,464 students in primary and secondary schools across the State. The government must ensure this initiative doesn’t slip out of its hands by making appropriate legislation that would assure continuity.