ASUU Strike: Opportunity for Students’ Engagement in NITDA-NART Programmes, by Zeenat O. Sambo
The unresolved disagreement between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the federal government weighs heavily on Nigerian youth out of school. While some have taken to vocational skills others still lay idle in the discomfort of the economy finding it hard to support themselves and family.
In light of enjoying the free time created by the strike, digital learning has entrenched so wide for many to unravel their potential and access the web of technology for self-development.
It is an indisputable aphorism that “an idle mind is a devil’s workshop”. This continual strike by university lecturers with no compromise from both parties anytime soon can push many “stay-at-home” students into heinous acts.
At this juncture, most students are not practically engaged in ongoing digital skill acquisition initiatives/programs organised by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and other stakeholders in Nigeria’s tech ecosystem.
In all honesty, the strike might turn out beneficial to some students because they have used the time to engage in virtual studies and digital skill development while others still struggle to fit into the digital trend due to financial challenges and others.
Even at this, delay in academics, long reversal of projects, university clearance, mobilization into national service, and the overburdened labour market are many of the challenges Nigerian students foresee within the academic terrain.
NITDA in its effort to digitalise the nation and de-institutionalize learning had developed digital channels for free e-learning through the NITDA Academy for Research and Training (NART) to build capacity, develop skills, and reduce unemployment in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.
The platform, in operation since 2020 with fully operational centers across the country, has been a blessing to promote e-learning in the country. In addition to bridging the skill gap between industry and academia, the program is also promoting a more inclusive ICT-driven for various segments of the Nigerian populace.
NART was developed to boost the capacity of Nigerians with courses that will help them to be creative and find their calling in the labour market.
Propagation of digital literacy or technological knowledge is a strategic effort by NITDA to engage many Nigerians to acquire the skills that will help them harness the abundant opportunities to become job providers and wealth creators. Also, it will build capacity and develop skills of Nigerians in emerging IT sectors and reduce the unemployment rate by bridging the widening skills gap in the sector.
The fate of Nigerian students during this strike is reflective of the saying “when two elephants fight the grass suffers”. The unique difference is that there is a platform (NART) for students to engage in the attainment of productive skills with no financial challenge.
Thus, NITDA provision for self-development and skills acquisition online or at their community digital centres can be described as a digital solution to curb the effect of idleness on students during the strike.
The NART e-learning facilities and vocational training programs are scheduled into four categories. They are Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) Training, Students Training, General Training, and Digital skills are like realms of digital abilities for youth with preference to their disciplines to help them function better and achieve self-employment at the end of the training.
NART’s resolve to increase access to learning opportunities and enhance the general quality of teaching/learning has continued to keep its training free, accessible, and impactful for students and youth in skills required in their discipline, profession, or career.
With hundreds of courses available, the e-learning resources have helped many to envision a realistic future of gainful entrepreneurial and digital competence. For students with little digital knowledge of the internet, programs like digital literacy, introduction to Packet Tracer, Entrepreneurship Courses, and many more are basics to knowing the web of technologies.
Over 47 different courses can be accessed on the NART website, and there is virtually every course that a student can delve into and learn. Introduction to computer science for lawyers is another interesting platform for upcoming legal practitioner’s to digitalise the profession and become self-competent before post-graduation.
NART’S achievements include training of more than 26,000 active students and over 200 women in ICT, provision of tools at the end of the training, development of tech startups, and efficiency in artificial intelligence, among others. These have helped many Nigerians to spend their time meaningfully and get trained on new technologies that will build and develop their capacity in the tech world.
While out of the realm of academics, learning must never stop. In this regard, the Director-General of NITDA, Mallam Kashifu Inuwa, recently challenged Universities in the country to devote greater attention to entrepreneurship training to produce graduates that will create job opportunities, rather than become job seekers.
Considering the large number of young Nigerians graduating yearly, NITDA must strengthen collaboration with Nigeria University to mandate students to partake in one or two courses that can serve as industrial training in digital communication to widen their scope of knowledge beyond their course of study.
Again, as part of NITDA’s agenda to foster entrepreneurship training and create more jobs, both tertiary and vocational institutions should raise awareness to encourage virtual learning, building innovations, and developing digital skills among students and lecturers. This will enable Nigeria to produce more job creators and solution providers in no distant future.
It is impactful to be able to learn in the comfort of digital devices and be certified in a course/s in capacity building. With over 20 free training centers in Nigeria, the opportunities are available and awaiting more youths to delve into. With set priorities and digital education, the breach in academic activities due to the ongoing strike will not be so wearisome to students when they are gainfully engaged.
A society with multiple dimensions to learning always produces the right thinking, visionary and effective leaders. ASUU in its fight to be heard does not have to burn off the intelligence of students but should enable them to engage in numerous knowledge-building opportunities created by the federal government.
Zeenat O. Sambo writes from Wuye District Abuja