With the world relying heavily on technology, and Nigeria being mostly consumers, Adeolu Owokade, founder of Dhack institute, makes a case for introducing STEM to young children so that they thrive in the ever-shrinking global space that is the 21st century.
The institute teaches children from the ages of six onwards practical technology skills, including coding, robotics, web design, electronics. Owokade says there is a need for the curriculum on STEM, especially as regards technology, to be taught differently to children.
He adds that the curriculum should focus less on theory and more on the practical “hands on” skills.
A need to close Nigeria’s technology gap needs from childhood
I had my daughter three years ago, and I was thinking about what the education sector had for her. And because of my technology background, I could identify the problem – a lot of focus on theory and not so much on practical.
There is this general tendency for Nigerians to go else where and excel. Like we can pass exams very well, because we can read theory and pass theory. But when it comes to what we can do with our hands, it is a bit difficult. So, we thought it important to catch the children young. This helps to teach them these skills. We find that the young kids can actually cope with these skills. My daughter who is three is already using a tablet.
There is a problem with the ICT curriculum in Nigeria and how it is being taught in schools. The curriculum does not reflect the current state of affairs of the world. In the Nigerian curriculum, children are still required to learn things that happened in the 80s. There seems to be a disconnect between the technology the children use at home and the one they use in school. With that, the children cannot really put to practice some of the things learnt.
Teaching STEM is not just about learning technology, Microsoft word or coding. It is about the accompanying skills which include creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration. We teach them to see a huge problem, then break it down into smaller steps and solving those smaller steps to eventually solve the complex problems.
While it is not only through STEM that you can learn these skills, learning them in STEM is an added that we are in the era of technology. Irrespective of your field, you should know a bit about coding. And then utilise the skills to make the society better.
Coding is a form of life skills. You can come up with solutions and inventions that can help yourself and the society. The things that we did not know could exist in the past, for instance, UBER, who would have thought that I could put my car down and a stranger would get into my car.
People want technological skills
The period is ripe. Schools are more willing to accept ICT. There is better infrastructure, internet and ICT labs. When we go to schools, they are enthused. And what is noticeable is that schools are now including in their curriculum coding and robotics as part of their curriculum.
ICT curriculum has to change
We need to change the Nigerian ICT curriculum. We intend to do that through penetration in private schools, then public schools. Lagos state is already looking forward. We have a feeling they will add it to their curriculum. We are already seeing traction from private and the Lagos state government. In the next three years, we think Lagos state will have incorporated coding, robotics, and other ICT skills into their curriculum.
Balance gender in early childhood
I am very particular about women in technology, because it is a problem. Anyone will tell you, that there are more boys in STEM. We have had camps where there was 50/50 (participation). We have had camps where we had only boys, but we have not had camps where there were only girls. So, we have had 70 percent of boys and 30 percent girls.
While, parents are not outrightly saying their girls can code, you hear the boys ask the girls why they are there. That tells you that, perhaps, parents are (unconsciously) saying this to their children, creating stereotypes at home.
But our data does not suggest that girls cannot cope with ICT. You cannot tell, from our data, that girls are more inclined to a particular aspect of ICT, say storytelling and boys more inclined to creating apps. They children are inclined to various aspects and there is no evidence to say that a certain sex is inclined to certain skills.