A Nigerian student of Computer Engineering at the University of Wyoming, United States of America, Aisha Balogun, explains to Ameh John why Nigerian university graduates are not globally competitive.
Before Aisha travelled to the United States for her undergraduate studies, she had a stint at the University of Ilorin (Unilorin), Kwara state, North-central Nigeria, at the department of Computer Science.
She returned to Nigeria recently and, driven by her patriotic zeal, headed to the University of Ilorin (Unilorin) to share her experiences with her former schoolmates. Aisha, who is in her late teens, said it was time for her to contribute her little quota in bridging the gap in the country’s university education. She therefore, used the knowledge she acquired in the US to help her former schoolmates so that they can embrace innovations in technology and robotics even as she urged academics and vice chancellors to be innovative in imparting knowledge in their students.
“Right from my first year at the University of Wyoming in the US, I have been participating in undergraduate research in my department, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
“We were introduced to Arduino Microcontroller and Raspberry Pi. Raspberry Pi is a credit-card size computer. We learn about programming in C, C++ and Python and build various projects with the devices. During the summer, we have workshops for teachers (kindergarten to 12th grade teachers), who come from all over the United States to learn about programming with the devices.
“The goal of the workshop is for teachers to incorporate their knowledge of programming with these devices into the curriculum and teach their students,” Aisha said.
Use of Arduino Microcontrollers
Explaining more about the use of the Arduino Microcontrollers technology, Aisha said one could use the device to do a lot of things.
“You could use the Arduino Microcontrollers to do a whole lot of things because it is a programmable device. It does specific tasks really fast and really well. For instance, cars are made up of hundreds of microcontrollers. Microcontrollers could also be used to build digital devices and interactive objects that can sense and control objects in the physical and digital world.”
Speaking further on some of the tasks that one could perform with the microcontroller, Aisha explained that an Arduino could be used to make smart phone-controlled-power outlets, home automation systems and security systems.
“Some projects I have worked on using the Arduino include a joystick-controlled-robotic car with automatic braking system, a weather station that displayed temperature, humidity and light intensity, a distance meter which measured distances up to four meters and a Fruit Detector which identified various fruits based on their resistance values.”
Return to Nigeria
Aisha toldBlueprint that the reason for her return to Nigeria was to give back to Nigeria beginning from her roots. He said she had just completed her third year in the US university but felt the need to return home on holidays.
“I just concluded the first semester of my third year and I came to spend my holiday at home. I was thinking of a way to give back, so I decided to organise a workshop on Arduino Microcontrollers in Nigeria. I specifically chose to have the workshop at the University of Ilorin because I studied Computer Science for a year at the university before leaving for University of Wyoming.”
It is heart-warming to note that the University of Wyoming funded the research programme she carried out in Unilorin.
“Before I came home, I talked with the Honors College and the Electrical and Computer Engineering department of my school about having a workshop on Arduino Microcontrollers at the University of Ilorin. I talked with them about the funds to procure Arduino microcontroller kits. An Arduino microcontroller itself is a hand-held programmable device, but the full kit consists of several sensors, so it includes all these extra things that one can work with and use to develop things.
“My college was generous enough to buy 30 of these kits (which are listed on Jumia at N25,000); 25 kits for the participants of the workshop and then five kits for the facilitators of the workshop, people who assisted me while I was delivering the workshop.”
She expressed happiness with the outcome of the workshop at Ilorin, saying the workshop was a success; the turnout was more than anticipated.
“I had planned for 25 participants and I had brought kits from US for that number. Twenty-five tickets to the workshop were listed online at N2000 (which was used to purchase refreshments for the three days the workshop lasted). The tickets sold out within a week and I heard people say they were interested but were not able to register in time.
“There were people who showed up at the venue requesting to participate even though they were not able to register; one of whom was an alumnus of the university. I also had two students from Abuja who flew in to Ilorin to participate in the workshop. I had students from various disciplines (Physics, Maths, Computer Science, Computer Engineering and Social Sciences) from all levels.
“Many students from various disciplines showed interest in the workshop. I am really grateful to David Chuka Nwadiogbu, Aisha Olatilewa Sheu, Zainab Bolanle Abdullahi, Olatunde Babatunde Afolabi, Victor Onazi, and Tega Yenrowo Oboraruvwe, the facilitators who assisted me during the workshop, for making it a success.”
She said that she requested feedback from the participants on the last day of the three-day workshop and was truly impressed with their responses. They were particularly happy to have had practical exposure to some concepts they had learned in classes as well as new concepts. They were also excited that they had to keep the Arduino kits.
One participant said he felt a sense of power surge to go further in his career. The participant also said he had plans to participate in the Engineering Project Exhibition (EPEX) at the university, using the experience and knowledge gotten from the Arduino kits to come up with a project. Some participants suggested that I should have more facilitators and covering bigger and more involved projects.
Nigeria and US varsities
In drawing comparison between the Nigerian university system with that of the US, Aisha said unequivocally that Nigeria’s education system is not comparable with that of the United States.
She specifically lamented the inflexibility of the Nigerian education system. She said unlike in America, in Nigeria, students are burdened with irrelevant courses.
“The American and Nigerian education systems are poles apart. Education in the United States does not just focus on theoretical knowledge like in Nigeria. I have had classes where I have had to build projects that worked like self-driving cars, or autonomous vehicles, and I have had so much lab experience and practical in general, which I definitely did not get in my first year at the University of Ilorin.
“In US, there is a lot of emphasis on having hands on skills. Internships, both within and outside the school, are highly encouraged.
“I had an internship with a simulation software company, last summer and I accepted an internship offer with Twitter for this coming summer.
Aisha said education in the United States is very flexible. She said in her first semester in US she chose four courses she loves most.
“In my first semester at University of Wyoming, I took four courses and that was by choice, but in my first year at University of Ilorin, I had to take nine courses, one of which was Plant Biology. I feel the need to mention this because till date, I have not been able to comprehend what possible relevance Plant Biology has to do with a degree in Computer Science, much so, to have it as a mandatory course.”
Nigerian undergraduates in a lecture hall.