The changing role of IT in national development

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A few days ago, a friend of mine was busy writing a paper. When I inquired why this task during a period when members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) were on strike, the don simply responded that whether there is strike or not, research work remains ongoing.

Not only that, he said the issue of information technology (IT) deserves regular attention because of the key role that technology plays in our society. This brings to the fore, a detailed analysis on how technology can drive the desire change, as a further step towards attaining national development. Hence, the Professor of Computer Science has made far-reaching suggestions that call closer scrutiny in that paper.

Professor Olusegun Folorunso’s paper titled, “Information Technology, Knowledge Economy and National Development: The Inseparable Triplets”, described national development to mean the ability and capability of a nation to improve the social welfare of its people by providing basic amenities like quality education, potable water, transportation infrastructure, medical care and others, saying this is an attestation to the fact that knowledge generated from the reserve institutions could foster national development.

The don further observed that a knowledge economy is that in which growth is dependent on the quantity, quality and accessibility of information rather than the actual means of production by forming the basis for national growth and development in the 21st Century. For him, Information technology covers networking, hardware, software, the Internet, or the people that work with these technologies. He observed that, there is IT revolution everywhere, not only in Nigeria, but on a global level and most breakthroughs in businesses and scientific problems in the various fields are achieved through the use of IT.

Despite the global development plans such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there are still gaps or problems with most African countries including Nigeria in the areas of poverty, food security, poor health, poor sustainability of water and sanitation, lack of peace, inclusive societies and injustice. There is a paradigm shift with performance differential and competitive advantage that is determined by intellectual, rather than physical resources, such as the production of tangible goods in developed countries towards intangible and knowledge-based assets.

He regretted that Nigeria was just joining emerging countries, noting that the country’s economy had witnessed a negative trend by falling into an economic recession, due to the monolithic system involving petroleum production rather than diversifying the economy. He added that institutional structures were not fully in place, as there is no synergy between parastatal that is responsible for the knowledge economy to flourish, regulatory frameworks are absent and there is lack of proper coordination through unified policy implementation and enforcement; while there is always big gaps between industries, government and academia.

The Professor said many graduates of higher education institutions cannot fit into what is obtainable or expected by industries while focusing on people, training and retraining of both lecturers and students are essential for education, skills development and knowledge of IT, which encompasses many aspects of computing and technology for the term is more recognisable than ever before.

Therefore, for IT knowledge economy and national development to be effective, they must be inseparable. There must be holistic synergy between the triplet and they must be well-coordinated. Research in IT must be tailored towards providing solutions to both local and national problems for national development; government should invest more in IT training of all citizens, as this may create an avenue of recruiting experts from Nigeria in terms of outsourcing IT experts.

He further recommended that there should be IT hub or kiosks for training and supporting essential services in all the local government areas of Nigeria, while the National Universities Commission should enforce the adoption of the new IT curriculum in most universities in Nigeria while the introduction of relevant programmes and active database for IT-based innovations in Nigeria should be promoted.

Prof. Folorunso admitted that Computer Science was one of the most viable programmes in the university system in terms of internally_generated revenue (IGR) opportunities from postgraduate programmes even though, the population of students to lecturers is not encouraging when compared to other university undergraduate programmes. There is also pragmatism in thoughts and the management of ICT development.

No doubt, the lecture was one of the initiatives that had been adopted in providing research breakthroughs and serving as a form for mentorship younger lecturers and students. More importantly, the discourse would go a long way in unfolding the blueprint that should chart the right path towards technological advancement for national development. All we need to do is to get the total commitment of all the actors to make this work. That should be the starting point.

But before we leave the matter for now, there’s need to consider a few points on how to drive technology for national development such as sustainable funding, access to financial interventions and collaboration with international donor agencies that are interested in technological advancements. As we look forward to having an IT-driven economy, there’s need for refocusing and setting of critical priorities for Nigeria to take a lead in the global area through technology. That should be our thrust as a nation, both now and beyond.

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