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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Everything Tech In West Africa is Moving Forward. Except Education.

I typed this in my drafts a few weeks ago and decided not to publish it. Until I had to drive to Ogun State to fill a 2-page form where the details I was asked to provide had already been sent via email. Kmt

This is a small[might end up long] set of conclusions based on my experience with West African universities over the last 6 months.

2012 has been awesome for tech in West Africa. I mean really awesome stuff is happening out here. There are more submarine cables bringing more bandwith to consumers on this side of the world. Okay that isn't awesome. I still pay a shitload for mobile internet. 

To the awesome stuff. People are finally building stuff. We get tons of emails in our Technesstivity inbox everyweek. There's been a sudden awakening in the last few years. People have finally realised instead of consuming content and playing western apps, they can create their own stuff.

It's not even hard to learn how to create stuff anymore. There's Codecademy, Udacity and tons upon tons of ebooks online that teach EVERYTHING from Javascript to C++. If you ever get stuck, a lot of these services have forums to sort you out. Hell, you can post a question on StackOverflow like I did last week.

But Tech Education isn't moving anywhere.

Mechanical Engineering students still haven't seen the car engines they keep drawing. There are still Computer Science students who have never seen emulators or text editors because they write code on paper. I wonder how many great ideas have never left paper.

To be honest, I don't know much about Mechanical Engineering so I'm going to focus on the applications I've sent out in the past 6 months. They've been computer science applications.

In June, I applied to one of the West African universities for an undergraduate course in Computer Science. Thankfully, they have an online application system *crowd goes wild* crowd prostrates*. After filling my application and submitting it, I still had to send details of my WAEC results via regular courier. A lot of people forge WAEC results in online applications so universities are not to blame for this part.

I am not even kidding about this. Between June and September of this year, I heard absolutely nothing from this university. By September, we eventually got frustrated and decided to call this school up and we were told they didn't know when the admission lists will be released. I mean, it's September already. I'm supposed to resume in September or at least make plans to but my life was in some folder on someone's shelf. And they left my life there.

Eventually, the admissions list came out and I didn't make it into this university. SURPRISE SURPRISE!

Everyone in my family was surprised. In the last two years, I've had more interaction with technology and code like I've never had. Between September last year and June this year, I even had further interactions with the community. Now if I could get into universities abroad with the same grades and I now even have more experience for a Computer Science degree than I had last September. But I didn't get in. They don't like a D7 in Chemistry.


Everywhere else[at least where I've applied to] in the world, this is the venn diagram between Chemistry and Computer Science.

In West Africa, this is the venn diagram between Chemistry and Computer Science.

This confuses me a whole damn lot. In this short 2 years of interactions, I haven't come across ONE line of code that was a chemical formula. Not one. Apparently it only happens in West Africa. AWesome stuff.

So I applied to another university. I'm already tired of it here so I felt the strong need to get out and get out fast. Mostly because I don't think my first task in the morning should be turning on a Generator. We still love you Federal Republic of Nigeria.

I had filled the form and gone all the way west to submit this application form.

Here's a quick irony for you. They want to teach me Computer Science and Information and Communiation Technology but they don't have an online application system. Tada!

Anyways, Chemistry came up here again and I silently excused myself from the admissions office. Because it just doesn't make any sense for Chemistry to be a pre-requisite for Computer Science. It doesn't doesn't doesn't X 100.

On my way back from the far west, a border official asked why I had to go all the way west to submit an application. I explained that the university doesn't have an online application system. He goes "Ah." and lets me pass anyway.

When I got to that west university, it turned out I hadn't filled a form[you see why an online application system makes so much sense?]. So I had to take this back to Nigeria, then I got it signed and filled by my high school principal. After that, I scanned emailed it to the university. Which brings us to the next wahala.

They don't check their email unless prompted.

Is what my friend who's a student there said.

It's important to note that this country has better broadband than Nigeria. So it's not the yellow people's fault. It's the reluctance of the admission staff to check emails. So I had to get my friend in that uni to prompt them at two different times to check their email box.

But they don't even know when the admission list is out. It's December 3rd as I type this and my life is in another person's shelf. Lying there. Because it means nothing to them.

My dad is getting worried. So I have to apply to a third university.

This one is Nigerian and privately owned. They're the 'best' university in Nigeria. Every university in Nigeria is the best. A day after their application opened, the website was down. I mean the entire website. This wasn't an online application segment or a scheduled maintenance. 

No, no, no. They didn't pay for enough hosting so they're host shut them down. TechJesus save us. 

The website was eventually restored yesterday and I found out that I have to download a Microsoft word document, fill it with my details and still keep the format of the page intact. I'm honestly afraid of altering the page arrangement. You know how these university staff are. 

After I've filled the form, I then have to proceed to a bank, then pay an application fee, obtain a teller of the application fee and scan that teller. The scanned teller then has to be attached in an email along with the application form and a copy of my passport photo. Doesn't seem like a problem in a very normal, 20 years ago world.

But this is 2012. We should be moving forward and shortening the amount of steps it takes to do stuff, not make them longer. 

Especially for institutions like Universities who I believe should encourage new ways of doing stuff. West Africans live close to the equator anyways. Studies show that people who live close to the equator have a more myopic view than people who live farther for the equator. So they're not thinking about the future. The present. Where every kid applying to their school probably has an internet-enabled phone. They're not thinking about how to make applications easy for these kids.

It still took a month for freshmen in UNILAG to finish registration. In 2012.

I'll like us to go back to 2008.

In 2008, I begun my search for universities around the world. There was something we noticed because I do have a problem with Chemistry as a subject. My mind isn't wired of it. There's no amount of studying that can help. I'm not interested in Organic Chemistry and studying never helped. 

We noticed U.K universities were asking for certain grades in Chemistry. My external exams were due in 2009. So my father got a private Chemistry teacher. Like they've ever helped. Anyways fast forward into my first year of A levels in September 2009 and U.K universities had removed Chemistry as a pre-requisite for Computer Science and Software Engineering. Oh, the Joy. We also noticed school in America and Canada were taking Chemistry of their required subjects list. So wonderful.

So I've got a few questions.

Why does it take Africa so long to get simple things done? You can say there's bureaucracy in the University system but isn't there bureaucracy in other universities around the world?

I keep reading stuff about Sillicon Lagoon and what not and I read stuff about Sillicon Valley and how Facebook and Google battle for the top talent in Stanford and unviersities in and around California.

Does anyone want to go to the Unilag  or Yabatech CS(no offence abeg] class and hire? Are they competing with anyone else? Are the lecturers ensuring that the students are on a constant path to self improvement and practice?

Why is Africa still on this grade thing? In all the universities abroad I applied to, they had fields upon fields for students to fill in their experience and explain why they loved to study Computer Science or Software Engineering. They even put up samples in case you didn't know what to write. 

There's one more thing I noticed. When I wanted to go to University in Canada, universities had their entire CS notes online. You could download it and share it as you like. A lot of these notes were online tutorials that had been amended themselves. So you can even see a collaboration between universities. A lot of them now teach Java using MIT's Processing. 

Awesome awesome stuff.

While we beg people to reply simple application inquiry emails. 

Don't even tell people there are many alternatives to a university degree. You will be shocked at the kinds of stupid things that'll emanate.

However, I still refuse to believe that I have the same path to happiness as the 35 people I graduated high school with. It is impossible.

Image: Someecards