In March 2022, when Happiness Adekunle, a 100-level student of the University of Ibadan (UI), heard that the ongoing industrial strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) was being rolled over for another period of eight weeks, she was particularly downcast.
For her, this means she will endure another two months devoid of academic activities after the initial one month. To make matters worse, the management of the UI ordered all students to exit the various halls of residence. Adekunle returned home after barely spending two weeks of academic activity in the new session which began on January 31st.
“It was dreadful thinking about staying home idle, doing nothing, just reading without knowing when the strike will be called off,” she recounted.
Background of the strike and the idleness that comes with it
On Monday, 14th of February, ASUU embarked on a one-month nationwide warning strike while claiming that the Federal Government reneged on the agreement it entered with the union in 2009. The warning strike has been renewed at least three times, a decision that means thousands (if not millions) of students have not been inside lecture halls for over five months.
Being out of school for a long time exposes students to criminal activities. Stakeholders have over time expressed fears about how the lingering industrial action and the long state of inactivity that comes with it can push students into crimes like fraud, gangsterism, ritual killing, drug and others.
In an interview, Professor Dennis Aribodor, a professor of public health at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, highlighted that strike makes students lose confidence in the system and engage in crime and social vices due to idleness.
The same sentiment was also shared by the Principal of King’s College, Mr Andrew Agada, who expressed fear that the strike could plunge the country into further immorality and crimes such as internet fraud, ritual killings, and other vices.
But by a streak of luck, Adekunle stumbled on a Facebook post advertising free opportunities, particularly creative and digital skills, that students can acquire to boost their employability skills.
Adekunle, on seeing this as an avenue to keep herself engaged during the strike, registered to learn web development on the platform. The training was organised by TeqProject.
How TeqProject keeps students productive
TeqProject is an initiative championing the efforts to empower Nigerian youths with the acquisition of tech skills. Oluwasegun Onimisi, the founder of the initiative, said the programme is meant to help Nigerian students maximise the opportunities in the tech industry.
“The industry is so huge, but a lot of Nigerians are lagging when it comes to Tech Skills required to be relevant in the industry, and the cost of learning too can be outrageous at times,” he said.
“So we feel indebted to contribute to the growth of the society and invest in people. That is why we are doing this as our corporate social responsibility,” he added.
The programme has equipped students with requisite digital skills like web development, digital marketing, content creation and Microsoft application. The programme started physically at the organisation’s office in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, with about ten students from various institutions affected by the strike, including Adekunle.
The free training, which is inspired by the increasing unemployment in Nigeria and efforts to make acquisition of digital skills accessible to Nigerian youths, graduated its first set of students who have been certified to be professionals in the skills they have learnt.
Adekunle noted that the initiative has helped her to become productive during the strike period, considering that she has learnt a lot within the short time.
“I spend most of my time learning how to use office tools like Trello, Slack and Google workspace. There are some days we would be tasked to build a website, and I was able to join different cohorts for techies with the basics I have learnt,” she said.
Another beneficiary of the initiative, Olajumoke Ikeoluwa, a student of Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), described her experience learning digital marketing at the organisation as eye-opening, adding that it has enabled her to become creative.
“Learning digital marketing has broadened my knowledge a lot. I attended twice a week because different days were assigned to different departments, and after the training, I was retained as a content creator for TeqProject,” she said.
Since graduating its first set, TeqProject has started virtual training and, according to the founder, about 700 students have enrolled and are currently learning. The classes are broken into modules and lessons with each course having an average of 10 modules and five lessons each.
“The duration of the lessons varies. A module might take up to three hours and students learn at their own pace. We assess their knowledge through a quiz that follows every lesson and assignment after each module. Also, a project is assigned to each student upon completion of all lessons,” Onimisi explained.
The five members — Oluwasegun Onimisi, Ogunmodede Akeem, Precious Phil, Omobolaji Olabode and Olajumoke Ikeoluwa — behind the project fund the activities of the organisation.
“We have never gotten any funding from external sources, and we have considerably done a lot in terms of fulfilling our agenda to equip students with tech skills. So far, we have spent N215,000 basically on social media ads, the learning management platform and other expenses,” he noted.
Another platform empowering students in the area of digital skills is Side Hustle, a talent management platform advocating for the empowerment of Nigerian youths with high-in-demand skills like data analysis, product marketing, and design while also connecting them with businesses and organisations that need their skills.
Side Hustle’s Internship 6.0 programme also engages many students who are currently not in school due to the strike. The internship offers a platform where learners can learn digital skills after registering on the organisation’s website.
Learners are taught through a self-contained learning management system which contains learning resources interns can consult and a quiz feature where interns test their knowledge after taking a class session.
While speaking to this reporter, Damilare Oyetade, Side Hustle’s community manager, said the platform is committed to building Africa’s workforce so interns get to learn from the best minds.
“We also offer a Bootcamp where interns get to work on live projects, network with other experts in their field and get to build their portfolio and be ready for the job market,” Oyetade explained.
“In addition, we have a talent pool where we connect our interns to top companies for job opportunities ranging from entry-level to professional roles, interns who have gone through and passed the internship, the Side Hustle bootcamp and the talent pool successfully are the ones that get connected to companies,” he noted. “And in 5 cohorts, we have trained over 350,000 youths across Africa.”
Mmerichkwu Anosike, a 300-level student of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, explained how the internship programme helped him become productive during the strike.
In Anosike’s words: “I got to know about the internship at a time when the strike became frustrating, so I decided to learn web development, and I can say I’m doing very well for myself in this strike period.
“The learning process is really fun, you get to take quiz after every session with the tutors who are professionals in their fields, after the completion of the four weeks of learning which is free, there is a chance of getting a certificate of completion from SideHustle which you get after paying a certain amount and a free soft skills certificate from Jobberman.
“After the first six weeks of the internship, I participated alongside my teammates in the global Hackmakers challenge blockchain for front-end and business developers and we came third globally.”
Obstacles impeding learning
Insufficient data subscription, poor internet service and epileptic power supply are the challenges that frequently disrupt Anosike’s virtual learning sessions. Anosike said he encountered network issues when taking his weekly assessments.
“It made the whole quiz more stressful than it is meant to be. Even during the classes, the poor network made it so hard to listen to the instructor, and watching the pre-recorded instructional videos required a lot of data, which is expensive,” he lamented.
In Adekunle’s case, the lack of a laptop posed a challenge for her web development training at the TeqProject Centre. She said she resorted to learning with a friend’s laptop, which limited all she needed to do.
“When we started, we were all asked to always come with our laptops, but I usually go there with my book to write all the process, but it got to a point I was unable to cope since I was not with a laptop. I would have to be looking at how others were doing these things on their laptops. So I do use other people’s laptops and after that, I won’t be able to continue with the practice at home.
“Most times I do use my brother’s own too, when he returns from his place of work, but afterwards, I would be stranded again,” she disclosed.
It will be recalled that the Federal Government announced that it has signed an agreement with tech giants, Huawei and CISCO to establish a minimum of 300 academies in Nigeria and to train a minimum of 30,000 citizens in advanced ICT.
Earlier this year, the government had also signed an agreement with Microsoft to train 5 million Nigerians, especially in the area of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof Isa Pantami, who disclosed this said all these are part of the government’s effort towards achieving the target of attaining 95% digital literacy in the country by 2030.
It is estimated that this partnership will lead to the development of over 300 ICT institutes at Nigeria’s top universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education. At least 10,000 university students from universities will be trained each year, with a total of 30,000 students in three years. This would include training, competitions, and other activities incidental to the operation of the ICT Academy.
Efforts like these, stakeholders believe, are only complementing the overall societal need to skill up students and integrate youths into the tech space in a bid to make them more marketable and to equally enhance Nigeria’s economic prosperity.
For some of the youths who are engaged during strike periods at a time when formal learning has hit a temporary pause, they see this as an avenue to get employability skills which they will need when seeking job opportunities in the near future.
Digital skills should be part of academic curriculum
Abass Oyeyemi, the founder of Tekisite, a tech NGO agreed with this position while encouraging students to make the utmost advantage of learning these skills as the direction of the world has shifted to the digital economy.
Oyeyemi, in an interview, argued that in a rapidly-changing world, it is imperative that learning of digital skills be included as part of academic activities in school.
“With a projected 140 million digital related-jobs to be available between 2020 to 2025, it’s only necessary that Nigerian youths are well equipped with skills to take these opportunities as it would reduce unemployment in the country and also position Nigeria as a major stakeholder in the global digital economy,” he explained.
The report was sponsored by I-79 Media Consults’ Campus Solutions project which is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) as part of the 2022 LEDE Fellowship.