By Olubode Olatunji
David Olaniyan, Taiwo Orogbangba, Toluwanmi Kolawole and Alaba Oluwafemi, do these names sound familiar? May be and maybe not. These were the guys from Federal University of Technology Akure, (FUTA) who flew the Nigerian flag in the recently concluded global students’ technology Imagine Cup competition organized by Microsoft, an American public multinational corporation. 183 countries started out in the Imagine Cup competition and these guys’ medical solution software was voted fifth amongst the lot in New York, the United State of America.
The news is pleasant to the ears and warm to the heart. They have made us proud. We need to give them a blast. Roll out the drums. Pop the Champaign. They deserved to be celebrated. I am a firm believer that this generation of young people has a rendezvous with destiny.
The team designed a medical app named Medicare. The software application is aimed at achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals to Reduce Child Mortality; Improve Maternal Health; Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases; and Ensure Environmental Sustainability. This is very novel.
The national competition that threw up Medicare as the winner also produced Click Synergy from Covenant University which digitizes educational materials with an app named ePaq and Brain Media from Obafemi Awolowo University students, that can help transmit class lectures via radio. The app name is schooltwo.
Our education system may be in a terrible state of rot but these students have proved that all hope is not totally lost. There is a silver lining behind the heavy dark cloud hovering over our institutions of learning.
I am equally aware that several home grown inventions litter our universities and research institutes. I recently came across a report published by Federal Ministry of Science and Technology as far back as 2004 titled ‘Profiles on Selected Commercialisable Research and (R&D) Results’. There you will find over 60 items that were developed by Nigerian Researchers that can be produced using almost 100 percent local contents in process technology, design and manufacture of equipment/machinery, raw materials, plants maintenance and repairs. These and several others are wasting away. We definitely cannot afford this waste.
How do we keep the fire burning in our youths and researchers if at the end of the day the products of their efforts and toils are not helped to see the light of the day? How do we then hope to become competitive, grow and develop as a country? There is no other way other than to encourage invention and build a bridge with innovation. It is innovation, real innovation that produces economic and social values.
To build a prosperous country, there is no alternative to an innovation based development model. We dare not continue in this state of inertia otherwise, we shall be left at the periphery of the world economy; giant in population size and natural resources but dwarf in economic significance. One sure way to do this is to build a virile innovation ecosystem. How do we go about this? We must collaborate. And this requires openness, active cooperation, communication and feedback among scientists, engineers and designers. We must build linkages with inventors together with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and innovators.
We must nurture exploration, engage with local knowledge and local issues, hold science fairs, and innovation contests. Our teachers must be re-trained to orient them towards innovation. We must re-design our course curricula to foster learning, application and experimentation. We must change our grading system; include case studies, projects and problem-solving exercises. We must foster trial, failure, and re-trial through formal schooling, organizational and societal means. These have been tried in other economies and have produced tremendous results.
We must harness the power of our youth to enable the realization of the demographic dividend. This will not only tame but also prevent major social disruptions. These young ones have given us hope. They have proved that they are not inferior to other breeds from other climes. What they need is an innovation enabled environment.