The 21st century is an exciting period of cutting-edge innovations. We hear and see mind-boggling inventions that show us just how far man has gone in revolutionising his world.
Described as the “imagination age”, the fourth Industrial Revolution is characterised by an eclectic blend of digital, biological, and physical worlds, not to mention the growing use of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud computing, robotics, the Internet of Things, 3D printing, and advanced wireless technologies and so on. The impact of these disruptive technologies is especially felt in the areas of education, employment, and the future of work.
The African continent is on the cusp of population explosion. Over the past decade, Africa’s under-20 population has expanded by more than 25 per cent such that the overall population is projected to increase by roughly 50 per cent over the next 18 years, growing from 1.2 billion people today to over 1.8 billion in 2035.
While this may sound alarming, we can choose to look at it from a different, if optimistic, perspective. What do I mean? Since Africa’s potential workforce will be among the world’s largest in a few years’ time according to the African Development Bank, its youth would be instrumental in ushering the continent fully into the 4IR.
To capture this demographic dividend, African countries must reconstruct their education systems in readiness for the technological revolution that is upon us. Youths need to be paired with the needed infrastructure and skills for innovation and technology use. In sum, the 4IR represents a massive opportunity for growth.
Recently, I was a guest at an event hosted by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce & Industry for the presentation of 3D printers to tertiary universities in Lagos State, Nigeria. In attendance was President, LCCI, Toki Mabogunje; Vice President, Chairman, Science, Energy & Technology Committee, LCCI, Leye Kupoluyi; Director-General, LCCI, Dr. Muda Yusuf; representatives of the University of Lagos, Lagos State University, Yaba College of Technology and Lagos State Polytechnic; as well as students of the respective institutions and invited guests.
At the event, awareness was created on the value of technology and the role it could play in various sectors of the Nigerian economy at this critical stage.
The Science, Energy, and Technology Committee, a vital organ of the Chamber of Commerce, was tasked with a mandate to promote scientific technology, development, and innovation for the benefit of investors and the economy.
As seen from the learning tools provided to the benefitting institutions, the committee had demonstrated the capacity to deliver the desired results towards the accomplishments of the chamber’s advocacy goal in the areas of science technology, and innovation.
Understanding that the growth and sustainability of the Nigerian economy were based on how much was invested in youths in the country, the LCCI declared that it would run programs for students in tertiary institutions free of charge to ensure that the 3D printers are put to good use.
According to Mabogunje, the growth of 3D printing in Nigeria was expected to impact not only the manufacturing industry but also the education sector. This technology brings to light a set of skills lacking in the Nigerian industrial setting and the opportunity for new teaching practices in science and engineering programs within the country’s tertiary institutions.
3D printing technology is an additive process of making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, by laying down many successive thin layers of material.
To create a 3D printed object, you need a 3D model of the object which can be produced using computer-aided design (CAD) software and sending the CAD file out through the 3D printer with specific instructions such as the amount, location, and type of material to use.
3D technology influences manufacturing and production globally. Since the point of education is to create people whose default mode is to fix things, among other things, the innovation should most fittingly be deployed in pedagogy.
Through 3D printing technology, students are well-positioned as creators. Africa has long been seen as a technology-consuming continent. Today, the narrative is rapidly changing as Africa is home to numerous innovators who are creating sustainable solutions to address problems in their communities.
For example, in 2017, a Nigerian startup, Elephab, adopted 3D technology. The founder, Anjola Badaru, publicly announced that it would start making automobile replacement parts using an additive manufacturing process.
One of the points the president of LCCI stated was the obvious potential of 3D technology in leapfrogging Nigeria’s manufacturing and production industry. Students needed to be a part of this and by training them, they were enabled to start producing and selling their invention. That was a great way to empower them to impact their economy.
Most of what students were exposed to in STEM fields was not only technical but abstract. With 3D technology, much of their learning could be hands-on, helping them grasp pretty much spatial concepts- notions that describe the relationship between real-world objects. They were able to think about virtually anything, design it, print it, test it, and unleash it to the world.
The technology could help engineering students, for instance, to understand and explore architectural engineering by building model bridges. Also, medical students could practice their surgical skills by creating patient-specific organ replicas.
What I have just demonstrated briefly is this: For the future of 3D technology in higher education to be achieved in Nigeria, it must become as much a part of higher education as any technology.
Interestingly, the use of new technologies is a stimulant to enhancing students’ learning engagement. On the one hand, 3D technology would equip teachers to effectively engage with students; on the other, it would improve learners’ overall enthusiasm for learning.
One of the challenges of pedagogy in Nigeria was outdated teaching aids. Using 3D printing technology, teachers can easily customized tools that might otherwise be too difficult to locate or expensive to purchase.
As I mentioned earlier, 3D printing has the potential to revamp various sectors of the Nigerian economy beyond the manufacturing industry. By incorporating 3D printing practices in the educational system students, including those in primary and secondary, will become more exposed to the capabilities and limits of the technology.
To this end, I commend the efforts of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce & Industry supported by numerous organisation. I call on more organisation to also support by donating similar items to various institutions of higher learning.
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch