Posts in Other Writings

The garage case for chaos

This is the transcript for a post written for The ScoopNG. Read the original post here.

If there’s anything the strides taken in the last fifty years as regards stretching the boundaries of innovation by hatching and harnessing creative ideas to make the world a better place has taught us, it is that the orthodox set up – quiet, pristine and adequately equipped laboratories – we’ve built over the centuries to foster such ideas don’t necessarily reserve the prerogative.

In fact, as is increasingly the case in the last decade, garages and dorm rooms are gradually taking the shine off of laboratories and formal institutional ambiences when it comes to harnessing technological ideas. It’s not to say that formal institutions and laboratories are losing their relevance with respect to the reasons for which they were set up; it just means the rules have changed in recent times. Unless, of course, you’re doing stem cell research or working on chemistry/biomedical research for which the rules will most likely never wane. But most of the notable inventions that have shaped the world in recent years all started in the founders’ garage or dorm rooms –places least likely expected to be conducive for such work.

But what is it with garages and dorm rooms that seem to unlock creativity in today’s innovators in spite of the attendant chaos? Is there some link –however subtle or bizarre- between inspiration and disorder?

The structure of science is built on rules. So are its laboratories. There’s a way to act in a lab. There are various etiquette to functioning inside a lab and these rules are rigid. They have to be because they’ve been proven to ensure optimum safety and minimal errors while working inside them. But could it be that the very system on which our labs are based may be a limiting factor in itself with respect to stretching the limits of innovation today?

One thing is certain, though. Today’s innovators are younger, less patient and certainly more eager to circumvent the rules to achieve their results. Speed is an ever increasing variable, and the resilience that used to be associated with sitting at a lab while painstakingly following a sequence of set rules while you work can easily spiral into frustration. In a lab, the rules that ensure safety and due process while anticipating optimum results can also restrict you in that they can keep you from striking out. And a mind that is beleaguered by a constant prompting to not break the rules would barely have the nimbleness required to break into deeper levels of thought. And for minds less susceptible to the parameters of perfection, a pattern of chaos could do much good.

Poets, writers and artists usually talk about having to go to very serene or picturesque sceneries to draw inspiration for their art. We cannot dispute the fact that such places evoke eerie feelings that tend to heighten one’s creative powers. But I think much needs to be said about the insight that can come from observing chaos. Some of the most beautiful concepts can come to you (as has been my case) from taking a ride in a bus, amidst a game, movie or news program, or observing people and proceedings at a party, rally or at church, even.

Our minds keep finding a useful pattern in chaos and use it as springboard for new ideas. But we’re almost always trapped in the pastimes to notice.
All the best ideas have not been hatched. All the coolest concepts haven’t been completely harnessed. And if the world is to benefit from an ever increasing influx of good ideas we have to, while constantly reviewing the systems that make our labs and formal institutions work to ensure a steady outpour of ideas, learn to pay mind to the fickle insight that can seldom ignite from the embers of chaos. Besides, there’s far more people than there are labs to work in. And there aren’t nearly enough readily accessible beatific sceneries to inspire us all.
We may need more garages, it seems. Chaos is useful.

 

Putting the “Industrial Training” back In education

This is the transcript for a post written for The ScoopNG. Read the original post here.

Every summer, when schools go on break, there’s a set of students who don’t go home to have fun and generally try to put anything school-related on the back burner. For them, the onslaught of learning continues, except this time it won’t be in the classrooms. It would be at a company or any other establishment where they’re to supposedly learn how to practically apply some of what they’d been learning in school and also learn useful skills that’ll be relevant after they graduate. This is the Industrial Training part of university education. This is how higher education works. Students gets trained both by the academia and the industry related to their program – a mix that ensures the students garner intrinsic values that becomes useful to them and the country in general.

The role of companies in the training our undergrads has been grossly understated. In fact, their indifference smacks of a case of shooting oneself in the foot. Well-trained graduates usually make for quality employees, and therefore robust, more productive companies. It appears our corporations are rather more willing to play the waiting game. Little wonder why most companies have to retrain their employees for a period after hiring them.

Of course it seems rather more pragmatic to train an employee that you’re certain will serve your company with the skills you gift him with instead of investing that money on a pool of students who may never work for you. This is why companies would rather wait till the students graduate and then hire a handful before training them. But what are the odds that an employee you trained won’t change jobs in the future – taking all that training/experience with them?

Many undergrads today don’t get a wholesome industrial training experience. Some miss out on the experience altogether (because a: they don’t get companies that’ll absorb them, b: they see it as a waste of time and find means to fill their reports anyway). It also has to be said that there are students who find the experience enjoyable and rewarding. We need to work out a way to make the experience more wholesome and rewarding that students (and employers alike) would look towards it with eagerness.

Companies need to take more responsibility for the training of students in preparing them for the realities of work outside of school. It’s not enough to just build laboratories or commission classrooms with your corporate name on the plaque (these are great contributions, no less); there has to be some form of working relationship between the faculty board at our schools and the board over at the companies that will have a bearing upon the development of our students.

What if we had more companies launching programs that will afford students an opportunity to show case intellectual and innovative potential by making them work on projects that buttress the lessons they learn in class? What if companies actually had varying stakes in the school system where they get a chance at poaching some of the best students depending on their various stakes in enhancing learning at a faculty? What if we had actual courses that are taken (at least fortnightly) not by a lecturer but by a company representative? There has to be a way for schools and companies to work out all the modalities for these to be possible.

What if, instead of blithely issuing out letter-headed IT letters, Course Advisers actually went out of their way to recommend students to companies for IT programs? That would probably help bridge the gap for students who’d have probably found it difficult to secure placements.

And corporations need to take IT students more seriously instead of just passing them off as untrained personnel there to take up space. They’d also do better by taking the time to train these students and overcome the rather selfish urge to not do so out of the consideration that they may not gain the students back as their employees. It has to be emphasized that companies aren’t obligated to pay IT students. But they’re obligated to train them. They have to play their part in ensuring a robust and thorough academic process is properly tempered with adequate industrial training. That is how our schools will work to produce the better graduates our country/economy is in dire need of.

Obeying The Clarion Call

This is the transcript of a post written for The ScoopNG. You can read the original post here

 

Youths obey the clarion call

Let us lift our nation high

Under the sun or the rain

With dedication and selflessness

Nigeria’s ours, Nigeria we serve.

The first time I heard and learned that anthem I was standing on a bare parchment of grass that made up for a field at the epicenter of an otherwise intimidating forest. It was 5 am and it was dark and chilly. The night before had been unpleasant for all two thousand of us standing out there that morning. Many hardly had any sleep. Those who did would admit to having had way better nights.

Standing there that morning, huddling together to fight off the blistering cold and wincing (some of us reacted with subtle disgust) at the barking orders of very eager soldiers, some official was trying to teach us the lines to the anthem. We weren’t exactly brimming with the desire to learn it, apparently.

Given the ambient conditions/scenarios, if I didn’t know any better I’d have assumed we were all doing time at a correctional facility, stripped of any sense of dignity left for us to cling on to. Except that I couldn’t recall the crime. It wasn’t jail. It was the Orientation Course/Camp of the National Youth Service scheme.

Two thousand youths with various college degrees, it was first like the first day at school all over again, only that this time we already suspected we wouldn’t enjoy our stay. It didn’t matter though. We were obeying the clarion call.

No, this is not another story about the NYSC Orientation camp. The stories have already become so over-told to the point they now elicit mythical reverie. The appraisal of the entire scheme so as to ascertain its relevance, purpose and the challenges bedeviling it is far more interesting.

Why NYSC?

The National Youth Service Corps was created in 1973 by President Gowon’s government primarily to foster national unity (especially as the country was in dire need of that after just having ended a blistering civil war) by sending college graduates on a mandatory one-year period of national service at another state/region different from theirs, where they’d be attached to an establishment for that period.

Apparently, it was intended that this cross-pollination would result in people learning about and experiencing other cultures and ethnicities other than their own and therefore engender a sense of kinship propped up on service.

The ideology behind the scheme is cute, albeit puerile, at best, but the failure to holistically factor in many other variables such as how to ensure a vibrant economy, an engaging technology, security and strengthening of the existing parastatals are carefully propped upon the shoulders of these teeming, eager and well “educated” youths – factors that matter just as much as unity to a developing country, more so, one that had just survived a war – makes the logic flawed, I think.

At the inauguration of the scheme, Nigeria’s economy was on stilts and much was wrong with us in many respects. But the timing was almost perfect to rebuild with an influx of graduates who, arguably, were recipients of a better higher educational system than the one in place today. The government of the day was too focused on sending the graduates off on a quest to stamp a sense of unity on our collective conscience that they most likely ignored the purpose (or the core usefulness) of higher education to a nation altogether.

Postings were almost always arbitrary; with less regard for the disciplines the graduates had spent most of their time in college studying (This may also be due to the fact that the ratio of available, proper establishments to graduates was inadequate, to begin with). So, what we had was lots of people getting posted to new territories and stuck with jobs for which they had virtually no interest or training. They were stuck in limbo, career-wise. Of course some people did (and still do) get posted rightly but the margin for error in arbitrary posting is unacceptable.

Because humans are mainly sociable creatures, inter-ethnic interactions (which, though a basis for the much needed unity, isn’t necessarily the same thing as unity) occurred because of the scheme, of course. The only problem was that the aspirations and dreams of a generation of graduates who, if properly harnessed, could have helped build a stronger nation in every respect were made to come second to one of the natural by-product of human interactions: unity.

It would have been better to ensure people got posted to places that would afford them the chance to feed their ambitions, learn, contribute and serve, while at the same time fulfilling the national unity project. We would have been a much better and stronger country for it.

Is NYSC Still Relevant Today?

Along with nearly every fabric of our national life, the NYSC scheme has devolved into an institution so handicapped that it can’t possibly achieve its original purpose. The system is fraught with so much arbitrariness.

The staggering figures of those who attempt to influence their postings are a pointer to the fact that the integrity of the system is largely compromised. The problems of security (in some parts of the country), inadequate welfare of Corp members, etc, are an all too frequent part of the tale of the scheme today.

But it is not totally useless, one could argue. It’s not a perfect system but it serves some purpose. It affords many graduates entry level job opportunities that could pass of as internships, depending on which establishment they get attached to.

The relevance of NYSC is a much debated topic lately. Some have called for it to be scrapped, citing the aforementioned problems and another candid point that it’s been hijacked by corrupt officials out there to enrich themselves.

I don’t think scrapping it is absolutely necessary though. I just think we need to re assess and remodel the entire system to make it more effective. A friend of mine actually suggests that the scheme be made optional so that graduates can either opt to participate or not. Yes, there’d be people who’d be willing to serve while others would botch it. This may help reduce the strain on the system and make for better logistics.

Whatever side of the argument you’re on, one thing’s for sure: The NYSC scheme needs to be addressed and its many issues sorted out. We’re talking about the first year after school in the lives of university graduates here. It could be the difference between having a class of disoriented employees or an ivigorated work force to drive our economy.

Apathy is sweet but …

This is the transcript of my post for The ScoopNG. Read the original post here

I’m not a big fan of politics. Let’s face it, far too many people my age-group aren’t exactly excited about it either. It’s not that I’m unpatriotic or anything, it’s just that I haven’t fully grasped what the alternative option is – or that it is useful.

Apathy towards governance is an alluring stance to take. There’s no use getting your hopes up every four years, expecting things to change for the better and then having them dashed now and again. It gets old. It’s apparent the government couldn’t care less about me. Everyone is in it for himself, apparently. So maybe I’d just focus on my own hustle instead and take what I can.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to be patriotic. I want to love my country and be able to walk tall and talk in glowing terms about it anywhere I go. It’s just that there aren’t quite enough reasons to make me be that way.

Every fabric of our government has either failed or is grossly uninspiring. Nearly everyone at the top echelon of power is possessed with greed and their leadership skills leave much to be desired.

I read about some other countries and I hear reports about them in the media and I wonder why what happens there can’t happen here. I read about some of the policies enacted by our government and I’m depressed at the level of blatant corruption; more so, how easily they get away with it.

It’s an arguable fact that the scale of corruption in any place/establishment is directly proportional to the level of ignorance abounding in that place. Corruption, it seems, is an inextricable part of any government in the world. But some countries seem to have paralyzed that demon because a large percentage of their citizens aren’t blithely ignorant about their government and how it affects them.

That’s why I know that apathy, though alluring, is obviously not a wise stance to take. Because government affects you anyway regardless of your stance towards it, being aware and making a conscious effort to understand its workings seems to be the smart stance to take. That way, you can at least make a voting choice you may be able to live with for four years consecutively.

Adam Smith was famous for (among other things) positing that in competitive situations, individual ambitions serve the common good or that the best results come from everyone in the group doing what’s best for themselves. What this means is that the world would supposedly be a better place if we all were a little bit more selfish.

That principle has pretty much been the innate trait of the social construct of most human interactions for centuries. It is what holds sway in the very strata of our politics. Leaders get elected into offices and then proceed to put their personal interests above the collective interests of the people on whose votes they got there.

Yes, they may amass wealth and opportunities for themselves but they lose, among other freedoms, the freedom to walk the streets anymore without fear.

Well, newer economic principles, especially that proposed by John Nash that the best result comes when everyone in the group does what’s best for them and the entire group (and real-life experiences) have since shown that looking out for yourself alone doesn’t necessarily yield the maximum result. Many examples of the short-comings of being self-serving in social and political situations abound all around us.

I want me a government I can trust. Where elections would afford us the opportunity to select the best possible leader from a pool of worthy candidates, not those sprung on us to sate the personal and tribal interests of political bigwigs.

Where said elections would be preceded by campaigns to ascertain the policies on which the various candidates would run and afford the populace to gauge the level of leadership mien each candidate possesses so they can make informed choices at the polls.

I want a government that has goals and make actionable plans to achieve them, not one that now and again whips up a nebulous vision 20xx after a previous one fails.

I want a government that is serious about education and would ensure that a much needed tinkering is done on our school curricula to bolster up our preparedness for the realities that we have to deal with now and in the future. An educational system where history and civics would be mandatory subjects taught from the elementary levels so as to foster a sense of identity and patriotism on Nigerians is what we need.

Knowing your government truly cares about you and that policies are implemented with your interests in mind feeds on your drive to be patriotic. That’s the natural response. I want a government that works. My guess is that we all do.

In two years it’ll be time to go to the polls to elect a new president. The race for the office is on already. Alliances are being formed and broken across various platforms in preparation for the big prize. There comes that feeling which makes one want to hope that something will give when a new government comes. But I’d much rather observe and see what the process throws up before letting my hopes up.If the candidates are a rehashed version of the same old machinery that runs the current system, then there’s not much hope for a change for the better. And most youths would much rather tilt towards apathy again. But there’s an inherent problem with that disposition, I think. For people can only cling on to apathy for so long under a heartless government before a looming uprising breaks out.