How Huawei's ICT Competition Inspired ABU
Reading guide: Alimited education level and an insufficient talent pool have restricted Nigeria's digital development for a long time. Aiming to alter those fortunes and provide impetus for digital skills development, Huawei collaborates with the nation's higher education institutions. The objective here is to improve the education level in order to develop local ICT talent, integrate education and production, and provide competitive opportunities for outstanding students to showcase their technical skills on an international stage.
There is consensus among countries worldwide — developed and developing — that education is integral to economic progress, one of the most important means in bridging the gap between countries. Clearly, education can play a pivotal role in national development, and this is particularly true in Africa.
Around the world, digital transformation is completely changing the ways in which people are working and even how they are living their lives. To support Nigeria's digital development, colleges and universities are striving to improve ICT education, narrow the gap between academia and industry, and integrate digital skills into teaching, to bridge the digital divide, and enhance skills and experiences.
As Africa's most populous country, Nigeria is rich in natural resources and is a major oil exporter. As early as 2006, it was named as one of the 11 countries with the most promising prospects in the world by Goldman Sachs Bank. In 2021, Nigeria's domestic production reached an all-time high and its economy ranked 25th in the world, making it Africa's largest economy.
Meanwhile, Nigeria's telecommunications market is one of the fastest-growing in the world. Emerging telecom operators — such as MTN, 9Mobile, Airtel, and Globacom — all have operations in Nigeria. There are about 150 million cellphone users in Nigeria and about 100 million Internet users, ranking first in Africa.
Though the economy is rapidly developing, there is a disparity between the number of students who attend college and the number of graduates who are able to meet the needs of the labor market. As of 2016, there were 143 universities in Nigeria, but many of them had outdated teaching facilities and an insufficient number of teachers, and the national illiteracy rate was as high as 40%.
Undoubtedly, economic development needs expertise to serve as a strong foundation, especially in the ICT sector, which relies heavily on human resources. For a long time, insufficient funds, a lack of facilities, and a dearth of pathways into the industry for students have been the pain points in Nigeria's ICT talent development. Meanwhile, insufficient investment into education by local governments has led to infrastructure limitations and a serious shortage of important facilities (such as campus networks, computers, laboratories, and libraries), ultimately resulting in a poor teaching environment for teachers and students. Also, the loss of quality teachers and skilled professionals has created a huge gap between academic and industry standards, with many college graduates finding that the professional knowledge they received in their schools is outdated, resulting in a waste of resources, a drain of talent, and widespread unemployment.
To address those concerns, government departments, education authorities, and the industry community have reached a consensus: The cooperation between industry and academia in Nigeria is critical, the gap between industry standards and graduates' professional skills has to be bridged, and talent must be channeled for the digital development of the country.
Management at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria (ABU), a federal government university, started exploring industry resources and ways to introduce the strengths of outstanding ICT enterprises to our curriculum a few years ago. We realized that the university lecturers should keep pace with the times, maintain regular contact with people working in the industry, understand the trends and needs of industry, and identify what updated knowledge and skills they can bring to their students, in order to help them to smoothly transition into the workforce and apply their expertise.
The start of the partnership with Huawei in August 2018 came at a very opportune time. The university management staff were delighted when they were approached by Huawei, a world-leading ICT infrastructure and smart device provider, with comprehensive advantages and advanced training experience in fields such as 5G, cloud, big data, and Internet of Things (IoT). Our management also welcomed Huawei's corporate social responsibility program — Huawei ICT Academy, which provides teachers and students with the latest international knowledge and online courses, industry standard certifications, and evaluation services for learners. Becoming a Huawei ICT Academy ensures a favorable teaching environment, including a website that teachers can use to open classes and labs equipped with real devices to practice using the experiment. These offerings and solutions gave a new dimension to our ICT education, enabling the teachers to improve course content and training methods.
Meanwhile, the social activities and group events that Huawei organizes annually — such as the student club, the instructor seminar, the ICT Skills Competition, and the job fair — provide valuable chances for students to meet with academic experts and ICT professionals, and share experiences and exchange ideas. As talent trainers and exporters, we are also glad to see that Nigerian enterprises are able to familiarize themselves with a talent pool through these activities, while students are getting access to more employment opportunities.
During the years of cooperation with Huawei, we have established a very open strategic partnership to raise digital skills, and to build a sustainable and mutually beneficial ICT talent ecosystem. We're glad that more than 40 teachers and staff have benefited from this cooperation, training over 1000 students in innovative and applied technical skills for the society and the ICT industry chain. Without doubt, we aim to build on this progress and achieve even more.
In this collaboration between education and industry, Engr. Bashir H. Sani is one of the beneficiaries. As a Chief Systems and Network Engineer of ABU's Institute of ICT, a department responsible for providing reliable and secure Intranet and Internet services, as well as developing software applications for the university community. Engr. Sani was among the first group to attend the free Huawei Train-the-Trainer (TTT) instructor training program in August 2018, after the contract was signed with Huawei.
Before the TTT courses, our university ICT faculty mainly focused its teaching on traditional Internet Protocol (IP). During the days of training at the Huawei Nigeria offices in Lagos, Engr. Sani was exposed to cutting-edge technologies. We are glad that he represented us, exploring the latest technologies in the industry through the TTT program. We are also happy to see his continuous growth and improvement as he has worked with other teachers at Nigerian universities and Huawei experts he met during the learning activity. Each time Engr. Sani returns from the TTT training, we invite him to introduce some ICT breakthroughs from Huawei to other teachers, and he's doing a good job as a pioneer. With Engr. Sani's help, some of our teachers started to bridge the gap by opening classes on new technologies, and they've been holding boot camp training sessions for lab practice. Most importantly, with Huawei course kits and expert assistance, we are able to integrate Huawei technologies into courses (network & security, cloud, and AI) in the university's computer engineering department postgraduate and undergraduate programs.
Universities in Nigeria are gradually yet effectively bridging the gap between academia and the ICT industry. More of our teachers and staff have attended the Huawei TTT sessions and earned professional Huawei certificates, and they are now able to identify and train some outstanding students to attend the Huawei ICT Skills competitions. For us, the Global Final is an international competitive arena for both our students and our faculty. We believe that with proper teaching methods, which strengthen students' application abilities and inspire them to be innovative, Nigerian students can showcase their abilities and even earn recognition in an international competition. Engr. Sani and the Nigeria ICT competition team's other tutors (Dr. Bashir Sadiq, Engr. Abdulfatai Adekale, and Saidu Safiyanu) have been very effective at introducing the latest technologies to our students.
All these efforts proved worthwhile when we achieved an extraordinary and remarkable feat: In the fourth Huawei ICT Competition 2018–2019, the Nigerian team won the first prize in the Regional Final in South Africa and the third place in the Global Final. A year later, at the fifth Huawei ICT Competition 2019–2020, three Nigerian teams entered the Global Final and won the Grand Prize in the Practice Competition in both the Network Track and the Cloud Track.
We are very proud of this achievement, and we are touched by the dedication of students and teachers who attained it. Nasir Sa'idu Adhama, a representative for Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, congratulated our students for getting so far in the Global ICT Competition, thanked Huawei for supporting our students, and expressed hope that Huawei continues to partner with the institutions in the country to develop our ICT capabilities. Meanwhile, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy Abimbola Alale, Deputy Executive Secretary of the National University Commission (NUC) Chris Maiyaki, as well as other academics and industries peers also expressed joy at these exciting achievements.
The praise we received from the government officials, our peers in education, and the public gave us educators the greatest affirmation. Those moments, which belong to every participant, also gave us, the faculty, the motivation to continue to practice and innovate in ICT education.
As our engagement with Huawei and the ICT talent ecosystem deepens, I believe more and more ICT talent will be discovered and developed, helping Nigeria to lead the continent in constructing communications networks and digital transformation.