Njala University in Sierra Leone leads the way in preparing students for 21st Century jobs

DSTI Media: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 May 2019:

Njala University is taking a new approach to learning with a focus on technology and innovation in Sierra Leone. Leaders at the university say that if graduates do not have the skills to match emerging job market opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, the institution would be failing its students and not be fit for purpose.

Speaking at an academic seminar held at the University’s Mokonde campus, Dr. Maurice Sesay, Acting Head of Physics & Computer Science, laid out plans for developing and preparing students for 21st Century jobs, through computational thinking, connectivity and coding.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Sierra Leone’s youth unemployment rate is 70%, with some 800,000 young people looking for jobs at any given time.

“We need to bridge the gap between the university and the workforce so that the curriculum can be designed to make students more marketable,” said Dr. Sesay.

Dr. Sesay who recently returned from a week-long hands-on workshop in April at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, is the focal point for Njala’s membership at the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL) at MIT.

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) in the Office of Sierra Leone’s President, has appointed Njala University to become Sierra Leone’s beneficiary of the J-WEL program, as it is the nation’s leading educational institution for STEM, with a robust research program in Computer Science and technical postgraduate education.

DSTI, whose mandate is to transform Sierra Leone into an innovation nation, has an ongoing research and knowledge-sharing relationship with MIT, that includes forging partnerships between academic institutions in Sierra Leone and MIT.

J-WEL is an incubator for change which aims to spark a global renaissance in education for all learners, by leveraging MIT’s resources to convene a global community of collaborators for sustainable, high-impact transformation in education through research, policy, pedagogy, and practice. Its membership includes other higher and technical institutions from Asia, South America, Europe, and Africa.

Njala’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr. Joseph Sherman-Kamara said that DSTI’s support through J-WEL, would allow the institution to harness the tools needed to make graduates more employable.

“Higher education systems around the world are undergoing tremendous transformation in the face of unpredictable circumstances in the job market, due to rapid advancements,” said Dr. Sherman-Kamara.

The 21st Century technological revolution, also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, means that mechanized jobs are giving way to automation; creating a demand for STEM skills, computing, and data science.

Rapid prototyping, Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and social media marketing are some of the 20 fastest growing skills in the world. Those who cannot learn the language of computing will be left behind.

“Coding is just a language; everyone can code. The best students, the most marketable, will be those who can speak spoken languages as well as computer languages like python,” said Dr. Sesay.

The seminar was attended by several higher education administrators from across Sierra Leone, including the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Njala University, the Vice Chancellor of the Ernest Bai Koroma University of Science and Technology, and other representatives from Eastern Polytechnic in Kenema, and Milton Margai College of Education and Technology.

At the end of the Seminar, both Dr. Maurice Sesay of Njala and the DSTI signed a Memorandum of Understanding.

Dr. Moinina David Sengeh (Photo), Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer, said that Njala has demonstrated tremendous leadership in the manner in which it had embraced technology.

The school has not only made ICT compulsory for all incoming students, but Njala also offers free open WIFI on campus (a first in the nation), allowing instant connectivity and public access.

“In terms of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – digital biology, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, you’re talking about the right things to make Njala not just a leader in Sierra Leone, or the continent, but for Njala to compete globally,” said Dr. Sengeh.

He challenged the university’s administration to go beyond making computer science compulsory, to making coding as essential a part of the curriculum as English and Mathematics. Moreover, to the students, he encouraged each one to make it a priority to solve problems using technology.

“It is our responsibility as students, as learners, to create the solutions that we need,” said Dr. Sengeh during a roundtable discussion with a cross section of students.

To further support learning and problem-solving at Njala University, Dr. Sengeh on behalf of the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation, donated a 3D Printer and materials to the university – making it the first institution in Sierra Leone outside of the Office of the President to own 3D printing technology.

At the launching of DSTI last year, President Bio challenged Sierra Leoneans to think big, to be innovative, and to change to meet the demands of the world; a message which resonated with the faculty at Njala, led by Vice-Chancellor, Professor Abdullah Mansaray.

“If we are to make meaningful contributions to national development, we have to innovate, we have to redesign and restructure the entire higher education sector,” said Professor Mansaray.

Njala University is re-engineering itself from the top down to create an academic ecosystem where research, problem-solving, and innovation can thrive.

“We plan to establish an innovation laboratory, and for that, we need material and financial support,” said Professor Mansaray.

“But the most important of what we need is the intellectual backstopping that Dr. Sengeh and his team {DSTI} will be providing us.”

1 Comment

  1. “Leaders at the university say that if graduates do not have the skills to match emerging job market opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, the institution would be failing its students and not be fit for purpose”

    This is the type of thought pattern that’s paralyzing us as a people and as a nation. And it is more troubling when you hear our so called educated folks uttering statements like this, not really understanding the words that are coming out of their mouths. I have said it before, we need education reform. And we need to re-establish the purpose of education or going to school/college/university, so that when our young men and women go to these learning institutions, they can actually learn something and be well equipped to face the world as we know it today.

    What I would like to know is this,
    – what is the percentage of graduates from Njala in the past 5 years?
    – how many of that percentage are currently employed with decent paid jobs?
    – and how many percentage are still unemployed unto this day?

    I hope we have such statistics because it would help us make informed decisions about where we need to be focusing our energy or whether the so-called education that we are promoting is even working or whether we need to redefine what we call education.

    So let me pose the question, where are the 21st century jobs that you are preparing your graduates for? And I will go on to say, the skills to get the job done has never been the problem in Sierra Leone or in Africa. The problem was and is and will always be, where are the jobs? Because you must first have the jobs for one to be prepared for it and not just some hope that jobs will come one day.

    Some may want to argue this but let me ask you this. What was the education level of our forefathers and mothers who were taken as slaves to Europe? And yet they were able to build these western nations that you so admired to what they are today. Some may not be aware but the glory that western nations are wrapped in today, is all because of our forefathers and mothers free labor.
    Our ancestors laid the concrete foundation that western nations are standing on today. As we speak right now, there are still African countries (about 14) that are still using currency (CFA Franc) controlled by France. Some are still paying tax to France unto this day without which France will be nothing. But that’s beside the point.

    Let me make this clear, the problem is not education per se, no. The problem is the nature of what we call education today and the mentality that is being promoted in our society with this education. That we must prepare graduates for the 21st century jobs. And this is being instigated by our western colonial masters who believe that we need skilled workers.

    The purpose of education has never being to find a job. The purpose of education is for the continuation of one’s race and nation. The advancement of one’s people to combat the problems of their society. This is not to say, when you graduate you can’t find a job. But the idea of preparing our your men and women for jobs should not be a point of focus.
    By making that a point of focus, you’re limiting their creative abilities to just finding job. This is why most of our graduates are only sitting down waiting for some western institution to come and give them jobs. Because they’re not being prepared mentality and psychologically to confront the problems of their society.

    Sierra Leone/Africa has many problems that require the creative minds of young Africans. Our young men and women must be taught with a revolutionary mindset. They have to be taught to confront the many problems of our nation and Africa. We cannot afford to be on the same syllabus or programming with western nations because they are only here to conserve, to maintain, to keep their control. And if you think you are going to ride with them on the same bus while you are still in your little village, unless you can perform some miracles but believe it or not you will be left behind. Because the bus has already left the station long time ago. To catch up, you will have to walk twice as hard or even thrice as hard and maybe you can make it to the bus station to catch another bus.

    We must prepare our young men and women about how to create jobs. I say ‘must’ because if we are to survive, we need to be able to create our own jobs. If not, the only jobs we are going to get are the ones our western slave masters will provide, thereby maintaining what Dr Amos N. Wilson refers to as the European Constant. Basically the same relationship our slave ancestors had with the Europeans during slavery days, is the same relationship we have with them today.

    The Europeans had the jobs then, our ancestors were the laborers. And similarly today, we are preparing our young men and women to work for them because, let’s face it, they are the ones we are looking up to to bring jobs for us.

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