By Jude Atupulazi
It was easily the brightest light in a nation thrown into darkness not just by irregular power supply, but by the ignoble actions of her political class which had further extinguished whatever light that remained in the country's firmament. I'm talking about the supersonic performance of some Anambra girls from Regina Pacis Secondary School, Onitsha, who recently won gold in a Technovation Competition in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, USA.
The girls had developed an application which will help detect fake drugs and save the country from the many deaths caused by use of such fake drugs.
The girls are Adaeze Onuigbo (15); Vivan Okoye (14); Promise Nnalue (14); Nwabuaku Ossai (14); Jessica Osita (14) and Miracle Igboke (16) were led to the competition by their mentor, Uchenna Onwuamaegbu Ugwu.
According to newspaper reports, their solution solves a major problem in Nigeria and is the first time a Nigerian team would come first globally in Technovation World Pitch.
Grace Ihejiamaizu, an International Exchange Alumni and founder of iKapture Networks, who mentored the winning team, said they faced a lot of challenges on their way to success but overcame. Sixty-four countries participated in the competition, with 380 apps submitted.
Ten teams from all over the world were given the opportunity to explain their project in the form of a pitch and tell their app story in a creative way. The girls also attended life-changing workshops, including a networking session.
The victory of these girls came at a time when the country celebrates what can actually be called stupidity in the guises of beauty pageants and Big Brother Nigeria.
In the beauty pageants, young women show off their near nudity before a large audience who ogle their every step and at the end are given brand new cars, return tickets to great countries of the world and very serious cash.
In the Big Brother Nigeria version, young men and women are locked up in a building for months and get paid handsomely for virtually making love in full public glare. The amount given the winner after each edition is always mouth watering with an exotic car to go with it.
In each event, the private sector is always ready to splash the cash in sponsorship, regardless of the fact that those events add no real value to the advancement of the country, either technologically or otherwise, except to excite the lecherous emotions of some folks.
But when it is about something that adds value to us as a people, you will not see any private firm involved. Hence, when some people emerge winners at national quiz competitions, debates, or essays, they are treated like orphans. No one cares and no one celebrates them.
The result of such is that unseriousness is enthroned as a national culture and seriousness as represented by true scholarship is jettisoned.
While I'm not against people enjoying themselves, I think it will only be proper if we set our priorities right by recognising the need to plan for the future which education represents. The winners of beauty pageants and Big Brother shows are only going to fill their pockets and that's that. But those who excel in academic pursuits are those on whose shoulders the hopes and aspirations of Nigeria and Nigerians lie.
But this is a country where great feats in education are treated as nothing. As a result, the best brains in the country yearly go in search of better environments outside the country and at the end of the day, our loss becomes the gain of their host environments.
Even now, foreign countries are wooing these girls, hoping to tap from their talent and better their countries. They don't want to know if they come from Africa or not.
But in Nigeria where they come from, some people may be pretending ignorance of their feat on the basis of where they hail from. That's Nigeria for you – always finding a way to kill initiative.
The victory of these girls in the U.S. is therefore our opportunity to begin to correct the mistakes of the past. The Anambra State Government has done well by recognising what they did. First, Gov Willie Obiano asked them to extend their stay in America by a week to cool off at the state's expense. Now the state is planning a heroes' welcome for them. These are great gestures that will no doubt encourage others to take their studies seriously, knowing that something good can come out of their efforts.
But as the state government maps out plans for these girls, I urge all those in the private sector to also make their own plans for the girls who have brought great honour, not just to the state but to the country and Africa as a whole.
If anything, they should be rewarded even more than those who collect money in less noble ventures. They should be given full scholarships and monitored so that when they graduate, they do so as people very much ready to help the country in actualising her dreams in modern technology.
It is indeed time we began to seriously plan for the future through investment in human resources. The country has the human resources to take her to greater heights. But because we only pay lip service to education, we have remained in reverse gear for so long. The gains made by our fathers in the pre-Independence era appear to have been lost. The standard of education has since fallen and the products of the system have been unable to rub shoulders with their counterparts elsewhere.
But yet, from time to time, there emerge some bright chaps who remind us that with better management of our education system, we can produce world beaters.
But we cannot produce them on a sustainable basis if we keep sending our children to study abroad because we have as leaders neglected the home front. I believe that if the children of the leaders are all studying here in Nigeria, the leaders will take more interest in what happens in our schools.
They will want to know if students are living like pigs in their dormitories because of lack of facilities. They will want to know if they are well fed. They will want to know if their teachers are worth their onions.
If the leaders begin to do all of the above and more, the incidence of such anomalies as ''sorting'' of lecturers for marks will stop. Lecturers themselves will become more serious and stop harassing and extorting money from their students. They will stop focusing on handouts rather than actual lecturing and students who merit their grades will get them.
Above all, government at all levels should fund education more. As it is today, education is still largely for the children of the affluent. As a result, there are many so-called agberos out there who could have been top civil servants, teachers and professionals. We will have less of the agberos if we give equal opportunities to all. Those who find themselves at the top of the social and educational ladder today, aren't necessarily the best. They are there because they had opportunities which some others were denied by the warped system we operate.
Even the girls we are celebrating today would not have been so celebrated if there was no opportunity for them to prove their mettle. But isn't it wonderful that they come from a country which does not fund academic research? The girls just got their heads down and did their own research and have come up today with something that has made them champions at their level. It could only be imagined what would have been the case had he country been funding education beyond lip service
This is why we have to return to the drawing board and begin anew to draw the road map for education in the country. Special Science schools should really be special and not just in name. The laboratories in schools should be equipped 100% to look like real laboratories. The libraries in schools should be well stocked with the right literature and students made to use them.
I indeed recall how I used to utilize my break and free lecture periods way back in my secondary school days at CIC, Enugu, by going to the well stocked school library to read and in comfort too. I wonder how many schools today can boast of good libraries that will aid students in their academic pursuit.
There's no doubt that giving students the right start will ignite and sustain their interest in education. Back in our days and in the days before, when secondary school students gathered, the talk would centre around the next step in their academic pursuit. These days, I guess the talk will be about making money and be hailed by high life musicians at ceremonies. That is the sad level we have descended to.
But it is not all lost. We can begin to turn the pages today and what better way than to use the feat achieved by our girls in America to turn the first page towards a new chapter in our lives as far as education is concerned. To me, that's the challenge posed by the Technovation Challenge victory by our girls. To God be the Glory!