Strengthening higher education institutions with 3D technology

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The 21st century is an exciting time of cutting edge innovation. We hear and see mind-boggling inventions that show us how much man has revolutionized his world.

Described as “the age of the imagination”, the fourth industrial revolution is characterized by an eclectic mix of digital, biological and physical worlds, not to mention the increasing use of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud computing, robotics, Internet of Things, 3D printing and advanced wireless technologies, etc. The impact of these disruptive technologies is particularly felt in the fields of education, employment and the future of work.

The African continent is on the verge of a demographic explosion. Over the past decade, Africa’s under-20 population has grown by more than 25%, so the overall population is expected to grow by around 50% over the next 18 years, from 1.2 billion people today to more than 1.8 billion in 2035..

While it may sound alarming, we can choose to look at it from a different, albeit optimistic, perspective. What do I mean? Given that Africa’s potential workforce will be among the largest in the world in a few years according to the African Development Bank, its youth would help bring the continent fully into the 4IR.

To capture this demographic dividend, African countries must rebuild their education systems for the coming technological revolution. Young people need to be matched with the infrastructure and skills necessary for innovation and the use of technology. In short, the 4IR represents a huge opportunity for growth.

Recently, I was invited to an event organized by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the presentation of 3D printers to tertiary universities in Lagos State, Nigeria. Were present the President, LCCI, Toki Mabogunje; Vice President, Chairman, Science, Energy and Technology Committee, LCCI, Leye Kupoluyi; Managing Director, LCCI, Dr Muda Yusuf; representatives from the University of Lagos, Lagos State University, Yaba College of Technology and Lagos State Polytechnic; as well as students from the respective institutions and 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 juncture.

The Science, Energy and Technology Committee, a vital organ of the Chamber of Commerce, has been charged with promoting scientific technology, development and innovation for the benefit of investors and the economy.

As evidenced by the learning tools provided to recipient institutions, the committee has demonstrated its ability to produce the desired results towards the achievements of the chamber’s advocacy objective in the areas of science technology and innovation.

Understanding that the growth and sustainability of the Nigerian economy hinges on the amount invested in the country’s youth, LCCI said it will run programs for students at higher education institutions free of charge to ensure that 3D printers are used wisely. .

According to Mabogunje, the growth of 3D printing in Nigeria is expected to impact not only the manufacturing industry, but the education sector as well. This technology sheds light on a set of skills that are lacking in the Nigerian industrial context and the desirability of new teaching practices in science and engineering programs within the country’s higher education institutions.

3D printing technology is an additive process of manufacturing a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, by depositing several 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 through the printer 3D with specific instructions such as the quantity, location and type of material to be used.

3D technology is influencing manufacturing and production globally. Since the goal of education is to create people whose default mode is to fix things, among other things, innovation must be deployed most appropriately in pedagogy.

Thanks to 3D printing technology, students are well positioned as creators. Africa has long been seen as a technology-consuming continent. Today, the narrative is moving rapidly as Africa is home to many innovators who create lasting solutions to solve problems in their communities.

For example, in 2017, a Nigerian startup, Elephab, adopted 3D technology. Founder Anjola Badaru has publicly announced that he will start manufacturing auto aftermarket parts using an additive manufacturing process.

One of the points that the president of LCCI said was the obvious potential of 3D technology to take a leap forward in the manufacturing and production industry in Nigeria. The students were to be part of it and by training them they were able to start producing and selling their invention. It was a great way to empower them to have an impact on their economy.

Most of what students were exposed to in STEM fields was not just technical, but abstract. With 3D technology, much of their learning could be hands-on, helping them roughly understand spatial concepts – notions that describe the relationship between real-world objects. They were able to think of virtually anything, design it, print it, test it, and release it to the world.

The technology could help engineering students, for example, understand and explore architectural engineering by building model bridges. Additionally, medical students could practice their surgical skills by creating patient-specific organ replicas.

What I just demonstrated briefly is this: For the future of 3D technology in higher education to be realized in Nigeria, it must become as much a part of higher education as any technology.

Interestingly, the use of new technologies is a stimulus to improve the learning engagement of students. On the one hand, 3D technology would allow teachers to engage effectively with students; on the other hand, it would improve the general enthusiasm of learners for learning.

One of the challenges of pedagogy in Nigeria was the obsolete teaching materials. Using 3D printing technology, teachers can easily customize tools that might otherwise be too difficult to locate or expensive to purchase.

As I mentioned earlier, 3D printing has the potential to reshape various sectors of the Nigerian economy beyond the manufacturing industry. By integrating 3D printing practices into the education system, students, including elementary and secondary school students, will be more exposed to the capabilities and limitations of the technology.

To this end, I salute the efforts of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry supported by many organizations. I call on more organizations to also support by donating similar items to various higher education institutions.

CFA is co-founder of techbuild.africa, an innovation chronicle platform and godohub.org, a social enterprise supporting innovation in Africa.

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