Saturday, 31 March 2012

Episode 13: School vs Me

Alright people, it’s time for me to make my first rant on this blog. Blogs are meant for ranting, amongst other things, after all. I’m frustrated with and tired of the Nigerian education system, specifically the University system. Now, some universities will have better systems than some others, but considering the fact that I’m in one of Nigeria’s most prestigious universities, the premier university in the country, namely The University of Ibadan, it just makes it that much more annoying to think that in this country, relatively speaking, I have it good.
                                                My rant pose!
      My dream is to be a video game developer.  There’s no school in the country that I can study any game related course. The nearest courses to game development are the likes of Computer Science and Computer Technology. As a kid, I once read in an interview with a game developer (article was probably in a special edition of OPM, the Official Playstation Magazine) that anyone that wanted to develop games should “get a computer and learn to program the thing”. I’m trying to quote him verbatim, but I don’t have the magazine near me right now. “Don’t go to school and study game design…study whatever it was you originally wanted to study. Get a few years of work experience outside the game industry…all the while working on and improving your own game idea. If possible, have a working demo of it that focuses on the game mechanics, not the graphics which you will present when you are seeking for a job in the game industry. That way, you won’t get hired at the very bottom of the ladder and get paid China man’s wages…”.
      Of course, I cut out a lot of sentences. Now, I’ve been following that dude’s advice and am currently an amateur programmer studying physics in the university. I originally wanted to study electrical engineering, but it was too tough to get an admission to study that with the ridiculous admission system here. One has to pass two consecutive exams besides having a good O’level result. In any case, I’m studying physics and that leads to the next complaint. In most countries, to get a Bsc in most courses, it takes three years. Four years for engineering courses. Here, it takes 4 years for regular courses and 5 years for engineering courses. I won’t even get started with the medical courses. Why does it take longer here? Well, because we’re trained to cram what we’re taught in order to pass.
     Everything is taught in a textbook fashion, never practically. I have a friend who can’t write a practical computer program that people would actually use that got 95% in our FORTRAN exam. FORTRAN stands for Formula Translation. It’s a really old programming language that’s hardly in use anymore and I have no idea why they teach us that instead of any of the many better options.  I got 61% in the same exam. In other words, I’m a much better programmer but she’s a much better student who will do whatever it takes to pass. That usually means cramming stuff into your head.  
As it is, I’m a better programmer than most of the students in the computer science department. If I had studied computer science instead, I probably would know more about computers by now, but would be able to do less than I can do currently. They teach them stuff I don’t know, but they’re so inundated with all they have to do to pass and get good grades that they don’t have time to build practical skills. I’m doing pretty poorly in physics right now; my grades are terrible. I’ll probably graduate with a third class. Yet I have almost no motivation to work harder at getting better grades because I will have to sacrifice the time I use for other things in order to do that.
                                                Can you commiserate?

       Sacrifice basketball? Hell no. Socialize even less? No way. I don’t socialize that much already, I’m not going to become a zombie like those guys who only read, eat, sleep and pray. By the way, I try to maintain my daily quiet time with my God, so I have nothing against people praying. I don’t, however, want to have only those four things on my time table. Maybe I could stop programming until I graduate? No way. At the age of 22, I feel I am way too late at learning to program. I’ve never written a complete game before, I’m still learning the ropes of the Conitec’s Acknex game engine. I’m better at writing regular windows applications, but I still have a long way to go. I can’t make mobile apps, web based apps, etc yet. All I can do are desktop applications. The question I’ve asked myself is “Will I be happier if I sacrificed the time I spend on programming or on my hobbies for my studies and get better grades?”. The answer is NO.
        The grades are useless to me. If one studies in Nigeria, good grades are merely a proof of raw mental muscle (or a big pocket. As the premier university, at least my school has enough integrity to not let students bribe their way through like some other schools might allow), not of acquired skill. Most of the skills people acquire in Nigerian universities are not as a direct result of their being in the classroom. 
       I am using my little programming skills to address one of the frustrations I have with my school: Annual re-registrations. I have to register at my hall of residence, faculty, department, etc every year. That wouldn’t be so annoying if they were only updating my records, but when we have to give them the exact same piece of information every year, it gets annoying. We register online and that one has our records which we are merely updating but we also have to register offline for the purpose of their paper work and it is unbelievably daft. I just created a program that automatically updates one’s current level (year/class) each year so that once the data is saved once, it no longer has to be re-entered. This is for the use of the students in charge of each department and faculty. At least I can help them, but I can’t teach the proper administration staff new tricks. They totally refuse to do things the easy way.

                                         Screenshot of my biodata form

So, what do you guys think? I am using this rant as a practice speech because when I go home for the Easter holiday, I am going to have to show my dad my results and he’s going to be pissed and disappointed. Then we’ll argue it out and I’m going to have to stand by my point that I’d rather graduate with a third class than put in more effort into my books than I am currently putting, because I believe that the extra effort isn’t going to do me much good. *Sighs*

EDIT: Two years after I originally posted this, I created an app called The Ideal Gas Law Simulator using the same software I use to make video games. Its a fully 3D representation of the gas laws from physics and chemistry. Find out more here

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