It is disturbing that despite the immense human and material resources Nigeria is endowed with, the country is still firmly handicapped and unable to wriggle her way out of entrenched developmental quagmire. Aside the retinue of our moral woes, the biggest indictment, comes from a failing educational system.
The educational problems are never about the absence of policies because there is indeed a handful of policies and conference proceedings, not to talk of the National Policy on Education (NPE).
The NPE was developed by some of our brightest education experts. Pouring through, one could not but be enamoured by the depth of ideas and ideals that litter the almost a 50-page document, addressing critical areas of education – from the cradle to the tertiary levels. It also contains advisory details on funding and partnerships.
But then, that is almost where it all ends: Good ideas only – often not backed with the requisite impetus necessary to bring about transformation.
For example, the need for concerted education that can produce self-reliant, innovative and entrepreneurial citizens, the NPE rightly enunciated the specific goals of education in Nigeria as follows: Ensure and sustain unfettered access and equity to education for the total development of the individual; ensure the quality of education delivery at all levels; promote functional education for skills acquisition, job creation and poverty reduction; ensure periodic review, effectiveness and relevance of the curriculum at all levels to meet the needs of society and the world of work; collaborate with development partners, the private sector, Non-Governmental Organisations, and local communities to support and fund education; and promote information technology capability at all levels.
The policy went on to highlight the necessary measures to be taken to achieve the said goals. While the propositions are laudable, what is befuddling is that, in many instances, those propositions have rather remained mere statements of intents only, without results.
As a strident advocate of Technical and Vocation Education Training (TVET), convinced of its capacity to close-up the abysmal skills deficit we currently face in the economy, it is fascinating, for instance, that the NPE recognizes TVET as a critical tool in charting developmental pathways. TVET, accordingly, is defined as “the comprehensive term referring to those aspects of the educational process involving, in addition to general education, the study of technologies and related sciences and the acquisition of practical skills, attitudes, understanding, and knowledge relating to occupations in various sectors of economic and social life”.
Hence, from pre-primary education the policy identified specific skills capable of nurturing self-reliant and innovative competencies in individuals. As a matter of fact, the number one clear-cut objective of junior secondary education enshrined therein speaks of the need to “provide Nigerian with diverse basic knowledge and skills for entrepreneurship and educational advancement”.
With these laudable ideals and ideas, it is pertinent to ask: what went wrong? Why has the nation continued to churn out graduates who are anything but assets to nation-building – as thinkers, competent professionals and wealth creators? Of course the answer to that isn’t far-fetched. The ‘devil’, unmistakably, is in our approach to implementation. For so long, we have only paid lip service to issues germane to and are at the heart of national development.
Nevertheless, it is not all gloomy, provided we negotiate a different path laced with the hope of redemption. Such pathway, informed by a deliberate investment in functional educational, is our best bet.
To this end, stakeholders in the sector need to urgently seek ways of arresting the skills deficit in the country. It is important to underscore that no meaningful development can take place in the absence of qualitative, competent and industrious manpower. The formal education sector must be retooled and funded to realize set developmental objectives. Backed by an efficient monitoring and evaluation framework, priorities must be placed on the production of students imbued with skills such as innovation and entrepreneurship, critical and disruptive thinking skills and civic competence skills.
The integration of the informal sector is key to stimulating a culture of productivity, excellence and consistent wealth creation. As obtainable in developed climes, Nigeria must push for the standardization of artisanal skills. Generating reliable database for the various informal sector groups will not only make it much easier to implement quality assurance mechanisms but to also monitor and invest in capacity building for greater developmental good. The instant gain that would accrue is that government is able to sanitise the informal sector, track contribution to national development in view of the strategic quest of generating requisite skills to propel socio-economic aspiration.
It bears restating that for Nigeria to compete favorably in an increasingly globalised economy, we must refocus our education to build skill sets in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship. That is the only way to equip our teeming citizens and get them immersed in the building of a virile, resilient and truly prosperous economy.
• Salami is the pioneer Vice Chancellor of Nigeria’s premier technical university, First Technical University, Ibadan