“Most of the expatriates we hire to come to Nigeria and occupy big offices have higher national diplomas and not degrees. The only difference between them and us is that they have skills. So, we need skills not certificates.
Probably a revival of polytechnics, colleges of technology, where real skills are taught is one of the surest ways out.
“Nigeria needs skills-based education, not book-based education” –Prof. David Babatunde Adebimpe (Founder and CEO of Polymath Interscience).
With over 11 million people between the ages of 15 and 34 out of work in Nigeria, it is becoming more important than ever to tackle the country’s youth unemployment challenge with pragmatic and effective solutions.
Academics are very special group of people. We live in ivory towers totally oblivious of the reality of our situation. Look at the students we graduate and we call this education.
We have gone very wrong in quality and even in imbuing our students with the right mindset that graduates should have, especially in the science and technology fields.
All stakeholders, entrepreneurs and also parents that have reasons to send their kids to schools in the first place are now seeing the result of the shortchanges of our educational system.
Nigerian universities are not coming up with groundbreaking innovations or inventions.
What could be the reason?
It is because we have not done much after the mid 1980s. A lot of lecturers apart from still seeing life, as it was back then still use the same college notes of many years ago to teach their students. So, we are stuck in the past in an ever-evolving world. And now, the world evolves so much that we just found ourselves in a precarious situation. And that is one of the problems that we have in the academia as even academics are not challenged enough to evolve as the society has evolved over the decades.
“They say 21 years makes a generation. I graduated from college over 21 years ago, and from what I see in the state of Nigerian education,
it has not gone better, rather it has gone worse. Lecturers make money out of selling notes and that is the least of students’ problems.
The laboratories have deteriorated; a lot of science and technology programmes have no laboratories; students graduate only having gotten recent experience through industrial training (IT) programmes and those that have no IT programmes graduate without knowing the nitty-gritty of their profession.
Having said that, let me add that it is now time for us to get not only into the present, but to fast track into the future like other colleges all over the world have done”, said Professor David Babatunde Adebimpe in one of his public lectures I was opportune to attend last year.
I want to add that research findings should be tailored to address societal needs, and our professors should not be complaining because professors don’t complain, they find solutions to problems operating from the academic world.
No wonder a good friend of mine took the ASUU( Academic Staff Union of Universities) up after they released a statement they tagged “after one year in office of President Buhari” –
“What has been your own achievements in your fields with most of you over ten years of professorship?” he asked.
The government needs to recognise areas, which we need technological advancement and thereafter stimulate the academic environment to facilitate such advancement.
In the US, there are foundations like United Science Foundation, National Institute of Health. These institutes identify societal needs and give grants to universities that write proposals on the solutions they have talked about. Steps like these could cover these needs.
So, the Federal Government has to identify and then try to stimulate academic work in those areas, with the provision of grants.
This development throws the identified challenge or challenges back to academia, a development, which inadvertently spurs academic competition among them to simulate academic awareness, involvement in research, education and training.
We may not have budgeted enough for the sector, but how is the one budgeted used. It is how effective the money is used that matters. If the money is used effectively and it generates results, those results would then force the government to add more to it. It is the excitement that would make the government to increase such amount.
I am happy there is an amount that has been allocated to it in the first place, that means there is government awareness in that area.
However, what does the government get back for the money it invests in education? Has it been used justly? Has it provided anything at all?
As an academia, I tell my colleagues sometimes, “if I tell you to do a research and you tried it a thousand ways and it has not worked, you still succeeded because you can write a paper on a thousand ways you could do it and it will not work. So, it is just the way we look at it”.
Fifteen per cent of national budget for me is generous, if it is well used. Let me also add that government really needs to sit down and look at the money being allocated, and conclude whether the money is capable of causing any breakthrough in what we want to do.
If it is below a threshold that is capable of facilitating innovation and yielding results, then it is not worth it.
How far can the country’s policy on science and technology education take us as a nation?
I do not know the focus of the new government. If it is going to follow the old ways of doing things, we have seen where that has taken us to-
total decadence, not only on buildings, but also the minds of the students. A lot of students do not even really know why they go to school anymore. And from what I have been seeing about Nigeria lately, we have a society of students that revel in buying their results.
By so doing, they do not even know the quality of education, or the consequential failure as they are buying everything including notes from lecturers, who in turn give them guarantee of success in their courses.
It is very important that students are made to know and understand the implication of burning the midnight oil. Personally, I see more problems with the academia than the government, because even if the government pumps money into the system, it is not going to work.
We need skills not certificates. We are a certificate-laden country, but our products do not have skills.
We need technicians and not engineers. We go to schools and the few that do not buy grades know the theoretical aspect of what they are taught. But then, if you do not have skills set, how can you be of use to anybody, including yourself?
Nigerian youths need hands-on skills. But in a book-centric university, the students graduate with certificates and what next?
“Most developing countries have the same challenge, and as we evolve and hope to be a developed country, our challenge will start to overlap with the challenges of developed countries. So, we are not trying to reinvent the world. For developing countries, it is power and clean water that plagues them most as those have always been our challenges especially since the over-population thing started”, said Professor David Babatunde in that his public lecture.
Also, our training standard in Nigerian universities should be made very high. I would rather have 45 high-quality universities and have students queue up to study there and come out as very good graduates, than have over 140, which turn out graduates that would end up being useless to the society!
Let me emphasise that not everybody needs to go a university. The orientation of our admission-seekers must change concerning this. And so there should be many polytechnics and institutes of science and technology.
So, we have to develop many more new subject areas that take a bit out of chemistry, physics, engineering and then add 80 per cent medicine to it for our doctors or scientists.
And that is what spur in new courses like bio-engineering (that combines biology and engineering); biotechnology, nanotechnology among others.
These are new subject areas that are coming up based on current modern needs.
However, as the international experience demonstrates, higher education in itself is no panacea to the alarming rate of unemployment in the country.
To me, Entrepreneurship, and giving students an education that sets them up for success in work and life is what will have the greatest impact on improving Nigeria’s unemployment statistics.
Mr. Frank Edwards, Education Expert and Workforce Development Director at Pearson, said,
“Indeed, the mismatch between education and employment is a global challenge, as employers in the world all over complain that despite high youth unemployment rates, finding school leavers and graduates with the skills demanded by modern workplaces is increasingly difficult”.
Nigeria, like many other countries, has an oversupply of tertiary graduates that fail to possess the 21st Century skills and competencies employers so often require – teamwork, innovation, communication skills and initiative, to name just a few.
Whilst graduates might have gained essential theoretical knowledge, they too often lack the skills to apply this knowledge in a way that is useful to those who employ them.
Providing graduates of all disciplines with 21st Century skills therefore needs to become a priority for policy makers and educators alike.
Embedding these skills in curricula will help create a workforce that has the attributes necessary to meet the demands of a global and increasingly connected labour market.
Employees who have learnt how to learn, how to adapt to new and challenging situations, and how to direct their knowledge in practical ways, will be those that flourish in a future workforce.
Teaching educators how to give their learners these skills should therefore be pivotal to Nigeria’s efforts to reform its higher education system.
The economic and social cost of youth unemployment is high, not only to individuals but to the communities in which they live, as we have it all around in the country now.
I hold the belief that Nigeria as a country has so much potential; but fulfilling this potential will depend on harnessing the country’s human capital. Providing talented young Nigerians with access to quality tertiary education is of course fundamental to achieving this goal.
On what I called, “Idle Hand Syndrome(IHS)”, It is so pathetic today that most of our youths are ever-busy on our social media discussing irrelevant things, and all we see is inter-political, inter-religious, interethnic among others arguments, in all the minutes of the day. Or busy blaming government for the state of unemployment in the country!
What skill(s) can you boast of that you are efficient in outside education?
In conclusion, lest I bore you with the lengthiness of my mind-pouring; I will advise the Government, Our Academic Institutions, NGOs, Philanthropists and other notable bodies and personalities to put hands on deck in:
(i) Providing trained manpower in applied science, technology and commerce, particularly at sub-professional grades.
(ii) Providing the technical knowledge and vocational skills necessary for agricultural, industrial, commercial and economic development.
(iii) Providing people who can apply scientific knowledge to the improvement and solution of environmental problems for the use and convenience of man.
(iv)Giving an introduction to professional studies in engineering and other technology.
(v) Giving training and impact the necessary skills leading to the production of craftsmen, technicians and other skilled personnel who will be enterprising and self-reliant.
(vi) Enabling young men and women to have an intelligent understanding of the increasing complexity of technology.
And our youths too should get themselves self medication on what I
call “ISH” instead of looking up to the government and blaming the government all the day.
And idle hand, they said is the devil’s workshop.
Lay your hands on something- cure yourself of IHS.
© BAMIDELE WILLIAMS (2016)
Bamidele Williams is a student of Obafemi Awolowo University and the Convener of OAU pigeonpost.