By Akintola Omigbodun (Dr)
A new school year is starting and this gives us the opportunity to take a look at how we prepare our children for an uncertain future. About 30 or so years ago, one of the political parties, the Unity Party of Nigeria, had a four-cardinal programme centred on free education, free health, full employment and integrated rural development. One thing that was noticeable then was that most politicians spoke about the first two items in the programme but said very little about the other two items. In some instances, the politicians could not remember what the other two items were when they were making public presentations.
We have free education but a lot of youth unemployment. Governor Fashola of Lagos State aptly demonstrated what a good parent should do when he advised his son to acquire some carpentry skills. Our civilization started with agriculture and as we discovered various resources and developed implements for harnessing these resources for our use, we made our living circumstances more convenient.
The young man who sets about acquiring carpentry skills would learn that we have to create things from our resources if our civilization is to make progress. He would understand that one has to be guided and mentored by someone who has certain skills if one is to acquire those skills, he would appreciate that you learn by doing things.
The result is that when he has acquired the carpentry skills he would be willing to apply his hands at doing other things not related to carpentry. He could readily decide that he would want to become a surgeon, engineer, sculptor, lawyer, etc because he has the confidence that there is some thing he is already skilled at doing.
Employment should involve the creation of economic value and when our inputs give us outputs of greater value than the inputs, we talk of our being productive. There is an adage that says work is the antidote to poverty. About 10 or so years ago, there was a conference held in Abuja of persons, groups, communities, local governments, state governments and the federal government which produced an Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper for Nigeria.
The paper indicated that the highest priority would be given to agriculture and rural development for poverty reduction and food security. The paper also listed policy initiatives in health, primary education, secondary education, tertiary education, small and medium enterprises, energy, transport, communications, water supply and sanitation as well as housing that would lead to an improvement in the living conditions of the population. The paper included institutional arrangements at local government, state government and federal government levels for dealing with poverty reduction issues.
The paper identified cross cutting issues amongst which it was acknowledged that malaria is endemic in Nigeria and is a major cause of morbidity and mortality affecting all age groups. There was also the mention of a plan of action for science and technology. The question that arises is how much of all these have been communicated to our children and youth who are drifting into unemployment and poverty.
One often reads statements indicating that the products of our schools and universities do not have the skills required by employers. Any employer should be willing to train his or her employees because any employee who wishes to remain employed must constantly enhance his skills either to meet technological advances or to match the changing needs of an employer.
We do not have a core technology that we are selling to other countries in order to create wealth. Rather, we are buying television sets, cars, machinery, rice, wheat and other goods from other countries and our substantial export is petroleum crude. We have to get our children to understand that they have to develop skills that would lead to the eradication of malaria and skills that would make food readily available to the population.
There is a natural curiosity in children and we must encourage them to acquire knowledge and develop a spirit of inquiry. We must encourage them to learn by doing things because whatever one gains from doing things expands the range of ideas one will be able to generate. We must let our children appreciate the value of education and hard work.
Several years ago, I spent a year living in a village on the banks of the river Sokoto working on a road and bridge construction project. The communities nearby were rural and the major economic activity was agricultural. However, tomatoes were neither grown nor eaten in any of these communities and the tomatoes we ate during that year came from over 100 kilometres away. Can a child in any of these communities understand the significance of tomatoes in other people’s lives? In the next few weeks, we shall take a look at primary education, secondary education and tertiary education.