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Getting technical, vocational education back on track

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I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” – Confucius.

This quote aptly sums up the difference between technical/vocational (Tech/Voc) schools and traditional schools. The former is steeped in hands-on training while the latter is focused on theory. Technical/vocational education, designed to bring vocational and technical training to its students, cannot be overlooked by any nation serious about technological advancement or any form of development for that matter.

Students of Federal Science and Technical College, Yaba in one of their engineering workshops during a hands-on training
Students of Federal Science and Technical College, Yaba in one of their engineering workshops during a hands-on training

Without a vibrant, knowledgeable and sound working population, a nation will not develop. Many wonder why Nigeria’s growth is stunted.

The answer could be that the nation has over the years, neglected its technical/vocational education, paying more attention to traditional schools with little or no hands-on training. Consequently, the nation’s education system has churned out graduates described as unemployable by employers of labour. In this report, Vanguard Learning takes a look at the problem, consequences and way out.

By Ebele Orakpo & Tare Youdeowei

UP until recently, a typical Nigerian parent would rather make his child stay home until he is able to pass the entrance exam into traditional secondary school than go to a tech/voc college. But the trend changed when the nation got to a crisis point and employers of labour began to complain that the average graduate is unemployable.

Shunning Tech/Voc colleges: Speaking on why parents and students do not find tech/voc education attractive, Executive Secretary, National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), Dr Masa’udu Adamu Kazaure said: “Parents do not have interest in bringing their wards to technical colleges because when they go to these colleges, they do not get the requisite training, although sometimes they get from the little we have.”

However, the Director/Principal, Federal Science and Technical College (FSTC), Yaba, Lagos, Rev. Chris Ugorji said the problem is what he termed ‘wrong mentality’. He said Nigeria’s educational system was “a product of the mentality of the colonial masters who taught Arts and Social sciences. That was the set up before now, until we began to produce graduates that cannot boast of skills.

 

Driving the economy

“This college used to be termed motor parts school where never-do wells go. Nigerians believed that technical schools are meant for the never-do wells, for second rate students. That was the very bad mentality we inherited from the colonial masters.

“We got it wrong because emphasis was more on grammar and white collar jobs until it became obvious that this cannot drive our economy. So the very moment it got to that stage, people began to think,” said Ugorji.

Dr. Oluwashinaayomi Akintolure, Education consultant with A-Z Consult and proprietor of Stokhan Schools laid the blame squarely at the doorsteps of  government.

“There is a complete abandonment of vocational education in Nigeria. When the government does not encourage the people, the children lose confidence. When children go to technical colleges and come out with their trade certificate, does the government recognise it? Till today, there is disparity between Higher National Diploma and Bachelor of Science certificates.

“Thus, the death of technical education started from the government. Presently, with a trade certificate, a person does not go beyond being a roadside mechanic, for instance. The employers of labour are also to blame as they discriminate against the certificate, before we can then talk of the students not wanting  to go to technical schools.”

Crisis: Mr. Salvation Alibor, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Syscomptech Communications Ltd., a Lagos-based ICT outfit, decried the situation where employers have to retrain every one they recruit.

“Most of the things you face when you graduate, you didn’t learn in school so you have to do additional skills development on your own. Our curriculum is incomplete as it is not actually designed for the Nigerian system. As it is now, you have to retrain everyone you recruit. The only thing your degree does for you is to make you trainable. But if we get the curriculum right, if someone graduates from the university, he is immediately employable.

 

Educational curriculum

That saves cost. An educational curriculum is designed to reflect the vision of a nation.

“In Nigeria, we are yet to design a curriculum that will reflect our vision. In some nations, they train the people to become entrepreneurs, some are trained to become offshore manpower because they produce virtually nothing in their country so they train them to become expatriates. They work abroad and repatriate funds to their country so they are their  country’s export.

“In Nigeria, if we have a curriculum should reflect such and in that case, you put everything in place in institutions of learning that will develop the people to be able to offer those services.”

Dr Patrick Owelle, MD/CEO of PSC Solar said: “I’ll be honest with you; I suspect that in the next 10 years, our children will be unemployable with the type of education they get,  jokes apart. It doesn’t make sense at all. Instead of hiring and firing due to incompetence, I decided I’d be sending them abroad for training.”

Turning point: Said Kazaure: “The chronic unemployment in the country has made many parents to start enrolling their wards in technical colleges. We have a situation now where graduates from the universities go back to polytechnics to gain one skill or the other.

 

Structure and equipment

For so long, technical education has been neglected but you have to get the right structure and equipment in place in order to get the requisite training.  We need the artisans, technicians and technologists.

 

High cost of establishing Tech/Voc colleges: “First of all, establishing vocational and technical colleges is very expensive because we need infrastructure and equipment and these are things we do not find normally in the technical colleges we have at present. Most of them do not have required workshops, laboratories, buildings, etc. We have 171 technical colleges approved so far but not up to a quarter of them have passed accreditation. Most are owned by state governments, only about 22 are owned by the Federal Government.

“By provisions of the National Policy on Education, we will need at least one technical college in each of the 774 local government areas of the federation. For each local government, you need a minimum of four vocational centres so the products of the vocational centres will be the raw materials for the technical college. The technical college will produce the craftsmen who will be the raw materials for the polytechnics.

“The polytechnics will produce technicians and technologists. So in effect, we need to have 3,096 vocational centres in the country. For every four technical colleges, we are supposed to have one polytechnic. So Nigeria, with 774 local government areas, will need about 194 polytechnics to service our much touted technological revolution.

“That is in addition to infrastructure and electricity which is very critical.

“It will take about N1 billion to establish a technical college of international standard – N500 million for infrastructure and N500 million for equipment for the workshops and laboratories.

 

Workshops and laboratories

So we need about N774 billion to get world standard technical colleges in all the 774 local government areas.”

Solution: One way of solving the problem apart from establishing two fully equipped technical colleges in each state (one federal and one state), according to Akintolure, is for government to “enforce a policy where all multinationals in Nigeria have a selection conference for the final-year students in technical colleges, where they can be screened and picked for employment in the companies as opposed to bringing foreign technicians. Using home-grown technicians would turn around the state of technical education in Nigeria. There should be no favouritism and the recruitment should be on merit,” said Akintolure.

 

Encouraging products of tech/voc schools:

“Artisans should be encouraged. They should have an association duly registered with Corporate Affairs Commission like Farmers Association of Nigeria. All artisans should register with the association state by state, local government by local government and they will have an identity.

“Most of the bike riders today are artisans but because there is no soft loan for them, they take bikes on hire purchase to make ends meet. If the government provides soft loans and steady electricity, a lot of them will go back to their original trade.

“So the first thing is for them to organise themselves into an association with an identity; government should provide steady power supply, as well as N50,000 to N100,000 soft loan to assist them and they will boost the economy tremendously, directly and indirectly. As the businesses grows, they will employ others, thus creating employment. It is not all about white collar jobs, the artisan contributes immensely to the gross domestic product of this country,” said Akintolure.

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