By Dayo Adesulu
UNEMPLOYMENT is a big problem in Nigeria – especially given its relatively young population. Statistics from the National Population Commission show that as at the third quarter of 2017, more than half of Nigeria’s nearly 185 million people are under 30 – with youth unemployment for this subset at about 33.10 per cent.
Experts believe these kinds of employability inputs should be infused in learning early. However, this hardly happens before tertiary education in Nigeria. At secondary school level, the closest most students get are school trips to some industries once in a while or career counselling programmes where experts are invited to speak about their professions. Unfortunately, not all students benefit from this limited exposure.
Government has come up with various schemes to reduce youth unemployment. One of such is the Federal Government’s N-Power social welfare scheme designed to take about 500,000 youths out of the job market to fill vacancies in schools and set them up in agriculture-based ventures.
However, lack of employability skills exacerbates Nigeria’s unemployment problem. Not a few employers have complained about the skills mismatch in the employment market. They lament that graduates of Nigerian tertiary institutions come out lacking both technical and soft skills to fit into the workplace.
There are various international organisations that are committed to the development of the education sector in Nigeria. One of such organisations is the British Council, UK’s cultural and educational organisation, which has supported the Nigerian public education system through effective use of language across the curriculum, undertaking of research projects, leadership training and continuous professional development for educators in collaboration with federal and state education agencies.
Some of the projects launched by the British Council include Fast Forward – a programme to infuse work-based learning in classrooms at secondary school level in 2016. Under the initiative, 300 teachers, guidance counsellors and school administrators from 19 public secondary schools in five states were trained to use work-based learning to enhance how students learn and teach them soft skills.
About 1,000 students across the schools benefited from this pilot scheme and some got placed on internships. The effectiveness of this project by the British Council which has spent 75 years in Nigeria, is currently being assessed by The Education Partnership, TEP, Centre for possible replication in other states if found effective.
However, some teachers already testify to its benefits. “They are excited learning new things and getting to understand that learning can be fun and interesting too,” said Mrs. Utibe Ajayi Ore Ofe who teaches at the Government Secondary School, Atu, Calabar, Cross River State.
Also, the organisation has influenced policies and developed agenda through thought leadership and research in key areas including education, gender and youth empowerment. It delivers multi-million pound DfID funded contracts in justice, security, education, peace-building and conflict resolution, working with national and international partners to aid Nigeria in meeting the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
In the use of English language to improve education in Nigeria, the British Council has worked with the state governments through State Universal Basic Education Board to deliver English language proficiency and training to primary and secondary school English teachers. It offers online resources for continuing professional development, seminars and webinars via its English website.
It has also been able to develop bespoke training content to support teachers and improve their teaching skills.
The Lagos State Government’s ReadySetWork, RSW, project for final year students of tertiary institutions is perhaps the biggest initiative yet by government to directly teach employability/entrepreneurship modules to students to get them work-ready. After 13-weeks of training, the students are placed on six-month internship with various firms partnering with the state government on the scheme. Last year, 2,000 students were trained.
Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Education, Mr. Obafela Bank-Olemoh said at the launch of this year’s RSW: “Governor Ambode’s mandate to us was to prepare our graduates for the world of work, so our students will have some of the best experience getting ready.”
One of the beneficiaries of the RSW, TamiloreAsikia, said the initiative exposed him to all he ought to have learnt in school. In his words, “I graduated as the best student in Economics from the University of Lagos but RSW was what helped me to connect all I was taught with what I met in the workplace. RSW was the education that my education could not give me.”
Underscoring the importance of town-gown fit, Vice-Chancellor, Federal University of Petroleum Resources Efurun, FUPRE, in Delta State, Professor Akaehome Ibhadode, said in an interview that his institution would infuse components of work-readiness into its training curriculum. “There is a special interaction between our school and the oil and gas industry such that on graduation, our students are work-ready.”
We have certain inputs that make our graduates fit for the industry as they are leaving FUPRE,” he said.
The British Council has been a pivotal organisation in the growth and development of the Nigerian educational sector despite the poor attitude of successive governments in funding public education. Nigerians have benefited tremendously from the presence of an international organisation like the British Council and her various educational programmes that have changed the lot of Nigerians across all the geo-political zones.