By Afe Babalola
TERTIARY education in Nigeria is undertaken via two primary fora: polytechnics and universities. While polytechnic education is usually geared towards technical and vocational education, usually in the field of technology, applied science, commerce and management, university education is not limited to technical or vocational teachings alone, but encompasses an array of topical studies, mostly academic and theoretical, in different fields of learning. Polytechnics usually offer more practical, hands-on approach to technical subjects, whereas universities tend to focus more on the empirical, research-based studies.
The perception and challenges of polytechnic education in Nigeria: The main objective of polytechnic education is the promotion of technical and vocational education and training, technology transfer as well as skills development. It plays a vital role in human resource development of a country by creating skilled manpower, enhancing industrial productivity and improving the quality of life. Universally, polytechnic education is meant to provide technical learning that could assist society in meeting its industrial aspirations.
However, polytechnic education in Nigeria does not have the attention and recognition it truly deserves. Without a doubt, the most profound challenge bedevilling it relates to its poor perception amongst prospective students, parents and guardians. This discrimination is usually a product of institutionally entrenched stigmatization and inferiority complex which students and graduates of the institution may feel; or perhaps the attitude of employers to job applicants who are products of polytechnics; and conversely, in the workplace, the level which polytechnic graduates are placed within the official organogram.
For instance, HND graduates are usually placed on entry Grade Level 07 within the civil service while their university counterparts commence on Grade Level 08. Likewise, HND graduates do not proceed beyond GL 14 in the service. It has been noted that this dichotomy is traceable to the period right after independence when the first Cookie Commission of Enquiry set up a salary differential between university graduates and their polytechnic counterparts. Furthermore, admissions requirements into Nigerian polytechnics are usually far less stringent than university admission, usually, four credit passes from West African Examinations Council, WAEC, exams – and thus the inevitable tendency to presume that polytechnics are meant for students with poor academic prospects.
Beyond the stigmatization and unfavourable employment policies besetting polytechnic graduates, one fundamental challenge facing polytechnic education in Nigeria is underfunding, although this is not totally peculiar to polytechnics, as all public tertiary institutions in Nigeria are generally underfunded. As noted earlier, polytechnic education is more technical-training oriented and usually adopts a practical approach to technical education. Therefore, the purchase and maintenance of adequate equipment, as well as payment of training tutors has always been a major challenge in the efficient and effective training of polytechnic students.
Summing up the challenges facing polytechnic education in Nigeria, the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, Comrade Usman Dutse, was reported to have noted that: “the neglect and stigma given to that (polytechnic) sector is killing the morale of the products being churned out and stakeholders as well. Even in terms of funding, polytechnics are usually the less funded in the tertiary sector, not minding the fact that technical and vocational education is capital intensive. Because it is about skills, relevant facilities and equipment must be available. If you look at most of our institutions, the equipment are dilapidated, no adequate funding, even the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), what is given to the polytechnics is half of what is given to the universities.
“The polytechnic sector is not getting the commensurate attention it deserves. The issue of adequate manpower and diversification of government policies can only be achieved when proper skill is deposited in the economy. Technical and vocational education cut across every sector of the economy, skill is required in all aspects, and so there is no way diversification would be achieved either in mining or agriculture without adequate skilled manpower that we require to run the sector. Definitely, that ambition or project of the government would only be an illusion so far as polytechnic education is not properly funded and equipped.”
Need to focus on technical education: It has been noted that technology is the bedrock of a market-driven and knowledge-based economy. Technical education, as enshrined in the Nigerian national policy on education, is concerned with qualitative technological human resources development directed towards a national pool of skilled and self-reliant craftsmen, technicians and technologists in technical and vocational education fields. The low pace of industrialization and technological growth in Nigeria can be attributed to dwindling focus on technological training.
Equally, the Nigerian value system places much more emphasis on academic qualifications, rather than the depth of skill and knowledge possessed by individuals, and as noted by Nworlu-Elechi during the proceeding of the first ASUP Zone D National Conference tagged “Technical and Vocational Education for National Transformation: “…in the public service, graduates of technical education are often discriminated against and their career prospect limited. For this reason, secondary school leavers and parents prefer university education to technical education.”
Nigerian’s technological scene cannot develop without well-equipped technical and vocational institutions; it is a missing link in Nigeria’s development policy, and therefore, the nation must invest heavily in education with particular attention given to vocational and technical education. The content of the technical subjects is oriented towards the practical side of the outside world, which supports and develop creative thinking. As an important part of human culture, technology has always been closely connected with the creative people’s work activities.
Man was, is and will be the main initiator of any technological innovations and changes, and thus will always influence his attitudes, values, mental and physical health and lifestyle. Evolution is significantly influenced by technological progress, which creates technically trained and educated individuals. Applying technical knowledge in practice is a prerequisite for a successful society. Technical education is based on the recognition that technology paves the way for the present as well as the future of human existence, and therefore, its overall impact on human development cannot be overemphasised.
Recommendation: One of the most important steps to enhance technical education in Nigeria is the provision of adequate resources for technical and vocational education. Inadequate funds affect the provision of essentials such as well-equipped laboratories and workshops, relevant textbooks and training manuals. Likewise, the appointment of skilled and proficient teachers to impart knowledge should be given topmost priority. There is the need for mandatory, regular in-service training for teachers of technology to upgrade their skills. Periodical industrial training for teachers is a sine-qua-non in order to keep them abreast with the technological changes in the industry.
Furthermore, the government should take steps to remove, or at least curtail the dichotomy that exists between university and technical institution. Qualifications obtained from polytechnic institutions should not be treated as substandard, but each job applicant should be treated on his depth of knowledge and not necessarily on the strength of his academic background. This will not only attract more qualified students to vocational/technical education but will also encourage exchange of qualified lecturers/instructors between the two systems.
Lastly, and as noted by Professor Reko Okoye and Maxwell Onyenwe Arimonu of the Department of Vocational Education, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria, there is the need for our technical institutions to establish good relationship and linkages with similar institutions abroad as this will promote cross – fertilization of ideas and enhance technology transfer. By doing this the technical institutions will have access to new developments, exchange programmes and other numerous benefits available at those institutions whose technical programmes are well developed.