By Ruth Ugbechie
Lest we forget, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State qualified as a medical doctor at the age of 22. That was in 1981 when he earned his MBBS from the University of Ibadan.
Ahead of his university education, he had made the second-best Higher School Certificate (HSC) result in the whole of the then Bendel State.
A precocious child and a worthy ambassador of the defunct Bendel State (now Edo and Delta states) where academic distinction, sporting excellence and pristine moral values form the DNA of the people. As a medical doctor, Okowa applied his skill to help humanity.
He brought cure to the sick, gave hope to the hopeless. He also became his own boss at a time, an employer of labour and creator of wealth. He would later quit private practice for public service. He’s a knowledge-driven man in all ramifications.
In a sense, one can safely say that Okowa is a beneficiary of quality education graciously made possible in his early life by his progressive-minded parents. Fast-forward to 2015, 34 years later. Okowa the young medical doctor had become the Governor of Delta State, one of the twin-states of the old Bendel and he’s giving back to the people what he got several decades ago: Good, quality education. He’s doing it with bullish determination.
One of the nuggets of his now popular Stronger Delta agenda is human capital development. But the governor’s idea of human capital development is not in the award of bogus certificates and degrees. It’s in skills acquisition, in preparing Deltans to create the jobs rather than be in interminable pursuit of jobs. He has tweaked the state’s education policy to fit into the demands of the modern era. The world is intricately interconnected in an emergent knowledge era where innovation, skills deployment and solution creation rather than certificates rule the roost.
Globally, there is now more emphasis on what you can do not on what degrees you have acquired. The best of innovators and change agents from Bill Gates of Microsoft, Larry Ellison of Oracle, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Coco Chanel (born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel in France) of Coco Chanel perfumes and clothiers, Steve Jobs of Apple among others were either school dropouts or persons who never had the luxury of certificate-awarding formal education.
The likes of Ray Kroc (McDonald’s), Nigeria’s Cosmas Maduka, Ingvar Kamprad (of upholstery maker IKEA), Mary Kay Ash (Mary Kay Cosmetics), Andrew Carnegie (Carnegie Steel Company) and lots more have proven that success in life is worth more than designed papers called degree certificates. They all activated their inner talents some through entrepreneurship, some through inventions and some by putting their skills to work.
Today, these men and women are pacesetters, innovators, inventors, successful entrepreneurs and creators of jobs and wealth. They put skill to action, not their degrees, not their certificates. And now they are proud employers of those with long degrees and multiple certificates. True, marketplace life has evolved from ‘what do you have’ to ‘what can you do?’ The world is looking for those who create solution, not those who can articulate all the problems but offer no solution. Nations around the world have long realized this and have tailored their education towards skills acquisition and hands-on training rather than the conventional textbook hypothesis.
The United States, Europe and lately Asia have moved fast into the realm of skills acquisition, innovativeness and hands-on education. The Asians, particularly India and China, have become world powers in software engineering and other aspects of technology on account of the heavy dose of technical education in their school curriculum.
This is the template Okowa is adopting in Delta State, changing the concept of education from certificate to certification, from classwork to lab-work, indeed from paper to skills. It’s not for nothing that he has rehabilitated and equipped six technical colleges just to produce graduates with the requisite skills set for entrepreneurship and job creation. He has opened well-equipped vocational centres and he wants to establish more technical colleges before his term runs out in 2023.
In effect, he’s laying strong foundation for the making of next generation billionaires and multi-millionaires. He’s cultivating the ground to produce generation-next techpreneurs, manufacturers, economic enablers and growth-agents who would in no distant time turn their skills to wealth.
The man they call Roadmaster is not done just yet. While presenting the 2020 budget before the State Assembly, he said: “We intend to continue to reposition our educational system to equip our youth population with the skill set needed for this new world of rapid change and digital revolution. As you are aware, technical and vocational education has been our main policy thrust in this sector.
During our first tenure, we completed the rehabilitation and equipping of the six technical colleges in the state. Accreditation of all trade subjects by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) was achieved in 2018 and plans are underway for the establishment of additional technical colleges in the remaining 19 Local Government Areas of the state.”
To actuate this vision, the Ministry of Technical Education was recently created to consolidate the gains made and institutionalise technical cum vocational education in the state’s school curricula. Part of the functions of the new ministry include formulation of policies for technical education, management of technical colleges in the state, coordination of the accreditation of technical colleges and vocational centres, acting as liaison with appropriate Ministries, Departments and Agencies in the implementation of technical and vocational education and training programmes in the state, among others.
Okowa’s commitment to technical education stands him out as a leader who understands the demands of the modern era in the area of national and global competitiveness. Knowledge, not natural resources, is the new resource.
And this is not knowledge of the books only; it’s knowledge that challenges the status quo; that creates, innovates and births solution. It’s beyond head knowledge but the type you acquire by getting involved in the efforts to create solution for the myriad challenges that dog human existence.
India is today the outsourcing capital of the world. Over 50 percent of software used in the United States are developed in India. India has a culture of technical education and education with rich numerate content.
The Asian software technology super power has Institute of Technology scattered across its many cities. Vocational centres and skills acquisition institutes define the knowledge space of China. The same applies for Singapore, Pakistan, South Korea and other Asian nations. And it’s paying off because none of the most technically advanced nations of US and Russia can afford to ignore these Asian nations.
Governor Okowa’s passion for technical education underscores his vision as a 21st century leader to build technical capacity and competences among his people. It’s the surest ticket to break the limiting walls of paper education that has kept Nigeria, nay Africa, at the receiving end in a technology-driven and technology-determinant global economy.
A new Delta is being built on the solid ramparts of technical education. Okowa should stay this course because out of the oasis of technical education shall spring forth fountains of innovation, invention, entrepreneurship and sundry channels of wealth creation. If China, India, South Korea et al could do it, we, too, can. I vote for technical education.
* Ugbechie writes from Warri