Waking technical education from the doldrums
• Skill acquisition, imperative for job creation
• 10,000 middle, high-level managers lost to western economies
When Sunday Oyelami completed his secondary school education in 2010, he got a job at a pure water factory. He was so fascinated by the operating system of the factory that he decided to get technical skills so that he could someday run his own factory.
“The machine’s programmed system brought about my desire to acquire technical skills and become a sole-proprietor,” Oyelami recalls.
Determined to make this dream a reality, Oyelami enrolled at Government Technical College, Agidingbi, to study Computer Craft. In his second year at the college, the Samsung Engineering Academy was commissioned.
Oyelami trained at the Academy until he completed his training in 2015 as the best graduating student of his set. He is currently a mobile phone technician at Samsung West Africa.
In another instance, Victor Johnson, one of the many technicians in the auto part market along Acme Road, Ogba, repairs vehicle stereos. A customer had brought the stereo of his Toyota Camry to him for repairs a day earlier.
“I was told he was the best around here. My stereo no longer played discs but I was still getting radio channels on it. He billed me N15, 000 and I did not argue. I paid and expected to get the stereo back today. But I got here and he told me the stereo was irreparable. To worsen the situation, he has compounded its problem because the channels no longer work and he has refused to refund my money,” the angry customer said.
Johnson, who has been practising for six years, is one of the many graduates produced by the country’s technical colleges. However, he is one of many Nigerian technicians whose expertise has become outdated.
Mr. Abdullahi Azeez, a manager in an insurance company, had paid N250, 000 for a set of furniture. But by the time he took delivery of the settees, the job was poorly done and he was so infuriated that he had to bring in the police.
The increasing dearth of competent technicians in different fields in the light of the advancement in technology is becoming a worrisome issue.
Investigation into this worrisome situation revealed stories of decay and neglect. However, some states have begun moves to resuscitate the schools by providing the needed funds for infrastructural and manpower development.
To deepen the pool of skilled technicians and encourage entrepreneurship, the Federal Government, over the years, established more than 100 technical colleges. However, technical and vocational education has suffered the same fate as public schools — dilapidated infrastructure, obsolete equipment, and inadequate and unqualified teachers and instructors to meet with current industry skills.
Globally, vocational and technical education is deemed to be the answer to youth unemployment. With the growing failure of governments and the private sector to create jobs, quality technical education holds the key to the creation of more jobs.
In Nigeria, training of technical personnel has witnessed many challenges, ranging from endless tampering with policies, a curriculum that has little or no relationship with workplace and social needs, embezzlement of funds meant for education development purposes, lack of teacher motivation, inadequate facilities, inadequate funding, brain drain, poor staff training, bribery and corruption.
State of technical schools
ACROSS the states, stories of the colleges are the same, obsolete facilities, inadequate manpower and a lack of conducive environment for learning.
For instance, at Government Technical College, Patigi, Kwara State, old students lamented the sorry state of the school and appealed to the government to resuscitate it alongside others, to ensure technological advancement.
President of the old students association, Ottan Abdulmunimi Shuaibu, decried the negligence of the technical college, saying the school currently has less than 100 students.
The group said that technical education remained the only solution to the technological advancement of any nation, which is the bedrock of every economy.
It expressed readiness to partner with the state government on the need to revamp technical education and re-train technical instructors.
Ekiti State-owned Government Technical College bears the resemblance of an old institution that probably has produced many great men and women. But everything that makes it a real technical college is gone.
The hall that was supposed to serve as the college’s furniture making department has become a store for obsolete equipment.
“This school was established in 1964 and the equipment supplied at that time is what we still have in the school. Of course, they no longer work but we simply describe how they work and hope our students would know how to operate them when they see real ones,” a teacher said.
Students would later explain how things work. “If any one of us is interested in becoming a real furniture maker or mechanic, what we do is go to workshops in town to learn practical work after we graduate. I want to be a mechanic when I graduate and I already know the (roadside) mechanic I will go and learn from,” one of the students said.
One of the teachers who identified himself as Dotun Fakunle, said: “It makes me sad that after training, our students still go to roadside workshops to learn the practical aspect of what they have learnt in class because the government does not fund technical schools.
“Sometimes, we don’t even have electricity supply for months. Even if we have the equipment, how do we operate them in that kind of situation? I am a product of a technical school. When I was in school and when I just became a teacher, we did more practical teaching. Now, most of what we do is theoretical.”
The story is not different at Government Technical College, Owo in Ondo State, which was established in 1963. Students face a similar appalling infrastructure deficit until MTN Foundation chose it as one of the four technical colleges across the country to benefit from the supply of machines. However, students rarely have the opportunity to see the machines supplied by the telecommunication company work. Some of the new shearing and modern folding machines supplied to the workshops are electrically powered.
“We rarely have a power supply. The telecoms company gave us a generator, but we operate it once in a while when our school can afford to buy fuel. How do we teach pupils with machines? We do 90 per cent theoretical teaching and 10 per cent practicals now,” he explained.
At the Government Technical College, Ijebu-Ode in Ogun State, the same sorry state of infrastructure was the order of the day.
Nigerians seek artisans abroad
A principal in one of the technical colleges in Ogun State, Oluwasegun Maja, lamented that Nigerians now go to Ghana, and even Togo to get artisans to build their houses.
“That’s how bad things have become. In the past, to repair anything like television, refrigerator, or other household appliances, people preferred to come to technical colleges but the system has crumbled. We rarely get funding anymore, let alone new facilities.”
All talk but no funding
Successive governments have failed to adequately fund education. In the 2022 budget, for instance, a paltry N392m was earmarked as a takeoff grant for six federal science and technical colleges.
At the state level, things have gone worse. Administrators of technical colleges lamented that government continues to clamour for entrepreneurship, but looks away when it is time to adequately fund technical education.
A building engineer, Mr. Kenneth Gabriel, needed to lay the floor and wall tiles of a building construction he was handling. He travelled to Benin Republic to bring technicians who handled the job.
“That is where you can get experts who would do a perfect job as far as tiling is concerned. The people who gave me contracts don’t want to know where I get the manpower for the job, they just want the job done well,” Gabriel said.
Michael Ubong, a senior secondary II student at Government Technical College, Ikotun, during his three-month industrial attachment some months ago at the workshop he was assigned to, had a hard time identifying and operating the equipment available because the laboratory at his school lacked such “advanced” equipment.
Ubong pointed out that as much as the Lagos state government is doing a great job at promoting technical education, there should be a balance in the provision of facilities for all areas.
He pleaded that obsolete equipment and training should be replaced with their current versions to enable them to keep abreast of changes in their various fields.
According to reports, about 45 per cent of Nigerian professionals, including technical educators have left the country’s shores over the years. Between 2007and 2017 alone, Nigeria lost over 10,000 middle and high-level managers to western economies.
Performance at the National Technical Certificate (NTC) examinations in technical colleges dropped over the years, revealing very disturbing statistics attributable to neglect, poor funding and inadequacy of resources.
Poor management of facilities resulted in failure rates from 14 to 48 per cent in Electrical and Mechanical trades, 12 to 50 per cent in Construction trades and 18 to 94 per cent in Business trades.
Experts observed that due to inadequate funding, normal workshop practice, which forms 60 per cent the standard of technical college curriculum, set by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE)], is fast disappearing.
Ideally, the workshop, there is meant to be equipped for acquiring skills, consumable materials purchased and distributed for practice; physical facilities arranged and given occupational direction so that acceptable work habits and procedures are successfully executed.
While lamenting the poor state of facilities in technical schools, experts noted that there is no planned means of maintenance of the already broken down equipment or means of purchasing new ones. “This pathetic situation needs to be reverted to meet the goals of technical education as enshrined in the National Policy on Education (Federal Government of Nigeria, 2004).”
According to the policy, the goals shall be to provide trained manpower in the applied sciences, technology and business, particularly at the craft (equivalent of high schools), advanced craft and technical levels; provide technical knowledge and vocational skills, as well as give training and impart necessary skills to individuals to make them self reliant.
LIKE Oyelami, hundreds of students have benefitted from the revamped technical education in Lagos state. However, it has the potential to benefit hundreds more. Victor, a Tech 3 (final year) student of electrical engineering at the Government Technical College, Ikotun, is fortunate to have well-equipped facilities at his disposal. The same can, however, not be said for other students whose areas of specialisation lack state of art facilities in their various colleges.
A Principal of one of the technical colleges, Bolaji Omosanya, said Nigeria would come back to develop technical education when its leaders realise that the economy is going nowhere without correcting the technical skills deficit.
“It is unheard of that most of what we do as technical colleges are now theoretical. What are we doing if we don’t have working machines? Ours is the soul of Nigeria’s economy, but it seems our leaders have simply forgotten that” he said.
A professor of Food Technology, Kola Olopade, who is a product of a technical college, explained that Nigeria cannot simply sidestep technical education in its quest to diversify and grow the economy.
He said: “Our economy is going nowhere without the rejuvenation of this sub-sector. Past leaders and military rulers destroyed technical education because they thought it was simply better to pour the money meant for technical schools into their own pockets.
“Many of the equipment you see that are moribund in technical colleges were supplied without consultation with the school’s administrators about what they needed. Many of them could not be used because of the limited expertise in the areas in which the facilities are useful.”
To reposition technical college workshops for greater efficiency, Linus Hassan, a leader of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), said the private sector should be encouraged to initiate and participate in the provision of facilities, using such methods as building, operating and transfer (BOT), build-own-operate and transfer (BOOT), and rehabilitate-operate-and-transfer (ROT).
Besides, he said non-governmental organisations; parent-teachers associations and community-based organisations should be tasked to contribute to technical education by providing facilities for workshops as obtained in some nations.
Hassan added that special intervention funds should be set aside by the government for the procurement of workshop facilities for technical colleges. He said a specific percentage of income tax generated yearly by the government should be utilised for the provision of workshop facilities to technical colleges.
A lecturer at Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Uwana, Ebonyi State, Etim Uduak, said: “We must return to the basics by re-channelling the minds of youths to technical education.”
Besides, he charged state governments to drive the process by expanding technical schools or creating new ones where they are non-existent.
He said: “Technical education is a win-win for everybody in the chain. It creates job opportunities immediately for junior and middle-level cadres. It also guarantees a degree of quality control since artisans receive formal education.
Sadly, even the Federal Government has continued to open new universities despite the glut of graduates in the country. Besides, existing universities are poorly funded, accounting for perennial industrial disharmony in the system. Attention ought to focus on technical education at this time with a view to creating independent citizens with a high degree of technical competence.
“With an increase in population comes corresponding demand for housing, food and services. So, these skills will forever be in need, so long as we breathe. And in the event you don’t want to be on the payroll of anybody, you can monetise the skills by employing yourself.
For example, a diploma holder in animal health and production can engage in the private practice of visiting farms and local markets to provide first aid treatment. There are too many farms to go around. We can say the same about a plumber, tiler, painter and others.”
On his part, Thomas Akpan of the Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi, said the government should make technical education a viable option in the country.
“The government should ensure that more technical colleges are commissioned, while polytechnics should be more pragmatic than they are currently. The days of blue-collar jobs as the only way of getting on in life are virtually over. Independence through skills acquisition programmes should be emphasised. All state governments should buy into this policy as it is the only way of addressing unemployment in the country.”
Former President, Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Usman Dutse, noted that technical education and technical schools, like other arms in the sector, are characterised by deplorable facilities and infrastructure, under-funding, inadequate staff, poor incentives and lack of conducive environment for learning.
Dutse said: “The bottom line is this; the government has failed to acknowledge the importance of technical education. The mindset is that it is looked down on as inferior and lacks any pedigree required for a higher state of society.
“That is why you would see that enrollment is very poor, but what government fails to realise is that every economy is developed by the best of the skills it has. And these are areas where you develop skills, where dependence on government can be reduced and the economy is improved on. Importation will reduce when you have skilled manpower, they can develop things according to the needs of their communities, and their society.
“Technical schools and technological institutions require practical activities; robust and well-equipped laboratories and workshops, where these activities can take place.
“To cut it short, this sector has failed to get the recognition it deserves from the government, funding is poor, infrastructure decay is common, facilities are obsolete and outdated, and enrollment is also low. Even parents are not interested in sending their wards to technical schools, 99 per cent of parents are more interested in sending their children to universities.”
On his part, Prof Dele Adigun of the University of Jos said the problem with technical education is in two ways, society looks down on hands-on and technical skills, while society places much emphasis on paper qualifications.
“But what makes it worse is that government itself allowed that. Look at the idea of converting polytechnics to universities. It is absolutely wrong.”
The university teacher reminded me that the curricula are different and designed to serve a purpose. “So, for technical schools, we should look at Japan and Germany, study technical education in those countries and then, domesticate.
“What we also have to do is societal orientation. We should not look down on artisans or graduates of technical colleges. Someone could be a plumber and be very rich, so, I think that society has to change. I believe what society needs now are people with skills. For example, something as simple as plumbing. We do not have good plumbers in Nigeria. They fix your closet today, tomorrow you are complaining again.
“Those are things we should teach and I think we should also emphasise on skills, not head knowledge anymore. Something has to be done with technical education because if you have good facilities, good teachers and good products, their impact will be felt across the economy and the country.
“Look at construction and engineering industries, for example, those are areas where technical schools could be very useful. Because there are things that technicians can do that engineers and others cannot do. And for a large number of youths, you must teach them skills. The only places you teach skills are polytechnics and technical colleges,” Adigun said.