Technical education priority for development
It is befuddling that Nigeria has not successfully integrated technical education into its educational system nearly 60 years after independence. Although in Section 7 of the National Policy on Education (4th edition) provision is made for the “introduction into (the) world of technology and appreciation of technology towards interest arousal and choice of a vocation at the end of Junior Secondary School and professionalism later in life”, nothing on the ground bears evidence to this lofty declaration.
The policy goes on to state that the goals of technical and vocational education shall be to “provide trained manpower in the applied sciences, technology and business particularly at (sic) craft, advanced craft and technical levels.” As always, Nigeria is not short in the supply of ideas and ideals for growth, captured in dust-covered documents in the Federal Ministry of Education. The fundamental problem has been lack of will to implement globally accepted and adapted recommendations.
It does bear reiteration to state that technical education “provides special practical knowledge of technologies and skills” and it is different from general education. It promotes independence and self-learning and “tunes the student effectively (by) increasing the potential of students. It helps students to develop both practical and theoretical knowledge of their chosen field.’’ It is crucial to “human resource development in a country by creating skilled manpower, enhancing industrial productivity and improving the quality of life. To produce fully skilled manpower/knowledgeable technocrats in the present era of science and technology in the need of the hour.” The world has gone digital and our youths ought to be encouraged through a policy framework to harness the benefits of technical education. Some nations have a dual-track vocational training programme that accommodates and produces thousands of apprentices every year.
In Germany, for example, there are about 1.3 million apprentices training every year. At the end of the training, they do not have to look up to government for employment. Technical education is typically offered in different institutions, from technical high schools to polytechnics. Its object is not necessarily a university degree. Technical education prepares students in a hands-on manner to deal with auto-repairs, masonry, welding, electronics and other fields. In the 6-3-3-4 educational system, which was adopted in 1983, the goal was to provide educational needs by equipping the youths with skills that would make them self-reliant. Under that arrangement, students who were skilled in the technical field were expected to grow into skilled junior and medium levels artisans. However, the implementation was distorted, thereby leaving the country in the lurch on technical education development. What is worse, polytechnics, which were set up to conclude the process of completing technical education have curiously resorted to creating and offering courses in the arts and social sciences.
These days, Nigerians complain about the absence of skilled labourers to handle masonry, plumbing and the decorative arts in buildings. The available ones are usually migrant skilled labourers. Locals have been sluggish in opting for the skilled-labour route perhaps because of our sentimental attachment to certificates. Yet, there are thousands of university and polytechnic graduates without paid employment still waiting for the blue-collar job. If these young people had acquired some skills, the national story would have been different. No nation can develop if they lack provisions and motivation for skilled labour. The popular computer village in Lagos is anecdotal in discussing the benefits of technical education. A good number of the young men there have developed through self -efforts. The government could use that set-up as a hub for developing soft skills for our youths.
We must return to the basics by re-channelling the minds of our youths to technical education. State governments should drive the process by expanding technical schools or creating new ones where they are non-existent.Technical education is a win-win for everybody in the chain. It creates jobs opportunities immediately for junior and middle level cadres. It also guarantees a degree of quality control since the artisans receive formal education. Sadly, even the Federal Government has continued to open new universities despite the glut of graduates in the country. Besides, the 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.
Nigeria is blessed with one of the best age-distribution demographics in the world, with the youth standing at 53% of the population. Indeed, this is an army of human resource waiting to be harnessed and unleashed into the world to stimulate growth. We, therefore, need to embark on a massive reorientation scheme over the next five years that could produce first-rate skilled men and women. The time is ripe. The blue-collar jobs are not there anymore. But the culture of waiting for employment after university or polytechnic training has remained ingrained in our youths. Although this point had been repeatedly made and some governments had taken some steps, there has been no consistency. Poor planning and policy somersaults have made it impossible for the nation to deploy these youths into productive channels.
The government should seize the day and make technical education a viable option in the country. Current global trends indicate a fundamental commitment to developing technical skills to provide a solid manpower base for industries. The government should ensure that more technical colleges are commissioned. The polytechnics should be more pragmatic than it currently is. 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 thrust as it is the only pragmatic way of addressing unemployment in the country.
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