Special Report: Bridging the age-long gap between tertiary and vocational education in Nigeria

Aside from basic morals, the second most important thing that a typical Nigerian parent/guardian instills in their children/wards as early as their formative years is the need to get a university degree at all costs.

I doubt if parents ever advise their children to take on a skill or vocational education. Most parents see vocational education as secondary and not important. As a matter of fact, parents often threaten their children who they consider dull in school with being dumped ‘at a nearby saloon/mechanic workshop’ if they fail to catch up with their peers academically. Thus, some children grow up to see their peers taking up a skill as a ‘failure’. This is how bad the discrimination against vocational education has become in Nigeria.

We live in a society that places a high value on white-collar jobs and “professionals.” We consider blue-collar jobs as low status. It’s no surprise that parents want their children to pursue careers that will maintain or increase their status. This is even more evident in high-socio economic communities.

However, academic-based schools seem to be striving in most educational institutions. Necessary career skills that are required in the business world are not taught to students. Nevertheless, the emphasis is gradually moving away from the academic-based education that relies on the mere gaining of credentials to skill-based training that recognises the need to apply vital skills in the real work environment.

While this report is not aimed at ‘polishing’ skills acquisition and/or vocational education above a university degree, however, the reporter hopes to lift the veil that has long covered the dignity in acquiring a sole vocational training/education or a combination with a university degree.

Wikipedia defines vocational education as ‘education that prepares people to work as a technician or in various jobs such as a tradesman or an artisan.’ It is sometimes referred to as career and technical education.’

The same Wikipedia defines tertiary education as any type of education pursued beyond the high school level. This includes diplomas, undergraduate and graduate certificates, and associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

As clearly seen, both definitions agree that vocational and tertiary education are acceptable forms of learning/training albeit leading to the award of different skills and certificates.

Nigerian Government’s continuous disservice to education sector
The education sector in Nigeria (particularly the technical/vocational segment) has suffered years of neglect by successive governments, hence the decay as currently obtained. The sector is structured in such a way that tertiary education is placed above other forms of formal/informal education instead of playing complementary roles. It is just recently that the Federal Government took decisive actions at levelling the huge and unnecessary gap between university and polytechnic graduates. Meanwhile, education, irrespective of where and when obtained, is supposed to the acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitude.

A renowned professor and former Secretary of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Fatunde, while sharing his thoughts with me on the sorry state of education in Nigeria, said the country’s leaders were insincere about the development of the sector.

He also said skills acquisition formed an integral part of education (from primary to university level) in some countries as opposed to current practice in Nigeria.

Excerpts from the interview:

“Funding of universities and other certificate awarding institutions has been deliberately low since the time of Gen. Yakubu Gowon.

“And, since then, teachers/lecturers have not stopped demanding quality funding of education in Nigeria. To push home their demands, lecturers consistently embark on strike action and that is still the case till now as you are aware.

“Less than four per cent of the annual budget is allocated to education. Recent findings show that a senator earns over 24 million naira monthly. That is more than my accumulated salary in 48 months! And there is nothing they are doing to justify receiving these outrageous amounts.

“We are in the 21stcentury that is governed by two issues – knowledge economy and the digital revolution.

Fortunately, these are mass-based and not strictly for the elite. However, to benefit from both the knowledge economy and digital revolution, we need a population that are well educated so that they can fit in maximally. And that is where the issue of quality investment in education comes in again.

“Japan today imports its drinking water but they are the second best-organised economy. The secret behind this amazing feat, just as in South Korea, is that they have invested in human beings. If you take the annual budget of Japan and the annual budget of all the rich industrialised countries today, more than half of such is devoted to education and vocational training.

“The latest example is South Korea, a country that witnessed a horrible war. Immediately after the second world war, everything was flattened to the ground but, today, South Korea is the fifth largest and most buoyant economy in the world.

“For your information, the South Korea as of 1960/62 was at the same level as Nigeria. They were able to raise the bars because they had leaders who decided to invest massively in education and vocational training without a political revolution.

“Their university environment is structured in such a way that while you are receiving normal lectures, you are also mandated to learn a skill. The universities had vocational training centres that make it easy for students to also pick on a skill they so desire.

“About 11 million children in Nigeria are out of school, that’s a world record and the Federal Government is aware. On a larger view, it is estimated that half of the Nigerian citizens cannot read and write.

Now, let us imagine a scenario that would have played out if Nigeria decides to invest massively in education like South Korea. First of all, the children will be in school and the literacy level will increase. All the chaos here and there wouldn’t be as many of the youths will be preoccupied with something positive.

“South Korea was flattened by the war and they decided to take the bull by the horns, by ensuring that a larger share of their annual budget is continually invested in education and vocational training. And the results of these investments are their buoyant economy and various gadgets developed by them.

“If Nigeria continues to invest three to four per cent of its annual budget on education, it is a straight passport to Afghanistan.”

‘We don’t want our children to be less accomplished than their peers in future’

While gathering information for this report, most parents did not falter the importance of skill acquisition to complement whatever degree their children acquired. However, this reporter observed that some parents still share the opinion that any skill not taught within the four walls of a formal institution appears cheap and invalid.

“How can I allow my children learn a skill when I can afford to give them the best of education? Is it not you people that say education is the best legacy? I didn’t have the privilege of attending school while I was growing up because it was a luxury my parents can’t afford, hence my determination to ensure my children are all and well educated. If the school feels it is important to pick up a skill, it should embed it in their curriculum rather than asking me to allow them learn my handwork or register them separately with a roadside vendors also struggling to make it in life,” so said a male respondent when I asked him why he didn’t allow any of his children to learn from him, being a successful fashion designer himself.

But it’s a different case for 15-year-old Akintunde who is an apprentice at a popular electrical workshop in the Ikotun area of Lagos. He just completed his secondary education and is awaiting admission into a polytechnic and not a university as preferred by most young school leavers. Asked why he chose to learn a skill rather than staying at home or attending tutorials in preparation for admission like his mates, he said: “I started learning in this workshop over two years ago. I’m due for graduation (freedom) later this year. I’ve always wanted to be an engineer. However, based on my research, engineering is practice-based. I told my parents and we agreed on two things: seek admission into a polytechnic instead of a university and also take up a skill in engineering as soon as I clock 13. By the time I finish here, I’ll have acquired the basic skills needed throughout my career in the polytechnic, unlike my mates who might find everything strange and difficult”, he said.

Another parent who does not want her name mentioned said: “The world is fast changing and I think Nigeria’s university educational system should tag along the change. People should stop asking parents to enrol their children specially for skills when they can obtain same in the university. The number of years spent in the university is enough to acquire both skills and degrees,” she said.

Challenges of vocational education in Nigeria

Vocational education will thrive, but only if the issues affecting its implementation to the educational sector are sorted. Vocational training can contribute to the reduction of poverty, hunger and unemployment if the challenges are addressed.

First and foremost, educational institutions lack qualified teachers that can handle vocational subjects. Qualified vocational educators play a significant role in ensuring that their students enjoy practical learning.

Nevertheless, the primary challenge is that a qualified teacher may not accept a low-paying job, even if he or she has a passion for teaching vocational education.

Many educational institutions do not see the need to explain vocational/technical education to students in the first place. Hence, the reason they exclude it from their curriculum and therefore do not require qualified teachers for their students.

Another significant challenge is lack of/insufficient facilities. Vocational education departments in schools in Nigeria do not have the facilities or workspace to train and educate students. Art departments in primary and secondary schools lack the amenities needed to teach vocational studies to children.

According to Oryem Origa (2005), only 40% of institutions of Higher Education in Nigeria have laboratory or workshop space for technical education programmes.

Most of what is available in Nigerian schools are the items that were provided when the division was first set up, which is often outdated.

The lack of sufficient facilities makes it difficult to provide high-quality vocational education. Corporate organisations and alumni associations should ensure they provide an enabling environment for vocational education as students will enjoy working in well-equipped laboratories and workshops. By providing these facilities to students, their creative skills will more likely develop.

Another challenge killing vocational education is the lack of training and incentives to staff. Most educational institutions do not educate and train their teams on vocational education. Training is an essential aspect of education and provides an opportunity for employees to expand their knowledge. Without appropriate training, employees can become demotivated and this may impact negatively on the learning process.

Educational institutions should consider training their staff in vocational education to boost their knowledge and motivate them to teach these subjects. Aside from training staff in vocational education, schools should look into providing incentives to employees that perform exceptionally well.

Furthermore, elected and appointed political office holders in Nigeria show a lack of concern in introducing vocational education into the school’s curriculum. It will take technical educators to convince lawmakers to give priority to providing the required resources for such programmes.

Lawmakers’ attention to vocational education is negligible; their devotion to the success of the economy is focused on other sectors. The effort to get political holders to pay more attention to vocational education has proved difficult over the years.

However, with the proliferation of more and more intellectuals in Nigeria’s political arena, there is hope that vocational education will see the light of day and be positioned as one of the solutions to drive the technological advancement of the country.

Finally, a recurring factor that has for long affected the total embrace of vocation education is the ‘Nigerian value system.’ As observed from the interviews conducted above, Nigerian parents share the mentality that a university degree is more important than technical or social training. There is too much emphasis on getting a university qualification, not bearing in mind whether the holder possesses the required knowledge and skills. In

Nigeria, people go to school with the mindset that education will give them the opportunity to contribute to society.

However, from the look of things, full input in Nigerian society requires vocational and technical training at all levels of our education system, which will identify the different skills and abilities and give equal opportunity to all students to prepare for work. Teaching students vocational education is the most effective way to build a secure socio-economic environment for everyone regardless of race, gender or personal belief.
Way forward for vocational education in Nigeria

There is still hope for vocational education in Nigeria. All it takes is for educational institutions to include it into the school’s curriculum. If it is introduced into the prospectus, it will give students the opportunity to learn life skills that will help them in the future.

Also, for those that dropped out of school due to the inability to pay school fees or struggle in academics, vocational education can help build up their talents and enable them to secure well-paying jobs to take care of their families. For this reason, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and other affiliated unions should back up the government in establishing functional vocational centres in the local government areas from where the people could go and acquire some job skills. This will reduce crime rate in the country and also increase the standard of living for the Nigerian people.

Secondly, there should be a shift in the mindset of educational institutions regarding vocational education. Already, private schools are beginning to embrace and offer vocational training to their students. Many od such students are already learning robotics, crafts, drama and information technology. Schools are starting to realise that not every graduate will practise what they studied in schools.

Today, we have lots of lawyers who are actors, doctors who are fashion designers and pharmacists who are traders. The inability of our educational system to provide the youths with the demands of industries has led to increased frustrations; this further validates the fact that vocational education is essential.

Graduates looking for jobs can use their skills to set up their businesses and earn income. The training of students in vocational education brings about both immediate and lasting economic returns for the country and its citizens.

It is crucial for our vocational institutions to develop good relationships with similar institutes overseas, as this will promote the cross-sharing of ideas and improve technology transfer. By doing this, the vocational institutions in Nigeria will have access to up-to-date developments and other numerous benefits.

There is a huge necessity for vocational education in Nigeria. It is vital for educational institutions to provide the resources needed to teach vocational studies in schools. It is significant for parents, educators and even the government to note the relevance of scholars studying vocational education.

Following the recommendations above will help bridge the age long gap between tertiary and vocational education in Nigeria.

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