A few years ago, while in the waiting room of a clinic, I saw an article in one of the newspapers that caught my attention. I instantly snapped a picture of it and sent it to my wife with the caption, “Baby, just as I have been saying”. The supposed article was not really an article at all though but a short quote by Muyiwa Falaiye, the Dean of Arts at the University of Lagos at the time and it went like this:
”Over 60 per cent of those in universities today ought not to be there in the first place; they ought to be somewhere else. Unless we have a change of mindset about this, things will remain the same.”
I am reminded of something my late father once told us. He regaled us with so many wonderful stories; some hilarious, some tinged with a little sadness but all instructive and pregnant with wisdom. He said his mum one day came to him and it was evident by her demeanour that she wanted to say or enquire about something. He recognized the pained look of hesitancy on her face, so he knew he would need to draw her out on this one. Ever so gently, he asked her with all the respect an African child could muster to ask his doting mother if anything was the matter. At first, yet unable to speak but by the mere shaking of the head she managed to gesture “no”. Suddenly it burst out as if to contain it a second longer would choke her, “Babafemi, when will you too attain the scholarly heights that will require you to wear glasses?” I paraphrased in English. Daddy almost fell off his chair! Not to appear as if he was mocking his illiterate mother’s ignorance, he quickly pulled himself together. He later came to realise that her reluctance to just come out with it was because in spite of her burning desire to see her son become “eeyan nla” (a successful person) she did not want to appear to belittle her “village boy done good” commendable achievements.
Many a time, in our quest to see our children succeed, we misdirect our efforts by pushing them in a direction, which if only we took a little time to ponder over, we would realise was not in their interest. Is this as a result of operating in auto pilot or simply because of a tendency to follow the crowd? Is it an exercise in keeping up with the Joneses as many are wont to do? Or is it the misconception that the only thing to separate the “men” from the “boys” is the all-conquering university degree certificate? Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to minimize the critical role university education must play to advance our nation. I simply want us to acknowledge the gaping hole in our level of development in spite of it. In the property development sector alone, over one hundred billion naira was spent last year to employ the services of foreign masons; Togolese and the like. Is this because they were born with greater abilities?
Many a time, in our quest to see our children succeed, we misdirect our efforts
Certainly not, it is just the result of better training. The typical Nigerian parent wants his or her child to acquire a university degree whether this is what’s best for the child or not. The home truth is, just as it is in the developed nations we look up to, we are not all cut out for university. For some young individuals, a purely academic pursuit may not be their thing, so coercing them to university may be doing them a great disservice, from which they may never fully recover. A more practical training combined with classroom education may just be up their street.
I do believe we need a total overhaul of mindset for our nation to take its rightful place amongst the progressive nations. It is time we begin to look at what truly matters and pursue it with wisdom. It is time we place greater premium on substance and content and less on frivolities such as appearance. Unfortunately, our status as an import dependent nation is not limited to just the importation of goods but to the “importation” of expatriates also. And why is this so?
There is a remarkable dearth of Nigerians who possess the technical expertise required to take us where we want to go. Just imagine the resources the nation can save if only we had enough home grown sound technicians. I have often wondered why we do not take a more serious look at the vocational education and training system, better known as the dual education system; made famous by that European industrial giant, Germany. I am not in a position to proffer modalities on how best to make this model work here but I’m convinced it could go a long way to claw us back to where we should be. This German style dual education has been replicated with great success in several countries, developed and developing countries alike. Among the developed countries other than Germany are Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg and Denmark; notable among the developing are Malaysia and India. Upon further investigation, I was not at all surprised to discover that in addition to high level skills, Germany and Austria have the lowest unemployment rates amongst European Union countries accompanied by Switzerland which lies outside the union. Is this a mere coincidence? I think not.
The appeal of dual education at a vocational training college or at times at a university of cooperative education lies in the fact that it combines theory with practice on the job. The modalities may vary from one institution to the other but by way of an example; a student/trainee may spend two days of the week attending lectures at the college and spend the other three to four days working as a trainee in a relevant business or industry. The student/trainee is paid an allowance by the company, a cost mitigated by what it subsequently benefits from its now trained apprentice. Because the cost of this scheme can be quite burdensome on the participating companies, the government – which is the ultimate beneficiary when skilled labour increases and the unemployment rate drops as a result of more jobs being created – could do well to consider giving the companies involved some sort of tax break to encourage increased participation. Naturally, this would provide added incentive.
In the countries that practice this scheme, the great majority of participating companies regard vocational training as the best form of personnel recruitment as they not only save on recruitment costs but it guards against eventually hiring the wrong people. Of course the student too benefits immensely by getting market relevant training while also receiving the right academic training. It provides a win-win situation for all as the society too is able to bridge the potential gap of technical expertise. In Germany, this system is so highly regarded, having been credited as a major catalyst to the nation taking its seat at the top of the industrial tree. It is worthy of note that about fifty percent of all school leavers in Germany participate in this program.
Changing the nation…one mind at a time