• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Repositioning Nigeria’s tertiary education through technology (1)


As technology continues to play a major role in redefining how value and national wealth are created and distributed STEPHEN ONYEKWELU writes that human capital development through tertiary education has become critical in helping nations achieve set developmental goals.

The paradigm of “knowledge driven economy” (KDE) or “the new economy” describes an economy in which the generation and exploitation of knowledge generate value and wealth. It is a more effective use of all types of knowledge and creativity in all manner of economic activity. This is made endemic by technological advances and globalisation.

Governments all over the world want their countries to have high-value, high skills economies, and they recognise that the first step towards realising this is to have a well-educated workforce.  A knowledge-driven economy demands a larger proportion of the workforce to possess higher education and access to lifelong learning opportunities.

Nigeria largely generates its wealth and power from the control of physical assets: oil, land, steel and coal. However, in the 21st century, this must change. The major source of value and competitive advantage in the knowledge economy is human and intellectual capital. With a population of over 150 million, Nigeria, in theory, has the latent capacity to effectively transition into a truly knowledge-driven economy. For this to happened, higher education systems and institutions must be repositioned.

“Science and Technology has not developed sufficiently well in Nigeria to influence national policies and ethos. Our leaders are not thinking in a sufficiently scientific manner to champion technology as a vehicle to enhance national development. Unfortunately, in a world, driven by science and technology – no significant improvement in our lives can happen without focused development of science and technology” Oyewusi Ibidapo Obe, distinguished professor, Vice Chancellor, Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwu, Ebonyi State.

Advanced economies have responded proactively to the dramatic challenges and changes a knowledge-technology-driven economy poses by according high political and financial priority to higher education and are reaping the benefits thereof. This cannot be said of most sub-Saharan African countries for which the fruits of tertiary education remain elusive.      

For instance, in 2013, a commission set up by the European Union (EU) to evaluate the quality of teaching and learning in Europe’s higher education institutions summited its report and in it were found shocking realities “until the 20th century, university education catered for tiny elites. The 19th century university education saw the model cater for a system in which 2 per cent of the population entered university”, the report stressed. This is disturbing because it broadens social exclusion and increases the number of unemployable youth, who are then prone to various forms of deviant social behaviours.

To rectify this situation, the EU set the ambitious goal of 40 per cent graduation of all young people by 2020. Although in some European countries, over 50 per cent of young people progress to and through higher education. They come from diverse cultural, social and economic backgrounds. 

Africa has over 200 million people aged between 15 and 24. This means Africa has the youngest population in the world. It keeps growing rapidly. The number of young people will double by 2045. About 65 per cent of the total population of Africa is below the age of 35.  According to the 2015 State of Education in Africa report: only 6 per cent of young people in sub-Saharan Africa are enrolled in higher education institutions compared to the global average of 26 per cent.

Over 35 million young Nigerians are of age to attend higher education, that is 18 years and above. Of these only a paltry 1.7 million apply to acquire higher education, annually, which is about 5 per cent of the sample set under consideration. Out of 1.7 million that apply, about 5 hundred thousand secure provisional admissions at institutions of higher education; this is 1.4 per cent of the total number of young Nigerians of age to acquire higher education.

Nevertheless, the drive to increase the numbers who enter and complete higher education makes significant sense only when it is accompanied by a definite resolve to ensure that the teaching and learning experienced in higher education institutions is the best it can possibly be, measured by its relevance to national, social, economic and political development.

This is urgent because of the need to use perceived scarce resources effectively when many higher education institutions face substantial underfunding, experience an ever changing higher education landscape and evolving nature of applied science institutions, research universities, Bachelor of Arts colleges, and higher institutions actively involved in the lifelong learning.

In 1997, Michael Hooker argued that the nineteenth century model of teaching in European higher institutions of learning is still in force. Teaching has not changed much since. Profoundly, teaching is still a process of imparting knowledge through lectures – teacher-centric. Yet the environment or context in which higher learning takes place has changed, and, changed dramatically. Pedagogical paradigm designed for small institutions catering to an elite few is stretched and under pressure to adapt to the much more varied needs of the many, to the greater diversification and specialisation within higher education, to new technology-enabled forms of delivery of education programmes, as well as momentous changes to science, technology, medicine, social and political science, the world of work, and to the onward march of democracy and human and civil rights discourses.

In April 1983 The National Commission on Excellence in Education submitted a report titled “A Nation at Risk – The Imperative of Educational Reform” to the Secretary of Education, United States of America’s Department of Education. An excerpt from the report says it all:

…the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur – others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.

Nations all over the recognise education is the bedrock of national development. Nigeria is not in a position to ignore the critical role education plays in national development. An important question that must first be asked and answered is what is the state of education particularly science and technology education in Nigeria. Since this is what drives the KDE.

“The state of science and technology education in Nigeria can simply be described as parlous. Happily the new Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu and the Minister of Science and Technology Ogbonnaya Onu have vouched to do something to ensure a turnaround of fortune. Deficiencies are bountiful in terms of input especially resources for delivering quality; process especially the predominance of theoretical manner in which technology is taught; and in terms of output notably poor quality graduates. We shamefully cannot produce on a massive scale the simplest car and have to import most of our technology-dependent needs including toothpicks” lamented Peter Okebukola, lecturer, Lagos State University. What is the way forward? The sequel to this feature will deal answer with the question.