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Post-secondary education: Building a generation of problem-solvers

Nigeria needs to produce graduates with 21st century skills needed to drive innovation and enterprise.

For the country, a vibrant artisanal educational system, which is also known as Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET), must become a critical component of its post-secondary education system.

The country’s bloating youth unemployment, worsening poverty rate, declining life expectancy and deteriorating quality of life could be traced to a post-secondary education system that is developing a generation of consumers in place of one that can solve Nigeria’s pressing social and economic problems.

In this context, many well-educated young Nigerians compete for limited number of prestigious full-time jobs, rather than apply for less desirable employment options. Many choose to remain out of work in the hope of securing better jobs.

The World Economic Forum ranked 130 countries on their Human Capital Development Index in 2017, and Nigeria ranked 114, among the lowest 20 globally, showing the country’s human capital is poorly prepared for competition in a fast- changing global economy.

Africa’s most populous country ranked lower than Rwanda, which was 71st on the list; Ghana, which squared 72nd; Cameroon, with 73rd position; Mauritius with 74thposition, and South Africa, which posted 87th. Only Ethiopia ranked worse than Nigeria at 127th.

The leaders of the Index are generally economies with a longstanding commitment to their people’s educational attainment and that have deployed broad share of their workforce in skill-intensive occupations across a broad range of sectors.

Nigeria’s post-secondary education tends to emphasise acquisition of certificates, rather than competence. Yet, the ability to solve social and economic problems is what creates businesses and businesses create jobs. Creating jobs is the number one task for the Nigerian economy and its managers in 2019. This needs to be embedded in the curriculum design and delivery at all levels of education, particularly the post-secondary phase, experts say. This follows from the latest unemployment figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics, which says that Nigeria nurses a high 23 percent unemployment rate.

Youth unemployment is worrisome, but even more worrisome is the fact that only a few of them would ever access the so-called tertiary education. The numbers for this will be presented below. First, youth unemployment figures are scary.

The National Bureau of Statistics, in its data, defines a youth as anyone between the ages of 15 and 34. They make up almost 50 percent of the active labour force or one out of every two persons in the country that is of working age and is actively searching for job.

In absolute numbers, there are 44 million youths in the active labour force of 90 million. But only 19.73 million, representing 45 percent of the active youth labour force, are in full time employment. The NBS defines full-time employment as anyone who works for more than 40 hours a week, which means that person is fully engaged at work for at least eight hours from Monday to Friday, which are the normal working days.

The other 55 percent of youths in the active labour force are basically hustling. The data show 11.36 million youths, about 26 percent, work anywhere between 20 hours to 39 hours in a week or less than eight hours in a day. Another six million (14 percent) of youths in the active labour force work less than 20 hours a day while seven million youths, representing 16 percent of the active labour force, are sitting at home doing nothing, despite the fact that they are actively searching for job.

The situation may worsen if nothing is done urgently. Nigeria’s population is projected to exceed 300 million by 2050. Fifty percent of Nigeria’s in-school children are not learning because they cannot read and write; 63 percent of them living in the rural areas cannot read and around 83 percent of children in lowest economic quartile cannot read at all, according to the Strategic Plan Education Development 2016 designed by the Federal Ministry of Education.

A nation’s productivity is directly linked to the economic activities of its citizens. With growth of communications technology, expansions brought by the World Wide Web and the influence of globalisation, movement of labour across national boundaries is taken for granted. A country either exports high quality artisanal workforce (plumbers, technicians and bricklayers) or it is forced to import same. Nigeria already imports high quality artisanal labour from neighbouring Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana. Again, this is a function of the quality of post-secondary education, which goes beyond attending a college of education, polytechnic or university.

Besides, over 1.5 million candidates who apply annually for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, only 800, 000 have a chance of being admitted in any of Nigeria’s tertiary institutions of learning because this is about the number universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education put together can absorb.

A dynamic TVET develops problem solvers, who would build Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), which drive real growth in an emerging economy such as Nigeria’s.

However, that role will be better played when the sector is equipped with relevant competencies and skills it needs to function effectively. In other words, the SME sector must have the capacity and dynamism demanded by the realities of the modern world. The boisterous nature of its members and their abundant energies are necessary but hardly sufficient condition for an effective delivery of its role in the economy.

Furthermore, the development of highly specialised fields such as software developers, engineers, medical doctors, scientists and other forms of expertise, can be achieved through infrastructure and personnel audit of tertiary education institutions, for immediate upgrade. Those who survive the tortuous process of acquiring knowledge from Nigeria’s tertiary institutions vote with their feet by departing to places such as Canada, the United Kingdom and United States of America.

Nigeria’s universities face a number of challenges. First is the issue of deteriorating infrastructure and where students can practice theories learnt in the classrooms.

Unfortunately the industrial backbone has been weak and the entire economy has been run as one big consumer market dominated by imports from all over the world especially China. Hence there are no outlets to practice these theories.

Secondly, the institutions themselves need to be upgraded both for the human ware as well as the soft and hardware to enable the students study in a 21st Century learning environment. ‘In-breeding’ is creeping into the university system. This is anti-innovation and progress. The quality of lecturers in the tertiary institutions need urgent audit.

 

STEPHEN ONYEKWELU

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