Sometime in last year, President Mohammed Buhari charged the Ministry of Education to convene a ministerial summit on education to tackle the challenges facing the education sector in Nigeria so as not to miss the globally Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) train, the driving force of which is education. Education of the citizens is key to other sectors of the economy because “any success recorded in education will have a ripple effect on every other sector of our life,” the President said then.
Statistics provided by the Minister of Education show that as at 2017, over 65 per cent of Nigerian population are illiterates. If we peg the population of Nigeria at 200 million, this means that over 130 million Nigerians are illiterates, a situation the minister described as ‘unbecoming.’ But beyond the illiteracy figure is the quality of education given even to those who are fortunate to attend school.
Although the summit was supposed to have been held way earlier, maybe weeks after the president made the charge, we are still glad it is holding at all and wish to draw attention of policy makers to the following nagging issues in education in the country.
Besides the real issue of access to education for all Nigerians, one urgent area to fix is the mismatch between what is currently taught in schools and the real needs of the outside world. Currently, our education curriculum emphasises more of rot-learning, factual knowledge and specific subject matter. We must de-emphasis those and instead emphasise the learning of fundamental, technical and inter-personal skills (language, mathematical reasoning, scientific and social enquiry, analysis, communication, inter-personal skills and general emotional intelligence) to enable the individual function in socially and professionally heterogeneous work settings.
The Nigerian education curriculum has to change or be reinvigorated to emphasise the teaching of entrepreneurship, vocational skills, critical thinking, leadership, communication and soft skills from inception.
The problem may be that there is, as yet, no any form of collaboration between educational institutions and employers to allow employers communicate clearly their skills requirements to the educational institutions. Hence, the educational institutions churn out graduates that do not have the skills required by employers and have no skills to become self-reliant or entrepreneurs themselves. Perhaps, we have a lot to learn from the German model.
Germany’s vocational education programme is a dual system whereby students learn in the classroom and also learn by doing. Typically, trainees attend vocational school one or two days per week, studying the theory and practice of their occupation as well as economics and social studies, foreign languages, and other general subjects. They also do a working apprenticeship in their chosen field where they receive about one-third of the salary of a trained skilled worker.
Germany policy-makers know that not all students like or flourish under the traditional studies system. They realise some clearly don’t have aptitude for college or academic work but are great with their hands. But they see all the kids as potential assets who will shine if they are matched with the right vocation. And it created a system – a strong partnership of employers and unions with government – to do the matching and provide the necessary training. It is not surprising that a majority of German students (some 51.5 per cent) choose this path and Germany has perhaps, one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world.
Second, we must tackle the issue of quality in our universities. Sadly, in recent times and despite the proliferation of universities and so-called academics, there has been a noticeable drop in the quality of our academics and their contribution to global knowledge base in their disciplines. Yet these are the people that are supposed to train Nigerians to be competitive globally in their various fields of endeavours.
We will not mince words. Most of our universities are now a caricature of what a university should be. They are now bereft of any serious academic endeavour and our so-called academics are lost in the conversations within their disciplines due to constant strikes, poor funding and continuous watering of standards. Haven cut themselves off from ‘the conversations’ with their global colleagues, they now create illusory ‘fiefdoms’ in the various universities where they are lords, create their own journals where they ‘converse’ with themselves, assess themselves and award themselves professorships with relish. Meanwhile, the degrees from the universities are almost meaningless. Until the universities and standards are brought back, we may continue to miss out in the global market place of ideas and will continue to churn out school leavers that are not fit to compete in the modern world.