By Ayobami Salami
More than ever before, the vital road not yet taken in our educational system is staring us in the face. That is TVET: Technical and Vocational Education and Training. The term is so comprehensive – yet so precise – that one can feel the effects of its absence in every critical area of our national life. Since our mutual pretence that all is well with our policy in the sector has not saved us from the blind alley in which we have found ourselves in terms of development gap, it’s high time we told ourselves the truth that our educational ideology and system should be reconfigured in favour of TVET.
TVET refers to aspects of the educational process involving, in addition to general education, the study of technologies and related sciences, as well as the acquisition of practical skills, attitudes, understanding and knowledge relating to occupants in various sectors of economic and social life. UNESCO and the International Labour Organisation agree on this definition, a description that shows that TVET is so encompassing that it also largely accommodates academic knowledge, as symbolised by ‘general education’.
The importance of TVET in every society makes our uninspiring handling of it in Nigeria self-destructing. Ours is a country where there is a huge infrastructural gap. As a consuming economy, we import things produced via TVET by other lands, thus shelling out our barely available forex to the detriment of our prosperity. We not only import equipment and various tools, we also import technical hands to handle them. In our show of unwisdom, we compare artisans from other countries to ours and gleefully conclude that the foreigners (even from as near as Cotonou in the Republic of Benin) are better. And that is often the truth because we fail to give our people proper technical, vocational and entrepreneurial education, all of which TVET covers, while it does not leave literacy behind.
The aim of TVET is basically to ensure that our youths are empowered, for them to be responsible citizens, responsible to themselves so that they won’t be a burden to society. If we look at the trend of youth populations globally, we will find out that we have cause to worry in Nigeria. For instance, while it is low in the Middle East and Latin America, and coming down in Asia, it is shooting up in Africa, particularly Nigeria. Now, this is a time bomb if we don’t do something about it. How many industries are we going to establish to catch up with this growing rate? So, if we are not waiting for tomorrow that is laden with disaster, we have to do something about it. And the time to do that is yesterday!
Towards deepening TVET in Nigeria, there is a lot we can learn from countries such as China and India. Although I will not be able to fully dissect their policies in this article, it is worthy of note that they put TVET on the same pedestal as academic education, if not higher than it in some areas. A proof of this is found in the high numbers of their well-administered TVET institutions. While China has 15, 091 of such institutions, India has 14, 312. Nigeria? Just 406 plus 222 polytechnics! Figures apart, China has a structure that makes it compulsory for every pupil to have TVET education in the foundation school, even if they are not going to specialise in it later. The policy then provides a smooth and clear path towards specialisation as the individual climbs the ladder of education. Very importantly too, it makes the ladder so flexible that one can cross from scholarship to TVET and vice-versa. It does not make either a junior or suffering option. And the result of that is visible in terms of the development that has become its lot.
Ironically, Nigeria also started early and well. But, in the same way we have lost many values and other assets in every facet of our lives, we could not preserve what we envisioned. The first Nigerian higher educational and/or technical institute was established in1947 – Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH). It offers training in applied sciences, engineering, technology, commerce and management, agricultural production and distribution, and research. In 1952, three Colleges of Arts, Science and Technology were established in Zaria, Ibadan and Enugu. But enrolment was poor because of the general belief then that technical education is inferior to other types of education. It was thus not surprising that, in 1962, the three colleges were closed and their assets taken over by the first-generation universities of Ife, Zaria and Nsukka. In the 1970s more universities, polytechnics, and other colleges of higher learning were established but most of them were not technical-oriented as they offer courses in liberal arts, social sciences and sciences.
For us to get it right, as it is never too late for a people to correct a blunder as grave as neglecting TVET, technical education should be introduced and strengthened in our education policy. It should not be treated as being junior or inferior to intellectual education because if an inspiring perspective is not created about it from policy level, we will be sending a wrong signal to society. The policy should also be accordingly implemented. Awareness should be created massively that academic education and TVET are not mutually exclusive. Put differently, everyone needs to know that having vocational and technical education does not mean illiteracy in scholarship. The beauty of the system, indeed, is that it accommodates the intellectual, physical and creative domains.
Also, TVET should be introduced and taught right from foundation schools. This will generate the interest of children early enough, so that they will grow up with its idea. Many of them will eventually specialise in it later. In this light, we must train and encourage more TVET teachers. The training should involve both academic and industry experts. We should also consciously standardise the conditions of service of the educators to erase the picture of inferiority often presented in our society. The above, coupled with the need for massive awareness creation, are capable of revolutionalising TVET in Nigeria, and it will put us on the road of genuine all-round development.
I have some good news to share in this respect about the philosophy of the First Technical University (Tech-U) with regards to TVET. Travelling this road less travelled, Tech-U puts technical, vocational and entrepreneurial competence at the heart of scholarship. Upon resumption, for instance, students are exposed to mandatory four weeks vocational and technical training. No matter the courses they are pursuing, they are later integrated into the Directorate of Technical, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training to bridge the gap between theory and practice. We have also established the Directorate of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer to coordinate IP and Industrial synergy, just as we foster town and gown relationship through strong synergy with the industries and technical/professional bodies.
Of course, the university also appoints professionals as members of the faculties. At the end of our programmes, students will thus able be to stand out whether in employment or as employers. It is a system that has already started yielding results based of the feedback we get from organisations that they join for industrial attachment.
Besides, some of them have been involved in construction work – painting, welding, fabrication, electrical etc. – going on campus. They are involved not as ordinary labourers but, on their own volition, as supporting hands for contractors who find them incredibly reliable. This is part of the reason the university has made provision for start-up fund for those of them with brilliant entrepreneurial and technical ideas. It is this kind of experience that has turned one an advocate of TVET on a fundamental scale, at the state and national levels.
Professor Salami is the Vice Chancellor, First Technical University, Ibadan