At a UNESCO workshop on the revitalisation of technical and vocational education and training (TVET – I write mainly about post primary TVET) in West Africa held in Abuja in 2009, I said as representative of the African Union that ‘I am very impressed with what I saw in Kaduna during our visit yesterday [referring to a visit to the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) offices and vocational training centre in Kaduna] and I am proud to be a Nigerian…’ Am I proud of my Nigerian nationality? Certainly Yes! Am I proud of our approach to TVET? I was seriously mistaken!
TVET in Nigeria
Every time you enter a new building or a hotel, the evidence is staring you in the face – poor finishing of tiling, plastering, furniture, plumbing, electrical fittings to internal communication system. This goes to show that our TVET strategy and implementation needs fixing, and urgently so. TVET was one of the earliest education systems in Nigeria with systems of apprenticeship established in various trades: ‘pottery, smithing, farming, basketry, wood-carving’ and the likes, in various nation states. Around 1932, the Yaba College of Technology started providing tertiary level formal TVET training in the southwest of the country. Formal and informal TVET training is provided in Nigeria, with the higher proportion at the non-formal level, through various forms of apprenticeship. An OECD report indicates that in the formal sector, TVET makes up only one per cent of the total education system and this is even less for women.
Problems of TVET
There are two problems as I see it. The first is a problem of perception (not just at individual level but even at institutional level!) and as a result, the second is educational strategy. Traditionally, young people’s aspirations in Nigeria have had a slant towards the more ‘prestigious’ vocations such as Medicine, Law, Engineering, Accounting, etc. The few exceptions who aspire to be photographers, tailors, electrician, welder or motor mechanic have been discouraged by their parents and peers, and sometimes threatened withdrawal of support. TVET is relegated to the position of alternative for dull students and is supported in some states and local governments through ad hoc ‘skills acquisition programmes.’ The lack of adequate investment in secondary school level TVET has not helped much either. In many states where education is key policy, the focus has remained on the ‘grammar school’, leaving out for the most part a focus on TVET. In one state, the government’s massive investment in secondary education has barely benefited TVET schools, and these schools are gradually disappearing.
Yet for a country that is pursuing the goal of becoming one of the world’s 20 largest economies by the year 2020, TVET should in fact be the front burner. Across the board, it is largely agreed that Nigeria needs new skills in the construction, oil and gas and other skill intensive industries. Given the dominance of traditional apprenticeship systems, many of the potential workers in these sectors are not adequately trained, and therefore the sector is saturated by Filipinos, Chinese, Beninese, Togolese and Ghanaians! Such capital flight, in a country with around 23 per cent unemployment, can be minimised if the right investments are made in technical skills development and training.
So what’s to be done?
Nigeria’s TVET needs to be market focused. The recent TVET policy, strategy and curriculum review process should take into account what the market really needs. Nigeria’s cooperation with UNESCO on the revitalisation of TVET must go beyond the pilot stage, and focus sufficiently on delivery at institutional level. To achieve this, states need to be better integrated into the process, an audit of TVET at state level needs to be conducted in various states with the full buy-in of the states and a comprehensive database of all existing pre-tertiary TVET institutions need to be developed. It is also important that at tertiary level, the degrees and HNDs are equalised, as a means to encourage students to pursue the TVET track from secondary school, leading to better utilisation of the polytechnics and post secondary technical colleges.
Adequate funding befitting of the TVET’s importance needs to be allocated, in order to ensure that required learning tools and equipment are purchased, teachers are adequately trained and paid, curriculum is updated, new technologies are adopted or adapted and students have adequate opportunities for learning exchange through internships. In this regard, the students work experience scheme (SIWES) and the industrial training fund (ITF) need to be better managed and should better work with industry to ensure that students are afforded appropriate learning integration while still studying. Such collaboration with industry should also aim to ensure that the skills that they learn are relevant to today’s market needs. The PPP strategy can also be extended to TVET, with government engaging the private sector in devising means to secure long term support for TVET from the private sector.
Towards 20: 2020
Nigeria’s prospects of achieving its vision 20: 2020 is strongly linked to the strength of its TVET strategy and the earlier it pays due attention to the TVET sector the better for its army of unemployed youth, and the better for its stability and potential to achieve this goal. While the government is paying attention to higher education, demonstrated in its establishment of new Universities (which I will write about in another post), the best starting point is primary and secondary education, and TVET should be a cardinal part of this. This much is supported in global agreements such as the millennium development goals, the education for all framework and the African Union’s strategy for TVET and its second decade on education. It is my hope that there could be a meaningful national dialogue on the subject of expanding access to and quality of TVET in Nigeria, now more than ever.