It is my opinion that the debate about the education sector in Nigeria should be framed differently. It shouldn't be about throwing money at Universities. It shouldn't also be about the Federal Government insisting that the Academic Staff Union of Univrsities should call of their strike. It is easy to take sides with one of the above and pitch tents in matters of this nature. But that is the most simplistic approach to solving problems of this magnitude. If I were to take sides at all, it would be with the down trodden masses whose quest for quality education in Nigeria is fast fading away. I would rather take sides with the market woman who labors and slaves to send her boys to school only for them to graduate and the Federal Government tells them they are unemployable while the multi national conglomerates say they lack the requisite skill.
Our nation remains Africa's biggest market because of the sheer size of its youth population. This means that for every job opportunity there are hundreds of thousands queuing up for the slot. If our society were a meritorious one, that would mean that in the best case scenario to even get employed in a place like Nigeria you have to be very good. But since our society has such ideas like quota system, federal character and all sundry institutionalization of mediocrity, it no longer matters how good you are.
Meanwhile our world is becoming smaller. In the sense that a job in an American firm is a smartphone click away! My step brother is with the United States of America Army. All the way from our living room! That's how small our world has gotten. That means that he doesn't just have to be a good Nigerian soldier in the midst of hundreds of thousands, he now has to be a good soldier in the midst of aa larger pool drawn from as many nations of the world as possible. This same scenario plays out in every profession. As a lawyer, you are no longer requires to compete against Nigerian Lawyers only. If you ever want to make a mark on the international stage, you're in obvious competition with lawyers from all continents of the world before whom you must be able to prove your onions. And like we have already established, the international stage just got smaller... It just shrunk and it keeps shrinking yearly with ever increasing globalization.
Our world has changed in many ways. What employers required from graduates in our parents days in certainly not what they require today. Most employers today will lament the dearth of higher skills. After most job interviews, employers have said time without number that they are at a loss what to do with the large percentage of people lacking the requisite creativity to come up ith solutions of their own without total recourse to already existing solutions. There seems to be a lack of ability in today's graduate to navigate complex work place situations and chart a novel course. Innovators are sought after by employers today in much the same way as solution providers and inventors are. More emphasis is now being placed on ability to work effectively in a team rather than on an ability to be a solitary genius. The era of the solitary geniuses like Albert Einstein are gone simply because consumers have changed.
Consumers these days demand a more interactive experience. Even the virtual world of social media and online presence is getting increasingly interactive. So the genius who cannot interact and the creative eccentric personality may find that the latter gets the job while the former remains bemused. One way organizations have tried to solve this is by on the job training and retraining of the 'genuises' being churned out by our educational system. Conglomerates spend millions in training their staff both within and outside the shores of the country where they operate. One therefore finds a situation where after passing through the Nigerian educational system, a humonguous sum still needs to be spent bringing the new employee up to speed. Employers lament that there are few of us, Nigerian graduates who can be fully productive at work under 6 months of employment in a firm requiring higher skills.
Higher skills are those requiring creativity not genius. Higher skills are those requiring social interaction not isolation. Higher skills are those requiring simple solutions to complex problems not complex solutions to simple problems. Higher skills are those in which the mind has been trained to innovate and invent. On the other hand lower skills are those in which rote and repitition are the means of getting results. Lower skills require memorization and cramming just to get high test scores.
Now even if a Nigerian youth seeks to be an entrepreneur one finds that our educational system doesn't even prepare us for that. Except you were involved in Extra Curricular activities, which I suggest should be encouraged highly, how would you learn leadership and team work? While holed up in the library alone memorizing date, figures and values? What stops the lecturers from dividing a class into teams and assigning them tasks that would require them to interface with the real world? What stops lecturers from saddling students with research topics whose result would be an innovation, an invention of a new solution to an old problem?
In the light of all this may I suggest that:
1. The Lecturers shouldn't be blamed for insisting on implementation of an existing agreement because we must develop a society in which impunity is discouraged. The society of our dreams must be one in which one more broken promise is too much.
2. The Federal Government should strenuously appeal to ASUU that as at the time of making that agreement no one envisaged the deteriorating economic situation of the country and indeed of the world at large. Furthermore the FG ought to be more circumspect in making agreements because Nigerians are increasingly beginning to hold their leadership accountable in ways never seen before.
3. The students should not be quick to take sides with either the FG or their lecturers because we desire an educational sector in which the Federal Ministry of Education comes up with a clear cut policy that would improve quality rather than quantity. It isnt enough to have 5 new federal universities. All state owned universities must pursue a deliberate policy that would enable us out rank other African nations. Mind you, there is an African rennaisance in the horizon what Charles Robertson calls Africa's boom and the only way Nigeria can partake of this is to change the way students are educated in this nation. America has adjusted its Educational system to churn out high school and college graduates that can outcompete China. These should be the concern of students
4. Nigerians over reliance on strike without appropriately allowing issues to be cyrstallized properly within a global framework of best international practices would only make our nation worse of for it. At all times we must remember that we as Nigerians are in competition with nations like Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and even some South East Asian nations. These are our peers. Many years ago they we're light years behind us. Will constant strike actions on matters of deliberate policy make us catch up with them?
Iroko Obasi ND
A public affairs analyst lives in the FCT