Reducing the high rate of youths unemployment in Nigeria: a case for vocational education and training

The Federal Government established the National Board for Technical Education by Act 9 of January 1977. In August, 1985 and January 1993 respectively, the Federal Government enacted Act 16 (Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) Act) and Act 9 (Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) (Amendment) Act). With these Acts, the functions of the Board were extended to include accreditation of academic programmes in all Technical and Vocational Education (TVE) institutions. Act No.9 of 1st January 1993 further empowered the Board to recommend the establishment of private Polytechnics and Monotechnics in Nigeria.

NBTE

Vocational education in Nigeria has always been influenced by the informal sectors. Most artisans that engage in jobs like auto-mechanics, hairdressing, tailoring, carpentry, plumbing and bricklaying are usually trained informally – in an old fashioned ‘master-apprentice’ system.

I can remember as a child growing up on Lagos Island the experience of mostly young men that were engaged in the informal apprenticeship programs of becoming auto-mechanics, carpenters (joiners) or tailors. They were usually under a master and at times under a very rigid hierarchical leadership structure, usually headed by the overall boss of the work site. While the other hierarchy within the structure was usually based on the premise of the date or year the apprentices joined the program.

Part of what we were told back then as children was that – to even start any form of proper learning, apprentices would have spent the first two or three years of their apprenticeships running errands on behalf of their bosses, seniors at work or at times their bosses’ family members. Also, as a child if one was struggling with academic related studies at school most parents back then would use the metaphor of sending the child on an informal apprenticeship program under a particular head that must have created a fearsome personality in the minds of the people within a particular locality in which those parents lived and issues like – not learning anything tangible for the first two or three years and corporal punishments during the apprenticeship program would be highlighted by parents to their children, and this was because they believed that raising such issues would create an impression in their children that going to a formal school was actually a privilege that they shouldn’t toy with.

Likewise, there was an impression back then that those under apprenticeship programs were children and young adults that had failed in the formal schooling system, hence, the informal apprenticeship programs were socially and educationally stigmatised as programs meant for children and young adults that had failed (education failures (PDF)) in the formal schooling system, and they were stigmatised as ‘educational failures’ in their respective communities. Even in recent times the informal apprenticeship program is still very much ‘educationally failed (PhD Thesis (PDF))’ stigmatised by the society, even though in the last three decades some of these programs have introduced the wearing of uniforms by their apprentices, as well as, conducting very elaborate graduation ceremonies – which in most cases the new graduates will spend more money on the single day event than they would spend in acquiring the necessary tools to practice and gainfully engage in their newly certified skills and knowledge. Suffices to say that these graduation ceremonies were usually tagged as ‘freedom’. And in that word ‘freedom’ is all that goes with it; because it was more of a process of servitude than learning.

In the past I wrote on how a state governor’s policy statement proposal had suggested the vocationalisation of education in his state in Nigeria and as such further entrenching the unnecessary educationally and socially constructed dichotomy between vocational and academic education. The debate on vocationalisation of education (PDF)has being ongoing for a long time among education policy makers, however, some countries have been able to successfully navigate the issue and integrate both vocational and academic education successfully without jeopardising the quality or esteem of one for the other. Examples of such countries are Finland and Germany.

The missionaries initiated vocational/technical education, which unfortunately did not fit into the prevailing liberal curriculum, for the products of such schools had slim chance of securing white-collar jobs, perceived as distinctive sign of an educated man then. As a result, both students and parents then, and still now viewed vocational/technical education as an educational arrangement for low-achievers who could not succeed in purely academic secondary school, but prepared them for blue-collar career in a society where upward mobility depended on purely academic careers, a perception that almost smothered vocational/technical schools nation-wide. – (Wodi & Dokubo (PDF))

During the colonial era the British tried to introduce formal vocational education into the Nigerian education system but the idea was vehemently rejected by the Nigerian elites and part of the reasons for the rejection of the idea was because it was seen as an attempt by the British to produce low-skilled workers that were going to meet their immediate administrative and domestic needs. In the 1980s when the Nigerian government introduced the 6-3-3-4 system of education part of the idea behind the system was that – at the end of the Junior Secondary School Years, students would be divided according to their Junior WAEC results into different major study areas like Arts, Commercial and Science, while those whose performance were deemed to be the poorest would be sent to vocational learning centres, hence, the social perception of informal apprenticeships were formally validated, confirmed and established by the government in the country’s formal education system.

The recommendation of the Phelps/Stokes Commission on African Education advocating skill-oriented curriculum for the natives resulted in re-emergence of vocational/technical education, for in 1925, the colonial government directed that the curriculum for the natives be adapted to the aptitude and occupations of the natives, and at the same time preserving the healthy aspects of their culture. The directive was in realization that meaningful and productive educational system should be anchored on the existing cultural patterns, and aimed at developing latent human potentials for overall human growth and socio-cultural development. However, this initiative collapsed because the colonial government failed to establish industries to absorb graduates from vocational schools (Fafunwa & Aisiku, 1982). Ever since, the Nigerian educational system has remained academic, and literary, producing graduates without functional skills.

(Wodi & Dokubo (PDF))

As a result of the high youths unemployment rate in the country coupled with the limited number of admission spaces into other forms of tertiary institutions in the country, the idea of vocational education and training has been gaining some much needed traction within public discourse on education in the country. The present Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, has identified vocational education and training as one of the ten pillars of education that the Federal Ministry of Education under his leadership would focus on, although more than a year after he has been sworn in as the country’s education minister he is yet to implement or launch any robust policy framework on the provision of vocational education by the federal government, even though he declared back in his “Ten pillars of Nigerian Education Reform interview with Channels TV (YouTube)” that the federal government was going to establish 100 vocational education and training institutes across the different regions of the country.

A fundamental issue with the provision of vocational education and training in Nigeria today, aside the issue of the social perception of it being for ‘ education failures’ is that the federal government in particular has not been able to properly articulate and present the role it intends to play in the provision of vocational education and training in the country. There seems to be a contradiction from the federal government with regards to how it wants the sector to be driven – private or public?

While the federal government has established the National Board for Technical Education as the government’s regulatory body in charge of awarding vocational education and training certificates in the country, the same government embarked on projects like Sure-P (in the past) and N-Power (recently) without duly engaging the NBTE as the certificate awarding body for such programs.

These programs even though they were/are designed to provide training in areas like developing entrepreneurship and employability skills with particular focus on the Nigerian youths, the certificates that the participants in such programs will be awarded cannot be nationally graded under any particular category of certificates awarded within the country’s formal education certificates awarding system. And because these projects are usually focused on practical skills development and enhancement, the best option would have been to structure such programs under the NBTE’s certificate awarding system (PDF), and this would invariably help in developing and enhancing NBTE’s relevance within the Nigerian education system.

Another challenge that the vocational education and training sector is presently facing in the country is that applicants that apply to government’s certified institutions offering vocational educational and training are expected to have a minimum of basic education certificate and cover multidisciplinary areas that will prepare learners for jobs in most industries. This statutory condition is detrimental to the essence of what vocational education and training is to serve in the country’s education system. Because the clause is only able to lead to the theorization of the vocational education and training sector in the country and block out those prospective learners – practical learners – who probably might benefit mainly from the provision.

It would be more inclusive – socially and educationally just, and pragmatic to allow anyone with or without formal education to be able to enrol on any introductory course in the vocational educational and training sector with any training providing institution; developing their knowledge and skills in their area(s) of interest or needs accordingly. For instance, some universities and other types of institutions of higher learning in the country have been known to conduct remedial and diploma courses in order to bridge the knowledge gaps of some of their prospective candidates; vocational education and training institutes should be able to offer similar courses, particularly in the areas of literacy, numeracy and ICT skills enhancement to prospective and existing students. This would make it possible for them to be able to admit learners with little or no functional literacy, numeracy or ICT skills.

The government would need to invest more into informal apprenticeship programs (PDF) and vocational education and training in the country; provide incentives that would enhance the opportunities and prestige accessible to individuals that choose to go down the vocational education and training pathways in the country. For instance, the government can make education policies through the federal ministry of education and other relevant stakeholders within the country’s education sector that will give similar employment and educational status to individuals that went through the vocational education and training pathway. Also, the government needs to be clear in its national vocational education and training policy:

  • Is it going to be private driven or public driven?
  • Within the country’s present compulsory education framework of Universal Basic Education (UBE) that lasts up to the end of Basic 9 (JSS3), where and how would vocational education and training fits in?
  • From non-empirical evidence, it seems that children and young people from poor social-economic backgrounds and communities are the ones that go into informal apprenticeship programs and government’s run vocational education and training institutes, how will the government make sure that the best educational outcomes and opportunities are provided for this particular demographic?

The federal government needs to make policies that will make provisions for formal and informal routes to learning (PDF), like: institutionally backed apprenticeship programs; work based learning (PDF); supported internship programs (PDF) for individuals with severe special educational needs and disabilities (SEND); other alternative learning provisions (PDF); and informal apprenticeship programs.

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