“I feel strongly that we have to have an education system that starts with preschool and goes through college. That’s why I want more technical education in high schools and in community colleges, real apprenticeships to prepare young people for the jobs of the future.”
– Hillary Clinton
The future of jobs lies in rethinking what we currently do and how we do it, particularly in the field of education. The prism through which we view education needs to change, and this must happen quickly. We do not need to reinvent the wheel; all that is required of us is to place less emphasis on “education for degree/certificate acquisition” and instead embrace education for acquiring applicable knowledge. Education should be viewed beyond what happens within the four walls of a classroom. It must be seen as a comprehensive package capable of positively influencing the body, soul, and spirit. Such education will enable society to ideate, create, innovate, and re-create what is needed to be on the path to sustainable development. What kind of education can accomplish this? As Hillary Clinton succinctly put it in the opening quote of this article, “more technical education… real apprenticeships will prepare young people for the jobs of the future”. This viewpoint is appropriate and worth considering.
In my search for an appropriate definition of technical and vocational education, or better yet, a definition that fits into this discourse, I found the following: “Technical education is the academic and vocational preparation of students for jobs involving applied science and modern technology… Technical education aims to prepare graduates for occupations that are above skilled crafts but below scientific or engineering professions.” Considering our current circumstances as a nation, we may need to focus on preparing our graduates for occupations that fall above skilled crafts but below scientific or engineering professions. Why, you may ask? I make this submission because a child must crawl before they walk. I am aware that there are a few exceptions to this rule, but we cannot base a general rule on exceptions alone. This implies that society must gradually evolve based on the resources available to it. If we must prepare our graduates for such jobs, we need to rethink our approach to technical and vocational education. With over 100 Technical Colleges (both federal and state-owned) in the country, it is apparent even to the casual observer that we have the necessary resources to achieve this. In terms of local and natural resources, the nation is blessed. However, no country can achieve sustainable growth solely through natural resources unless the value is added to them. This is where “skilled craft” becomes imperative. Our indigenous resources can be reinvented and repackaged using technical and vocational education.
It is worrisome that our technical colleges are not being patronised despite significant investments in them. I have visited a few and interacted with stakeholders there. For this reason, I can confidently say that we have relatively good technical colleges in the country. However, the challenge lies in how society perceives these schools. They are seen as inferior and less beneficial to an average student who would prefer to attend a university or a polytechnic due to the “status symbol” associated with those institutions, rather than considering the practical function of the knowledge acquired. This perception of technical and vocational education is the root of the problem. It is viewed as a haven for the less privileged in terms of education, and thus, it is not a school attended by the elite of society. How saddening. This is saddening because developed nations such as Germany place a high premium on technical and vocational education, not only for its practical function but also for its significant role in achieving sustainable development.
It is high time we reconsidered our attitude towards technical and vocational education, as the jobs of the future revolve around problem-solving, which requires a great deal of technical competence. The future is not far away; it is already here. General knowledge that leads to certificate acquisition without specific skills targeted at solving specific problems is no longer relevant. The stakeholders in our education sector must wake up to the reality and demands of the 21st century, which call for constant learning, unlearning, and relearning in order to find workable solutions to the array of challenges plaguing society. The encouraging news of late is that government agencies such as the National Centre for Technology Management (NACETEM), an agency of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), among others, are beginning to engage with key players in technical and vocational education through workshops, seminars, and conferences. There is a need for more efforts in this direction if we are to be seen as ready for the jobs of the future.
In light of the above, we must urgently declare total war on education without a practical function. Technical and vocational education must be given the attention it deserves. To this end, I advocate for:
- Reorienting the populace on the importance of technical and vocational education.
- Placing more emphasis on education that solves societal problems rather than education that glorifies “status symbols.”
- Encouraging government agencies, particularly those within the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board, to collaborate with technical colleges to incorporate local knowledge into the curriculum.
- Equipping technical colleges with state-of-the-art facilities that can help groom students for the jobs of the future.
- Showcasing the products and capabilities of technical colleges to the world to demonstrate their potential.
- Providing constant training and retraining for teachers at technical colleges in line with global best practices.
- Ensuring that graduates from technical colleges are well compensated and integrated into existing companies where their skills are required, without discrimination.
It is not too late to go back to the basics. No matter how far we may have strayed in the wrong direction, we will never reach our desired destination unless we make a U-turn. We must revive and revamp our technical and vocational education if we do not want to perpetually lag behind other nations. The future of jobs lies in problem-solving skills, which are abundantly available in our technical schools and colleges.