There appears to be a substantial divide between theoretical knowledge and practical skills. While theoretical knowledge is essential for explaining various concepts, the practical application of these concepts is what translates into tangible development within society. It is disheartening that individuals possessing vital practical knowledge are often disregarded and not accorded the recognition they deserve.
Technical skills, which abound in Nigeria’s technical schools and polytechnics, are not adequately appreciated. Holders of such skills are frequently viewed as mere support staff or treated as individuals with inferior skills compared to those with more prestigious titles. For instance, the ongoing controversy surrounding the preference for a bachelor of science/bachelor of engineering (BSc/B.Eng) degree obtained from Nigerian universities over a higher national diploma (HND) from Nigerian polytechnics is a longstanding issue. The discrimination against HND holders is particularly evident in the public service, affecting their placement. This polarisation has resulted in a lack of interest in pursuing HND qualifications, leaving us with engineers who possess more theoretical knowledge than practical expertise.
If HND holders are not accorded the recognition they deserve, one can only imagine the position of graduates from our technical schools. It is no surprise that technical and vocational education is in a state of decline. It is concerning that most foreign companies operating in Nigeria outsource technical skills from abroad due to the scarcity of such skills within the country. This trend further encourages capital flight. Additionally, engineers in certain government institutions rely on roadside technicians to assist them when faced with challenging situations. Yet, technical skills still do not hold the esteemed position they deserve within our society.
Technical skills encompass a range of abilities and knowledge used to perform practical tasks in various fields, including science, the arts, technology, engineering and mathematics. Given the definition of technical skills, it is evident that a society genuinely committed to linking knowledge with development must place a high premium on these skills. The starting point is to change our perception of such knowledge and those who possess it. Respect is crucial, as what is not respected will not attract interest. If people continue to show disinterest in acquiring technical knowledge and those who already possess it abandon it in favour of more “respectable” skills, the disappearance of technical skills in our country will accelerate.
To alter society’s perception of holders of technical skills, there must be a policy to address the glaring disparity between BSc and HND holders. The two should complement each other, not create division. In a country with 37 federal polytechnics, 50 state polytechnics and 66 private polytechnics, it is essential to emphasise the significance of practical and technical knowledge in development. Recognising and respecting individuals with such knowledge will encourage more people to pursue technical skills.
Revitalising the nation’s stagnant technical schools is also crucial to producing more technicians capable of providing the practical knowledge needed in our society. Our society has a growing demand for technical skills. Small and medium-sized technological businesses face closure daily due to the shortage of technical skills. These businesses often rely on untrained roadside technicians, leading to subpar service and further damage to expensive equipment.
Even roadside technicians can be trained and retrained periodically. Government institutions, particularly those in the science, technology and innovation ministry, can collaborate with associations of roadside technicians to organise them into clusters or groups for ongoing orientation and education.
No society can develop in isolation. Collaboration and cooperation are vital for achieving sustainable development. Therefore, theoretical and practical knowledge must complement each other to address the challenges affecting technological businesses in Nigeria.