As at the time Nigeria was colonised by the British Government, many Nigerians did not have formal education. They merely adhered to their customs and traditions and parental advice or informal education where children were taught at home the rudiments of society, like how to greet or respect elders. Girls were taught how to cook in order to prepare them for their marriage life etc.
The advent of Christianity was a blessing as it brought formal education to Nigeria. The Baptist and Catholic churches were established after slave trade. The churches established schools in Badagry, Benin, Bonny and Calabar in Cross River State. Teachers training colleges were also established to train teachers for the Christian schools.
The First School Leaving Certificates were issued to pupils by the Ministries of Education of the then regional governments. Secondary schools were later established by the missions and private individuals. The West African Examination Council came into existence to set examination for students of some West African countries.
The First School Leaving Certificate and the West African School Certificate (WASC) became requirements for employment into private and public organisations in Nigeria. At the end of the Nigerian Civil War, those that had certificates were gainfully employed in the war torn areas. From the 1970s, many primary and secondary schools were established by state governments. The schools produced students with certificates that are required for employment.
The establishment of universities also encouraged the production of middle level manpower and they used their degrees to gain employment in oil companies, banks, insurance companies etc. Those who did not have certificates were also employed as technicians, labourers etc. They were not rejected because they did not have certificates.
The United States’ education system encourages technical education. Through technical schools, they have produced manpower in technology to rule the world. For instance, in the West, parents groom their children to become successful in life. When a parent sees his or her child doing a particular thing, they try to observe the child continuously to know where his or her interest and passion lies.
For instance, a child who likes playing with his/her toys to build houses or cars is considered to be an engineer in the making, while a child who likes to sing is taken to an academy or music school for training. The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, are typical examples to reckon with. They were playing table tennis right from their childhood and their father saw this great talent in them and had to groom them. Today, the two sisters are world champions in table tennis.
In the same vein, China became one of the world powers through technology, and not paper qualifications. China trains her citizenry technically, on how to produce electronics such as phones, radios, video players and other items that are now being exported to different parts of the world, thereby yielding revenue for the country. The goods produced by China are produced with the help of its manpower. Much importance is not attached to certificate; rather, China values what her citizens can produce for the country.
Nigeria, on the other hand, is not found anywhere when it comes to technology. We are so backward in spite of the fact that we churn out graduates on yearly basis. The graduates we produce, rather than contribute to the growth and development of the country, are looking for government employment. They lack the technical skills required to stand on their own. They brandish higher certificates that cannot put food on their table. Some even serve under technicians who wrote City and Guilds examination. It is a shame of a nation.
It is high time Nigeria gave entrepreneurship special consideration in all its institutions of learning. This is because it will give the students the rudiments and opportunity of being self-employed and not to rely solely on white collar jobs when they pass out of school. Students in secondary schools should be taught vocational subjects like home management, foods and nutrition; home economics etc. Technical colleges and the likes should be available for students to build up their skills so that they can help the country to develop technologically.
Also, the government should restructure the education sector by putting more funds into education and also providing educational facilities like good laboratory, standard library where students can go and access books for further learning.
Gone were those days when our colonial masters came and brainwashed us with the idea of going to school, acquiring certificates and becoming employed by them. Nigerians need to wake up from their slumber and come to the realisation that formal education is not all about certificate and being employed in an organisation. Yes! It is part of it, but when an individual is educated, it has given that individual the edge to stand out in the society.
In Nigeria today, we have many undergraduates who cannot even spell their names. Some of them do not attend classes to learn because they know how to maneuver their way out of the university all in the name of having paper qualification.
The federal and state governments should, therefore, encourage technical education at secondary school level to produce technicians who will place Nigeria on the world map in local technology. It is time for us to attach importance to what our youth can produce rather than the number of certificates they carry. This is necessary because there is concern from private individuals and organisations that Nigerian students are not employable.
Sam-Dekii is a student of the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.