By Nwamaka Okoye
Nigeria has a high rate of unemployment and underemployment (a combined rate of 43.3% in the third quarter of 2018- National Bureau of Statistics), yet every entrepreneur I know is desperately looking for people to fill empty roles in their organizations. Why is there such a dichotomy? While there are more people looking for jobs than there are jobs available in Nigeria, one of the major problems many Nigerian entrepreneurs face is finding qualified employees that possess critical thinking skills. Here are two real scenarios (real names not used):
Ade has a meeting in Victoria Island at nine o’clock on Monday morning. He lives in Ikeja which on weekends is a forty five minute travel time to Victoria Island. On week days however, it takes two hours because of traffic. He leaves home at eight o’clock on Monday morning and arrives one hour late for the meeting. The meeting is rescheduled for Wednesday. On Wednesday, he decides to leave earlier and leaves at seven thirty. This time he arrives at nine thirty in the morning, thirty minutes late for the meeting. When upbraided for coming late twice in a row, he vigorously defends himself by explaining that he left home earlier on Wednesday and blames the traffic for his lateness.
When we first started our design firm, we had a really important submission for a design competition in Lagos Nigeria, and I had this truly brilliant architect working on the presentations. Let’s call her Ify. I had to be in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates on the last two days before the submission due date, therefore I was working remotely. After I reviewed the presentations, I approved them for printing and submission. Later that evening, I got a call from Ify, telling me they had a problem: they wanted to print but had run out of ink!
Ade and Ify, like many young Nigerians, lack critical thinking skills. This does not mean that the general population is incapable of thinking critically, but they are not accustomed to doing so by virtue of nurture not nature. They stop at identifying the problem. It is someone else’s responsibility to solve it. Many reasons can be attributed to this phenomenon and this article explores some of them below.
External Locus of Control
One of the reasons why some Nigerian youth fail to develop critical thinking skills is that many possess an external locus of control. Many people believe that their circumstances are influenced by outside forces: God; their government; their boss; the hex from their uncle in the village.
Everyone but themselves. So they resign helplessly to fate and only process opportunities that come with minute by minute clear cut directions. This represents a very large portion of the Nigerian population. This mindset creates a mental laziness, where people, when given all the ingredients for a solution, are unable to combine them to solve the problem, even though they have the intellectual capacity to do so. They do not see a relationship between their thoughts, subsequent action and current or future situation.
The lack of belief in oneself to be consequential inadvertently creates a helplessness, and a demotivation to think critically. People often get stuck at the problem phase and bring it to a higher power: God, their boss, their government to solve. Yet they have the ability to solve the problem.
A Feeling of Disempowerment
Through upbringing and culture, some people are trained not to think. This is especially true for women who may come from a “women are meant to be seen and not heard” background. Sometimes, based on one’s position in the family and or gender, one is not encouraged to think. Typically, the father or first borne son, is automatically the head of the family and the designated thinker. A middle child or last borne child, or woman may have had their thoughts, ideas suppressed for so long that they begin to believe they are of no consequence and therefore do not engage in productive thinking. They have been conditioned to believe that their place is to act on other people’s thoughts, not to generate their own original thoughts.
Lack of Confidence in One’s Intelligence
Because one may not have excelled academically in school, which in Nigeria requires the ability to memorize and regurgitate information; a person may not be aware of their ability to put together several premises in their minds and come up with a conclusion, then act on that conclusion. I have added acting on the conclusion, because there are many people who are able to realize through thought, the possible consequences of an action or inaction, and yet do not bother to act to change that situation, because they lack confidence in their ability to think through situations, and have labelled themselves unintelligent, or inconsequential. As a result they do nothing, and dismiss their brilliant ideas and suggestions as fanciful whims.
Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few engage in it.
Let’s face it. Some people are just mentally lazy. They have very sharp wits, have the tools to process those thoughts, but feel it is just too much work.
They do not want the responsibility of solving a problem because they fear it may confer on them the accompanying responsibility of implementing the solution. In those instances, with a little prodding, such a person will proffer a smart solution to any problem. However, they need constant prodding to solve problems because they just do not want to do the work.
Usually a person like this is limited by this barrier and unable to rise to their full potential, because they are unwilling to accept responsibility.
Lack of Training in Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is a discipline. The ability to gather bits of information (observe) and come up with logical conclusions based on the information provided. There are heuristics taught in schools, but sadly many of them are only available in expensive schools, thus only available to the elite, thereby increasing the divide between the rich and the poor. There are verbal and quantitative aptitude questions in national common entrance examinations to secondary schools in Nigeria. However, with measures like the quota system where people can get into the secondary schools based on what part of the country they are from, even if they have not demonstrated proficiency in critical thinking, the aim is defeated. Even before the examinations, aptitude is not tested nor is critical thinking developed intentionally and sufficiently in the national curriculum
Even in the university, there is often no relationship between assignments and the real world. I observe with sadness the struggle that fresh graduates have when they encounter a problem.
They usually do not recognize that they possess the tools required to solve them, because they are not accustomed to doing so.
Consequences of Lack of Critical Thinking as a Culture in a Society
The consequences of the lack of development of critical thinking skills in a population are far-reaching. Some of them are:
For entrepreneurs, the implication is a limit in the capacity to expand, because managers are not able to take independent decisions, based on fluid circumstances.
Loss of revenue to the nation, because many businesses hire expatriates to lead large and or multi-national businesses.
This is because someone who is raised in a progressive society where democracy of thought and an internal locus of control is observed, is likely to be more expansive in thinking, and consequential in action, thereby able to make calculated decisions that create growth in a large organization.
As a result of this, the huge salaries are paid to foreign executives, because there is limited capacity in the Nigerian employment pool. There is also a loss of revenue associated with businesses that are stunted because of the lack of capacity in the available Human Resources
Low productivity output per person, and also per organization. This is because when an individual does not think critically, it leads to micro-management, loss of productivity and inefficiency for that organization.
Lack of emphasis in research and innovation. Where there is no relationship perceived relationship between formal education, thinking and its benefits to mankind; a society does not invest in research since all outcomes are predestined by God, or some other powerful being.
As a result, in an information and knowledge age, Nigeria’s rate of development is rapidly being outpaced by most of the developed world, and even some of the developing world.
Possible Solutions to the Problem:
To engage a vast majority of the population in critical thinking will be to unleash the potential of the large Nigerian youth population. This I believe must be treated with intentionality and urgency otherwise we will continue to maintain a high rate of underemployment. How do we begin the journey?
Incorporate critical thinking in basic primary education, with a focus on the cause and effect relationship of thoughts and actions/inactions. Introduce design thinking labs into primary schools in the senior years.
Challenge the cultural notions that disempower a segment of the population through formal education and also reorient through the media by means of a national media project.
Celebrate innovation and original thinking by encouraging problem solving and celebrating those who solve those problems. Create national competitions that democratize the thinking process, and creative problem solving.
For example, use national competitions to solve urban problems like informal street markets, hawking, and other societal problems. Challenge people to come up with design solutions.
Employers should incorporate critical thinking training in their orientation in addition to aptitude testing.
The above solutions are just the beginning of a long road to altering the mindset and attitude of an entire generation to unleash their potential in a nation that is blessed with multiple resources yet continuously underperforms.
Because I am, I matter
Because I matter, I think
Because I think, I do
Because I do, we are
Because we are, we matter