Vocational and technical education holds the key to Nigeria becoming technologically developed, internationally relevant and competitive in the world market.
It is known that technology is the most effective means of empowering the citizenry to stimulate and sustain national development, enhance employment, improve the quality of life, eradicate poverty, and limit the incidence of social vices factored by joblessness.
Yet vocational and technical education has not gained its prominence in the country, due to some enormous challenges.
In advanced societies those with technical degrees are highly regarded. In fact, the value system in those countries depend on the person’s skills and knowledge, and not on the stack of academic degrees one has.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian value system is different. Nigerians have this mentality that university education and degree is more important than vocational and technical education and training. There is too much emphasis on getting a university qualification, not bearing in mind whether the holder possesses the required knowledge and skills. Also, in the public service, graduates of vocational and technical education are often discriminated against. Thus, their career prospect is limited.
Lawmakers’ attention to vocational and technical education is negligible; their devotion to the success of the economy is focused on other sectors. Indeed, education generally, including technical education programmes has been grossly neglected in Nigeria. The effort to get political office holders to pay more attention to vocational and technical education has proved difficult over the years. This apathy of political office holders has contributed immensely to the challenges of vocational and technical education in Nigeria.
Another challenge bedeviling vocational and technical education in Nigeria is inadequate facilities. Most technical education departments in Nigerian universities do not have laboratories or workshops space let alone usable equipment and facilities and where they exist, they are grossly inadequate, as the laboratories only have the items or equipment that were provided when the departments were established. The available facilities and programme as at today are inadequate quantitatively and qualitatively.
This situation is partly responsible for the reason it has been increasingly difficult to run experiments effectively for students, making the teaching and research in science and technology difficult.
Inadequate funding of vocational and technical education is yet another challenge. Inadequate funding of vocational institutions has caused the churning out of half baked graduates because there is no fund to build and maintain workshops, laboratories or even purchase modern equipments.
Also, staffing of vocational and technical institutions is inadequate because of poor funding. Experienced and skilful teachers may not be employed. Those that are employed, because of poor remuneration do not stay long in the teaching profession, but drift to some other more lucrative jobs. Consequently, inexperienced and unqualified technical teachers are employed thereby lowering academic standards, resulting to wastage in the achievement of vocational and technical education goals. It has also resulted to the retrenchment of teachers or retirement of teachers at early age.
For progress to be made in Nigeria the challenges confronting vocational and technical education must be recognized and fought vigorously. These challenges can be combated in a number of ways.
Adequate resources should be allocated to the programmes in order to achieve positive outcomes. Vocational and technical schools and colleges should be well equipped, funded and staffed with qualified technical instructors. Vocational and technical teachers should be well paid so as to attract qualified personnel to the profession.
Additionally, the government should urgently remove the dichotomy that exists between university and vocational and technical institutions. Polytechnic institutions should be made to award degrees. This will not only attract more qualified students to vocational and technical education but will also encourage exchange of qualified lecturers/instructors between the two systems.
Vocational and technical education can contribute to the reduction of poverty, hunger and unemployment if the aforementioned challenges are addressed. A comprehensive reform towards vocational and technical education and a deliberate attempt to uplift the programme is the only panacea to the technological conundrum in this country.
Ezinwanne Onwuka writes from Cross River State and may be reached at email@example.com