BASTARDIZATION OF TECHNICAL EDUCATION: A CLARION CALL FOR CHANGE OF HEART

Written by ENGR. EFFIONG ESSANG

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Crisis in Nigerian Education System started manifesting seriously with introduction of 6-3-3-4 system of education implemented without adequate planning and sensitization. The very first attempt to correct educational imbalance in this country was mooted in 1959 by a team led by Eric Ashby who was formerly a teacher at Imperial College and Oxford University respectively. Ashby Commission was set up to chart out roadmap for educational aspirations of indigenes of a nation that was planning for self-rule. One of the recommendations from this report gave the push for establishment of universities in each of the regions so as to cater for the expected manpower needs boldly highlighted in the report to prepare grounds for indigenous take over from expatriates who were billed to retire with the colonial administration at the verge of independence.
Other ingredients gleaned from the report submitted by Ashby Commission emphasized that there were no trained Secondary Education teachers in the employ of the government from where the committee recommended for training of teachers where entire training-costs will be borne by government in each region. The said recommendation for governments to bear training cost of teachers was implemented as from that time till when NPN government came to power in 1979. Barely one year of Shehu Shagari as the President of Nigeria the scheme for training of teachers was scrapped and has not been revisited ever since. Reactions that trailed the unwholesome cancellation of teachers’ sponsorship by the government resulted in some states trying albeit half-heartedly to introduce bursary in its place but this was spiced with politics and intrigues and up to date nothing concrete has been done to address the situation. The resultant effect for that abandonment is the prize that the nation is paying today in the education sector that has reached crisis point.

Professor Michael Omolewa while taking a swipe at incessant change of Education Policy and Structure decried profusely in his paper entitled “Successive Years of Inconsistencies and Confusion,” where he blamed the woes bedeviling our education sector on several experiments flowing from poor structured reforms with the very first being in 1959 with introduction of UPE. The erudite professor averred in his paper that these reforms were hinged on the fact that economic development would not be possible without functional education and that the best way to actualize this was to strengthen the manpower needs at intermediate level, which he said the government was not sincere and fully committed to the spirit of the reforms as encapsulated in its blueprints. He said there can be no meaningful development without functional education in position and that where education was lacking, then the talk of economic development was a ruse. He also said that economic development at whatever level cannot be talked of without appropriate technology and that it was unfortunate Vocational Technical Education that could have brought about this has had a chequered history in a country that has continued to pay premium to education which was against acquisition of technical manpower. This being so, it is then pertinent to look back on those things that have continued to fight against the growth and smooth progress of Vocational Technical education in this country.
Is it not a fact that without Technical Education there can be no meaningful development whether in economic or technological sense? That without it the prospect of the nation becoming self-reliant is already shattered and for that matter our economic and technological development will continue to be dictated by foreign power? Why is it that the type of education which could have been given a prime of place is being sidelined and relegated to the background? Is it due to its nature or that people are purposely working against it implantation because they do not know the worth it? This apathy for Technical education arises from ignorance of policy implementers because it is too sophisticated to be controlled and administered by humanities centered individuals who themselves are enemies with things that are technical in nature. Without any ire of doublespeak here, Technical Education is seriously misunderstood by educators themselves. Because of this the society is cajoled to believe that Technical Education is for the dropouts in schools. For this reason parents of brilliant students prefer sending their wards to grammar schools.
Such reasoning is not only misleading and fallacious but extremely offensive in design and concept. This is the main reason for our slow progress in technological drive which despite the importance of technical education in saner climes, Nigerian government revels in still living in the past as Technical Education is fraught with hatred as occasioned by outright refusal to recognize its importance due to misconception, lack of political will, poor financing and non-incentives to those who braved all odds and several indignities to embrace it. Apart from other evil tendencies of the Colonial regime one of the most vicious was the siphoning of our resources to develop Europe while leaving the country impoverish. It was the belief of the colonial masters that if development of technology was made popular in the country that they may not be able to dominate markets in Africa through dumping their products of industrial revolution. Nigeria was seen as a large market in Africa and being that the people are industrious this was going to pose a great challenge for them to continue colonizing Africa. The new colonialism introduced from this is known as neo-colonialism which the government has surreptitiously surrendered to, has rubbished our political independence. This time around the new colonialism means over dependence on foreign products that even though we lay claim to be independent, we are still tied to the apron strings of foreign powers still having their vicious grips on our economy and national assets.

Depending on something one does not have or produce is like surrendering oneself to his dire enemy and this is akin to a beggar’s life because beggar’s passions and interests can be ruled by his tormentors. As a result of danger associated with enslavement, education was brought about as the liberating factor for man to free himself from clutches of slavery and drudgery of un-civilization since education can make a person governable but difficult to enslave. Technical Education from time immemorial had continued to play pivotal role for the liberation of man from nature’s limitations and fast tracting his development in every ramification. It has been the harbinger of technology and serious advancement in technology cannot occur in a vacuum since its development requires certain factors or forces for it to thrive. Among these factors are capital formation, entrepreneurial ability, technical know-how, natural resources, quality of labor forces and the appropriate psychological and philosophical attitudes towards its advancement.
The National Education Policy opens with a categorical statement that the federal government of Nigeria has adopted education as instrument par excellence for effecting national unity. The policy also recognizes education as a dynamic instrument of change and that the greatest investment that any nation can make for quick development of its economic, political, human and material resources can only be brought about through functional education. It also states that the goal for such venture should make provision for education to be for the benefit of all citizens in terms of its relevance to the needs of the individuals as well as the kind of society desired in relation to the environment and the realities of modern world and rapid social changes. Since the national policy on education is the government’s way of achieving its national objectives by using education as a tool, then no policy on education should be formulated without identifying the overall philosophy and the objectives of that society. In primitive society where enculturation was brought about through role-playing, the survival of their culture and tradition of the people was never compromised. In modernized societies, the young ones are orientated through education so as to fit into the ways of life of the people while also making them to be fully acquainted with ethos of their societal values. Considering our lopsided education policy with its undue emphasis on humanity-centered courses, Nigeria vis-à-vis Akwa Ibom State have been rendered poor and helpless because of over-reliance on foreign technologies with resultant effects in capital flight. The refusal to patronize indigenous technical experts perhaps due to the perceived belief that they are not skillful is costing this nation dearly in monetary and developmental aspects and it is feared that this will continue for a very long time.
It was because of this that a onetime Minister of Education in Nigeria, Professor Babs Fafanwa, declared publicly that the major defect in the Nigerian Education system was the low priority accorded Vocational Technical Education. He used the occasion to condemn the nation undue emphasis given to what he called, literary tradition, and that over-dependence on university degree which according to him was being looked at as an indelible symbol of prestige. He said the nation was doing this at detriment of technology which according to him was the driving force in modern economy. Since this was the view of a personality recognized globally in matters of education; who had written series of books including “History of Nigerian Education,” it is a little wonder that training for qualifications in Technical Education is not made popular and has never been appreciated by managers of education in Nigeria. From here one can see very clearly many forces fighting against technological growth and leading to total neglect of our Technical Colleges and Vocational Training schools.
In Akwa Ibom for instance, there are just SIX Technical Colleges out of over 580 public and private post primary institutions in the state. It is sad that all facilities in the six Technical Colleges are not only ramshackle but are totally rotten and abysmal. Has it escaped the eyes of the State Government and her education managers that these Technical Colleges are gradually being converted to grammar schools in terms of staffing, structures, teaching and learning? What about their curriculum, the structure of examinations, inspection models and training equipment. Are all these matching minimum standard of requirements? What is wrong in establishing more Technical Colleges? Can the present six cater for population of students in a state of over four million citizens?
Another grouse is that three of the six Technical Colleges can best be described as glorified nursery schools in terms of poor state of buildings and sordid facilities. A trip to Government Technical College, Ewet in Uyo metropolis will explain in volumes the lack of proper planning to cater for increased students’ enrolment as the college is jam-packed with several thousands of students struggling for seats, spaces and facilities. Mainland Technical College, Oron is another case study as nearly all the classrooms buildings are ramshackle in nature and the Principal of that College is squatting in a cubicle classified as an office. The said “office” is basically housing everything including vital documents and records of the college since its inception. The blocks of building in the college compound are very rough and coarse due to non renovation and outright negligence.
Before creation of Akwa Ibom from Cross River, there were over twenty seven public Technical Schools with greater number in the Akwa Ibom axis. This number was pruned down to Ten with one Technical College and a Vocational Training School for each of the Five Senatorial Districts of the then Cross River. Thus, there were only ten Technical Colleges to cater for a state as big and thickly populated as Cross River where Akwa Ibom was carved out, thereby leaving us with just Three Technical Colleges and Three Vocational Training Schools as from 1988. It is annoying that Government Technical College, Ikot Ada Idem being one of the Technical Colleges inherited, was ceded to Akwa Polytechnic without any provision for its replacement. Ever since, the said Technical College has been lying fallow.
In as much as this write-up is not intended to paint Vocational Technical Colleges and their management body in bad light, it will be a disservice to the people of this state and our amiable governor if the precarious conditions of these schools are not brought to light being that the writer of this piece is a technical college product. It is true that Akwa Ibom indigenes have made great strides in the field of education, yet we still have a long way to go in the area of Technical Education. The feet on which a nation stands strong is on proper acquisition of Technical Education. Western world countries are the strongest in the world today because of high premium they place on Technical Education. If Akwa Ibom would strive to be as those nations then we must stop playing politics with Technical Education.

It was on this understanding that made John Kennedy to declare that America’s progress as a nation was not going to be swifter than their progress in education. Akwa Ibom State government has been boasting of having giant technological infrastructures like Petroleum Terminal and Tank farms, IPP, Ibom Airport with hangar, concentric flyovers, Paint Industry, Ibaka Deep Seaport, Tropicana and galleria, spiraling road networks, etc. With the establishment of these serious technological infrastructures it becomes inevitable that there will be increasing demands for skilled craftsmen and technologists to maintain these hi-tech facilities. If our attitude to Technical Education remains the way it is, who will provide skilled manpower to operate and maintain these computerized structures? Again, Akwa Ibom people love cars and considering the state-of-the-art motor vehicles in the state, who will maintenance these vehicles when they start malfunctioning? If Technical Colleges are not structured and equipped to turn out sufficient skillful motor mechanics, electricians, fitter/machinists to maintain and to fix these facilities, what will be our fate or who will do this for us?

Since we have consigned to place much value on Western style of living, is it not reasonable that when the value system changes, that the system of education should also change to reflect this value? This therefore calls for a drastic change in our philosophy for Technical Education which should now aim at producing technicians with appropriate skills for the maintenance and sustenance of our imported technologies. It means that the focus of our technical education should henceforth be geared towards the realization of economic emancipation and technological advancement for the purpose of self-reliance. The type of specialists required if we must guard against capital flights and foreigners coming to dictate to us about our economy or the situation where what is happening in ExxonMobil today will continue in which strategic departments are manned by foreigners, then we must act fast.

Our Technical Colleges should henceforth be structured to produce persons with inter-disciplinary skills and knowledge, those who can install, operate, and maintain systems without supervision by expatriate engineers. Our policy makers on Technical Education should at this point begin to partner with management teams of industrial concerns operating in the state so as to create synergy in area of technology that would be at par with our developmental goals. Technical Education should be made to be totally free and with financial benefits to students who will venture into it as a priority area in our society for now? If done, this will attract talented persons to the field and this will certainly boost the growth of the sector while at the same time de-emphasizes the erroneous belief that technical education was meant for the dullards.

Technical education experts should be consulted before any policy affecting it is made and our education planners should consider students-teachers-ratio, students’ intake and distributions, as well as furnishing the budget office with projected yearly enrolment so that our annual budget estimates will accommodate such exigencies. Unless conscious efforts like these are made to revamp our ailing Technical Education, our economy shall continue to be dictated by foreign powers that had continued to sap our scarce resources with attendant result in technological backwardness. It is a dreadful situation to depend totally on imported technology as such can become a compulsion one cannot fight against once he sold himself to it. The Government of Akwa Ibom should embark on establishment of more Technical Colleges with at least one in each of our 31 local government areas. This should start with returning those Technical Colleges converted to grammar schools to their former status. If this is not done then the presence of a separate board overseeing just SIX Technical institutions constitutes a serious waste of manpower.
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