Indeed, in terms of capacity for self-sustenance, the apprentices in local mechanic workshops and those understudying tailors or hair stylists are far better off, because they acquire practical skills in trades and professions on which they can depend later in life without “begging to apply”. The value and relevance of technical and vocational education in the development of skilled manpower necessary for sustainable economic development has long been recognized and appreciated in Nigeria, but only recently has such recognition translated into meaningful measures to give technical and vocational education due priority and strategic importance.
The most significant step in the right direction so far is the renewed interest and commitment of the Federal Government to reposition the institutions in the technical education sector, especially polytechnics, to produce the required skilled manpower. Under the aegis of the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), there has been steady refocusing of the polytechnics towards the technical courses they were established to provide and a comprehensive review and upgrading of their curriculum as well as diligent accreditation of courses to address the nation’s manpower constraints. In the process, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) assumed the overriding prominence it deserves in the polytechnic sector. The process was all-inclusive to the extent of involving all the relevant professional bodies and the private and public institutions and organizations in evolving a feasible roadmap for the attainment of the nation’s aspirations in terms of availability of skilled manpower. A consensus emerged recognizing that skilled technicians and technologists were critical in meeting the challenges of a technology-driven economy, running in tandem with the rest of the world’s economies. It was a forward-looking resolve to create qualitative opportunities for acquiring employable skills, new technical competences and problem-solving skills through a refocused technical education system streamlined to respond to the realities of the Nigerian situation.
Some of the promising results of the concerted efforts to revitalize technical and vocational education and training are beginning to manifest. The recent launching of the 2009 Directory of Accredited Courses in Nigerian Polytechnics and Similar Institutions by the Minister of Education Dr Sam Egwu is a case in point. The fanfare that attended the Abuja national launch of the directory achieved the purpose of capturing the nation’s attention to the reality of diligent quality assurance in the academic programmes of our polytechnics as an effective response to the need for a national reference template detailing the authorized courses in respective institutions. On one hand, the confusion and ignorance among prospective students regarding accredited courses in polytechnics has been cleared thereby protecting students from wasteful enrolment for bogus courses. On the other, the itemization of the accredited courses provides a reassuring insight into the variety and relevance of such courses to the manpower needs of the country. A review of the directory reveals a refreshing evidence of the on-going efforts to design and offer curriculum addressing critical areas of needed skills and competences as well as technical and technological education. More importantly, the directory which is to be annually updated reflects the renewed commitment to the application of standards and other quality assurance measures on the academic programmes of the polytechnic sector. These achievements could only have been made possible by corresponding attention to adequate funding for the provision of the diverse books, laboratories, equipment and other learning support logistics necessary for education and training, the lack of which has been a sore point of our education policy in the past.
Another significant aspect of the progress being recorded in the revitalization and refocusing of our technical and vocational education and training strategy to address our peculiar manpower needs is the resuscitation of vocational education which has suffered significant decline since the days of craft schools and vocational institutes inherited from the colonial era but neglected soon after independence. The recognition now being given to Innovation Enterprise Institutions (IEIs) and Vocational Enterprise Institutions (VEIs) under the NBTE’s programme for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) has been well received as a confidence building measure to widen access to this very promising avenue for reducing unemployment and promoting the acquisition and development of skills for economic development. Recently, as many as 19 IEIs and 17 VEIs were granted operating licenses by the Federal Ministry of Education.
Taken altogether, these recent landmark developments in the technical education sector are commendable departures from a past characterized by serious disconnect between the manpower challenges facing the nation and the academic content and output of the polytechnic sector, especially in relation to evolving measures that will effectively address these challenges, by creating credible opportunities for needlessly idle youths to make themselves useful to themselves, their communities and ultimately, to the nation’s economic development.
Evelyn Tempere writes from Port Harcourt