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Curbing Poverty, Unemployment through Education

Curbing Poverty, Unemployment through Education

To tackle the problems of poverty and youth unemployment which are on the increase in Nigeria, experts have called for curriculum reform and a shift from certificate acquisition to equipping students with 21st century work-ready skills. Uchechukwu Nnaike reports

There seem to be a consensus among experts and stakeholders in the education sector who participated in a recent summit that Nigeria’s curriculum is overdue for a review if its desire to solve the problems of poverty and unemployment is to be attained.

The two-day second annual Blossom Career and Entrepreneurship Summit with the theme ‘Curriculum Re-examination, Skills Opportunities and the Dilemma of Academic Ambitions’, organised by Best of the World Enterprises Limited (publishers of Blossom Magazine), was held to proffer solution to the problems of the education sector and canvass the need for curriculum reforms in the face of rising youth unemployment in the country.

According to the Chief Executive of Best of the World, Mrs. Joy Chinwokwu, some of the objectives of the summit are: charting a focused direction towards tackling the job crises in Nigeria by advocating curriculum reviews in secondary and tertiary institutions; inspiring students in secondary and tertiary institutions and their guardians to focus on careers and skills with prospects for employment and curtailing fraudulent practices in the education sector, among others that will help transform the education sector and ultimately reinvent the lost academic glory in Nigeria.

She said the post-summit engagements would aim at closing the wide gap between unemployable graduates yearly churned out of Nigerian tertiary institutions and the abundant but untapped skills potential in the country.

Painting a gloomy picture of the unemployment crisis in Africa with a focus on Nigeria, the founding Vice-Chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Professor OlugbemiroJegede in his keynote address titled ‘Global Job Crises: Curriculum Misfits, Reform Perspectives and Strategic Imperatives’, said Africa, with a current population of one billion has about 250 million people unemployed.

“It is forecast that the population will rise to 2.3 billion in 2050, while the unemployment figure will rise to more than one billion if nothing is done to check this unacceptable trend. Some of these statistics are quite disturbing but real.”

Jegede, who is the immediate past Secretary-General and Chief Executive of the Association of African Universities, said over 10 million seek employment annually and 60 per cent of the unemployed are youths; he said at least half of the one billion people are still illiterate as Africa hasthe world’s highest illiteracy rates.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is home to at least 30 per cent of the world’s poorest people. Africa has at least six out of 10 most unequal countries in the world.”

In Nigeria’s case, he said the country lives in a paradox of rapid economic growth alongside unspeakably huge poverty situation and inequalities that have striking effects on youth and women.
“Nigeria, a country of about 180 million people is said to have a staggering statistics of 50 per cent unemployed, and 80 per cent of our youths are unemployed. Nigeria’s economically active population is about 103 million (age 15 to 64 years) and labour force is about 75 million available for work and actively seeking for job.”

some of the causes of youth unemployment, Jegedesaid: “Our precocious rate of breeding leading to ‘a large youth population bulge’; lack of robustness in our economy to accommodate the large number of people looking for jobs; incessant down-sizing in industry especially in the banking and telecommunication sectors; inadequacy of the job creation opportunities to keep pace with the expanding working age population.”

Other causes he said include lack of well-equipped Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) centres to provide young workers with high quality and in-demand skills; very weak Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) base with a direct lack of new skill profiles in emerging new job requirements that are non-existent 10 years ago; limited or no development at all in the knowledge economies of LDCs; huge migrant populations especially with internally displaced groups; drastic changes in traditional ideas about ‘work’.

“Looking back to the 1990s, the big three US motor vehicle companies – Chrysler, Ford and General Motors- collectively hired 1.2 million employees. Today, the big three companies in Silicon Valley- Google, Facebook and Apple- together employ a total 134,000 people.”

He highlighted some of the consequences of youth unemployment to include armed robbery, kidnapping, steep increase in prostitution, street begging, hawking, cyber-crimes, proliferation of ‘baby manufacturing’ dens, corruption, examination malpractices, advance fee fraud (419), cultism, drug and child trafficking, militancy and insurgency.

To solve the problem, he said the country needs to build skills that are appropriate and effective for the 21st century and close the skills gap between tertiary institutions and the world of work; connect youth with the labour market (expose them to career and entrepreneurship meetings or workshops; promote technologies and innovative learning and teaching methods; vigorously pursue public-private partnership in virtually all areas of our economy.

Other recommendations are to tremendously increase and expand access to quality education (UNESCO: Nigeria needs 1.4 million teachers by 2030, and 450,000 lecturers in higher education sector); focus on the renewal of curricula – cascaded from the primary through secondary to the tertiary level; and professional community.

He said the Nigerian society and tertiary institutions must change their focus regarding the purpose of education- which is to arm graduates with a repertoire of quality skills to be creator of jobs and not hunters of jobs; develop to the fullest the country’s focus on entrepreneurship; build a knowledge economy and use applied research as a veritable linkage between education and industry; as well as to spend more resources on STEM at school.

To effectively do these he stressed that the country must comprehensively review its policy on education and harmonise it with policies in other sectors.

For the strategic imperatives, Jegede said the country should give priority to curriculum re-examination. “One of the current weaknesses of our educational system is the obsolete curricula being used in training students at the various levels of education especially the tertiary education level.

“Our review of the various curricula being used at our institutions of higher learning has not kept pace with global development, research outcomes and current societal needs. It does appear as if we still use analogue thinking to solve current issues which have gone digital. The tertiary institutions are still producing graduates for the labour market without constant reviews of what the market requires. Industry therefore thinks that it has nothing to gain from the tertiary institutions.”

He stressed that the curriculum review must aim for fit-for-purpose personnel to avoid wastage in resources and industry retraining graduates they hire from the tertiary institutions. “There needs to be a symbiotic relationship between academia and industry so that the knowledge directs teaching learning and research being done at the institutions will match what is required by the action-oriented industry driven by target and return on investment.”

He also called for industry-ready collaborative partnership programmes with tertiary institutions to bridge the skills gap. “The skills needed by graduates to function in the outside world and industry are not taught to graduates in our institutions that are increasingly becoming too theoretical.

“A number of things must be done to drive skills development and they consist of the following components: link with the labour market; public-private partnership; creativity and critical thinking; participation to engage stakeholders to develop strong education models; evidence-based programmes with build-in impact evaluation component to ensure that they are results-oriented and focused on quality and learning outcomes and; ICT-based to produce high-quality education and tap into new learning technologies.”

The professor added that there is need for interactions between industry and tertiary institutions to develop or implement scholarship schemes, staff exchanges, evaluation, incubator/accelerator centres for students to acquire entrepreneurship. “The establishment of centres for industry and institutional partnership must be looked into for the purpose of technology transfer and the acquisition of entrepreneurship. “There may be a need to harmonise the laws of universities which deal with knowledge generation and teaching with entrepreneurship, innovation and commercialisation.

He regretted thatAfrica has been slow in developing its knowledge economy and that is why it finds it hard if not impossible to compete on the global stage. “Africa only spends 0.42 per cent of its GDP on research and development. The target of one per cent has only been reached by Tunisia.
“Africa has 15 per cent of the world’s population but only produces 1.1 per cent of the scientific knowledge. Only three African universities are among the world’s top 500. Nigeria has only 35 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants, compared with 168 for Brazil, 2,457 for Europe and 4,103 for the USA.”

Also, he said the weak development of STEM has delayed the emergence of African countries as knowledge economies; due to low investment in research and development, Africa ranks low in global competitiveness and productivity.

“Nigeria needs to place emphasis on STEM and develop new skill profiles that will be needed in the 21st century. Our schools should build the teaching force in STEM and ensure that enrolment in schools and universities follow the 60:40 science to art ratio.

“Our specialised institutions of higher learning such as universities of science and technology and universities of agriculture must remain so without straying in including programmes and courses in the liberal arts or business just to make money.

“Nigerian higher institutions must develop sustainable research-industry linkages to ensure that we have a solid foundation for knowledge economy while government must be prepared to fund research very heavily and provide rewards and incentives to researchers who generate the knowledge and patents.”

Delivering the second keynote address titled , ‘Why the Private Sector should be Interested’, the Country Senior Partner, Nigeria for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Mr. UyiAkpata, who was represented by a PWC partner, Mrs. WunmiAdetokunbo-AJayi, identified factors responsible for high youth unemployment to include deficient school curricula and poor teacher training; these he said contribute to the failure of educational institutions to provide their students the appropriate skills that would make them employable. He said the problem is compounded by lack of vibrant industries to absorb competent graduates.

Akpata advised universities to transform themselves into places where young people cannot only study and take examinations, but learn from doing, in order to provide them with real world experiences that are relevant. He also called on the private sector to become more involved in financing education and defining the curriculum in schools.

The Lagos State Governor, AkinwunmiAmbode, who commended the organiser, said the summit was in line with the state’s vision of engaging students to focus on acquiring quality education that will enable them to conveniently fit into the job market after graduation.

Ambode, who was represented by his Special Assistant on Education, Mr. Obafela Bank-Olemoh, said a well-articulated curriculum would play a critical role in ensuring the success of its students in the 21st century, as it will help strengthen the fabric of education in the state, which is why the government initiated the Ready Set Work initiative.

He said the programme aims to equip students with critical skills that will enable them become either employable or employers of labour.

In his remarks, the summit co-host, the Bishop of Lagos West, Anglican Communion, Rt. Rev. James OlusolsaOdedeji, who was represented by the Dean of Archbishop Vining Memorial Church Cathedral, Ven. Abel Ajibodu, said the church, which was in the vanguard of the quest for the return of missionary schools to their original owners, is also set to tackle the unwholesome crave for certificate acquisition without commensurate acquisition of knowledge.

He bemoaned the situation where students and parents “in a bid to acquire degrees at all cost, go to any length to ‘buy’ or otherwise procure certificates.” He called on authorities to concentrate curriculum efforts on skills acquisition as a way of creating jobs and encouraging all youths to explore their potential in all spheres, be it academic or technical.

On his part, the Officer in Charge (Regional Office), UNIDO, Dr. ChumaEzedinma, who was represented by Mr. Francis Ukoh, UNIDO ICT expert, underscored the need to revamp the curriculum and begin to get people to graduate as employers.

He stressed that “nations are built by hands, technical competencies, skills and not speeches.” He called for parity between HND and BSc qualifications in terms of job placement to send a message that competency and skills are more important than undue emphasis on paper qualification.

Speaking on ‘Education Fraud in Nigeria, Character, Consequences and Panacea’, the Chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), EkpoNta, said fraudulent practices in the education sector include financial inducement for admission, political influence on the admission process, exceeding carrying capacity, leakage of examination papers, writing examination by proxy, sale of marks by lecturers for sexual and financial favours, producing project works for a fee, forgery of certificates and other credentials.

Nta, who was represented by the Director, Public Enlightenment, Mrs. Rasheedat Okoduwa, said some of the consequences are: failure to produce the required skills set for current national developmental needs; producing indolent and immoral students who believe in the mirage of short cuts to success; creation of low credibility and rating for Nigerian products in the global community, among others.

While proffering solution, he called for the collaboration of all stakeholders to fight corruption in the sector.

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