A LETTER TO THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION

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Accreditation standards should adapt to the changing face of work, writes Edem Dorothy Ossai

Dear Minister,

First of all, thank you for your astounding public service to our great nation through the mandate of your office. This open letter is a call for the immediate overhaul of use of typewriters as a subject accreditation standard for secondary schools teaching Business Studies.

I am a Lawyer and founder of a non-governmental organization called Mentoring Assistance for Youths and Entrepreneurs Initiative (MAYEIN), based in Oyo State, which promotes equal opportunity education and positive youth development through a compendium of solid literacy and e-literacy projects, leadership training and practical civic education programmes for children, adolescents and youth across formal school and non-formal settings.

For over 15 years, I have led strategies in child rights awareness and protection, positive youth development and gender empowerment. Based on the impact of my work in community-based interventions, I have been selected into two prestigious global fellowship programmes—the Mandela Washington Fellowship organised by the United States State Department and recently the Obama Foundation Scholars Programme, leading to a Masters in International Development and Policy at the Harris School of Policy, University of Chicago, United States.

In a just-concluded education summit tagged ‘The Future of Education Summit’, which held in Ibadan, Oyo State, 20th – 21st September and where I was a speaker, school owners and representatives in attendance brought to the participants’ attention a distressing trend in our nation’s education curriculum and schools’ accreditation practice.

It was reported that, regarding the teaching of the subject of Business Studies for the fulfilment of the current NECO requirement, the decision of accreditation of schools by your ministry is premised on whether schools own typewriters for students’ use and practice rather than on whether there is an equipped functional information and communication technology (ICT) laboratory in the school.

Several schools in attendance at this summit alleged that they have been continuously denied accreditation to teach the subject of Business Studies because they do not maintain typewriters for students’ use, and it is irrelevant to the said accreditation exercise that many of these schools boast more modern ICT facilities and resources for their students learning experience.

As a formal actor in the education sector, as well as a parent and by virtue a concerned stakeholder, I am bringing this pressing matter for your urgent attention. The world over, business in the 21st century is entirely driven by ICT as well as the Internet of Things (IoT).

In its 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report, UNESCO mandates that “Education must keep up with the changing face of work and aim to produce more high skilled workers.” In the transition towards sustainable economies, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the report emphasises that the role of education in innovation primarily concerns the dissemination of new technologies for higher education systems and that countries must do more to promote high-value skills within secondary education.

It is essential for today’s learners to be empowered with 21st century relevant education that ensures actual future readiness. Typewriters no longer drive the world of business and ceased to do so a long time ago. On November 20, 2012, Gerry Holt, a writer for BBC News Magazine wrote: “The end of an era has been marked,” as he described the significance of the last typewriter built in the UK rolling off the production line at Brother’s North Wales factory. Notably, the said firm donated the last machine to London’s Science Museum. In most countries, typewriters have now been confined to history, featuring primarily as historical objects, movie props or antiques in private collections.

Typewriters were an indispensable tool in the 20th century, prior the massive wave of changes led by the invention of computers and the internet. It is impossible to find a work system within any modern economy that still relies on typewriters to drive its processes. On February 1, 1980, then Apple Computer President Mike Scott wrote an internal memo to all employees, declaring the end of typewriter use at the company.

Even the once-common sight of professional street typists forming beehive activities beside court houses and local government secretariats in many developing countries such as Nigeria and India have dwindled. Despite erratic electricity supply in Nigeria, the benefits of managing a mushroom business centre with a computer, a printer and a portable noisy generator, far outweigh the limited efficiency of typewriters. The questions, therefore, are: What formal work systems today are demanding the kind of future workers that our country’s education system is intent on producing? Who exactly is hiring anyone with knowledge of use of typewriters?

Schools should be required to be equipped with current operative tools in business and work systems. During the last national BECE examinations for junior secondary school students, scores of Nigerian parents recounted woes of tirelessly scouting for typewriters to rent for their children’s use in Business Studies exams. Not only are typewriters difficult to find, it is lamentable that after a whole year of training in the subject with typewriters, school children are unable to demonstrate more valuable skills such as creation of business information tables and graphs, flow charts, basic Excel documents or even Power Point presentations—all of which are essential in the modern place of work.

Therefore, it is imperative that accreditation standards by your ministry should adapt to the changing face of work. An insistence on typewriters as a precondition for business subject accreditation cannot yield future readiness amongst the current generation of school children. It would rather amount to social injustice.

As a policy prodder, a child advocate and an educationist, these are reasons why strong advocacy for the immediate overhaul of the use of typewriters as an accreditation standard for schools in the subject of Business Studies is germane.

Ossai, the Executive Director of MAYEIN, sent this piece from Ibadan, through edemossai@uchicago.edu