Adibe Emenyonu writes on the efforts by the administration of Governor Godwin Obaseki to revive technical education not just for industrial growth, but for future job creation and self- sustainability
Forty nine years ago, the Canadian Government built two technical colleges in Africa to cater for middle manpower for industrial growth. One of the institutions was built in Tanzania, while the other one was built in Nigeria.
The Nigerian college was sited in Benin City, capital of the then Midwestern State and named Benin Technical College during the administration of late Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia. The school was said to have been built due to the clamour by Oba Akenzua II for the training of youths in technical skills and sports.
Thus the complex was built by the Canadian government and fitted with machines for learning and skills acquisition and an Olympic size swimming pool, as well as other sporting facilities.
Close to five decades after the establishment of the two technical colleges in Africa, the Tanzania model has remained a thing of pride. The institution till date is producing high quality technical manpower in that country in fulfillment of the dreams of the donor country.
Unfortunately the Nigeria cum Benin City design after some years became moribund. Rather than producing the technical manpower required, it was left to the mercy of tall grasses, rodents and other dangerous reptiles as a place of aboard. At a stage, it became a haven and hideout for criminal as parents lost interest in that line of education. The school later became deplorable because of lack of maintenance and abandonment and the workshops vandalised
To this extent, prospective students were being begged to pick up admission letter because then, it was perceived as a place for those who cannot do well in conventional secondary schools.
This was all because of the sorry state of the institution because students were taught practicals in abstract. At the gate of the college, what welcome a first time visitor is the dilapidated buildings with depreciating staff strength due to non-engagement of new staff when old ones retired or depart for greener pastures.
However today, the Benin Technical College now renamed Government Science Technical College (GSTC) is wearing a new look and attractive to parents and students. During the new academic session that began in September, large crowd of prospective students were usually seen at the gate of the school struggling to check if they were among those shortlisted for admission.
Olagua Amadin, who said he stopped going to the school due to the deplorable learning atmosphere, said he is glad to come back because “our school is now fitted with modern learning facilities, good bathrooms and toilets, internet facilities and air conditioned classrooms.
Also, some parents who spoke to THISDAY said they are now keen to enroll their children in the school because of the transformation and new buildings they saw.
Even Mr. Isaiah Omorogbe, whose son failed to secure admission because he did not pass the test, said he would reapply next year, adding that present day jobs require skills and not mere paper qualification.
Speaking during an inspection tour of the college, Obaseki stated that the new commercial production hub in the state would serve as a location for design and production of machines so as to create opportunities for students to work with those in the industry and translate what they learn to the real world.
“We have now finished building two new blocks with workshops that will accommodate about 800 students. We now need to move to the old blocks and begin to make them more modern. We are also rebuilding the electrical, mechanical and carpentry workshops. We are introducing plumbing and other trades.
“We need more teachers that can teach technical subjects and we need to train them. We are considering different options as we are talking to foreign partners to provide technical support and assistance on how to bring people who have done this before to accelerate the training of our teachers.”
He added that his administration is working with several bodies particularly countries in the European Union (EU) seeking their support in executing projects of this nature and to help deal with human trafficking and curtail irregular migration.”
Arising from the school remodeling, officials of the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) led by the Deputy Director, Mallam Samaila Tanko visited the college. Tanko, who spoke during the visit, said the delegation was impressed with facilities in the school and that the body would soon release result of its findings and make recommendations which he said would be to accredit it, and urged the state government to continue in the positive light it has started.
On his part, Giles Omezi, Team Leader of the College Rehabilitation Programme, disclosed that phase one of the project was designed to be energy efficient as it has the capacity to harvest and use rainwater and operate with alternative off-grid solar energy, among other innovations.
Omezi explained that a production cluster comprising maker spaces accessible to local tradesmen would soon be operational, which would make the facility a hub for job creation and skills development in the state.
“We have solar panels for solar energy. We are harvesting rainwater as well. This is a test case of how sustainable our public buildings can be. We are going to be doing the same thing in the next phase. The institution will be fully networked with a site wide fibre optic system, backup power from generators, off-grid renewable energy (solar power), rainwater harvesting and an integrated site wide potable water system.
“Old capital equipment that have been out of action for decades have been brought back to life, components with operational life in them are being reinfused and a sensitive attitude to refurbishing the old buildings means that we are utilising less new components and saving money.”
He added that key infrastructure interventions in the project include a dedicated 33kv line from the Benin North electrical sub-station, which draws power from the NIPP Ihonvbor/Azura Power complex and a 45mbps fibre optic cable serving the college.
Also speaking, the college Principal, Mr. Federick Osazuwa said with the renovation work, the school can now train large number of students as it could admit up to 200 in a class.
“Today, the GSTC is now an attraction to both parents and students owing to the new world-class two blocks of 22 classrooms newly constructed by Governor Godwin Obaseki.”
Osazuwa, an engineer, recalled that when Obaseki visited the school immediately after he was sworn in and vowed to reclaim the school’s vast land from encroachers and rebrand the college, he never believed that it can happen because of similar promises made in the past.
He said many administrations have come and gone but there was no refurbishing and rehabilitation of the college as promised which has grounded machines and tools, teachers teaching practicals on abstract, learning under blown off roof, obsolete machines and many other neglected facilities that led to its collapse.
“But true to his words, the vast school land was fenced including houses built by private individuals. In less than three years, the first phase of the project was delivered and admission was opened for new intakes. Unlike in the past when admission into the technical college was free for all, those now seeking to gain admission were subjected to written examinations and interview as the new school can only provide for 40 students per class.”
The principal added: “Today, this new edifice is what you cannot get anywhere in this country. The equipment here is not found anywhere. From my office I can communicate with all the teachers. I can observe what teachers are teaching and students are doing in their various classrooms.
“We have screen chalk board. We can connect to the internet and the teachers will be teaching the students, we are very lucky that Governor Obaseki revived technical education because it was dead. One of the things that killed technical education in Edo State arose from a situation where a historian or economist was appointed to head technical school for many years; I am the first engineer to be appointed principal in this college.”
Giving further reasons for the collapse of the school, Osazuwa said in the past, people who took decisions on things affecting technical college knew nothing about engineering, insisting that a principal of a technical school must know the principles and mechanism of any engine in any workshop as well as identity workshop tools.
“We used to have students trained in quantity but we now train in quality, decency and credibility. Then, we could admit 200 in a class but now we admit 40. Presently, we have 122 staff in this school from just 39 staff.”
Nevertheless, government has been advised to provide adequate security for the school to prevent the installed equipment from being stolen so as to achieve sustainability.
Some of the staff of the college recalled how thieves came with crane one night, overpowered the security guards and made away with two German manufactured machines
They said since the school is operating on a new vision and new mission, there is need to provide security to avoid events of the past.