Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kwara’s proposed international vocational centre

Over the weekend, I watched a newscast on the Kwara State’s planned International Vocational Centre being done in collaboration with the world-acclaimed vocational education institution, City and Guilds of London. The news fascinated me a great deal. It is a good thinking on the part of the state government, I reasoned. There is no gainsaying that Nigeria is in dire need of qualified, competent, skilful and productive artisans. Yes, there are many bogus and dim-witted persons with sign-posts and labels everywhere claiming to be master artisans. Last December, I needed to change the lock on my door and thus went to the market to purchase a replacement. I thereafter called on a welder near my house to come and replace the lock. Lo and behold, the apprentice he sent down could not fix the lock; the master himself came, fumbled with it for a couple of hours without success and thereafter promised to summon a colleague to help out. It took another “master” welder to fix the lock after two had tried. I have had similar experience with motor mechanics, cobblers, tailors, to mention but a few. Indeed, there are more destroyers out there than repairers among the artisans. Upon their incompetence, they are also very fraudulent. I know many readers have not fared any better than me.
It is thus heart-warming that the Kwara State Government is thinking of helping to solve this critical manpower need. It was reported that Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed laid the foundation of the N1.4bn vocational centre at Ajase-Ipo, Irepodun Local Government Area on September 11, 2012. The governor was quoted as saying that the vocational centre was part of his administration’s resolve to “create a new generation of highly employable artisans and prosperous youth entrepreneurs through the provision of market relevant skills under our Share Prosperity Programme”. He noted that “the centre will, through modernised vocational training, premised on world-class standards, turn senior secondary school-leavers, polytechnic and university graduates into well-trained artisans ready to create jobs and contribute to the collective prosperity of the state”.
Governor Ahmed emphasised that “the graduates of the International Vocational Centre who would be awarded globally recognised certificates and diplomas moderated by the London-based City and Guilds will, on completion of their courses, be marketable and employable youths while Kwara State will become a reputable hub for vocational and technical skills in West Africa”. The centre, according to the governor, would run on a good mix of practical and theoretical learning with well-equipped classrooms and practical skill development areas, especially in marine and port operation, agriculture, hospitality, catering as well as engineering, construction, fashion design and textiles.
I wish the Governor well in his bid. One hopes, however, that this will not turn out to be a white elephant. I truly believe the governor is on the right track and looks forward to the speedy take-off of the training institute. Experience with Nigeria’s policy implementation has been very discomforting. Many decades ago, precisely in 1982, we started the 6-3-3-4 system of education. This substituted the hitherto 6-5-4 system under which I was schooled. (6-5-4 means six years of primary school, five years of secondary education and four years of university training). The 6-3-3-4 system, according to education experts, was designed to inject functionality into the Nigerian school system by producing graduates who would be able to make use of their hands, head and the heart (the 3Hs of education). The idea was to have six years of primary education, three years of junior secondary education, and another three years of either technical education for those who are more interested in learning a trade or three years of senior secondary school for those who are more academically inclined. The last four years of the 6-3-3-4 system is for tertiary education.
Incidentally, there are reports that the policy was changed about 24 years later when the then Minister for Education, Dr. Obi Ezekwesili, launched the 9-3-4 system coupled with the privatisation of Unity Schools, hitherto known as Federal Government Colleges. However, taking a second look at the system, incumbent Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufa’i, proposed to the National Assembly the need to revert to the old system of 6-3-3-4, but with a modification that would include Early Childhood Education. In the manner of her predecessors, she also christened the system, hence the name 1-6-3-3-4.
In summary, we have moved from 6-5-4 to 6-3-3-4 to 9-3-4 and now 1-6-3-3-4. It will seem every administration in Nigeria just wants to tinker with our education system and rename it to suit its fancy. The challenge with Nigeria’s education sector is not so much lack of policy, road map or blueprint but privation of adequate funding of the vision. I recall that in time past, as part of tackling the challenge of technical manpower, polytechnics, technical colleges and trade centres were established across the length and breadth of Nigeria. Unfortunately, many of them are now comatose due to inadequate manpower and funding to make them functional. I do hope the promoters of the vocational centre being built by the Kwara State government has learnt from the failure of these past efforts and as such will avoid the pitfalls.
It is crystal clear that we cannot all go to the universities no matter the effort of government to create access. Some people are gifted with technical skills and need to be encouraged to hone their skills at a formal school where they will get certified. This is inclusive education. The Kwara initiative is a clarion call on our state and local government executives to do all in their powers to revive the technical colleges and trade centres in their domains. This is one veritable way to bridge the technical knowledge gap that currently exists in the country. It is also a way of reducing unemployment as many graduates of these technical institutions are potential entrepreneurs who can set up their own outfit and provide quality services to the society. Failure to revitalise these technical colleges and regulated vocational study centres will continue to make Nigerians to be at the mercy of these charlatans called artisans.