By Benjamin Obiajulu Aduba
Education means different things to different people. To some education means going to college earning a diploma, and getting a job. To others it means learning a skill in an institution (technical school, teachers’ college, computer school, etc.) to get a job. To others it means learning skills that would lead to logical thinking, reading and understanding complex issues and coming up with a solution. I call this last one wholesome education. It is because of these varied interpretations of education that we always seem to misunderstand one another when we converse. It is also because of this interpretation that Nigeria does not yet have meaningful education policy.
People equate a college education with obtaining a job. If one graduates with a diploma and is unable to get a job, some people see this as a failure of either the graduate or the government. These people would posit that education is not good (Western Education is bad, in case of Boko Haram). The truth is that education for its sake is very, very good. We can never have enough of it.
Jobs or no jobs. If we focus on the wholesome education we will find that jobs would follow naturally from such education. We have examples of college drop outs, Bill Gates, Zuckerman, Mitch Kapor, etc., who, once they learned to think logically, to understand complex issues, and to come up with solutions dropped out of college to found corporations that would employ hundreds of thousands of employees including their classmates who graduated with honors and higher degrees. If we have institutions that impart this kind of knowledge in every village, I will still not think they are too many.
But they are expensive to build and run and Nigeria cannot afford them this time.
For those who would rather we focus on the education that creates jobs Nigeria should consider what is known as technical schools. These institutions teach carpentry, automobile mechanics, computer technology, nursing, teaching, and a myriad of other skills. These skills create the middle class which is the most vital component of a thriving society. The beauty of these skills training is that the graduates often go out to create their own jobs. I know many independent carpenters, nurses, mechanics, and even teachers. The early Nigerian educators were mostly men and women (independent teachers): Mr. Oli of Merchant’s, Okongwu of Okongwu Grammar School, and Udokwu of Nike Grammar School, etc. They existed in all the present Nigerian zones.
The other point that often arises in the discussion of Nigerian education is the link to job creation and who would create the jobs. This point raises chicken and egg issues. Should government create jobs and then train the people to perform these jobs or should the government train the workers and then create the jobs for them? The above statement attempts to answer a part of the topic sentence of this paragraph; that job creation is the job of government. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Government’s primary role is to provide the enabling environment for job creation, such as what Dr. Okpara did in Eastern Nigeria. He provided land (called industrial layouts) in almost all major cities – Enugu, Port Harcourt, Onitsha, Aba, Calabar, etc – ; built infrastructure (roads, water pipes etc.) and made them available to business men and women. Today these have remained the hub of these cities’ economic life. Investors, private and public have created jobs. Job creation is the work and responsibilities of universities (the kind that give wholesome education), government (the type that provide enabling environment) and private entrepreneurs. The better we understand education in it various manifestations; the more focused will our discussions be. The better we understand the roles of different societal segments in job creation the less rancorous will our finger pointing be.
Benjamin Obiajulu Aduba wrote in from Boston, Massachusetts, USA.