The Quality Of Our Graduates

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The Quality Of Our Graduates

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, An Editorial of August 21, 2005

 

Private sector employers have lately voiced their dissatisfaction with the low quality of graduates produced by our higher institutions. Speaking from their experience with these graduates, chief executives of leading corporations including Mr. Keith Richards of Guinness Nigeria Plc., Mr. Jacob Ajekigbe of First Bank Plc. and UAC Nigeria Plc's Mr. Ayo Ajayi spoke at different fora recently to the effect that our graduates lack employment appeal.

We understand this to mean that, generally speaking, they lack sufficient knowledge, skills and possibly other attributes that will enable them first to serve themselves or their employers, and second the larger society. The Guinness boss aptly ascribed this sad situation to 'the failure of the Nigerian educational system". We perfectly agree with him. For indeed, if our graduates are not worth their certificates, surely, the system that produced them must first be held responsible. Therefore, any and all discourse on the quality of Nigerian graduates revolves around the state of our schools. This matter calls for concern by all sectors of our polity.

But industry chiefs are not saying anything new. Some years ago, the World Bank, from far away Washington perceived and alerted us to this dangerous trend. This is to be expected in a situation whereby school buildings are dilapidated, libraries and laboratories are empty, students are hundreds to a teacher, teachers and administrators are demoralized, distracted, or downright depraved, academic curricula are out of tune with the demands of the times. "The great purpose of education", said Herbert Spencer, "is not knowledge but action."

But as they stand today, our tertiary institutions are not equipped to impart in their wards the utilitarian knowledge, skills and "proper values for the survival of the individual and society", as put by Section 8 (59) b of the National Policy on Education. Without fear of contradiction, we maintain that education is the most important sector of our national being. The reason is that, as the tool to upgrade the quality of our human capital, education is, our first line of defence against the poverty of mind and resources that manifest as other societal problems.

There is an answer to every problem if only we ask the right questions. Why are our graduates of low quality? The reason is they are products of a low quality educational system. And why is this so? The reason is that the managers of national affairs in their wisdom allow it so. The root of 'the failure of the Nigerian educational system' therefore lies in the failure of the Nigerian leadership. This is as valid a proposition for past military leadership of the state as it is for the present, even though for different contextual reasons. Having been subjected to almost three decades of military rule therefore, the general attitude to knowledge in our country is at variance with the rest of the progressive world. Neglected by national authorities, our schools suffer from staff restiveness, student hooliganism and a school calendar in utter disarray. This was not always so however.

We recall, not necessarily with nostalgia but with an acute sense of the fact, that nearly thirty years ago, the federal military government allocated 20.2% of its budget to the education sector. The following year, 25.5% of the 1977/78 budget - more than the UNESCO recommendation - was committed to this sector by the military government of the then Gen. Obasanjo. We are now in a democracy and it is reasonable to expect that, with the benefit of experience elsewhere, its operators would appreciate the critical role of an educated electorate in sustaining the democratic experiment.

Six years down the road, it is a matter of regret that the present government has done too little to raise the quality of our schools. In 2001, the democratically elected government of President Olusegun Obasanjo committed a paltry seven per cent of the 2001 budget to developing Nigeria's human capital. Provisions in subsequent budgets may be different but are not anywhere near the UNESCO recommendation. It is difficult to determine though how these budgetary allocations stand against whatever the ruling party promised in its hard -to -come -by 2003 campaign manifesto.

First these allocations speak volumes for the priorities of government in contradistinction with global trend. Second, a meagre allocation to the education sector violates the spirit of Chapter 2 section 18 of our constitution. Third, in respect of tertiary institutions that are expected to develop and supply the high level manpower for national development, this also negates the philosophy and goals spelt out in the National Policy on Education. But development and progress of nations are driven by the ideas generated and the products developed in their higher institutions. Generous funding is key to this. If we are to sustain our democratic system and assure the future prosperity of our country, we must upgrade our schools.

Failure to act now, we fear, spells doom for the future of our society. "The foundation of every state is the education of its youths" said Diogenes. If our children cannot compete favourably in the global marketplace, even lead in some fields of human endeavour, then of course, our country is doomed to remain mere suppliers of raw materials and consumers of processed goods. Our government bears the primary responsibility to raise the standard of Nigerian education and assure the quality of its products.

Admittedly, money alone will solve all of the problems that beset the Nigerian educational system. But, in the present circumstance, it is the first line of action most urgently called for. In the existing schools, money will buy the books and equipment so desperately needed, restore decaying structures and facilities to a level conducive to serious study, and offer the financial motivation to hire and retain quality and dedicated staff.

This done, we can justifiably demand quality performance from the staff and result from the students. But we also need to build more schools to cope with the rising demand for higher education; we need to revise school curricula to meet both national manpower needs and global standards. In addition to the knowledge of facts and figures, creative thinking, lateral thinking, problem-solving skills, emotional intelligence and people skills are the critical requirements of employers in this twenty-first century. Our schools must impart and encourage these. In this connection, the National Manpower Board must work closely with education planners and school authorities to define the short, medium and long-term human capital requirements of Nigeria.

We concede that, beyond complaining, many in the private sector have done much to support some institutions. Some have built and equipped buildings, endowed professorial chairs; others fund inter- school academic competitions. These are commendable social responsibility measures especially because the private sector by law pays a percentage of its profits into the Education Tax Fund. But much more needs to be done. More companies, persons and groups: philanthropists, NGOs, alumni associations, etc must come on board on their own volition. To realise this, however, school administrators must actively seek help from wherever they can to improve facilities and in turn raise the quality of their graduates. Support needs not come in cash every time.

All said, the undue emphasis on paper qualification drives the mad rush for degrees of all sorts. But the certificate, like the hood, does not make the man; does not tell about competence, character and other qualities that make the employee an asset. Many employers have found that the really effective people, the ones that make the difference on the job are not always the ones with the credentials.

This is especially so in an environment where examination fraud and certificate racketeering is rife. Therefore, more creative means need to be devised, as is already done in the West, to assess the personal qualities and the professional capabilities of prospective employees.

Understandably, certificates serve their own benchmark purpose. But if the holder is to move with the times, we believe that it is not out of place that they be renewed by way of refresher courses and competence tests. Our educational system must, in turn, prepare their wards for these demanding expectations of the labour market. That is if the schools are adequately empowered by all stakeholders.

 

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