Education Does Matter, By Uddin Ifeanyi
If, then, we are to drive productivity increases in the other sectors of the economy — a little over 40 of them on the last count, we would need to produce enough graduates for this purpose. However, every time the conversation gets to the part of resourcing labour for the economy, we tend to think tertiary-level job needs only.
Education does matter! In part because the goal of pivoting our economy away from its dependence on oil exploration and exports won’t happen without a large body of educated Nigerians as both the fulcrum and lever. One of the many failures of the oil and gas sector (aside, that is, the narcotising influence on the economy of its main product) is the absence of strong linkages with the domestic economy. As an “exclave” of the economy, it employs some of the best, yes. But not in enough numbers to move any needle. Even support services for the sector are largely provided by multinational types.
If, then, we are to drive productivity increases in the other sectors of the economy — a little over 40 of them on the last count, we would need to produce enough graduates for this purpose. However, every time the conversation gets to the part of resourcing labour for the economy, we tend to think tertiary-level job needs only. But as China moves up the productivity ladder, we find that much of the lower-end, mind-numbing jobs with which it launched itself unto the global economy are migrating downstream to countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and, in Africa, Rwanda. The work at this level may be repetitive, but it still requires levels of literacy, and industry that we may not be able to deliver presently.
Unfortunately, even this transition of labour-intensive employment is currently threatened by innovations in technology. Both digitisation and artificial intelligence promise now to make it easy for machines to carry out repetitive work that previously also required a fine eye for detail — especially in the textile and garments sector. For an economy like ours, therefore, even if we were able, over the next ten years, to turn out secondary school graduates with the skills needed to work efficiently and effectively in lower-end manufacturing jobs, these jobs may no longer matter.
…if education matters, the question is “Which aspects of it?” First, infrastructure. As is, most of our schools, especially the public ones, would fail, even, as pig styes. Such is the level of the management and technology of porcine farming, today, that pigs brought up in some of these schools will inevitably produce sub-optimally.
This is the other reason why education matters for an economy such as ours — the content and character of industry is changing at an unprecedented pace, and in diverse directions. On the face of it, it’s about rapid developments in technology. The automation of the workplace means that fewer workers produce a car powered by an internal combustion engine, today, than were required half-a-century ago. And these limited number of workers are technologically savvier than were their comrades only a decade ago. To produce an electric vehicle, however, and this is touted as the next level in the automotive business, 70 per cent less workers are needed per vehicle than in the traditional vehicle assembly plant. Further, the self-driven vehicle promises to do away completely with the concept of the “driver”, if not redefine what it means to be in a car.
In the light of these developments, if education matters, the question is “Which aspects of it?” First, infrastructure. As is, most of our schools, especially the public ones, would fail, even, as pig styes. Such is the level of the management and technology of porcine farming, today, that pigs brought up in some of these schools will inevitably produce sub-optimally. Thus, there is a strong case for upscaling classrooms and ancillary infrastructure across the land. But by far the biggest conversation around infrastructure is about access to the worldwide web. Google is now the uber-companion for most homework. It beats that long journey to the library (in often inclement weather) — not just in spatio-temporal terms, but especially because most of our libraries, bereft of the books without which a library is but a building (in this sense, but another infrastructure gap), no longer serve this purpose.
A networked (fibre-optic, or enhanced copper wire) environment is, therefore, a non-negotiable condition for addressing the shortfall in the capacity and output of our educational institutions. Yet, we still find sub-national governments demanding a king’s ransom for internet service providers to run cables around the place (right of access fees, these are called, when our biggest “right of access” ought to be to quality instructions in schools across the land). To invest in cabling the state, as the Kaduna State government is reported to have done, is the least that subnational governments could do, today, with the monies they get from the federation account.
Beyond infrastructure, though, is the question of our current curriculum. At primary and secondary school levels, their philosophy and content are no different from what was taught in the 1980s. Surely, the nature of today’s workplace needs demand that we re-look and rejig these principles and their praxes.
Beyond infrastructure, though, is the question of our current curriculum. At primary and secondary school levels, their philosophy and content are no different from what was taught in the 1980s. Surely, the nature of today’s workplace needs demand that we re-look and rejig these principles and their praxes. Without doubt, the absence of coding and programming classes in primary and secondary schools across the land is a major indictment of our present curriculum. In conversations with school proprietors, the fact that both NECO and WAEC do not examine for these subjects has been held up as a major let to their adoption. Yet, massive open online courses exist whose certifications are accepted worldwide, for which our schools could begin to prepare their students. At least until the authorities wake up to this need.
Nonetheless, on this matter of curriculum, by far the bigger challenge is around how our teachers are trained. Too much of what they teach is rote-based. There is hardly room for independent enquiry. And the environment within which this is carried on is too deferential. Graduates come off these assembly lines, spick and span, who yet may not think for themselves. In a world in which innovation and change are the defining features, these traits surely will not do. Again, I’ve been reminded that the Japanese are as sold on rote-learning and deference to age and authority as we are, and that this has not held them back from the many achievements they’ve driven.
Yes. the Japanese gave us “just-in-time manufacturing”. But they were only fixing production processes developed in North America. There have been no Japanese Facebook, Alphabet, Microsoft, or Apple. And we may yet find in Japan’s economy’s stasis since 1980 an example of how easily a hidebound economy may slide into a rut and remain there. I concede that were we to operate at Japan’s current levels, it would be an improvement on the rust belt that is our education sector, today. But my sense is that given how far behind we have fallen, it might be more practical to aim for the stars.