For some years now, Nigerian graduates have always been accused of not being employable. For instance, while one Dr Bongo Ali, a World Bank consultant, asserted last year in Lagos at the conference of the Nigerian Institute of Management that 70% of Nigerian graduates are not employable (Daily Sun, March 30, 2017), the President of “Postgraduate School of Credit and Financial Management”, Prof. Chris Onalo, averred just months ago that 95% of Nigerian graduates are unfit for the labour market (The Guardian, July 19, 2018).
Though the figures might be exaggerated as the scholars did not disclose their methodologies of arriving there, one unmistakable truth is that it appears increasingly clear that our education does not meet our national expectations. The labour market is over-saturated and the half-baked graduates of the past are being said to have become quarter-baked, largely. There is consensus that our education requires attention, perhaps in the intensive care unit while hordes of graduates roam the streets seeking what to do.
But beyond marketability, the goals of our education are not being achieved and the crime and politics pages of our newspapers are sufficient evidence. The goals of our education are five, according to the National Policy on Education. They are: development of the individual into a morally sound, patriotic and effective citizen; total integration of the individual into the immediate community, the Nigerian society and the world; provision of equal access to qualitative educational opportunities for all citizens at all levels of education, within and outside the formal school system; inculcation of national consciousness, values and national unity; and development of appropriate skills, mental, physical and social abilities and competencies to empower the individual to live in and contribute positively to the society.
Today, we are contending with graduates and educated youth who are morally debased and ethnically charged, far from being patriotic. We are dealing with supposedly enlightened people who feel so disenchanted with and disconnected from Nigeria that they do not care if the country erupts in flames. We are surrounded by people who are being denied access to “qualitative educational opportunities” just because they cannot afford them and more pathetically, we are confronted with graduates without skills to help themselves not to talk of contributing positively to the society. These are features that make an educational system dysfunctional, when outcome does not match the purpose.
This dysfunctionality holds true for much of, though not all of, our troubled education sector. As education has a compelling multiplier effect, if it is good, the country is good. If education is bad, the whole country is bad. It has been noted that an inscription is at the entrance of a South African University and it seeks to drive the message of the centrality of quality and functional education home. It goes thus:
“Destroying any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or the use of long range missiles. It only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in the examination by students. Patients die in the hands of such doctors. Buildings collapse at the hands of such engineers. Money is lost at the hands of such economists and accountants. Humanity dies at the hands of such religious scholars. Justice is lost at the hands of such judges. The collapse of education is the collapse of the nation.”
The state of education in Nigeria requires urgent reverse engineering in order to turn dysfunctionality to functionality. We need to emphasise functional education, which is the type of education that is relevant to the present and future needs of the learners and the society. It is defined as the “education for which there is anticipated application, which thus assumes that the learner has immediate meaning, transferable into action of his learning abilities.” It is that type of education where performing productive tasks is given more emphasis than providing ideological conformity, or that education where practice is accorded more importance than theory.
Our education should move from being overly theoretical to being practical so that the goal of producing graduates who are employers of labour, rather than job-seekers, will not be a mere dream. Everyone who has passed through school should be able to do something that is of interest or benefit to the society. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe says, “knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”