CHALLENGES OF VOCATIONAL EDUCATION IN A DISTRESSED ECONOMY
Agricultural Education Department, College of Education, Warri
Vocational Education is the education that prepares students for jobs and careers that are based on mostly manual or practical activities. Sometimes also referred to as technical education, vocational education promotes self-employment and is considered a vital requirement for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals by Nigeria and other third world countries. Most countries with distressed economies, like Nigeria, have neglected this aspect of education. This has led to the shortage of medium and good quality, skilled technical manpower required for economic development. Today, “graduates” are therefore vastly unemployable. The situation calls for the establishment of vocational and technical training centres across third world countries by governments, the private sector, trade unions and non-governmental organizations. Education curricula must be revised to incorporate computer studies and they must be tailored to meet the direct need of industries. Third world governments, particularly Nigeria, need to urgently address the imbalance between the number of vocational schools and university degree awarding institutions. Public utilities, particularly electricity, must be available to guarantee both the teaching and application of vocational skills for national development. Legislation is also required to ensure that technically skilled workers are paid wages that are comparable to white-collar workers as is applicable in advance economies.
Keywords: vocational, education, skills, distressed economy
One of the greatest challenges posed by the economic depression of 2009 is the massive loss of jobs and closure of many factories and industries. This is a global phenomenon, but no where is its effects more felt than in the developing and third world countries whose economies even in the best of times have been very vulnerable.
It is the widely held belief of most economists that the way out of the economic depression is for work forces around the world to return back to production. An industrial capacity utilization of about 53% for a nation like Nigeria, for example, gives cause for concern. The implication of this is the dire need to create jobs and avenues for massive employment. Vocational education and training offers the best opportunity to produce an employable work force in any country. Sadly, in the distressed economies of the third world, there are no clear and workable policies in place for vocational education and technical training. Educational policy implementation in Nigeria, for example, is haphazard. The 6-3-3-4 education policy that was designed to develop middle cadre technicians has collapsed.
In this paper, an attempt will be made to explain what vocational education is, the challenges of vocational education and how it links to the millennium development goals. Finally some recommendations will be proposed with Nigeria in mind.
What is a distressed economy?
There is nod direct statistical formula that designates any economy as either “distressed” or “not distressed”. However, some indices for a distressed economy may be derived from a dictionary definition of the word “distress”.
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines distress as “cause of great pain, discomfort or sorrow; suffering caused by want of money or other necessary things”. From this definition, it may be possible to ascribe certain characteristics to a distressed economy as follows:
- An economy that does not support the minimum wage earning levels required for basic living as prescribed by the United Nations.
- An economy with a low industrial capacity utilization.
- An economy with high level of unemployment.
- An economy with a low level of social security.
- An economy with a high child mortality rate.
- An economy with low life expectancy.
- An economy with poor social infrastructure.
The majority of African, Asian, and Latin American nations depict these characteristics and may therefore be described as having distressed economies. Nigeria is typically one of those nations.
What is vocational education?
Vocational Education is any form of education whose primary purpose is to prepare persons for employment in recognized occupations (Okoro, 1993). It has also been explained as the sum total of all educational experiences systematically organized and presented by an institution to enable the learner acquire basic productive and practical skills (Oharisi, 2007).
Therefore, Vocational Education, also called Career and Technical Education, prepares students for jobs and careers that are based on mostly manual or practical activities. The term does not apply to the development of professions acquired via tertiary institutions. Vocational education is low on theoretical or academic activity and is generally related to learning a specific trade or occupation. It is sometimes referred to as technical education, as the learner directly develops skills in a particular trade that promotes considerable self-employment.
Vocational education teaches procedural knowledge for acquiring a skill or trade contrast with tertiary education that concentrates on research, theory and abstract knowledge. Vocational education provides instruction that is usually given to those who need employment in commerce and industry or in any type of enterprise that involves the use of tools and other machinery.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the apprenticeship system and the home were the principal sources of vocational education and training. Since the, society ahs been forced by the decline of handwork and the pursuit of tertiary education to develop institutions of vocational education. Today, vocational education can be at the secondary or post-secondary level and can make appreciable use of apprenticeship or mentorship. Under the British colonial government, vocational education in Nigeria initially developed independently of the state, with bodies such as the RSA and City & Guilds setting examinations and offering certificates in vocational technical subjects.
Vocational education focuses on specific trades such as automobile repairs or mechanic, welding, plumbing, electrical craftsmanship or electrician, hair dressing, tailoring and barbing, etc, and has until recently been associated with the activities of lower social class of people. As a result, it attracted a level of stigma in the past.
However, with economic advancement and the demand for higher levels of productivity and efficiency, the place of vocational education has become better appreciated. The labour market has become more specialized and nations are demanding higher levels of skill at different levels. Governments and businesses are increasingly investing in the future of vocational education through publicly funded training organizations and subsidized apprenticeship. At the post-secondary level, vocational education is typically provided by polytechnics, institutes of technology or trade schools.
Vocational education has diversified over the 20th century and now exists in industries, manufacturing, retail, tourism, information technology, agriculture, cosmetics and cottage industries, etc.
Igwebuike (2007) lists some vocational fields and their related occupations in the table below:
Agrobusiness, agric machines, food processing, horticulture
Distribution and marketing of textiles, foods, general merchandize
Nursing, medical equipment operators, dental assistants, medical records technicians
Child care, clothing service, catering, nutrition, home management
Data processing, computer and office machine operators, book keeping, stenographic services, printing
Technical and Industrial
Construction trades, building trades, manufacturing, maintenance and repairs
Electronics, computer programming, telephony, machine tool design
Linkage to the millennium development goals
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight international development goals that 192 United Nations member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015.
- Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
- Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education.
- Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women.
- Goal 4: Reduce child mortality.
- Goal 5: Improve maternal health.
- Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
- Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability.
- Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development
Nigeria and many other third world and developing countries are signatories to these goals.
The eighth goal, which deals with development, contains target that include strategies for developing decent and productive work for young people. Clearly, vocational education and training have an important role to play in achieving these targets.
Recent evaluations have showed that, apart from China and India, other developing and third world countries do not show any evidence of achieving the MDGs by 2015.
Challenges of vocational education in Nigeria
According to Dike (2005), “while the number of vocational technical schools has greatly increased in the developed countries since 1900 and vocational education has continued to thrive in many societies, Nigeria has neglected this aspect of education. Consequently, the society lacks skilled technicians: bricklayers, carpenters, painters and auto mechanics, laboratory and pharmacy technicians, electrical/electronic technicians, food processors and horticulturists and skilled vocational nurses, etc. The hospitals are no longer a place where people go to get ailments treated, but a place they go and die”.
The situation is getting out of hand as degree awarding institutions with ill equipped infrastructure and teaching aids continue to thrive in the land. So bad is the rat race that even old institutions that used to train students in practical vocations are now competing to be accredited as degree awarding institutions. The middle and lower cadre technical skills that are very badly needed for national development are fast disappearing as a result.
In contrast, in Germany today, according to Makanjuola, (2009), the government’s focus on rebuilding their manpower starting from the proportion of skilled technicians and workers to those with university degrees is about 4 to 1. In Nigeria, practically every student seeks a university degree, even if it means not acquiring any skills or any job prospects for that matter. It is not clear whether, at the federal or state level, we have a framework or plan to reverse this unfortunate trend.
It is not clear what statistics are available in Nigeria with respect to computer literacy and education, but like all statistics concerning the nation, whatever is available may not be positive. Global advancement is today driven by information technology. To quote Oni, (2007), “a developing nation needs efficient services of technicians, engineers, and technologists who have received formal training from vocational-technical institutions”. Akanbi (1994) notes that in businesses, banking customer service records are stored in computers. Likewise, banking operations have gone electronic and they utilize on-line, real-time access and updating methods. Many vocational and technical enterprises in developed nations like the United States, Britain, Germany, France and others now employ the use of computer packages and software. In order to work in an industrial nation, vocational professionals clearly need to be computer literate”. Many vocational personnel are not catching up with global trends. In many vocational-technical institutions in Nigeria today, technicians, engineers, and technologists are not trained to use computers for business purposes.
The attitude of vocational education teachers to innovation is poor. In a study investigating the computer attitudes of teacher educators (Jegede & Owalobi, 2005), it was found that vocational-technical education teachers showed the least positive attitudes about computer. Lamentably, these teachers are the very ones saddled with the task of training the junior secondary school teachers. The study seems to suggest that vocational education in Nigeria is particularly disadvantaged in that the curriculum still emphasizes manual traditional skills over the use of computer technology.
The impression was created by early colonial educators that the learning of vocational subjects was for drop-outs and mentally handicapped children. The notion has created a certain negative attitude in both students and parents towards vocational education up till now.
Many schools, vocational institutions and even polytechnics and universities in Nigeria are too poorly equipped to deliver quality teaching and learning. There appears to be a drive to increase students intake without a commensurate increase in quality of teaching.
Underlying all the challenges enumerated above is the cankerworm called corruption; that is the main reason why all good initiatives fail in Nigeria. The country is ranked top among the most corrupt nations of the earth. Corruption continues to degrade our national values, destroy good initiatives and makes progress almost impossible. Until a drastic blow is dealt to corruption in the public and private sectors, nothing of great national value should be expected in Nigeria.
Corruption and poor funding have denied many institutions in Nigeria the opportunity to grow and match their counterparts in other parts of the world. To quote Oharisi (2007), “technical and vocational education is capital intensive”. The lack of funds limits the amount of technical and industrial exposure that trainees can acquire in the course of learning.
Faulty educational systems and government policies are also big issues in Nigeria. The Nigerian educational system had and is still witnessing changes in educational systems. There have been the 8-5-2-3 system, the 6-5-2-3 system, the 6-3-3-4 and now 9-3-4 systems. Indeed, policy makers appear to be confused and their interest in the growth and development of the nation is questionable. All these changes including distorted academic calendars have had negative effects on the delivery of vocational education over the years.
Vocational educational training provides one of the keys for a well-rounded development of any nation’s economy. The lack of trained vocational and middle-level technical manpower represents a very serious gap in the development of third-world countries like Nigeria. Governments, the private sector, trade unions and non-governmental organizations, through their policies and activities, have major roles to play to reverse this trend.
The following are recommended:
1. To improve workers welfare the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and other affiliated unions should establish technical and vocational training centers in the local government areas where the workers could acquire some employable skills.
2. The unions, including the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), should push for increase funding for technical education as part of the current economic reform programs.
3. Government, via legislation, should formalize the promotion and funding of vocational skills acquisition being currently championed by the major oil companies within their operating communities and make it a social responsibility of the organized private sector.
4. The Federal Government must take deliberate steps to address the imbalance between technical/vocational schools by coming up with a legislation that would force the establishment of private vocational institutions rather than universities.
5. Government should enforce standards for existing tertiary institutions and universities to guarantee the quality of graduates from these institutions.
6. There is need for Government to sincerely and diligently implement the 6-3-3-4 educational system which was originally intended to produce university graduates as well as middle-level and vocational graduates in different trades. Today, the system only prepares students for tertiary education.
7. The greatest challenge facing vocational and technical training and development in Nigeria is the notorious and perennial lack of public power supply. Nearly all known vocations required for national development rely on efficient and stable electricity supply. Most private entrepreneurship that grew from the community development initiatives of the oil companies have folded up for lack of public power supply. There is an urgent need for Government to build a firm foundation for the generation, transmission and distribution of reliable electricity across the country. Nigeria stands the risk of being marooned in the Stone Age by this singular factor of poor electricity supply.
8. Makanjuola (2009) has proposed and I agree with him that technically skilled workers be paid wages that are commensurate with their outputs, and comparable to what white-collar workers earn. This might change the attitude of unemployed youths and school-leavers who are currently idle and encourage secondary school leavers to pursue vocational and technical training in place of university degree certificates. Again this will call for sincerity and determination of governments to make laws that allow for appropriate public salary scales.
9. The level of computer literacy must be improved by creating a computer-integrated vocational education curriculum in all institutions beginning at secondary school level. In the present world, computer illiteracy may prove to be the greatest illiteracy of all time.
10. The curriculum of vocational schools and institutions should be tailored to the need of industries so that products of vocational training are employable. The Shell Petroleum Development Company, for example, recruits fresh university graduates for an expensive one-year “Special Intensive Training Programme” to prepare them for challenges of the industry. This is largely a result of curriculum gap between universities and the oil industry.
11. Above all, practical, technical skills that can promote self-employment in today’s economic climate cannot be over emphasized.
12. Finally, Government through the EFCC and ICPC, must show a determination to stamp out corruption from public life. The time for lip service is over. Government must show courage and boldness in dealing with political patronage, the twin brother of corruption.
Dike, V. (2005): “The Relevance of Vocational and Technical Education”; www.gamji.com/article8000/NEWS8534.htm.
Igwebuike, (2007): “Achieving the Millennium Development Goals through Vocational and Technical Education”; Journal of Vocational Education Volume-3 Pg. 11-20.
Jegede and Owolabi (2005): “Availability, Teachers’ Awareness and Attitudes Towards the Use of Computers”; Education & Information Technology Digital Library.
Makanjuola, Y. (2009): “Investing in Vocational and Technical Education”, This-Day Newspaper 15th January.
Oharisi, J. (2007): “Fundamentals of Technical & Vocational Education”; Anpath Nig. Ent., Warri, Nigeria.
Oni, C. (2007): “Development Vocational Education Through Computer Literacy in Nigeria” Education & Information Technology Digital Library.
Shell Petroleum Development Company (2007): “The Special Intensive Training Programme”
Wikipedia (The Free Encyclopedia): “Vocational Education” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocational education
wikipedia (The Free Encyclopedia): “Millennium Development Goals”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium Development Goal