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Why Nigerian Graduates Are Unemployable – DG Science & Tech Agency
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, unemployment in Nigeria is alarmingly high with 5.3 million youth unemployed. Some 1.8 million graduates are estimated to enter labour market yearly. The director general of the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion, NOTAP, an arm of the Science and Technology ministry, Umar Bindir, says that a major reasons for the high unemployment rate is the lack of synergy between theoretical knowledge acquired in school and industrial experience needed in the market place. In this interview with Abiose Adelaja Adams, he speaks on how his office helps to bridge the gap.
Nigeria was recently declared as Africa’s biggest economy, yet this has not improved the quality of life of Nigerians. How is your office working to ensure that science, technology and innovations systems in schools translate into graduate empowerment and economic development?
First, let me start from our school education system. It lacks entrepreneurship content. What I mean by this is simple; you see many graduates of Agricultural Science in this country searching for job for three, four, five years. That’s an index of lack of entrepreneurship. I look at children of today and there is no career focus. The father gets admission for them to secondary school, university and then works out the NYSC posting; there is a large pool of young people who do not know what to do at all.
The education system is meant to tailor our young people to be entrepreneurs. If I went to the university to study agriculture, that qualifies me to come out and fry garri and be rich. I must be able to know how. But what is taught in the institutions is theory.
Take for instance, a school like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, in the U.S, they are making a lot of money because the research is focused, there are firm linkages with industries and that makes their education entrepreneurial.
Why is this so?
There is a problem with our education curriculum. Our whole education structure is about literacy. What we got from the colonial masters is that we think we must just go to school. We have not been able to marry our culture with science. You see a lot of students failing science subjects, and so there are few science student and even the few ones don’t know what to do with it.
Yet an average Nigerian child is exposed to science right from childhood. For instance, a child that grew up in the north knows how to plant groundnut. If he is from the South West, he knows about cocoa; if from the middle belt, he knows how to plant yam; if you give a child seed to plant, you are teaching the child about photosynthesis, transpiration, and you say that’s not science. Those in the villages already know about how eggs hatch into chicken- that is incubation! So you see the child is exposed to all these. That is science.
When you cook, the method of adding pepper, egwusi and maggi in the right proportion, that is mathematics. Yet we have children failing math. Our children know how milk is derived from cow, they know how to select the clay to make pots – that is industrial technology. We think it is local and has no science in it, but a British child will never see an egg hatch into a chicken until he grows up. He knows nothing about planting or milking a cow.
So, here we have the Nigerian child exposed to the beginning and end of science and we don’t know because we have not inculcated our cultural practices into science. That is why we need to uncover the knowledge of science in our daily activity. Science is not a mystery. We only need to demystify science using existing culture. This is what Nigeria needs to understand, a change in the education curriculum. We need to begin to see that there are lots of opportunities on the traditional side. This is the gap between our educations system and the reality and until we close that gap, we can’t make much advancement in science, technology and innovation.
How do we close the gap?
Closing the gap, is to document our traditional processes and turn them into teaching materials and mainstream with main syllabus by formalizing the informal and gradually injecting it into the curriculum
Your office is into technology transfer, how does that bridge this gap?
Two years ago, we created the NOTAP Industry Technology Transfer Fellowship, NITTF. Through this fellowship, the PhD students can have a first-hand experience and exposure to the infrastructure at a multinational company. With the exposure he has, he can then transfer to the younger generation because he is going to remain in the university as a lecturer. We are working with all university vice chancellors, the National University Commission, NUC, and over 50 companies have indicated willingness, including Julius Berger, Dufill Primer, Friesland Wampco and Nestle.
What necessitated this idea?
NOTAP is seeing the need of the industry and the academia. We have people that do not have jobs and jobs that do not have people to do them. Every day investors are opening up new businesses in Nigeria because Nigeria is a land of opportunities, but the industries need manpower with the technical know-how, but because they can’t get it, they bring in human capital from abroad and when they are done, they go with the technology. In other words, the technology is not in the hands of our people. Another thing we have identified is that most of the researches in the university are not industry-relevant, NOTAP wants to match-make researches so that they are demand-driven and industry-needed. The academia does not have the leeway to the industries and so the industries with the academia, so we are the link between the industry and the academia.
At what stage are you with the Fellowship scheme now?
We have three PhD students currently doing health/nutritionally related projects at the University of Nigeria now and they have an enabling environment through the use of the infrastructure of these multinational for their researches.
Only three nationwide?
When we started, adverts went out to three national newspapers. The criteria are that they must be doctoral students who want to pursue their research in a Nigerian university and who will remain in the country afterwards and academia as lecturers. To our shock, we only received 30 applications. After that, the applications were screened and only three were found to be industry-relevant.
How then will they pass the practical knowledge to the students since most Institutions do not have the kind of infrastructure (at such multinational) the PhD students were exposed to?
No doubt, with the knowledge they acquired, their lecturing will be different from the status quo. More so, one of the aims we hope to achieve through this project is also to address the infrastructural needs in the institutions. Since we are collaborating with all the vice chancellors, it will give them a clear picture of the infrastructure they need to provide for their students. We are hoping the project will address both infrastructural development and human capital development.
How will this introduce the entrepreneurial content into the system and make employable graduates?
By the time they remain in the institution as lecturers, they now form a hub that will introduce entrepreneurial education to upcoming generation. Imagine that after the fellowship exposure, they come up with a better understanding of how the industry works. They will be the ones to incubate a new set of entrepreneurs. Teaching them to develop industy-relevant researches, changing their mentality to become job creators.
How does all this solve the problem of unemployment and create jobs?
Since Nigeria’s independence over 50 years, we have been doing the same thing. Our graduates are without jobs, even masters and PhD degree holders are without jobs, yet Nigeria is a land of opportunity. So, we are partnering with Nigerian University Commission to build up professionals who are entrepreneurship-minded. We are changing the psyche of the Nigerian youth to never say ‘Never’. We are hoping that it will have a multiplier effect: that as we enrol more people into
this fellowship, more will be pulled out of the labour market.
Let’s even start from the fellows, they automatically get a job with the universities; then the students they will train will become entrepreneurs; they will understand what it means to come up with, more relevant research results using raw materials from Nigeria. And for every single product you bring out, there is an industry created, jobs are created. It’s a ripple effect that goes on and on.
Are you taking more students next year?
Yes. It is an annual event. We will create more awareness this time and from indications we have opportunities for over 50 students. We will welcome strong proposals that will be selected solely based on merit and not any god-fatherism. We want to raise young people that are bold, that can stand before any CEO and defend their innovations.
Is this the way forward for the president’s transformation agenda to create three million jobs?
What is transformation? The word transformation means we are changing the way we have been doing things and that is exactly what we are doing. We want to trigger a technology revolution in the country.