Making Our Education Work

One of the grimmest realities of life in Nigeria is that there are not enough jobs to go round or available. This reality a lot of times is hidden to undergraduates who finish school filled with hope of securing employment immediately, especially from major firms or the Federal Government. But in a country where half a million university graduates are churned out each year and less than 100,000 jobs created annually, that dream comes to reality for only those at the top of their class or in our quite nepotistic world, to those who have connections or are favoured.

This isn’t entirely the failure of the economy, but more a failure of our educational systems and societal mind-sets. In Nigeria, we are more concerned with the attainment of degrees and amassing of titles via education rather than truly learning and using that knowledge to provide solutions to contemporary problems. While I was thinking about this scenario, I came across this blog post that captured it excellently. The post described African intellectuals as ‘lazy scum’, which I quite agree with, minus the somewhat harsh description.

There is a serious lacuna in our society between being educated and applying that knowledge to add value through creating solutions. The typical Nigerian graduate knows only what he has been taught, and that which he learned more or less by rote memory. It is a classic case of garbage-in, garbage-out. He has no idea of how to use it by himself to solve the problems prevalent in his environment. Unless this gulf is bridged, Nigerian graduates would continue to find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to employment opportunities. This is because the creation of solutions to problems in an environment adds value to that environment, and once value is created and it is in demand, a job has been created.

This is the first step to creating entrepreneurs or job creators out of our Nigerian students. It is not so much a function of updating the curricula of our schools to world-class standards, as much as it is of teaching them to use the knowledge learnt in classrooms and workshops and labs, combined with the local knowledge around them to craft solutions to problems. It also requires a paradigm shift in the mind-sets of the students themselves. Like I always tell people, there is always, always something you can do in your immediate environment that can solve a problem, and in the long-run provide you with a job. This mental shift comes with the realization that there aren’t just enough jobs out there, and there might not be one for you unless you create yours. Moreover, the energy that is unlocked within you when you feel like you have the Holy Grail to a contemporary problem is much more satisfying than a routine job, even more than one that just requires sitting at a desk all day.

We have to do a radical change in the way we go about the business of education in this country if we want it to transform our nation. We have to make sure our education unlocks the power and potential within the student way beyond just bagging First Class degrees, but to the point where the student sees himself as first adding value to the society before earning money with that degree. We have to encourage students to acquire broader knowledge beyond just what their course is, and even go beyond the traditional career options of their discipline. The most important thing in the world today is that one is providing value in what he/she does, and not about what he/she studied. Gone are those days where an engineering student must be a practicing engineer; the notion is as archaic as the Industrial Age. The solutions can come from random places, and not even what was learned formally in school. What matters most, nay, all that matters is that whatever he is doing is something beneficial to others first, then profitable to himself.

As much as I know that the Nigerian business environment is a very tough one, it is not impossible to achieve this. As a matter of fact, the type of solutions that will be created will even take advantage of the business environment. This is where the power of local knowledge comes into play.

There will always be problems and challenges requiring solutions. What we need most is problem-solvers; solution-providers; change-workers. We need people who are creating solutions to problems and also to make a living out of it. It is the combination of the two that forms entrepreneurship, be it business or social (non-profit). Most especially, we need these people now if we are to lift ourselves from the economic pit we find ourselves: young people who will be possessed by ideas that they believe will change their world and solve problems and finding ways to achieve it.

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