The current professional landscape in Nigeria is known for demarcating professional disciplines within strict borders and boundaries: “You are either a scientist or a businessperson”. Hardly do we see that crosstalk between disciplines. This practice in the professional landscape takes bearing from the default curriculum in tertiary institutions that has not progressed (from colonial influence) towards Nigeria addressing its national problems and meeting the current demands within its shores. While there is the idea and practice of taking ancillary courses or modules, these courses or modules lack the required depth to produce well-rounded graduates. To reverse this trend, a change of mindset is needed.
Moving knowledge from textbooks to solving real life challenges
For starters, we must bridge or eliminate the gap between science and non-science disciplines in formal education. This gap has led us to a situation where on one extreme lies knowledge (science) and on the other extreme lie the problems to be solved, with graduates unable to apply their knowledge to solve daily problems. To narrow this gap, there is a need for a firmer handshake between disciplines. We need engineers with deep knowledge of project management and stakeholder engagement, economists who understand a niche area of science, etc… Only then will our tertiary-trained scientists realise that an application of science is the answer to the more than twenty different challenges one encounters in Nigeria’s streets in a matter of 10 minutes.
Having worked in both secondary and tertiary education sectors in Nigeria, I believe that we got stuck in deploying science to solve the real-world problems facing us. With ‘white collar’ jobs still the standard, we tune out of problem-solving and value creation and into treading traditional paths laid down by those who have gone before us. How about defining our own paths? For science to drive national growth, the collective effort must be led by the army of graduates produced year in year out, graduates who apply their scientific training to solving problems staring them in the face even when the solution is not provided by their core discipline. Basically, we need graduates who can move ideas from the pages of textbooks to their realities and the market. This would make Nigeria’s education work for Nigeria; a solution that is a driver for nation building. Our graduates would then have the potential to become mobile innovation incubators and light-bearers, solving problems sustainably at their local scale towards a collective goal.
Nigeria needs to define her educational training system and standards
Second, and related, our apprenticeship systems in Nigeria ought to be revived. The reintroduction of apprenticeship schemes is one of the recommended strategies for Nigeria to bridge the divide between science and business. The Igbo apprenticeship system, for instance, was abandoned by the majority of Nigerians for formal learning, with very few people (mainly from rural areas or severely deprived homes) still partaking or aspiring to partake in such apprenticeship schemes. This shift was fuelled by Western education, which introduced new forms of formal learning in areas such as science, technology, medicine, engineering, and communication, politics, economics. While this adoption had its benefits, allowing it to relegate indigenous apprenticeship systems to a less-popular choice is worrisome. Ironically, even in nations such as England, the apprenticeship scheme was never wiped out. Rather, it has gone through reformations and expansions – from catering primarily to engineering and construction to also catering for commerce, journalism, and banking, all with the quest of meeting the demands of the prevailing industrial and economic climate. This apprenticeship scheme is standardised and diversified, offering routes to integrated degrees and even lifelong learning via on-the-job apprenticeships for adult learners. This is a system that is continuously tweaked to meet the demands of British society; it is not a borrowed system. It is a system that does not need the validation of a foreign country, one which is sufficient because the regulatory body within that country says, ‘it is sufficient’. Isn’t this the true definition of independence? A country truly independent ought to be able to define its future, define its standards and do away with the old, all with the goal of adopting systems that work for it.
We do not need to copy Britain at all. Apprenticeship systems rather need to be revived and transformed to solve Nigeria’s needs, factoring in her prevailing economic situation. Can scientists for instance learn the rudiments of business first-hand from traders in their places of business – a blended approach? Can engineers be trained from the mechanic shop, construction site, or electrical shop straightaway? Can Nigeria’s education be responsive, rejigged to fit our realities, and produce graduates who are primed to solve problems from the get-go because they have been exposed daily to these real-life problems? A revived apprenticeship scheme in Nigeria would allow most of this to become a reality.
Sustainable innovation as a requirement for national success
Third, the sustainability of businesses requires constant innovation. Bridging the gap between science and business (to produce scientists, who are viable problem-solvers, solution-bearers, and grounded in business) and reviving apprenticeship systems won’t suffice. For one thing, 90% of business startups fail in the first five years of operation. For another, what made one business succeed when adopted verbatim by another business, could be their demise. Thus, to survive, businesses need constant innovation.
As a country, Nigeria must accelerate innovation through a rapid and responsive amalgamation of strategies. One of these strategies could be through well-planned and sustainable introduction of science and business parks in close ties with tertiary institutions. Science and business parks are productive terrains as they foster collaboration and innovation among professionals from diverse fields of service (IT, service, research, finance, and businesses). This would render innovation a driver of growth and sustainable for continuity.
Further, we must keep in mind that science and research are drivers of sustainable growth. Thus, research in institutions will have to be need-based, where everyone can be a key stakeholder in funding them, without necessarily waiting for government intervention.
Nigeria needs a futuristic and progressive educational system, tailored to bridge the skills gap for the nation to be competitive in line with global and continental standards, one that is worthy of emulation based on its success stories.