Every year about 600,000 Nigerians are born who never get the chance to step into a classroom. These Nigerians represent about 10% of the six million that get into the world through the Nigerian birth route.
Of the remaining that steps into the classroom many never get the chance to walk into the four walls of a tertiary institution. The story of these missing students in the school ladder is one of the interesting findings in the report “Nigeria’s Human Capital Challenges: Insights from HR Professionals” recently published by BusinessDay Research.
Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa'i-Minister of Education
Data obtained from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that an average of 20 million students are enrolled in public primary schools in any school year in Nigeria. This comes to an average of 3.3 million students per level, knowing that we have a six year school ladder at the primary school level.
At the secondary school level however, this figure drops dramatically to an average of five million students enrolled or about 833,000 per level since we also have a six year school ladder at the secondary school level. This means of the 3.3 million that enrolled at the Primary School level in any particular year, just an average 833,000 eventually made it to the secondary school level in any particular year implying an average drop-out rate of about 2.47 million per annum or 75% between primary schools and secondary schools in Nigeria. Over a six year cycle, this could translate to about 15 million students out of the school system, assuming this figures remain unchanged.
The figures from the NBS shows that on the average only about 700,000 students get enrolled in all Nigerian universities in any year. Giving an average of four years study period in Nigerian universities, this implies an average of 175,000 students at any level. Another 600,000 are enrolled in polytechnics and colleges of education in any year. There is also an average of four year study period in our polytechnics, so this translates to an average 150,000 students at any level implying that of the average of 833,000 ready for tertiary education in any year, only about 39 percent actually enrol in any tertiary institution in any particular year.
The question then arise what happens to the about the three million students every year that got some taste of primary and secondary school education but never crown it with a passage through any of Nigeria’s tertiary institutions. The first obvious choice would be for these students who drop out of the educational system to join the vocational education system.
The challenge however is that, though the vocational education institutions exist in Nigeria, they are poorly equipped and lack well trained manpower. The report shows that Nigeria currently has 132 technical colleges and 70 vocational enterprises, but most are understaffed with obsolete facilities.
Perhaps, the strongest evidence that Nigeria’s vocational institutions are not worth much is the fact their graduates experience the highest unemployment rate among any group of graduates in Nigeria. The unemployment rate for those who have attended any form of vocational school in Nigeria stood at 28.9% in 2011, according to NBS data. This is higher than the unemployment rate for those who never attended any form school, which stood at 22.4% and higher than those who attended primary school, which is put at a low 21.5%. This seem to indicate Nigerians who never attended any form of school or completed just primary school, has a better chance of being employed than the Nigerian who obtained a vocational education.
The national impact of the weak vocational education option for Nigerians who drop out of the educational system is the low quality of vocational and technical skills in the country. This is the reason we have auto mechanics without mechanical skills, brick layers that cannot lay bricks, painters that cannot paint, and many more basic skills that are lacking in the country.
It is the reason behind why most Nigerians would prefer artisans from Ghana, Togo and Benin republic than artisans from Nigeria. As the report notes, most artisans in Nigeria do not learn their trade in any formal environment. They learn from other artisans who have also learnt from other artisans. There is no science in the learning. It is learning by the “rule of the thumb.” The implication is that false concepts are passed on from one generation of artisans to another to the detriment of the consumers or customers.
Nigeria’s “Okada” phenomenon is also largely a symptom of these high numbers of missing students with little options. With no skill or poor marketable skills, many of these Nigerians have had to turn to Okada (commercial bikes) to make a living.
What emerges clearly is the need for an urgent reform of the vocational education system in the country. Nigeria cannot continue to have this number of its citizens just roaming the streets without the required skills to survive in a modern world. It has critical implication for the security situation in the country and most importantly for economic growth.
Global trends show that increasingly, a country’s competitive advantage does not lie in its natural resource endowment but in the quality of its manpower. Quality manpower is able to innovate, improve efficiency and therefore hasten economic growth.
Where the quality of a country’s manpower is low, the country is forced to either import manpower from other countries or suffer low productivity or even zero productivity in the sectors where it lacks manpower. Low quality manpower also leads to high levels of unemployment due to the general low productivity and lack of innovation that takes place in such an economy.
This article was first published in BusinessDay.