Getting youth to work for development: The tech-u example
By By Femi Babatunde
Young people world over are reputed as key drivers of societal transformation. Owing to their enormous agility, courage and creativity, they are invaluable stakeholders in development. They represent a critical nucleus upon which the aspirations and visions of a better future are pivoted. It is for this fundamental basis that countries strategically groom them and harness their potentials for maximum benefits via sound educational systems and provision of enabling opportunities.
With the exception of a growing army of young people who, against all odds of poor and non-existent state infrastructure, are stimulating the nation’s economy through sheer grit, resilience, hard-work and ingenuity in such sectors as technology, entertainment and others, the state of Nigerian youths today is worrisome. Indeed, more than at any other time in history, they have become largely endangered species, with the nation’s political leadership clearly indictable in their woes. The statistics are staggering enough to prick the conscience of older Nigerians who seemed to have seen the nation’s promises of greatness, but failed to make it work for the generations after them. Recall that the famed literary icon and Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, once referred to his generation as a wasted one, on account of its failure to evolve a nation that works for all.
Of the bulging youth population in the country now noted to constitute well over 70 % of our 186 million as recently computed by the National Bureau of Statistics, it is shameful that an abysmal 76% are either out of jobs or underemployed. When you put that side by side with the more than 10 million out-of-school-children, then you have a gorier picture that reflects a gloomy future. Worthy of note, too, is the reality that out of the over 10 million candidates that sought admission between 2010 and 2015, only a paltry 26% gained admission to our universities, a fact attributable to the poor carrying capacities of our universities. One certainly would not appreciate the import of this data until one juxtaposes with the high rates of illiteracy prevalent in the country. The fact that over two million ill-equipped graduates are churned out without requisite plan of meaningful economic absorption seems adding more to the piteous cycle of a nation’s failure to protect her teeming youths. Like a beast in honour but oblivious of it, our nation is plagued with self-inflicted malaise that has so far made her a butt of jokes among the comity of even less endowed nations.
Truth is, the nation is in a crisis, especially as it pertains to our youths. It was the key issues associated with the state of the youth today that the President laboured, albeit tactlessly, to iterate while in London. Put differently, the infamous statement that Nigerian youth “only sit and do nothing” only attempted to draw attention to the embarrassingly heinous rate of youth unemployment and the attendant reality of skill-set mismatch of our youth and the actual urgent developmental needs of the nation. Perhaps, the uproar that trailed that comment would not have reached such decibel had the president portended that, beyond the very discomfiting portrait painted, the nation realises the youth bulge as a key opportunity that the government is working assiduously to turn around for national prosperity. After all, only few weeks ago, the global technology icon and founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, stressed the importance of investing in people. According to Gates, Nigeria has “unmatched economic potential, but what becomes of that potential depends on the choices you make as Nigeria’s leaders. The most important choice you can make is to maximize your greatest resource, the Nigerian people [especially the youth].”
Gates noted that if our leaders would invest in health and education, and opportunities, the human capital, then they’ll lay the foundation for sustained prosperity. He was quick to warn: “if you don’t, however, then it is very important to recognize that there will be a sharp limit on how much the country can grow”.
Talking of choices and the need to lay foundation for sustained prosperity exemplified by deliberate investment in the people, one is compelled to appreciate the apt response of the Oyo State Government to the yawning need for specialised education strategically directed towards confronting the monster of unemployment and skill deficit among youths in the country. Through the audacious creation of the premier technical university (The Technical University, Ibadan), the Governor Abiola Ajimobi-led government has shown that with vision, the woes currently bedeviling our youths and indeed education in Nigeria can be tackled and resolved.
It is an open secret that with the current poor state of universities and other tertiary institutions in the country, there is an urgent need for systemic overhaul to make them more attuned and responsive to the developmental needs of our nation. Plagued by the critical issues of underfunding, curricular irrelevance and lack of focus, our tertiary institution today is in dire need of reform. Rather than provide a bulwark of fundamental support for national development through timely cutting-edge researches for development, and in producing graduates who are fully baked as thinkers and doers, they churn out graduates who are largely of questionable character and deficient in critical skills, and manifestly unable to steer the nation towards the path of progress, which she desperately needs.
It is against this backdrop that one is particularly intrigued by the objectives, mission and vision of the Technical University (Tech-U). Already incubating its first set of intakes, the university is seeking to carve a strategic niche for itself as a knowledge generation hub that responsively builds human capacity for the development of the Nigerian society. Indeed, the university has kick-started an academic culture that places utmost premium on focused research for new knowledge to meet the needs of a constantly dynamic society – a culture that makes some of the world’s most renowned universities relevant in the ever burgeoning and intricate global knowledge economy. With such compelling and instructive motto as “building minds, training hands”, the university is geared towards advancing praxis, that is, the deliberate convergence of theoretical knowledge and hands-on skill acquisition in different disciplines and vocations.
Led by the very distinguished professor of environmental science, Prof. Ayobami Salami, the university management really seems poised for achieving what is by all means a laudable but quite ambitious task. Specifically, they seek to raise an army of graduates empowered with useful transformational technical knowledge and baked in solid entrepreneurship-styled education that can enable them become productive members of the society upon graduation.
Quite alluring is the fact that Tech-U is set to fill the obvious gap that has long robbed not only Nigerian youths, but also the larger society. This, the management vowed, will be achieved by charting an innovative approach in teaching, training, research and nation-building services. In this regard, the institution’s management has put foolproof mechanism in place, as evident in the crucible of its strategic vision to guarantee the making of such enviable graduates. Aside the galaxies of accomplished scholars on its faculty, Tech-U ensures that students sign on for two vocational programmes and are trained by certified tutors who will guide them to attain expertise in the chosen vocations. Additionally, the students are being adequately primed for the topsy-turvy frenetically competitive world of entrepreneurship and innovation by exposure to critical business skills such as managerial skills, creativity, proposal and feasibility study writing, among other relevant skills that will position them for excellence and useful contributions to the progress of society. Tech-U students are taught to acquire communicative skills in French language in order to leverage on Nigeria’s proximity and ties with Francophone economies.
One can only hope that the Tech-U management will remain consistent in ensuring that all hands are placed firmly on deck to make the lofty vision of the university a lasting reality. What particularly appears to hold the ace is in Tech-U striking right partnerships with key industry players and corporate bodies that can aid the actualization of its mission, both in terms of industry expertise in knowledge production and symbiotic research- funding model. The university management would do well to do away with narrow and parochial attitudes that have kept older universities in the cocoons of mediocrity. In this regard, one would expect that the university taps into the vast human capital available within and outside Nigeria in providing mentorship for its teeming students as well as attracting endowments for research and the internationalization of its programmes. With the kind of promise Tech-U bears, it cannot afford to disappoint observers, for here is an institution on the threshold of history – a history that must be predicated on turning the tide against lost opportunities, and unlocking a new future defined not only by matchless possibilities of scientific strides, but also by inspiring success stories for the benefit of our collect humanity.
For one, Tech-U has provided us a workable template with which our youths can be mobilized and prepped to respond to the myriad of developmental challenges that currently confront us as a nation.
Babatunde is the Public Relations Officer, The Technical University, Ibadan.