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OPINION: Education and jobs, an alarming misconception

By Faith Berewa

I read with dismay the statement by the President at the 13th convocation of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University that University degree is no longer an assurance for jobs. I couldn’t believe that a 21st century president with an enormous task of moving the nation forward, who will  soon be sworn in for another four year term would make such a calamitous statement.

One has gotten used to the president’s renowned inaction in addressing the country’s myriad of problems, but this? The President who was represented at the convocation by the Minister of State for education, Prof. Anthony Anwuka stated that education equips the graduates with the competence to grapple with the ever changing challenges of life of which youth unemployment is a vexatious part.

He then urged the youths to take advantage of government’s initiatives such as N-power, the Bank of Industry Youth Entrepreneurship Programme, and the Central Bank of Nigeria and Bank of Industry Support Schemes. What? Are you kidding me? I mean are these “INITIATIVES” the president’s plans for tackling the monster called unemployment, especially youth unemployment which has skyrocketed under his watch? Is this how he plans to get Nigeria out of the woods? This is a huge joke. We are in for a long haul and it is scary.

Such words  to young men and women who have laboured for years in the university and in the presence of their parents and guardians who ensured they pulled all stops to get their wards through university is to say the least, upsetting.

We are talking here about 6,500 first degrees, 763 Masters and 269 PHD holders for the 2019/2018 academic year. This distortion by Mr. President assaults the sensibilities of millions of our young men and women who have laboured through school and eager to use their education to contribute to the development of the country.

Mr. President Sir, that’s the key word ‘development’. That’s the essence of education; Societal and individual flourishing.  Especially for a waning country as ours, engaging these ones productively is the panacea for youth unemployment which is at historic and unacceptable figures.

Furthermore, there is a correlation between University education and human /societal flourishing which the President and his speech writers may have not been able to see.

University degree is not fundamentally about jobs, but rather the strongest force and driver of human and societal flourishing. According Education Pathways International, university degree ‘provides not only the high-level skills necessary for every labour market but also the training essential for teachers, doctors, nurses, civil servants, engineers, humanists, entrepreneurs, scientists, social scientists, and a myriad of other personnel.

It is these trained individuals who develop the capacity and analytical skills that drive local economies, support civil society, teach children, lead effective governments, and make important decisions which affect entire societies’.

So dampening these young graduates’ hopes for a brighter future because the Government cannot guarantee decent jobs, is an error and a disservice to these graduates who may just hold the key to Nigeria socio-economic problems.

Sir, it requires deliberate, thought out plans and follow- through programmes to boost the productive sector of our economy. For it is when we start producing goods and services as a nation that our graduates can be engaged productively. This is what the president at least should be telling our graduates; assurances in government’s efforts at reducing unemployment.

Not pouring cold water on what should be one of their happiest days on earth. Unfortunately, the president has only confirmed what has been playing out; a clear lack of foresight, vision and direction in chatting a way out of the present malaise and nightmare we are facing as a nation. He shows a disconnect with the Nigerian reality.

He does not seem to understand the connection between education and jobs. Nigeria is where education does not guarantee getting a job because the job market is ultra-light, and the few available ones are reserved for relations of the connected. My 10-year-old son contributed to this article by saying ‘a person can come out of university with a degree but still find it hard to get a job or not even find a good job’.  Even at their age they know.

The president doesn’t seem to understand that education is the bedrock of productivity which leads to growth and development. Manufacturers, entrepreneurs, job creators are looking for employable skills and you only get that through education.

A fascinating story I read recently in Forbes tells of how the state of Utah in the United States of America became a leading technological hub for tech giants and start-ups. Twenty five years ago, the State wanted to be a technological hub for tech companies so  Michael O. Leavitt the Governor at that time made countless visits to Silicon Valley to attract tech giants.

During his first visit to Adobe CEO, John Warnock, he told the Governor if he wants tech companies to come to Utah, the State would need to produce more engineers. Because Tech companies need engineers. That need to be fixed before the companies would come.

The Governor set about fixing that problem, unveiling his Utah Engineering Initiative, a programme with the goal of doubling the number of engineering slots in Utah’s colleges and universities.

The initiative has blossomed, with more than 40,000 students graduating with engineering or computer science degrees from Utah’s system of higher education. Adobe then came to Utah, many more followed.

Over the last 20 years, Utah has gone from 1,500 tech companies to 6,700. The technology industry now accounts for more than 302,000 jobs in the state.

Also, one in every seven dollars of the state’s GDP is from the tech industry. This incredible tech culture has done wonders for Utah’s economic development and has also paved the way for small business success in the State. The above scenario is what has played out in advanced economies of the world, a deliberate education of citizens to bring about socio economic development.

The Sustainable Development Goal 4 sees Quality Education as the foundation for sustainable development…as a policy intervention, education is a force multiplier which enables self-reliance, boosts economic growth by enhancing skills, and improves people’s lives by opening up opportunities for better livelihoods.

The Goal therefore focuses on the acquisition of foundational and higher-order skills at all stages of education and development…(SDGs Goal 4).

Education is the catalyst for development, and development is premised on productivity which is anchored on jobs. SDG Goal 8 is on decent jobs and employment and Education is the first requirement for any decent employment. Nigeria has the ignominy to be the poverty capital of the world under the Buhari administration.

Poverty eradication is only possible through stable, well-paid and decent jobs, which comes through education, be it vocational, technical or higher-order training which the president does not seem to understand.

Faith Berewa, a columnist with SAHEL STANDARD Newspapers writes from Kaduna

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