Adaptable curriculum reforms will solve problem of unemployable graduates
The absence of a synergy between tertiary institutions in the country and the end users of their products- the labour market, and the obsolete curricula in use in the country have given birth to innumerable unpleasant consequencies, prominent among which is the rising tide of unemployable graduates. This formed one of the strongest points of discussion at the 2nd Annual Blossom Career and Entrepreneurship Summit, where stakeholders strongly canvassed curriculum reform as a panacea, writes ENO-ABASI SUNDAY.
Day-in-day-out, news of the soaring rate of unemployment wafts across the length and breadth of the country. Sadly, solutions to this national malaise have largely come in terms of rhetoric and not in concrete terms.
Evidently, not much has been achieved when it comes to efforts geared towards driving down the figure. That perhaps explains why the recent disclosure by the Central Bank of Nigeria still remains a very sobering news.
The apex bank, in that report said 80 per cent of Nigerian youths were without jobs. And according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), 60 per cent of the unemployed in Nigeria are between ages 17 to 25.
The above scenario, experts say, implies that given the figures being adduced by both the CBN and the ILO, it is safe to accept the average of the two figures, which will be about 70 per cent.
More worrisome in this picture is the fact that in the midst of this swelling poll of unemployed youths, some graduates that consider themselves ready for employment are actually unemployable. This brings to the fore, the need to establish a nexus between what the labour wants and what contemporary graduates lack.
One of the biggest points that was made at the recently concluded 2nd Annual Blossom Career and Entrepreneurship Summit in Lagos State, at the behest of Best of the World Enterprises Limited (publishers of Blossom Magazine), was the compelling need for an urgent curriculum review/re-examination in the country.
Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, was chief host and the Bishop of Lagos West Diocese (Anglican Communion), the Rt. Rev. Dr. James Olusola Odedeji, co-hosted the summit.
At the summit, which had as its theme, “Curriculum Re-Examination, Skills Opportunities and the Dilemma of Academic Ambitions,” founding vice chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Prof. Olugbemiro Jegede, said, “One of the current weaknesses in our educational system is the obsolete curricula being used in training students at the various levels of education, especially the tertiary education level.”
The renowned scholar in his keynote address titled, “Curriculum Misfits, Reform Perspectives and Strategic Imperatives, stressed that, “Our review of the various curricula being used at our institutions of higher learning has not kept pace with global development, research outcomes and current societal needs,” adding that, “It does appear as if we still use analogue thinking to solve current issues, which have gone digital. The tertiary institutions are still producing graduates for the labour market without constant reviews of what the market requires. Industry therefore thinks that it has nothing to gain from the tertiary institutions. The curriculum review must aim for fit-for-purpose personnel to avoid wastage in resources and industry retraining graduates they hire from the tertiary institutions.
“There needs to be a symbiotic relationship between academia and industry so that teaching, learning and research being done at the institutions match what is required by the action-oriented industry, driven by target and return on investment,” the immediate past Secretary-General and Chief Executive of the Association of African Universities said.
On how to bridge the yawning skills gap in the country, Jegede said, “More often than not, the skills required to function effectively in industry and the society are not taught at the tertiary level. Practical work in laboratories is not done very well, if they ever exist. There must be industry-ready collaborative partnership programmes with tertiary educational institutions to bridge the skills gap. The skills needed by graduates to function in the outside world and industry are not taught to graduates in our institutions that are increasingly becoming too theoretical. A number of things must be done to drive skills development and they consist of the following components: link with the labour market; public-private partnership; creativity and critical thinking; participation to engage stakeholders to develop strong education models; evidence-based programmes with built-in impact evaluation component to ensure that they are results-oriented and focused on quality and learning outcomes and, ICT-based to produce high-quality education and tap into new learning technologies.”
Country Senior Partner, Nigeria, and Regional Senior Partner for PricewaterhouseCoopers West Market Area, Uyi Akpata, identified factors responsible for the high youth unemployment rate in the country to include among others, deficient school curricula and poor teacher training.
He said these contribute immensely to the failure of educational institutions in the country to provide their students with the appropriate skills to make them employable.
In a paper titled; “Why The Private Sector Should be Interested, presented on his behalf by PWC Partner, Mrs. Wunmi Adetokunbo-AJayi, Akpata enumerated some underlying factors for the high rate of youth unemployment in the country to include a deficient school curricula and poor teacher training, which contributes to the failure of educational institutions to provide their students with the appropriate skills to make them employable, as well as flawed and inconsistent public policies on employment in addition to inadequate data for effective planning.
The PWC chief who said past efforts at tackling unemployment have been poorly articulated, and equally poorly executed with little consideration for what young people really want, added that on the demand side, there is a lack of vibrant industries to absorb competent graduates.
Akpata, who is of the view that young people were not satisfied with what they are getting out of their university experiences, in connection to their future goals, added that university advisers would need to improve their engagement with employers and students to boost credibility and their perceived value.
He said to “tackle unemployment effectively therefore, we need to reform our approach to education; universities need to transform themselves into a place where young people can not only study and take exams, but learn from doing. To provide them with real world experiences that are relevant.
“There is need to integrate practical skills with theoretical knowledge, foster an entrepreneurial learning environment; work experience or short term temporary/part time roles can be valuable not only for skill development, but to help young people plan their career, educators and governments need to open up spaces to involve youth opinion, expand the relevance of a degree for young people and better support their learning experiences with more structured learning and development paths. This challenge does not fall only on governments and educators, but students and employers alike will need to be more proactive in engaging with decision makers to influence decisions,” he submitted.
Also in sync with curricula review as a way of focusing on the development needs of the country is the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).
In a paper titled, “Nations Are Built By Skills,” Officer in Charge (Regional Office), of the organisation, Dr. Chuma Ezedinma, for the country to confront the current unemployment crisis in the country, emphasis must be placed on education that support the development of technical and entrepreneurial skills and competencies. In this respect, there is need to re-align the schools curricula to focus on the development needs of the country. One important area is the re-alignment of the curricula to highlight the importance of skills training and entrepreneurship. In this respect, there is need to involve industries and strengthen public-private partnership in education. Improving employability requires closing the gap between the education and work worlds.
Speaking through Mr. Francis Ukoh, Ezedinma added, “This requires forging closer relationship between industries and educational institutions. More economically advanced countries like Germany, Korea, Singapore and Britain are applying the same concept and in the process upgrading and expanding apprenticeship schemes and technical education through various programs to close the gaps.
Ambode, in a goodwill message delivered on his behalf by his Special Assistant of Education, Mr. Obafela Bank-Olemoh, lauded the summit saying it was in line with the state’s vision of engaging students to focus on acquiring quality education that will enable them conveniently fit into the job market upon graduation.
He said a well-articulated curriculum plays a critical role in ensuring the success of students in the 21st Century as it would help strengthen the fabric of education in the state. This, he added, is the reason behind the state-initiated World of Work Project, -an entrepreneurship and employability initiative that targets final year students of the state tertiary institutions.
Bank-Olemoh added that the state’s Ready.Set.Work initiative was in line with objectives set out by the Best of the World, initiators of the summit.
Summit co-host, Dr. Odedeji (a co-proprietor of Anglican Schools), in his opening remarks, delivered by the Dean of the Archbishop Vining Memorial Cathedral, the Ven. Abel Ajibodu, said the church, which was in the vanguard of the quest for the return of missionary schools to their original owners, was set to similarly tackle the unwholesome crave for certificate acquisition without commensurate acquisition of knowledge.
The Bishop of Lagos West, Anglican Communion, bemoaned a situation where students and parents “in a bid to acquire degrees at all cost, go to any length to ‘buy’ or otherwise procure certificates.”
He called on authorities to pan curricula to deliver skills acquisition as a way of creating jobs and encouraging all youths to explore their potentials in all spheres, be it academic or technical.
Chief Executive of Best of the World, Mrs. Joy Chinwokwu, in her opening remarks gave the objectives of the summit to include charting a focused direction towards tackling job crises in the country by advocating curricula reviews in secondary and tertiary institutions; inspiring students in secondary and tertiary institutions and their guardians to focus on careers and skills with prospects for employment, and curtailing fraudulent practices in the education sector, among others that will help to transform the education sector and ultimately reinvent the country’s lost academic glory.
She assured that post summit engagements would aim at closing the wide gap between unemployable graduates yearly churned out by tertiary institutions and the abundant but untapped skill potentials in the country.
While Chairman, Independent Corrupt, Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Ekpo Nta spoke on, “Education Fraud in Nigeria,” PTA Chairman, Atlantic Hall School, Lagos, Mrs. Maureen Akpofure Awobokun, spoke on, “Why The PTA Should Be Interested, and counselling psychologist, Dr. Olugbenga Bodunrin, spoke on “How to Run a Profitable School in the 21st Century.”