Revisiting the mandate of polytechnic education for growth
The one-week warning strike embarked upon by polytechnic lecturers across the nation, which ended last Monday, has provided an avenue for the body to again bring to the fore the rot in the sector with a warning that technical education may go into extinction if nothing is done.
The teachers, under the aegis of Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) had cried out over poor funding, a deliberate ploy by government to frustrate the decision reached by the National Council on Establishment, which centered on the removal of the age-long entry level dichotomy against Higher National Diploma (HND) holders while also accusing the government of not showing interest in the planned amendment of the Federal Polytechnic Act.
Polytechnic education, which is a bedrock of development, is faced with a myriad of challenges. These include poor funding, deplorable infrastructure, inadequate manpower as well as absence of national commission for polytechnics. The gross under-funding of the education sector has impacted negatively on polytechnic education in the country.
Despite the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) 26 per cent recommendation, the percentage of budgetary allocation to education by successive governments has been very low, thus hindering effective teaching and learning that would engender the academic goals of polytechnic education for national development.
The main objective of polytechnic education is the promotion of technical and vocational education and training, technology transfer as well as skills development to enhance the socio- economic advancement of the country. Polytechnic education plays a vital role in human resource development of a country by creating skilled manpower, enhancing industrial productivity and improving the quality of life.
Universally, polytechnic education is meant to provide technical learning that could assist a society in meeting its industrial aspirations. It is however, sad that the sector is currently passing through a difficult phase.
Educationists reminded of the importance of polytechnic education, which they described as vital for every society aspiring for industrial growth. They warned that allowing a further disintegration in polytechnic education would, consequently, do a great disservice to the country. A cross section of ASUP leaders who spoke on their plight said government must do the needful to save technical education from collapse.
Top among the issues is the demand for the immediate review of the Polytechnic Act, which they said, has been operational for over 20 years. The dichotomy and disparity between university graduates and their polytechnic counterparts is another source of concern to ASUP leaders. Presently, HND holders who are seeking employment are frustrated because of the tough odd they face from employers.
The non-implementation of the NEEDS assessment report carried out in 2014, shortfall in salaries and allowances, as well as government’s failure to address its grievances since January 2016 are some of the raging problems confronting the sector.
National President of ASUP, Usman Dutse, who informed that the national executive council of the union would meet to decide on the next line of action, blamed the nation’s current woes on the neglect of polytechnic education.
Dutse wondered how the sector would live up to its mandate and purpose of establishment in the midst of neglect, stigmatisation, under funding and inhibiting environment, warning that the country’s hope of diversification may continue to be an illusion until it pays due attention to technical and vocational education.
He said, “The neglect and stigma given to that sector is killing the morale of the products being churned out and stakeholders as well. Even in terms of funding, polytechnics are usually the less funded in the tertiary sector, not minding the fact that technical and vocational education is capital intensive. Because it is about skills, relevant facilities and equipment must be available. If you look at most of our institutions, the equipment are dilapidated, no adequate funding, even the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), what is given to the polytechnics is half of what is given to the universities. The polytechnic sector is not getting the commensurate attention it deserves.
“The issue of adequate manpower and diversification of government policies can only be achieved when proper skill is deposited in the economy. Technical and vocational education cut across every sector of the economy, skill is required in all aspects, and so there is no way diversification would be achieved either in mining or agriculture without adequate skilled manpower that we require to run the sector. Definitely, that ambition or project of the government would only be an illusion so far as polytechnic education is not properly funded and equipped.”
He therefore charged the government to include polytechnic education in its economic recovery project by paying adequate attention to technical and vocational training so as to encourage the products; ensure conducive learning environment and provide relevant facilities and equipment to the sector.
In the same vein, the Secretary General of ASUP, Mr. Anderson Ezeibe deplored the inhuman treatment being meted out to members across the states.
“In some states our workers are owed arrears of salaries and allowances; in Kogi State Polytechnic for instance, our lecturers are owed for eight months, Abia State Polytechnic seven months, Edo State Polytechnic six months so for others across the federation.
“Again, our leaders in different institutions are being victimised by their respective management, for instance our chairman in Federal Polytechnic Oko, Anambra State, Kogi state Secretary as well as both the chairman and secretary at Osun State Polytechnic have been on suspension for the past seven months. Our chairman in Delta state polytechnic, Ogwashiuku and secretary in Yola have been sacked since April 2016. This is a clear a case of victimisation and regrettably, government is not doing enough to resolve the issues.
Ezeibe noted that the nation’s economy is at its lowest ebb due to its neglect of polytechnic education. “Now government is talking about diversification of the economy, how can we diversify when you don’t have people with technical skills? You cannot diversify. You have to equip people with relevant technical skills. Germany has the highest concentration of technical manpower all over the world as we speak, but there is no German university that is among the first 10 universities in the world as we speak. What does this mean? It means they developed themselves with respect to technical education and that is why they are thriving.
“So we are saying that the reason for the establishment of polytechnic or technical education from the national policy of education, if you dovetail it to the national development plan you will see that the polytechnics are not meeting their mandate in this country because they are suffering serious neglect. They have been discriminated against serially; the teaching condition is so poor and the learning environment is poor too. The NEEDs assessment survey revealed a funding deficit of about N630bn that was in 2014. There is an urgent need to inject funds into the system to reverse the rot in the sector. That was as far back as 2014, you know what that means now because of inflation in the country and yet government has not taken any step in terms of implementing the report. You may also note that it took a strike in the first place to get government to conduct the needs assessment of these institutions.”
Ezeibe further lamented that the neglect of technical education is immensely hurting the economy, particularly the small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs).
“If you have a challenge with respect to skill development the first sector that suffer mostly is SMEs, they are suffering it heavily because of the dearth of skilled manpower in the country and we are saying that if you continue to neglect technical education, the challenges we are having in Nigeria now would persist,” he said.
But while assuring of government’s commitment to the development of technical and vocational education, the Executive Secretary of National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), Dr. Masaudu Kazaure said the board is meeting the ASUP leadership with a view to addressing their grievances.
The NBTE boss added that the board is meeting with other relevant agencies of government to see how issues confronting the sector can be addressed.He said government places high premium on technical education and would ensure that all the inadequacies threatening its success are addressed.
He said, “We met with the ASUP leaders on Monday and they have seen the efforts the Education Minister, Adamu Adamu, is making to solve their problems and I can assure you that very soon, all their grievances would be addressed and polytechnic education would receive a new lease of life.”
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