Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari charged Nigerian youths to seek education and equip themselves with skills to fight poverty. The call, which was made at the Emir of Daura’s Palace, comes at a time when Nigeria is grappling with several challenges including rising inflation, low gross domestic product (GDP) growth, and high youth unemployment.
In the past few years, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data have continued to paint a picture of economic turbulence as youth unemployment and other important economic variables fail to improve. Recent data show that while real GDP growth and inflation stood at 3.98 percent and 18.60 percent, respectively, in April 2022, youth unemployment was a staggering 42.5 percent.
As history has proven, the consequence of protracted high youth unemployment, slow growth, and rising inflation can be devastating for any country. Images of protests from countries like Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia are warning signs and pointers to what is possible if deliberate action is not taken to arrest the slide of millions of citizens into extreme poverty.
For a country with high youth unemployment, the need for intervention is urgent, and President Buhari’s call, though coming in the twilight of his presidency, rings true and relevant.
The World Bank notes that for individuals, education promotes employment, earnings, health, and poverty reduction. The bank further notes that “globally, there is a 10 percent increase in hourly earnings for every extra year of schooling.”
Empirical evidence suggests that education drives long-term economic growth, spurs innovation, strengthens institutions, and fosters social cohesion. That is why education remains imperative.
However, the task of educating and upskilling the youth is the responsibility of various stakeholders. National and state governments have the responsibility of championing educational policy and providing public education (at least at the basic level), albeit, it is the responsibility of the private sector and households to support the government.
Some states in Nigeria have not been sitting in this regard, because they are aware of the complex nexus between a highly educated and skilled population, economic prosperity, and stability.
For instance, Godwin Obaseki, the governor of Edo State, launched EdoBEST in 2018 as a response to the challenges facing the basic education system. In the past four years, the programme has been applauded for delivering the goods, not only by local stakeholders but also by stakeholders in the international community.
The model adopted by Edo State was to work with a technical partner who is a proven global leader in education systems transformation.
Using a method adjudged to be optimal by Nobel Prize-winning economist, Michael Kremer, the education system has shown marked improvement.
Lagos and Kwara have also shown initiative as they launched EKOEXCEL and KWARALEARN, respectively, to address the knotty issues faced by their basic education systems.
In Katsina, where President Buhari made the call, the state government was able to boost primary school attendance from 900,000 to more than 2.2 million pupils in 2022. Badamasi Lawal, the state commissioner for education, said over 1.1 million of the pupils are girls.
While these initiatives implemented by the various states are plausible, we note that there is a growing need to make education more fit for purpose, especially at the higher level.
For a country that has a sprawling unemployed youth population, the emphasis should continuously be on Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET). If education system is to be more relevant to development then TVET should be at the core of the system.
The Federal Government and states must deliberately emphasise technical and vocational education as well as short-term training that delivers new jobs or businesses with little capital.
As millions of citizens cling to the last embers of hope in a political space that has failed to deliver the benefits of democracy, steps have to be taken to equip the youth with skills that can enable them fend for themselves. This task is the responsibility of the government, the private sector, religious institutions as well as other principal stakeholders in society.
This article appeared originally on BusinessDay, July 20, 2022