In a world struggling with youth unemployment, nations are resorting to technology and innovation to quench social anger and to be economically self-reliant.
In recognition of this, successive governments in Nigeria have made efforts to encourage, develop and nurture young talents and tech-savvy individuals under different schemes.
One such scheme is the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in secondary schools. Under the project, the school curriculum is being aligned to labour market demands to provide youths necessary employable skills and to be entrepreneurs.
Recently, the grand finale of the fourth edition of the National Students’ Vocational Skills Competition for Federal Science and Technical Colleges (FSTCs) was held at FSTC, Orozo, Federal Capital Territory.
The event which featured science and technology exhibitions by students of FSTCs, was organised by the Department of Technology and Science Education of the Federal Ministry of Education .
The theme of the exhibition was “Hands-on Learning”.
Federal Science Technical College (FSTC-Girls), Uyo won the first prize, while FSTC, Usi Ekiti, came second and FSTC, Jalingo, was third among 21 FSTCs which competed.
FSTC, Uyo, exhibited a collapsible metal bed, table and locker, FSTC, Usi Ekiti, exhibited a bell indicator, while FSTC, Jalingo, showcased a prototype modern farm.
Other innovations showcased by the competing colleges were solar-powered charcoal stove with insulator, battery inverters, liquid soaps, oven, grinding machines, surface wiring system, among others.
In a keynote address, Mr Sonny Echono, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, said the students had come up with many creative ideas which ought to be harnessed for the future.
“This shows that given the right motivation, Nigerians can do better; these children have demonstrated it; they have provided solutions to our everyday problems; trying to solve challenges that we encounter everyday.
“If we continue to encourage them, we will see that the future will be very bright for us as a country; not only are we going to use this technology to replace the imported ones, we can equally export to neighbouring countries which are not endowed.
“We must adopt TIVET as a national programme; it is the easiest way to create jobs in large numbers; it is the cheapest way to create foreign exchange.
“The objectives in this competition are first of all to identify talents and design programmes to groom them; monitor them; mentor them through secondary school; guide them to choose careers at tertiary levels and harness those skills that will be useful to society immediately they graduate,’’ he said.
Echono said another objective was to create a linkage between the innovations and industries which informed the incorporation of National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP) and others so that there would be cross fertilisation of ideas.
The permanent secretary said the completion would afford students opportunity to compete well with their contemporaries across the world.
He further said it could develop skills to high level of excellence and enhance capacity in skills and attributes, valued by employers, such as team work, prioritisation, time management, judgment and working under pressure.
Echono said that the ministry would continue to finance and support the Annual National Students’ Skills Competition to motivate students into the choice of TVET as a reliable educational path to follow.
He said a way of sustaining the project would be to ensure that those with training in technical areas were appointed to head FSTCs but noted that the numbers were lacking.
“The issue of numbers cuts across various spheres not only the principals of the colleges and administrative heads.
“There are the actual teachers who do the work of imparting the knowledge; we are trying to fill that by encouraging people.
“As a policy, our scholarship will bring those who want to go into TIVET; we are creating additional incentives for teachers in these areas.
“Ultimately, when we get more hands on board, only those who have the requisite knowledge will be heading the colleges,’’ he said.
Mr Matthew Ndu, Head of Vocational Division of Technology and Science Education Department in the ministry, said the competition would boost students’ confidence and morale.
Ndu, a deputy director in Technology and Science Education, said the students’ innovations should be commercialised as an incentive that would also guarantee their future.
“These students do not see most of the things they produce as things that can be bought outside. The idea is for them to see what others are doing and that theirs can equally be acceptable and it will assure them that they are on the right track.
“As we do the exhibition, we make selection of the best and make sure that we support commercialisation; that is why we have NOTAP, COSCHARIS and others here.
“One of the major problems is that we see putting money in technical education as a cost instead of an investment.
“For instance, in Singapore and Japan, the slogan is `no amount is too much’ to be invested into technical education, and when they invest money in these, they look at the cost of not doing it not at the cost of doing it.
“If we do not put enough money here, these kids will come out and become problems to us. If we invest in them, they will become producers and it will be better for our economy.’’
He said that the dearth of modern equipment in the colleges was a big challenge as the excuse had always been that science equipment were too expensive.
Ndu said that in Japan, schools had the best science equipment to do a lot of research while students’ output were patented and commercialised by companies.
“Training material should be provided and these things produced by the students should be brought to the public domain and companies that actually commercialise them,’’ he said.
Mrs Tina Eyaru, Director, Technology and Science Education in the ministry, said the competition was aimed at promoting vocational education, professional pride and to develop hidden talents among the students.
Eyaru said the competition was an effective way of assessing the quality of routine teaching in FSTCs which afforded opportunity to leave a positive image of vocational skills on young learners.
“As a National Competition, it is designed for all the science and technical colleges in the country–private and technical colleges inclusive.
“However, due to fund constraints, this edition has been limited to the FSTCs; we hope to make the competition more elaborate with improved funding in the future,’’ she said.
A teacher, Mr Omonya Innocent, appealed to the Federal Government to intervene in the area of foreign training for teachers to enable them to meet global best practices.
Two students, Miss Akachina Preye, and Miss Gladys Braimoh, said more entrepreneurial training should be provided for students to be self-reliant on graduation.