“The concept of school seems so secure,
Sophomore, three years, ain’t picked a career.”
– Kanye West. All Falls Down, The College Dropout (2004)
If all goes well—and it should—by the end of the week, I’ll be a university graduate. It’s a weird feeling mostly because, unlike most of my colleagues at other universities, I don’t imagine my life after graduation will actually be any different than it is now.
You see, my university, the University of Waterloo, is a strange one. Unlike many others, we only went to school four months a year. The rest of the year, we spent working. It was called co-operative education, co-op for short. For many a student, co-op grows into a full time job opportunity.
In my first co-op term, by some stroke of luck, I landed an internship with an influential youth-focused NGO at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. For a couple of months I lived in a house at the heart of Manhattan with some of the smartest and most accomplished young people I would ever know—all much older than me. In the day, I did my job reading and analyzing UN policies and at night, I made sure to read everything I remembered people talk about during the day. My hard work soon paid off. A few weeks of red bull powered sleepless nights and I could seamlessly butt into intelligent conversation on virtually any subject, from Thorstein Veblen and the developing world’s conspicuous consumption to the relationship between the ‘five points of Calvinism’ and American prosperity without betraying my age and level of education. A few more months and I was a ‘development expert’ helping the interns who actually worked in the missions write their bosses’ speeches.
By the end of this crash course education, although I was disappointed to finally realize that the United Nations was far from the force for good I once imagined it to be, at least I now knew a job at the United Nations was no dream of mine. As I graduate, I can confidently say that whatever I learnt in this four year period that will be useful to me going forward, I gained from those real word educational experiences.
But then again, this raises the question of what exactly our young Nigerians are actually learning at school. Over the last few weeks, a lot of social commentators have taken to the airwaves with rant after rant about low JAMB and NECO scores and frankly speaking, I think it matters little. We have a much bigger problem in our educational system. You see our educational system fails at helping young Nigerians apply their knowledge.
The future that represents scares me.
At least twice in the last week, I overheard complaints from business owners about how barely competent many of our graduates are. Shell spends millions of naira a year on its own university for retraining its staff. Beyond the lack of economic growth that limits the availability of job opportunities in the first place, Nigerian graduates seem like any human resource professional’s nightmare.
Thankfully, I came across a brilliant solution to this problem put forward by Rahm Immanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff and current Mayor of Chicago.
Let corporations run the universities.
With 9.4% unemployment (very high by American standards), 100,000 job openings and a hundred million dollars spent on job training, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s Chicago, Illinois bears a lot of resemblance to the current state of education in Nigeria. So what did he do? He had corporations pledging to hire graduates have a big hand in designing and implementing a curricular that would have them with degrees and in jobs in two years. This way employers get the talent they need to keep productivity high and students face less uncertainty with finding jobs after they graduate. Excellent match if you ask me.
I hear aggregate magnate Aliko Dangote (for all his faults) has been trying to 15,000 young people for his new cement factory for the past few months. Perhaps we can offer him one of our defunct technical schools so he can train his future workforce? I’m sure he’ll do a better job than the Pentecostal churches.