Nigeria: Technical Education – We Got It Wrong Because of Emphasis On Grammar/ White Collar Jobs – Rev Ugorji
The role of technical and vocational education in
national development cannot be overemphasized.
In Nigeria, however, technical and vocational
education was relegated to the background and
so the artisan class is fast disappearing and no
young hands are understudying them to take
As a result, industries lack the requisite
manpower as products of conventional schools
are not well equipped to fill the gap. Compare
this to Germany, famous for its machine tool
industry populated by artisans.
German’s Federal Foreign Minister, Guido
Westerwelle once said; “Our resources do not lie
underneath our feet but between our ears,”
referring to education and research. This is
what Nigeria’s education sector should aim at.
In this chat with Rev. Chris Ugorji, Director/
Principal, Federal Science and Technical College
(FSTC), Yaba, Lagos, he speaks on various
issues that had militated against vocational and
technical education in Nigeria and proffers
According to Rev. Ugorji, on assumption of duty
at the FSTC Yaba on August 1, 2014, he
inherited a system that was decadent; “where
things were not done properly, where both staff
and students lacked commitment; where parents
found it difficult to buy books and pay fees for
their children; an environment that was very
unfriendly to both teaching and learning.
“Classroom, laboratory and hostel facilities were
not enough. No official vehicle for the principal
and no good vehicles for students’ outings,” he
FSTC Yaba, the premier federal technical college
in Nigeria, was established in 1948, a year after
Yaba College of Technology. It has produced
quality engineers and professionals.
Unfortunately, the college was left uncared for.
It used to be termed motor parts school where
never-do wells go. That was the mentality of
the public that technical schools are meant for
never-do wells or second rate students.
I am a product of grammar school. In those
days, if somebody went to a technical or
commercial school, they think ‘oh these ones are
not brilliant.’ Technical students were meant to
be technicians; they could never be engineers or
whatever. So that was the very bad mentality
we inherited from the colonial masters.
Prior to this time, Nigerian educational system
was a product of the mentality of the colonial
masters. He who pays the piper dictates the
tune. They taught the arts and social sciences
so most of the people that ruled Nigeria were
historians. You hardly could see an engineer.
That was before we began to produce
unemployable graduates who cannot boast of
skills; everybody is looking for a white collar job
where they knot tie and speak English.
Unfortunately, the universities were not enough
to cater for the teeming population of those
seeking tertiary education, so more tertiary
institutions were established so that each state
could have two or three. Yet, those were still
not enough. People who want to go to
polytechnic or college of technology or whatever,
were still regarded as second rate students. It
should not be so, look at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology in the US!
So anybody who did not pass JAMB can then
consider going to a polytechnic. That was then
and many parents, wouldn’t want their children
to go to a technical school because they will end
up as artisans.
This continued until we started producing
multiplicity of unemployable graduates, and yet,
industries lack the requisite manpower.
Where we got it wrong:
We got it wrong because emphasis was more on
grammar and white collar jobs until it became
obvious that this could not drive our economy.
Necessity is the mother of invention so the very
moment it got to that stage, people began to
think. Incidentally, I came from the Tertiary
Department of the Education ministry where I
was heading a division that was licensing
innovation enterprise institutions.
Making a U-turn:
These private institutions license institutions
that produce innovators just like polytechnics
but this time around, they are privately-owned
as Government alone cannot fund education. So
while I was in the ministry, we licensed over 20
of such institutions. We call them Innovation
Enterprise Institutions (IEIs). They can compete
with the polytechnics. We have Association of
Proprietors of Innovation Enterprise
Institutions. They award diplomas and so the
polytechnics began to feel threatened and to
play politics with it. I was at the centre of it.
They went to the National Board for Technical
Education (NBTE) to ask them not to recognise
IEIs because they graduate people that have
skills needed by industries. For example,
products of NIIT will compete with a Computer
Science graduate from any university. They told
NBTE not to license more and they produced a
memo that they took to the National Council of
Education, the highest policy-making body; there
and then, they were told ‘no, we want
alternative routes to higher education.’
Many people may not go through JAMB and those
who have graduated and still cannot get
employment, can come back and acquire skills.
Before I leave, this school will become a diploma-
awarding institution. That is my vision for
FSTC. We have 19 trades here.
Now, people have realised that you can qualify
as a graduate of whatever without any skill;
that is exactly why they began to do a U-turn to
go to technical colleges.
The Federal Government is emphasising more on
technical and vocational education. That is the
genesis of Technical and Vocational Education
and Training (TIVET). At the O-level, it is called
Vocational Enterprise Institutions (VEIs) and at
the tertiary level, it’s called IEIs.
Industries come to look for our graduates
because as they graduate from here, they have
the skills and can work.
Most of the jobs we do here are done by
teachers and students. The JSS1 building was
constructed by teachers and students. The bunks
are constructed by a teacher and students in the
Dept of Welding and Fabrication. We want to
convert classrooms to hostels, the staff and
students do it. In fact, one of our staff here,
who studied abroad, is fondly called Julius
Berger because he does things you cannot fault.
When the Girls’ hostel decking collapsed and they
said they needed a structural engineer, he
handled it with the students. That is exactly
what is happening here.
Government is now fully aware that grammar
will not put food on our table. I am challenging
myself that before I leave here, I must acquire
Making T&V education more attractive:
The Federal Government Policy on admission in
FSTCs is 70% technical and 30% science. We call
it paradigm shift.
Many parents would want to send their children
here to read literature and history because they
don’t understand. But gradually, they are
becoming aware. FSTC Yaba is the most
populated of all the 104 technical colleges in
We have remained focused, determined to make a
difference, to transform the school. Under a
year and three months that I have spent here,
this place has become a pilgrimage centre so to
speak. Everybody wants to come here because in
this place, we insist on discipline.
The very moment a student is disciplined, a
parent is disciplined, and the teachers are
disciplined and they know the mission and vision,
the reason for which they are here; which is
specifically to mentor the students, then they
can run with it. The Bible says make the vision
plain so that anyone who reads will run with it.
When we started, most parents who were used to
the old ways, were saying no initially but
gradually, with tenacity and focus, they are
getting it. No student will fly his or her shirt in
this college whether here or outside; if you are
caught, you will be sanctioned. And of course,
you must be properly dressed and neat.
You have to attend classes. The monitors and
class supervisors make sure there is no
loitering. Parents only visit the college on
visiting days so that the children will not be
Now, everybody wants to come to FSTC Yaba but
unfortunately, we do not have enough
classrooms and hostels. The dining space is
inadequate. That is why I said we have to
convert some classrooms to hostels to be able to
accommodate the students because of the Lagos
traffic. When they are resident in school, they
will be relaxed and not be distracted by traffic,
they can now have their preps and other
extracurricular activities. So the sensitisation
is gradually permeating; parents are getting
used to it slowly but steadily.
A product of FSTC Yaba can become an engineer
or whatever he or she wants. For science
students, they write WAEC, NECO and JAMB.
Technical students write NECO and NABTEB. They
also do their trade tests. Each of these will
qualify them to enter the university to read
engineering or whatever or enter the
Here, for you to become a technical student, you
must know your math, chemistry, physics. So
they can read medicine. Some of them have both
technical and science certificates.