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


Wrong mentality:

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.


Crisis point:

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.

Our graduates:

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

a skill.

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.