The importance of education in modern times cannot be overemphasized. Besides equipping individuals for self-development and actualization of their goals, it has been recognized and acknowledged universally as the foundation for development and progress of any society in all parts of the world. In line with global trend and practice Nigeria keyed into developing the education sector where efforts have been made over the years to inject resources to developing the tertiary education sector in the country. Consequently, Universities, polytechnics and Colleges of Education were conceived, established and developed in all parts of the country to develop her human and material resources in different aspects of life. The essence is to prosper and enhance the growth of the Nigerian society.The importance of education in national development has also been recognized, stressed and eulogized in many official policy statements in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, and against the well formulated national policy on education that created 6-3-3-4 system of education, available records indicated that 24 polytechnics and Colleges of Education have been converted in recent years to Universities by both the Federal and States governments in the country. In recent years in Nigeria, several polytechnics and Colleges of Education have been upgraded to become universities thereby abdicating their initial focus of raising technical experts and competent teachers for the nation’s increasing schools. These are happening against a well-articulated national policy on education that created the 6-3-3-4-education policy. The national education policy specified that while some sets of students will proceed to Senior Secondary School after their Junior Secondary Education, others are expected to move to technical schools based on their abilities, interests and competences that will ultimately take them to the Polytechnics.
This trend of converting Polytechnics and Colleges of Education to universities that is disrupting the system created by the well thought education policy in Nigeria is becoming a serious source of concern and worry to many discerning Nigerians including this columnist as to why the governments are converting these institutions to universities as though polytechnics and Colleges of Education are no longer desirable and relevant in the country. What are the consequences of this unacceptable scenario on the overall development of the country? What then should be done to revamp and reposition the Education sector especially the Polytechnics and Colleges of education that are been depleted and making irrelevant in the education scheme by politicians that are using it for political settlements and projects in the country to satisfy certain primordial interests or allegiances and sentiments.
Before we begin to discuss the consequences and dangers inherent in the unguided actions of these governments in the proliferation of universities while decimating Polytechnics and Colleges of Education that have critical and special role to play in technical and socioeconomic development of the country, the need to highlight the unique roles of these institutions becomes incumbent. The basic roles of this institutions that make their conversion unacceptable and which must be reversed or stop are: Polytechnic education is noted for the promotion of technical and vocational education and training, technology transfer as well as skills development to enhance the socio-economic advancement of society. They are created to perform a vital roles in human resource development of a country by creating skilled manpower, enhancing industrial productivity and improving the quality of life. In brief Polytechnic education is meant to provide technical learning that could assist a society in meeting its industrial aspirations and growth. Societies that embrace technological education are known the world over to prosper and have sound industrial base and growth. It is however, sad that the sector is currently passing through a difficult phase and are being decimated by poor funding and conversion to universities. It should be added that Polytechnics are essential or vital for any society that aspire for industrial growth and surprisingly despite the poor industrial base and growth of Nigeria, the existing polytechnics that should be strengthened, improved and expanded are been converted to universities. The import of this development is that the country is not ready for industrial growth, development and self sufficiency in the production of goods and services.
The Colleges of Education on the other hand were created to train and provide quality teachers to teach in the nations primary schools where there was gross shortages in the past. It should be emphasized that most primary schools in Nigeria lacks adequate and qualify teachers and yet the existing ones are being converted to universities. The consequences of the ongoing conversion are many and can vary from non-availability of technical manpower in the country. Already the country is suffering from shortages of technical manpower. The conversion of polytechnics to universities will aggravate lack of technical manpower in the country. It will also aggravate the unemployment situation in the country where universities graduates are riding commercial motorcycles to survive. It will continue to deprive the country of competent teachers that are currently in short supply in the country. Of more importance is that such an approach will continue to limit industrial growth of the country and ability of the country to produce essential goods and services that can make for self reliance.
It may not be out of place for governments to convert or upgrade Polytechnics and Colleges of Education to universities where there are compelling cogent and unassailable reasons to do so. However, the present quest by the Federal Governments to make them political projects to please some segments of the society making current conversion to universities unacceptable and must be stopped. In the first instance, the Polytechnic system have not be supported and encourage to grow to discharge their very important roles properly and therefore their stunted growth like what obtains in the universities. Their conversion is not likely to better their fortunes because the existing universities in the country are suffering from poor funding and lack of attention from the governments.
Therefore, instead of converting these institutions to universities, what is required is to strengthen, expand and improve their conditions and status. Their existence and flourishing is what the country require if we are to surmount the humongous problems facing the country. They have specific roles to play and they must be equipped and supported to perform them if the country desire industrial development and sound education. The polytechnic system designed and introduced to train middle level manpower and competent technologies to create wealth and provide technical manpower to work in the industries have not been able to fulfill this noble role. Rather the country has been going to china and other Asian countries to import technicians which they call engineers to work in industries and construction site as engineers in the country. The Colleges of Education created to provide Teachers at the lowest level of education in the country are no longer fulfilling this responsibility. Thanks to the neglect of the sector and failure of governments to improve these institutions over the years. The government instead of the current proliferation of universities that cannot carry out their assignments, the governments should look for ways to invigorate the tertiary institutions in the country. This is because all of them are absolutely essential to the growth and development of the country. There is the need to invigorate them so that they can fulfil their goals. It is not compulsory and absolutely impossible for all citizens to attend universities. Some are imbued with some skills that are better improved in the other tertiary institutions aside universities, while many that should not be in the universities wasting away because they don’t belong. The need to develop all of the tertiary institutions together is the way forward and not to convert every to university graduates that are half baked and unemployable.