Educational Degrees are important, but they are not an end in themselves!
Imo state has a reputation for aggressively chasing educational qualifications. In those days when young boys like us had ambitions to attend the prestigious University of Nigeria, family and friends warned us time and again to work hard or face the prospect of failure. Their reason was simple enough. Imo had perhaps the greatest numbers of smart school leavers and that put them at a comparative disadvantage. Their minimum entrance scores into universities were usually up in the skies, to reflect the intense competition for the limited available spaces.
In my early years in the Mbano countryside, I listened to my parents tell interesting, albeit sad tales of friends and relatives getting university degrees from prestigious universities, only to move down to rural areas to earn poorly paid teaching spots in local schools. Intelligent, well read men and women rode bicycles to work not because they needed some exercise, but because their pay, coupled with the demands of raising large families in a poorly governed country, could not afford them the comfort of riding in personal motor cars.
I know a relative who earned fully funded scholarships to study mathematics in three prestigious Nigerian universities. On gaining admission to one of the institutions, he soon realized that he could end up a teacher in a secondary school. Promptly he applied to change his course to surveying, a discipline that offered more opportunities, and his mathematics department reluctantly released him.
In early post colonial times, possessing English literacy and educational credentials was the ticket to plum civil service jobs that set folks apart. Communities bragged about their sons and daughters who had the whiteman’s education. These sentiments are still rife in some places. A few families still boast of being the first to produce university graduates in their communities.
In the United States of America, Nigerians have the distinction of being the most well educated immigrant community. For Houston resident Damilare Oluwaseun, having a master’s degree in Economics was not enough for his relatives, hence he got a doctorate. His wife did not stop at earning a bachelor’s either. Indeed, the same obsession with obtaining university degrees runs in many Nigerian families.
Many a time, this is a thing of pride for families. Compared to only 8 percent of native White Americans with master’s degrees and 1% with doctorates, 17 percent of Nigerians held master’s degrees and 4 percent had doctorate degrees, according to the US Census Bureau.
Sometimes however, immigration problems compel undocumented young people to stay in school. One commenter put it this way: “In a way, it is a catch – 22 – because you are forced to remain in school, but then you end up getting your doctorate at 29. If you stay in school, immigration will leave you alone. For yet many others, getting more degrees is a way to overcome the problem of being a double minority – black and immigrant.
Being very well educated has its advantages. It is the main reason why the Asian community has been so economically successful in the US, according to Bloomberg. “The Asian American Achievement paradox” by Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou, notes that Asian American immigrants in recent decades have started with one advantage: they are highly educated. Remarkably, Nigerian immigrants are significantly more highly educated that even Chinese or South Korean immigrants. The paper recognises that by many measures, African immigrants are as far ahead of American whites in educational achievement as whites are ahead of African Americans.
In the 21st century, getting well educated is an achievement. Yet more than ever before, fostering innovation and development in our communities and countries have become the crucial goal of superior education. In other words, education is no longer an end in itself. Inventors in the United States are experienced and well educated, with most holding advanced degrees in science and technology fields. In fact, up to 80 percent of innovators possess at least one advanced degree, and 55 percent have attained a PhD in a STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] subject.
Even though immigrants are a mere 13.5% of the US population, they make up more than 35 percent of US innovators. Though most innovators are highly educated and are comprise of a significant population of immigrants when their small population is taken into account, the highly educated African immigrants are missing in this equation. In an interesting twist, immigrants born in Europe or Asia are more than 5 times as likely as native – born US citizens to have created an innovation in the land of opportunities. Though Nigerians are the most highly educated immigrant community in the United States, only 4.4 percent of foreign – born innovators are from Africa. In comparison, 35.4 percent of innovators are from Europe, 21.5% are from India, and 17.1% are from China. The meagre population (less than 8%) of US born innovators who are minorities is story for another day.
There is probaly no solution to this puzzle. Why are Nigerians so highly educated yet underrepresented in the science and tech community? Why are Nigerians generally averse to taking those kinds of risks?
The largest black nation on earth has struggled with perennial bad governance. There are simply no jobs – white collar jobs of course – and millions of young school leavers earn educational qualifications which their communities do not need. Regrettably, many end up unemployed, frustrated and without hope. Crime is rife. Sometime this year, I sent my 2005 model Toyota sedan to the automobile mechanic, only for the technicians to report hours later that the automatic gear system had failed for some unexplained reason. It was obvious that operator mistakes were to blame.
For a society boasting tens of thousands of youths trained in polytechnic and engineering schools, such a situation should never have arisen.
In conclusion, there is a crucial need for Africans and especially Nigerians, to learn to respect the technical professions in both the formal and informal sectors of industry. I hold this view because even in societies where research and development funding and policies are superb, Nigerians are to be found lacking. Innovation incentives such as R and D tax incentives and tax credits, low taxes on information and communication technology products and funding of education and University R and D are absolutely vital, but a paradigm shift, a change in mentality is needed for the Nigerian society at home and in the diaspora to take excellent advantage of them to create value in their communities.