Looking at Education and Its Value through the Eyes of a Recent Nigerian Graduate

It is hardly necessary to point out that education is one of the crucial factors in economic development. Today it is barely possible to find a place on the Earth where knowledge would not be consideredto be an investment in the future. But if in some parts of the world education is a piece of cake, and young people are bewildered by the number of educational opportunities, with the luxury of choosing among the best options the market offers, in other places young adults must take part in a very competitive struggle to get access to an education. Often this involves quite dangerous, lengthy journeys abroad and separation from family and friends for long periods of time. Hussaini Garba Mohammed, Youth Time’s contributor in Nigeria, has spoken with one of the youngest Northern Nigerian graduates, Marine Engineer Ahmad Khalil Yahaya, to discuss with him what challenges he had to face in order to get a degree and his experience with untold hardships that can lead to frustration and helplessness.

The quality of education in Nigeria has declined seriously in the past two decades, making Nigeria one of the leading countries in Africa ranked by the number of students moving abroad. Back in 2017,Ahmad Khalil Yahaya was among the youngest Nigerian students who managed to graduate from one of the top universities in Egypt –the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport University. According to various rankings, South Africa and Egypt are the two leaders in the education market in the region, and both are yearly attracting thousands of enrollees from across Africa.

Ahmad Khalil Yahaya

Young Ahmad decided to dedicate himself to Marine Engineering with support from his family, and was accepted into the marine engineering degree program in Alexandria. “This was not my childhood dream, but my delightful and loving dad encouraged me. And now I am thankful for this great opportunity. When I joined the Academy, I was very excited to see men and women from different countries around the world identifying themselves as Naval personnel and Sailors, and everyone was very kind to relate with each other; and despite our various differences, social, cultural and religious, we were friends”, he says.

The recently graduated mariner explains that many of his peers had to leave Nigeria to pursue a quality degree. Perhaps it can be hardly imaginable, but sometimes even access to quality literature and the certainty of finishing a course of study without delay can be an issue in some countries. “The Egyptian educational system was excellent: good laboratories, experienced lecturers, various seminars and conferences, and I never experienced any issues such as strikes like here in Nigeria, where you will finish a program in 8 years instead of four years due to strikes”, he explains.

To add, even those who would like to stay may be forced to leave after all, as according to data from Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), only one in four Nigerians applying to university will actually get a spot. The reason is that the capacity of Nigerian universities is nowhere great enough. The population of the country is around 180 million, and 62% are 24 year old or younger. At the same time there are around 150 private and public universities in the country, with a capacity to educate only 600,000 students.

Ahmad Khalil Yahaya (third from right)

The lack of opportunity at home can be compensated by a foreign degree which can provide graduates with an edge in Nigeria’s competitive job market. Yet not that many people can afford to pay for expensive degrees abroad. In Ahmad’s case, his local Katsina State government contributed 40% of tuition for the engineering degree program, while Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) contributed 60%.

Ahmad also points out that going abroad can be difficult for some people as they must be separated from their families in order to pursue a degree and build a career, but he himself got used to spending long periods of time without talking with his relatives and friends, spending months without seeing anyone other than his colleagues. “I was ready, because as Marine Engineers we were trained if you want to work in this field you have to be far from home. Especially myself, I come from Northern Nigeria. In fact for me being far away from home is even a tradition, because in childhood I started my schooling in a boarding house from primary up to my University level in Egypt», Ahmad adds.

According to Ahmad Khalil Yahaya, developing the education system in Africa is one of the ways to solve pressing issues, including the issue of illegal immigration into Europe. He explainsthat many people do not understand the value of traveling legally, because they believe that they can reach Europe without any travel documents. “Education is the way out, but some people don’t know about freedom of movement with good documents in hand, although this individual freedom comes with a constraint, namely, that the individual does not initiate force against others. More than that, higher education can help African youth to solve the employment crisis by increasing the number of self-employed entrepreneurs, for example”.

Ahmad Khalil Yahaya

In 2017 Ahmad Khalil Yahaya graduated from the university and went back to Nigeria. Now he is serving as a Nigerian Youth Corps member for a period of 9 months in Lokoja-Kogi State, still far away from his parents. But he hopes that after this compulsory service he will have a job related to his field of study, so he can bring development to Nigeria by sharing all the ideas and skills he got during his studies.

According to a UNICEF report from the year 2015, 75.6% of the male population in Nigeria aged 15 and over can read and write, while the literacy rate of the female population is significantly lower – 58%. NBS data shows that this huge gender gap is an issue at all levels of education in Nigeria. Modern technology and the boom in online education don’t seem to be that relevant to bringing significant change, as just slightly more than 30% of the population of the country uses the Internet. More than that, the National Universities Commission (NUC) approved only four local universities to run online undergraduate degree programmes in the country. Online degrees from other institutions are not accepted. Last year NUC announced that it is in the process of allowing 15 more universities to embark on open online learning as this will help solve inadequate access to university education.

Photos: From archive of Ahmad Khalil Yahaya

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