By Najib Ahmad, PhD.
Beyond doubt, you may have by now discerned that nearly everything you are using in your households, offices, and places of worship were made-in-China. A few weeks ago, I had a conversion with my friend and confidant, who told me that this China-made domination is manifested worldwide, even in Europe, where he lives. Hence, he no longer blames Nigeria for clinging to China-made products.
On another occasion, some German professors visited our research group (in China) two years ago. During lunch, one humorously told my former program supervisor that he thought even his shirt was made-in-China. We all laughed and continued eating. Unless you don’t know Germany, the European economic powerhouse, and the history of its industrialisation, this will startle you. Indeed, Germany is still technically capable and well industrialised, but Chinese products are ubiquitous there.
The question you may ask is: How did China achieve all this? I guess you are curious to have an insight into their progress. And how they catch up – sometimes even overtake or compete – with the most industrially advanced countries whose supremacy in this area was matchless within a short time? Their quest for financial power started ages ago, after the country’s opening-up in the 1970s by the then leader, Deng Xiaoping, otherwise known as the principal architect of China’s reform and significant foreign policy changes.
A former Emeritus Professor of Social Sciences at Harvard, Ezra F. Vogel, described the leader in his book, Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, as the “man who most influenced China’s modern trajectory.” The central idea of his reform plans was nothing extraterrestrial. He only ensured that the ordinary Chinese population was enlightened (or educated) to the level they could create their path in a lifetime. He also superbly promoted China from “an agrarian society to the industrial powerhouse” (or manufacturing hub of the world). Beyond the shadow of a doubt, his projections have prospered in making China where it is today. The most important resolution was massive enlightenment. These resolutions have markedly shaped the trajectory of his policies to where they are today.
Provision of adequate and essential reading, writing, and good numeracy skills was the quintessence of the primary phase in their development journey. Thus, presently, you hardly encounter an older person who can neither read nor write or consider using a calculator for basic arithmetic summation (remarkable, right?). Although some reports show a few others are illiterates, especially in villages, it is a small percentage compared to the over a billion people who can. Moreover, there are all-women-operated shopping centres as the reform structure targeted women to prepare them for exceptional jobs. Many women work in hospitals now, especially in women-related matters.
The government of China sponsored children of low-income farmers and city workers to study in elite American and European universities. Some of these students specialised in sciences, applied sciences, technology, and other critical areas for China’s development. This scheme shaped the education development in China. At the same time, some of them remained in their newfound home. Today, five out of ten research papers from the European and American universities will have Chinese-sounding names. They are also in many places working on state-of-the-art science and technology. This was part of the product of the policies made on education about a century ago.
Many others joined various newly founded public universities and colleges all over China to teach and train young students. According to Statista, as of 2019, China has the largest education system globally, with 2688 public universities and colleges, a mixture of central (or federal), provincial (or state), and local government-owned institutions. Out of these institutions, 1,423 are higher vocational colleges. According to reports from the Chinese Ministry of Education, privately owned vocational colleges reached about 300 in 2021. Yet, they looked for more to provide jobs and ultimately boost the country’s economy.
In retrospect, you can see that China’s quest for economic supremacy started with excellent policies favouring education. It continues to this day. New policies were implemented and sustained in educating the society, for example, policies like a free nine-year compulsory quality education for primary and junior secondary schools.
Again, one of China’s leading, perhaps secret, ingredients for unprecedented technological developments is its total commitment to vocational education training at all levels. Vocational colleges (higher institutions) and vocational schools (secondary schools) have undoubtedly contributed to the record economic growth in China. They are the fundamental and out of sight driver and catalyst of their economy. They have produced craftspersons with skills that supported the country in job specialisations such as electrician, mechanic, computer technician, carpenter, tailor, beautician, chef, welder, fabricator, product designer, bus driver, and electric train driver, among others.
The government’s commitment to funding and sustaining vocational training schools have vastly invigorated the manufacturing capacity you see in China today. Subsequently, most foreign brands like Apple, Unilever, Nike, Zara, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, and many more produce China-made products. The availability of highly-skilled workforce is another reason those brands go to China, among other benefits. Unfortunately, time and space will not permit me to mention them here. However, the reward of sound policies on enlightenment to a society and its propensity is ostensibly enormous. And above all, the government has significantly reduced poverty among its people and improved their livelihoods.
We can learn from the above that enlightening everyone, at least, to the level that they can read and write and get numeracy skills, even if it is in their native language. So doing is vital for the prosperity of society and the country at large. Sometimes, not everyone could have profound education. Suppose everyone you meet in the market, other places in Nigeria could read and write in their native languages. Undoubtedly, our growth and development as a society would be in a better direction than our current condition. Lack of these skills for everybody contributes to our lack of progress, absence of skilled workers, failure of industries, among other ills bedevilling our societies in Nigeria.
As the government is founding new universities year-round, they should consider establishing vocational colleges. As I see these days, the National University Commission (NUC) issue license to many private universities nationwide. Individuals can similarly step in to establish private vocational training colleges. It is not always that everything rests on the shoulder of the government. We need to take these few but critical steps to reset the collective societal future of Nigeria. Implementing them could set a new stage for self-directed youths equipped with the required skills to assist Nigeria’s economic growth, particularly at one of the worst phases of the country’s financial crisis, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and poor governance.
Dr Najib Ahmad is a Postdoctoral Researcher at Shandong University, China. He can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.