VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND VOCATIONALISM
Vocational education, in a simple and broad sense, is that aspect of the total experience of the individual “… whereby he [the individual] learns successfully to carry on a gainful occupation” (Olaitan, 1986: 53). This definition covers both the organised or conscious vocational education and vocational training. The two concepts are to be distinguished by their nature. While vocational training is concerned with the development of skills alone, vocational education is concerned with the development of knowledge and skills required for an occupation. Akerejola (2001: 32), in a more technical perspective, observes:
Vocational Education is for pre-professional [sic] or for training or for production of low-level manpower (skilled labour) i.e. artisans, craftsmen and master craftsmen for the labour market. Generally, vocational education is education for the craftsmen.
Vocational education is also usually referred to as Vocational and Technical education or Career and Technical education, or Technical education. Its reference as Technical education is because it directly equips the learners with expertise in a particular group of techniques or technology. Nonetheless, the terms refer not to just one discipline but a conglomeration of disciplines that prepares learners for careers that are based in practical activities in industrial and commercial options. Vocational education disciplines could be highly technical or less so. We need not discuss here those disciplines classified as vocational as they are already established in the context of the curriculum at the secondary and the tertiary education levels (Figure 3).
List of some Vocational/Technical disciplines
Automechanic/ Automotive Technology
Construction/ Building Construction
Family/ Consumer Sciences
Home Economics/ Home Sciences
Textiles and Clothing
Visual Arts/ Fine and Applied Arts
However, except in critical academic and administrative consideration, the Nigerian general conception of vocational education is largely that of vocational training. This misconception has a historical basis. Western education in Nigeria, actually indirectly, began with vocational training. The early European settlers among the Nigerian peoples required certain manual service providers and recruited people as gardeners, launderers, cooks, carpenters, masons, etc. Natives were employed and trained to render these services to suit the European tastes. Although, as Olaitan (1986: 53) rightly observes, these trainings were not specifically tagged vocational education, yet they were to constitute a part of what is known today as vocational education. The Europeans' objectives later changed with the increase in their missionary activities. Emphasis shifted to the teaching of reading, writing and arithmetic, at the expense of vocational education. The missionaries later realised the need for some training for the handicapped converts to enable them to earn a living. Training in handicraft, cobbling, et cetera, were therefore provided for them. This development was observed to be a landmark in vocational education among the Nigerian peoples as the handicapped were trained in gainful occupation (Olaitan, 1986: 59) but corollary to which vocational training and consequently vocational education became misconceived to be education for the handicapped persons. However, with the various government and non-governmental educational efforts, this misconception has drastically reduced. There is still therefore the need for the development of a more effective means of educating the citizenry on the correct concept of vocational education.
The problem of misconception is not peculiar to Nigeria. In Europe and America, due to the apprenticeship training system of the vocational disciplines and the low status associated with such training, the development of vocational education into school curriculum did not happen until industrialization in the nineteenth century compelled its growth. In Great Britain, the ``…opposition to vocational education persisted into the twentieth century …'' (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008: 1).
It is however noteworthy that all these forms of misconception were a departure from the conception of vocational education by the pre-colonial Nigerian peoples. It is therefore without any indigenous and traditional basis. Indigenous education among the Nigerian peoples was holistic: consciously to develop the total man. Fafunwa (1974) has identified seven of its cardinal goals. But the vocational education was invariably holistic and unequivocally vocation-oriented. This is the reason that indigenous education has no records of unemployment excepting the cases of the lazy ones (NTI, 1990: 5). Let us take some cues from the Yoruba tradition.
The Yoruba, the largest ethnic nation in Africa, for whom education is inseparable and as important as life, refer to vocation, occupation, service and labour as ise with slightly varying semantic nuances. They interestingly contrasted this with ise (poverty). The concept of viable vocation arising from good education as the key to individual subsistence and societal development is underscored in their proverb, ise ni oogun ise,” - ``work is the antidote to poverty”. This is not to be just any work but one based on sound skills. This fact is metaphorised and encapsulated in Ose Otura, a verse of the Ifa divination corpus, the encyclopedic world-view of the Yoruba: