Business education & national development in a knowledge economy

Two weeks ago, I gave a keynote address on the topic above at the Annual National Conference of the Association of Business Educators of Nigeria, held in Iree Polytechnic. The thrust being on advancing education generally and business and vocational education in particular for national development, I consider it germane to bring snippets  on Reflection page for our readers and  policy makers at this critical moment of our development endeavour.
 Permit me to tease your professional palate with the history of  business education of the United States of America, something that must be quite elementary beginner’s introductory course for your students but which I find fascinating as a layman!
Business Education has a long history which dates back to 1635 when the Plymouth Colony hired the ‘first school teacher to teach reading, writing and casting accounts (similar to modern accounting). The year 1635 marked the founding of Franklin’s Academy in Philadelphia which “taught courses on the history of commerce, rise of manufacturers, and progress and changing seats of trade.” When in 1749, Massachusetts needed municipalities with at least 500 students to establish a local high school which was finally established, a long time after that need, in 1827. It was not until 1834 that the first two private business colleges were established.  After a number of steps taken to firmly establish studies in business education, thoughts arose on tools and equipment to manage the schools.  The first tool or equipment for teaching Business Education was the invention of a typewriter by Christopher Sholes in 1868. It was not until 1917 that the Smith-Hughes Act was passed as the Vocational Act to promote vocational education programmes in agriculture, trade and industry.  In 1926, The American Vocational Association was founded to help’ promote the need for a national programme of vocational education.’ And in 1936, the New York University established Delta Pi Epsilon is founded by New York University to serve as a national graduate honourary society for those who were engaged in Business Education. 1963 – The Vocational Education Act was passed as the first ‘official piece of Federal Legislation that specifically referenced Business Education. Other laws or bills enacted after these, including the 1983 – The NBEA Standards are established for Teacher Excellence (1983) and The Perkins Act (1984) were regulatory laws for Teacher Excellence and the provision of bigger federal government’s funds for vocational programmes and the development of students in preparation for the labour market.
A turning point regarding business education curriculum occurred in the invention in 1946 of the first electronic computer, ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator) created a remarkable departure in the business education curriculum which led, inexorably, in the 1960s, to the emergence of a remarkable transformation in business education when the IBM introduced the first Selectric typewriter in 1961 and the Magnetic Tape Selectric typewriter in 1964. ‘In 1962 the United Business Education Association (UBEA) changed its name to the National Business Education Association (NBEA). In 1963, the first minicomputer was invented enabling the introduction of word processing into the business education curriculum. This dramatically radicalised the curricular of business education. What then followed was formation of standards of excellence, database of competences in business education curricular from the bottom to the acme of the discipline since the eighties.
You will observe that this history is American the history of Business Education from its beginning. It is the task of this conference to educate us on the history of Business Education in Nigeria, relatively new as it is.
Now what is business education? The most recent attempt to define it was by Wikipedia in the year 2015, which states that business education “involves teaching students the fundamentals, theories, and processes of business. It occurs at several levels, including secondary education  and higher education  or university education.” Our concern here is at the polytechnic level, but no distinction will be made in any distinctive way as has become the issue nowadays in a needless but seemingly interminable battle between university and polytechnic valiant dowagers or defenders. One of the very active interventions in this regard is a former head of state who laboured needlessly to erase the professional difference between a skill- based tertiary system and an academic-based one.
Yet there are issues of analysis, strategic tools for service quality perception and differentiations within business education disciplines, trends and the increasing complexity of the subject, including the relationships between the studies in Business Education and its immediate and universal environments. I am persuaded that all these will engage the conferees during your sojourn in Iree. What about its importance to us as a nation? In a recent observation, Muhtar Bakare (2015) identified vocational technical education (which certainly circumscribes business education) as the “fount of economic development.” Talking more specifically about the drive of the present government in Nigeria to take, headlong, the battle to eradicate poverty and the frightening youth unemployment, which “poses risk to security” and affects “Nigeria’s ranking as economic power-house” on the entire African continent, he finds vocational and technical education as both the key and the challenge thus;
· Nigeria faces many educational challenges, to which finding solutions will be essential in securing the country’s long-term social and economic prosperity. However, we cannot overcome the youth unemployment problem without comprehensive and sustainable reforms to our vocational education system. Given the nature of demand by employers and the labour market, Bakare avers that the nation needs to improve upon access to technical and business education to help Nigeria redress its youth empowerment goals. Whereas we do not lack graduates on the numerical surface of the matter, the industries require skilled artisans, management entrepreneurs and professionals available mainly in our business education vocations.
 Similarly, this keynote will not preoccupy itself with curricular issues of how students are taught the fundamentals, theories and practicals of business education. Being a non-expert, suffice to mention that specific curricula and diploma granting procedures differ from programme to programme and from context to context. However, they all will comprise either preparation for management and general business, or a detailed focus on a specific area. Whichever, all programmes of business studies will, I believe, typically include basic selections such as accounting, marketing , finance and operations management. Some others will concern management-focused programmes which are usually “designed to give a broad knowledge of the functional areas of a company, and their interconnection, and also to develop the student’s practical managerial skills, communication skills and business decision-making capability.”

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