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“What Has Athens Got To Do With Jerusalem”? The Relevance of the Humanities and Social Sciences to Polytechnics in Nigeria


Ndidi Justice Gbule, PhD

Department of Religious and Cultural Studies,

University of Port Harcourt, 

Choba, Port Harcourt. 


This work examines the paradox of the marginalization of the humanities, arts and social sciences and the heroic attention given to sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics in Polytechnic education in Nigeria. The understanding is that sciences and technology drive the economy by ensuring prosperity and progress. But this logic is euphemistic. Utilizing the methodology of qualitative approach to scholarship, the paper argues that imagination, creativity, reflections are foundational to scientific and technological advancement of any country. The data employed in this analysis were primarily derived from extant literature in the area of technical and vocational education (TVE), and these establish that for a sustainable scientific and technological advances in Nigeria both the STEM courses and Humanities must be emphasised. The findings suggest that the contradictions in the way the Polytechnic education has been implemented are detrimental to the Humanities. In the end the paper advocates for the proper utilization of the intrinsic values of humanities and arts, social sciences education for scientific and technological advancement, and the need for policy makers in Nigeria to reverse this trend.


Key words: polytechnic, Nigeria, humanities, sciences, technology, development



The Humanities also known as the Arts form a cluster of subjects, which deal with thought, Languages, Literature, Classics, Philosophy, History, Religion, and so on. . The Humanities seek to tell the story of humankind, while the story of the cosmos is the domain of the natural and applied Sciences. The former have been foundational in the educative process right from the classical period. Denoted as Trivium and Quadrivium, they constituted the holistic approach to learning. The trivium was always pursued first, and consisted of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, while the quadrivium came next, and included arithmetic, astronomy, music, and geometry. Together they were to lead students to see a “unified idea of reality.” The inference being clearly that serious enquiry into the disciplines of humanities was part of the early quest to understand reality, human beings themselves, and the universe at large. The utility of the humanities to the pursuit of knowledge is captured in Socrates’ maxim “Man know thyself”,  and differently put by Plato when he said that, “an unexamined life is not worth living” ( The Dialogues,  Benson ed 2006:24).

Understanding how a University or a higher institution, for that matter, becomes one depends on the deep connection between the two basic concepts : the Humanities and the Sciences. So it is better to overlook the opposition or division between the two in the Polytechnics in Nigeria as not tenable in reality. The two branches of knowledge mutually reinforce themselves in man’s quest to understand himself, the environment and the greater universe. Thus the relevance of the Humanities and the Social Sciences is critical in the balancing of the curriculum in Polytechnic Education if Nigeria is to achieve its avowed aim of using education as a means of technological advancement and social engineering (NPE 2004:3).

However, the undue emphasis on the acquisition of practical and technical skills, technical and vocational education (TVE) to the neglect of humane Sciences in Polytechnic Education has assumed a paradoxical dimension. In Nigeria the goals of polytechnic education are clearly provided in the National Policy on Education (2004) which include: (i) to provide technical knowledge and vocational skills necessary for agricultural, commercial and economic development, and (ii) to give training  and impart the necessary skills to individuals who shall be self-reliant (NPE, 2004: 30). Nigeria, as a developing nations avows to use education as a pivot to fast track science and technological advances, as some of the Asean countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, and so on. There is no doubt that these are currently outsourcing most of the most the jobs available in Nigerian oil and gas industry because of the comparative advantage they have over local workers. Hence the connect in the emphasis Government has place on Polytechnic Education.

In this regard Oyerinde (2015) has posited that polytechnic education is important because it emphasises hands-on learning and the acquisition of functional and usable skills. For him, “If policy on technical skills is adopted and implemented, Polytechnic education will be the pivot for providing manpower to the nation’s industries and firms and consequently, reduce dependence on expatriate workforce for the industrial and technological development of Nigeria.


Conceptual Analysis

Undoubtedly, the Humanities and Social Sciences are facing extinction in the Polytechnics in Nigeria. This predicament is due to the undue emphasis Government and intervention and donor agencies have given to Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, courses, hereafter STEM in funding, awards of scholarships, and research grants. For instance, the 2017/2018 Petroleum Technology Development Fund Scholarship, PDTF no Humanities and Social Sciences courses, HSS were listed for sponsorship, both locally and overseas. All the 32 courses listed for the award are the STEM subjects (Appendix VI). The reading here may be that HSS subjects are unimportant and irrelevant for the social and technological development. The logic that higher education is driven only by utilitarian considerations and market is a fallacy; the HSS subjects stand square for truth, curiosity, critique and reflection (Robertson, 2013:179).


The marginalization of the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences in the Polytechnics in Nigeria reminds us of the rhetorical question of the Church Father Tertullian “What has Athens got to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?” (Tertullian, 2015).  Tertullian, the great African ancestor of early Christianity was asking if there is any relevance with philosophical method as taught in Greek schools and the interpretation of the scriptures as practised in the Church. He strongly believed in the inerrancy of the Scripture as the indubitable word of God that was not subject to any philosophical interpretation – or hermeneutics. However, the irony is that his own thought shows how impossible it is to separate the two. This is because his pioneering exploration into the doctrine of the Trinity, and his original use of the phrase ‘one substance, three persons’ was influenced by the Greek Stoicism. As a good Churchman, Tertullian had insisted on the separation of theology and the culture of the surrounding world, and yet in his own thinking he exemplified their inescapable interaction. There are always porous boundaries between them.


As with theology and Greek philosophical thought, so there are porous boundaries between the Humanities and Science and technological courses in the Academy.  The bifurcation of the humane sciences and the Sciences and Technical subjects in Nigerian Polytechnics is paradoxical! It is a contradiction to the extent that it tends to parcel out knowledge into two: the humane and natural sciences. Such a binary division does not exist in reality, the two aspects are like worldviews; they interpenetrate and are holistic. The separation of the sciences and the humanities in the education process is contradictory.  The National Policy of Education (1981) insists that Education at all levels should be oriented towards the fostering of the total development of the child, cognitively, socially and spiritually.


The burden of this paper therefore is to ask the following questions; how did this bifurcation of knowledge originate that science became heroic in the academy?  Do the humanities, arts and social sciences have any intrinsic value? But before answering these questions, it might be necessary to raise preliminary investigations. “What is a polytechnic? What is the purpose for its establishment?


What is Polytechnic?

According to Addison Mark Wokocha (2014) a polytechnic is “a non university tertiary institution” offering a variety of vocational and scientific subjects at the certificate and diploma levels. However, this traditional focus of polytechnic institution has undergone some metamophosis that there is now an overlap of the courses offered in the polytechnics and universities. Today many polytechnics now offer a range of degree programmes and direct pathways from certificates and diplomas into complimentary university degrees, except medicine (Brenannan, 2013:188).  Locally, in Nigeria Yaba Polytechnic and Kaduna Polytechnic offer OND and HND as well as award degrees in some technological-based programs. In Nigeria Polytechnics education is intended to offer hands-on education to graduates at sub professional levels for a lifelong education. According Wokocha (2014), Polytechnic education is to impart vocational and technical skills at handling tools, materials and equip them with both theoretical and practical knowledge and experience. This resonates with National Policy on Education (NPE, 1981) which defines technical education as “that aspect of education, which leads to acquisition of practical and applied as well as basic scientific knowledge”. The polytechnics in Nigeria were therefore established to fulfil the following goals;

  1. To provide full time or part-time courses of instruction and training in engineering, other technologies applied science, business and management, leading to trained manpower;
  2. To provide the technical knowledge and skills necessary for agricultural , industrial , commercial, and economic development in Nigeria;
  3. To give training  and impart the necessary skills for the production of technicians, technologists and other skilled personnel who shall be enterprising and self-reliant;
  4. To train people who can apply scientific knowledge to solve environmental problems for the convenience of man ; and
  5. To give exposure on professional studies in the technologies (NPE, 1981).

In pursuance of these goals, the Nigerian Government accepted to adopt the following measures:

  1. To develop and encourage the ideals of Polytechnic education through students industrial work experience, (SIWES); and
  2. To improve immediate and long time prospects of Polytechnic graduates and other professionals with respect to their profession and remuneration.

The Polytechnics as part of the education process have continued to contribute to the economic, social, cultural and other aspects of Nigerian economy. The polytechnic graduates now dominate the manpower supply to our industries, public utilities, health services, agriculture, trade, tourism and hospitality services at the sub professional levels (Wokocha, 2014).

Consequently, the programmes and courses offered in Polytechnics in Nigeria and other countries necessarily reflect these expectations or mandate. For example, polytechnics in Nigeria and elsewhere offer the following programmes with the relevant courses.

Table 1: Programmes and Some Courses Offerred in Polytechnics in Nigeria 

Programmes Examples of courses offered
Agricultural and Related Technology Agricultural Engineering Technology, Agricultural Extension Management ,

Animal Production Technology, Crop Production Technology, Wood and Paper Technology.

Art, Design and Related Technology Art and Industrial Design,

Fashion Design and Clothing,

Printing Technology,

Music Technology.

Business and Related Studies Business Administration and Management,

Bilingual  Secretarial Studies, Human Resources Management, Local Government Studies, Petroleum Marketing and Business Studies,

Public Administration,

Social Development.

Engineering Technology Aircraft Engineering Technology,

Civil Engineering Technology,

Computer  Engineering Technology,

Mineral Processing Engineering Technology,

Petroleum Engineering Technology

Environmental Design Studies Architectural Technology

Building Technology

Estate Management

Urban and Regional/Planning

Finance and Related Studies Accountancy

Banking and Finance


Health  and Related Technology Community Health

Dental Therapy

Health Information Management

Hospital and Related Technology Hospitality Management

Home and Rural Economics

Nutrition and Dietetics

Information Studies Library and Information Science

Mass Communication

Science Computer and Related Technology Ceramic Technology

Computer Science

Food Technology

Geological Technology

Polymer Technology


Textile Technology

Source: National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) list courses. html. Retrieved 5th July 2017.


The Triumph of Science: The Legacy of Enlightenment Rationalism

Understanding how science became a “heroic model” of our world entails going back in time to discover how and when science became an absolute measure of all knowledge and inquiries. It all began in the eighteenth Century with the rationalist philosophy which established science as the new foundation for truth; an anvil onto which all knowledge will be hammered. For example, Bertrand Russell was quoted as saying “what science cannot tell us, mankind cannot know” (Peters, 2000:9). Thus the use of “God-hypothesis” to explain all truth was mimicked as ignorant and superstitious. The conviction was that whatever could not be proved or verified or subjected to reason should be exorcised and thrown into the dustbin of history. A mechanistic and instrumental view of the universe became the platform upon which all inquiries are to be grafted.  Summarized by its laws, natural science with its experimental method became the measure of all truth. Imitate mechanical science, follow its methods, seek laws on everything from human biology to the art of governing- that was the advice bequeathed to West by the Enlightenment


This way of thinking characterizes the modern era in terms of the prominence it gives to the natural sciences and all inquires. It turned scientific geniuses into cultural heroes. Men like Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton and Descartes became deified. Rene Descartes, acknowledged as the father of Scientific Revolution insisted on the bifurcation of our minds, the subject-object split and the principle of doubt. The Cartesian approach to knowledge was so influential and widespread that it has become part of our education process. Truth must be testable, verifiable, and without any prejudices. Genuine knowledge is impersonal. One’s scientific research is considered valid only if the data can be verified independently. What constitutes learning is therefore how to understand these laws so we can manipulate things through technology.


The corollary was that such things as value and worth, beauty and ugliness, good and evil, importance and triviality were subordinated to objectivity. They were mere abstractions, subjective and private because they cannot be proved or verified. This is summed in Rene Descartes’ famous dictum “Cogito, ergo sum: I think, therefore I am” (Peters 2000:11-14).  These principles of objectivity, subjectivity, and doubt as espoused by Descartes and his savants have formed the foundation of our modern academy.


Back home, policies of government; colonial and post-colonial have fluctuated impelled largely by social-political considerations. The tilt away from the humanities to science and technology in the educational philosophy of the country happened in the early 1980s. The thinking was that the change in policy would quickly yield the much-desired speedy technological transformation and industrialisation of the country and thus help Nigeria close the gap between her and the industrialised countries in the world. It is pertinent to recall that prior to that development the humanities received a fair share of government largesse and sponsorships with the learned and cultured people of that era being mostly people who specialised in the humanities and education. This is however, not the forum to debate the merits or otherwise of the change in policy. But, it is important to bear in mind the wisdom of a well balanced curricular arrangement, that is, the need to what some authors have referred to as maintaining “the complementarist approach” in the disciplines and divisions that constitute the overall academic programmes and arrangement of our schools. Harry Schofield (1972) is definitely right in his remark that “some questions can be answered in the laboratory, while others cannot”. One cannot, he points out, “measure happiness in the laboratory”. It is also absolutely necessary that in our current stride in Nigeria for entrepreneurial education (which the emphasis on natural and applied sciences and technology generally promotes), we do not lose sight of what Oyeshile identifies as “conceptual paradigms which the disciplines in the humanities provide” (Kenny, ed., 2007:91).


Today the impression is that the disciplines of humanities, including the social sciences cannot guarantee food on the table, especially with the tangible achievements of technological innovation and enormous wealth it has created in the society. This has inadvertently created the impression and attitude among people to disparage the Humanities and Social Sciences. Olatunji makes the point thus;


“It is often ridiculously claimed that these disciplines in the humanities and social sciences do not readily place ‘butter and bread’ on the table. In other words, their utility cannot easily be quantified, unlike what obtains in the applied sciences” (Onyeshile in Kenny, ed, 2007:90).


This impression is rather the most unfortunate in our development paradigm. Some scholars have tried to expose the distinctiveness and fallacies inherent in the bifurcation of the Sciences and the Humanities. They insist that the two disciplines should be seen as having more complementary value than differences.


Undoubtedly, the humanities, social sciences, behavioural sciences, and applied sciences have greatly improved the fortunes of knowledge acquisition and benefited humankind immensely. But there is the downside. The science and applied sciences have their limitation and inherent dangers, particularly in connection with the results and possible negative effects in the application of many of their products. Although they (science and technology) have helped man satisfy many of his needs, Sogolo observes that “in doing this science seems to stand indifferent to the fate of this very object (man) it purports to serve” (in Kenny, ed. 2007:90).


Macebuh ( in Kenny, ed. 2007) forthrightly cautions that “a one-sided pursuit of mechanistic and science education (popularly tagged utilitarian disciplines) all in the name of relevance and development may result in the lack of consideration for the human condition environment”. Macebuh further cautions that “such issues as development, environment and other related issues are tasks not for the sciences and the so called utilitarian disciplines, but can only “be understood within the perspective of some moral and philosophical discrimination, of some knowledge of man’s history and the lessons that may usefully be learned from that history”. He insists that the humanities have a special task of humanizing in a naturalistic setting, because through imagination they put the scholar in contact with what may be referred to as the storehouse of values, out of which he chooses which of them to live by.  “Life is dead without the letters, i.e. the arts/humanities”. The humanities, through the varieties of experience which they provide, serve to enrich the lives of the individuals and deepen also their sense of community and duty to the group to which they belong. There is no equivocation, Oyeshile concludes, and that “the task of producing a valuable society is largely in the enclave of the humanities” (see Kenny, ed., 2007:90-95).


Similarly, Christopher Ejizu (2008) has also highlighted the possible danger of churning out “clever sharks” that are likely to tear the country into shreds if serious effort is not made in our current educational system to guarantee that our graduates are properly humanised (that is, raised with the most balanced and sound moral principles and solid personal character.


The Relevance of Humanities and Social Sciences in Nigerian Polytechnics 

The Humanities and Social Sciences constitute the body of knowledge about human beings and their interrelations, accumulated from the disciplines of economics, politics, geography, sociology, anthropology, languages, history, philosophy, religious studies, and the arts. Or simply put, social sciences constitute disciplines that deal with human beings and society and interpersonal relationship in the society. The social sciences are important academic subjects in schools. Because of the emphasis on understanding human relationships, the social sciences aim at producing citizens, skills, competence, moral values and reasoned judgments to effectively live, interact, interrelate, to constitute effectively to economic, social, political and cultural development of a nation.


Fubara (1989) corroborated the above view point when she stated that the objectives of the social sciences are:

  1. To come terms with  the world full of hazards such as changes in people, materials, demand and supply of goods, mode of production, topography and changes in the history of a people;
  2. To communicate these changes and the effect on the society. By so doing individuals are acquainted with the cause and causes of the cataclysmic changes in the society; that is, social and political, upheavals the prices of commodities which spiral daily. (c) Additionally, the social sciences are channels for inculcating some lifelong rules such as citizenship, family membership, occupation, avocation, and personal efficacy\


These pedagogical roles are reinforced by the National policy on education emphasis on the affective purposes of learning. The policy has stated, for example, that the quality of instructions at all levels has to be oriented towards instilling the following values;

  1. Respect for the worth and dignity of the individual.
  2. Faith in man’s ability to make rational decision.
  3. Moral and spiritual values in interpersonal and human relations.
  4. Shared responsibility for the common goad of the society.
  5. Respect for the dignity of labour, and
  6. Promotion of emotional, physical, and psychological health of all children.

The values are intrinsic and underscore the importance of the humanities, arts and social sciences teaching in Nigerian polytechnics. Nigeria is a developing economy and like such economies, she is saddled with problems of under development, corruption, inept leadership, poor democratic culture, massive youth employment, and other social malaise. Individuals are generally dissatisfied with the status quo. These social problems point to the need for reorientation and adjustment within the society and the interaction with different forms of knowledge from different sources. These underscore the need for the curricular that will endow the individuals with the skills and competences in understanding the modern world amidst the various conflicting social, political and economic pressures and demands. Hence, the teaching of the humane sciences is imperative. The HSS subjects help the individual in dealing with the social problems of health, family, relations, civic affairs, community life, production, recreation, conservation and personal efficacy.


Instructionally, the HSS subjects focus on problems and issues of man and groups in the ever changing physical and social environment, and help to inculcate desirable social habits, attitudes, values, and intellectual skills in solving them. They inculcate citizenship education, skill development. HSS courses provide education relevant to living to the extent that it is geared towards inculcating societal and democratic values through its emphasis on discipline, and society. The nature of the social sciences suggests usefulness. They enable us to understand our society, identify its problems and help to solve them. They help us to understand relationships between our society and other societies in the world community. They instil in us the qualities of character and correct attitudes with which to solve our problems.  The 6-3-3-4 system of education aims at equipping the learner with practical and cognitive skills that will make him more functional and usable in the society. Functional education therefore, demands that individuals possess not only practical skills but social and wholesome attitudes. Technological development devoid of a sound moral and social ethos will produce hyphenated individual. As a Harvard Professor John Kelleher humorously put it “This student is exceptionally well-rounded. But the radius is very narrow” (see Faust 2015). The wealth and vitality of any nation depends on the diversity of her human resources and upon the effective utilization of her human energies and talents. This implies that for effective scientific and technological development the society needs individuals with critical thinking and divergent opinions. The humanities, arts and social sciences complement the STEM in the development of individual with skills, knowledge, values and critical intelligence. In other words, the two knowledge modes complement each other in the production and reproduction of students with a robust radius,


Despite these lofty ideals it is doubtful whether the Polytechnics in Nigeria are orienting their programmes towards the minimum standards of instruction required by the National Policy on Education, NPE by serving the HSS as General Studies. The emphasis has been more on the technical and sciences to the utter neglect of the humanities and social sciences.


The Marginalization of the Humanities and Social Sciences in the Polytechnics in Nigeria

It common knowledge today that HSS is given scant regard in our higher institutions over the natural sciences based courses of  sciences, technology , engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The validity of this is easily noticed in the enrolment of candidates in STEM Courses in the Universities and Polytechnics. According to the admission statistics by faculty into Nigerian Universities for six (6) years 2010-2015 show a remarkable rise in enrolment into the Sciences, Technology, and Engineering Mathematics (STEM), while the Arts/Humanities show steady decline in candidates enrolment (See Appendices I-VI). This trend has been there since the 1980s when Nigeria adopted the 6-3-3-4 system of education.  The curriculum according to the planners was intended to enable Nigeria “catch up” with the technological advanced nations. Emphasis was on producing students with hands –on education, people with useable skills for life long education. The consequences were sad. It resulted in the collapse of such subjects as History, Government, Geography, Economics, Bible Knowledge, for subjects such as Social Studies, Moral and Religious Education, Business Studies, and new subjects as GSM Repairs, etc. Nigeria is not alone in this technological race. This trend could be seen in Asia, Europe and America, especially with the global emphasis on entrepreneurial education. Most faculties of Humanities and Social Sciences have had to close because of drastic cuts in funding and low students’ enrolment. Education is the total development of the human personality, and not the bifurcation of the individual.  This includes the production of citizens capable of engaging in reasoned political and ethical debate. The arts, humanities and social sciences are crucial to informing debate not only over ‘how to’ improve society, but over what ‘improvement’ in itself means. It is through studying history, literature and philosophy, religious studies that we become capable of critical reasoning regarding our nature and purpose as human beings. Some of the benefits of Humanities and Social Sciences education include;

  1. To help us understand others through their languages, histories and cultures.
  2. To foster social justice and equality.
  3. To reveal how people have tried to make moral, spiritual and intellectual sense of the world.
  4. The humanities teach empathy.
  5. To teach us to deal critically and logically with subjective, complex, imperfect information.
  6. To teach us to weigh evidence sceptically and consider more than one side of every question.
  7. To build skills in writing and critical reading.
  8. To humanities encourage us to think creatively. They teach us to reason about being human and to ask questions about our world.
  9. To develop informed and critical citizens. Without the humanities, democracy could not flourish.

The truth is that innovations and research results in the natural sciences and medicine are more likely to be successful if their implementation is carried out in collaboration with the humanities.

The marginalization of the HSS is a global trend.  In Japan for example, the national universities have been asked to either close social science and humanities programmes or reform them to ensure that they “actively serve the needs of society”. As a result about twenty-six universities have committed to ‘restructuring’ their social science and humanities faculties. One consequence is a recent raft of attempts to promote ‘inter-disciplinary’ research. On one level, this is most welcome; better cross-departmental cooperation is urgently needed. On the other, the contraption is on ‘scientising’ the latter, rather than ‘humanising’ the former. Japanese academics and historian have expressed outrage to the attempts by the government to suppress the HSS.

We can all agree that Polytechnics should ‘serve the needs of society’. But what are these needs, how are they determined, and by whom? One important function of higher education is to turn out scientifically and technologically skilled individuals. More broadly, universities have a duty to help prepare their students for the world of work. In these ways they serve an economically ‘instrumental’ function.


However, society’s ‘needs’ go far beyond simple economic utility. This emphasis on utilitarian education devoid of imagination has been satirized by Charles Dickens in his novel The Hard Times.  In the novel Dickens confronts the assumption that progress or prosperity can be equated to morality, as exampled by his portrayal of moral reprobates, Mr. Bounderby and James Harthouse. “Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else”, Mr. Gradgrind has insisted in his school. This kind of utilitarian philosophy of education according to Dickens stultifies and stifles creativity and imaginative pursuits in young children. This notion he has systematically deconstructed in his novel, Hard Times.


Paradoxically, this kind of education is what the Asian Tigers and the industrialized World have foisted on the rest, now that the world has become one village, or one street or flat, no thanks to communication interconnectivity, under water fiber optics, computers, internet, Google, MSN, and the new media. The effect is digitized economy and jobs outsourcing. CEOs of Multinationals can hire qualified, efficient and productive workers from any part of the World. Consequently most developing economies like Nigeria, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa are anxious to closing the gap by the emphasis on technological and entrepreneurial education. Hence, the Humanities and the Social Science are now marginalized in the higher intuitions of learning.

Japan and China are not alone in questioning the value of the arts, humanities and social sciences. The UK and the US are cases in point.  In the United Kingdom for example, most universities have reduced teaching grants in the HSS courses. These institutions have had to cut down on their student enrolment and lay off some of their Professor as a result.


In the United States, there is the renewed emphasis in STEM courses, especially with the rise of Asian Tigers, India and China in The IT race. The viewpoint was encapsulated by Bill Gates, the Microsoft chairman in the governor’s conference, when he warned that the American, High school education was “obsolete”. As Gates puts it:


“When I compare our high schools to what I see when I’m travelling abroad, I’m terrified of our workforce tomorrow. In math and science, our fourth grades are among the top in the world. By eighth grade, they’re in the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, US students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations…The percentage of a population with college degrees important, so are sheer numbers. In 2001, India, graduated almost a million more students than the United did.  China graduates twice as many students with the bachelor’s degrees as the US, and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering. In the international competition to have the biggest and the best supply of knowledge work force, America is falling behind” (See Friedman, 2015:271).


Bill Gate’s anxiety about American higher education means that American schools should give more priority to STEM subjects in order to compete globally, especially now that the world becomes a single street and flat.  Another meaning that could read into Bill Gates’ speech is that America does not the HSS courses to compete effectively in global knowledge economy and therefore, it has become obsolete, unimportant and irrelevant to emphasise their study. Why study something when you cannot find jobs, when jobs are being outsourced by more competent and skilled migrant labour?


There is no gainsaying that science, engineering and medicine are vital drivers of human progress and we must celebrate and nurture them. However, without the humanities and social sciences we can never find responses to the urgent issues that trouble us. The knowledge and expertise they add are the high-level analysis and insights essential to social and cultural well-being, to a rounded knowledge-driven economy. And ultimately the contribution is an important place and reputation in the world. From history to psychology, economics to law, literature to philosophy and languages to archaeology, they alone help us understand what it means to be human, to make sense of our lives, and to understand the choices we make for it, and above all, how we interact.


The humanities and social sciences infuse our economy and our public and cultural life in a myriad of ways. One of the fastest growing sectors is the cultural, creative and digital industries, which now account for nearly 10 per cent of the whole economy.  But in addition, the humanities and social sciences play a vital and often under-acknowledged role in pushing politics and public debate forward, in bringing new ideas to the fore, in helping to create the kind of world we all want: a world in which everyone can contribute and prosper. The HSS subjects are not just about prosperity, however widely and deeply understood. They are also about challenge and questioning. Sometimes being awkward; always demanding rigor and honesty; often forcing ethical issues and choices into the open. Academics and politicians have to share in the responsibility to encourage everyone to get involved in public debate influenced by the best and most up-to-date research which can help define the decisions we all need to make about how we live and work – making sure that everyone can prosper, in the fullest sense, throughout their lives.

When we define higher education’s role principally as driving economic development and solving society’s most urgent problems, we risk losing sight of broader questions, of the kinds of inquiry that enable the critical stance, that build the humane perspective, that foster the restless skepticism and unbounded curiosity from which our profoundest understandings so often emerge. Too narrow a focus on the present can come at the expense of the past and future, of the long view that has always been higher learning’s special concern. How can we create minds capable of innovation if they are unable to imagine a world different from the one in which we live now? History teaches contingency; it demonstrates that the world has been different and could and will be different again. Anthropology can show that societies are and have been different elsewhere—across space as well as time. Literature can teach us many things, but not the least of these is empathy—how to picture ourselves inside another person’s head, life, experience—how to see the world through a different lens, which is what the study of the arts offers us as well. The study of religion helps to us understands the fundamental purpose of life. Such existential questions like “Why am I here? What is the purpose of life?”  In other words, the humanities, arts, — history, literature, languages, art, philosophy — and the social sciences focus on the lasting challenges relevant to all of us: creating lives of purpose and meaning, appreciating diversity and complexity, communicating effectively with others and overcoming adversity. Ultimately, our ability to work meaningfully with others will determine the success of our enterprises, and that ability is honed through the humanities and social sciences. These issues are not the domain of sciences and technology, they belong to HSS. As the CEO of Face book, Mark Zuckerberg in an address to Harvard Commencement Class of 2017 succinctly put it “the millennial need “a purpose driven life”; the purpose of life today is how the younger generation can catalyze social justice, community spirit, and higher goals as the world becomes highly flattened, automated and technological driven (Zuckerberg, 2017).


Concluding Remarks

This paper has argued that economic growth and scientific and technological advances are necessary but not sufficient purposes for an education of the child in the 21st Century. And within the domain of science, higher institutions such as polytechnics, colleges of education, research institutes, and universities have a distinctive obligation to nurture and fulfill the deep human desire to understand ourselves and the world we inhabit and inherit, from the smallest elementary particle to the sweep of the galaxies—even when there is no practical application close in view and even as we rightly accelerate our efforts to harvest new technologies from knowledge in its most basic form. It is worth remembering that the most transformative useful of scientific discoveries often trace their origins to research born of sheer curiosity about who we are and how we can fathom the most intriguing mysteries of the natural world.  Education measured only as an instrument of economic growth neglects the importance of developing such capacities. It misses the fact that we are all interpreters; it ignores that some things are not about “facts” but about understanding and meaning.


This paper is not advocating that the introduction of a liberal arts education is better than a polytechnic education. Neither is it asking for the establishments of humanities arts, and social departments in Polytechnics. Rather it asking that there is need for the vertical integration of the humane sciences in the Polytechnic curricular for mutual enrichment (Slingerland, 2008: 302-312), now that “the world is no longer round but flat” (Friedman, 2015).   In other words, it is advocating for the proper utilization of the intrinsic values embedded in the humanities, arts and the social sciences in the mode of learning in the polytechnics in Nigeria. To tuck in humanities and the social sciences only under General studies Unit is uncomplimentary. Course enrichment should be a continuous process, after all, curriculum itself is an aggregation of the peoples’ experiences on how best they can transform and make their society better (Mkpa, 1987).  The sciences, technology and the humanities have amniotic relationships; they cannot be separated without imperiling the other. It is true that Nigeria needs social transformation and technological advancement by using the education process. But this cannot be achieved by having hyphenated technological graduates- graduates who possess useable skills to transform the environment but lack the critical reasoning, ethics and democratic ideals. These wholesome qualities are not rocket science, but belong to the domain of the humane sciences. Surely the justification of study of the Humanities, history, literature, philosophy and the rest, is not fundamentally different than the justification for the study of science. There are forces at work in human life, whether material or spiritual, which we seek to master, so far as possible. The language in which we express our knowledge of physical forces obeys somewhat different logical rules to that in which we express our knowledge of economics, for example: but this doesn’t mean that the one is less knowledge, or logical, or important, than the other.  There is therefore the need for the two to play complementary roles in the education of polytechnics graduates in Nigeria.

As one time American President Calvin Coolidge sagely put;


“We do not need more material development. We need more spiritual development. We do need more intellectual power, we need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character…We do need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen. It is that side which is the foundation of all else. If the foundation is firm, the superstructure will stand” (The Plain Truth Magazine 1987:2).


This is indeed is the plain truth; imagination makes us who we are and it is substance of all inquiries, knowledge, progress, prosperity and better life.


Appendices I-VI


Statistics of Admission into Programmes and Faculties in Polytechnics in Nigeria, 2010 – 2015 


Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board Admission Statistics by Polytechnics


Appendix I


ENGINEERING 367 1725 2092
SCIENCES 713 1177 1890
SOCIAL SCIENCES 1980 2502 4482


Appendix II  


ENGINEERING 12,594 2,994 15,588
SOCIAL SCIENCES 10,738 5,479 16,217
SCIENCES 8,947 5,479 14,426


Appendix III


1 ENGINEERING 527 2889 3416
2 SCIENCES 1329 1595 2924
3 SOCIAL SCIENCES 2712 2877 5589


Appendix IV


ENGINEERING 18133 4157 22290
SOCIAL SCIENCE 13775 11033 24808
SCIENCES 10652 6856 17508


Appendix V


AGRICULTURE (ND 279 491 770
ENGINEERING 496 2910 3406
HEALTH (ND) 977 513 1490
SCIENCES 345 608 953
SOCIAL SCIENCE 2626 2551 5177
Grand Total 4723 7073 11796


Appendix VI                                                                                                                    


AGRICULTURE 577 849 1426
ENGINEERING 645 4371 5016
HEALTH SCIENCE 1580 873 2453
SCIENCES 488 1059 1547
SOCIAL SCIENCE 3214 3498 6712


Source Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board Retrieved on 5th July, 2017



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