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    Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was first published in 1776, yet its insights on the development of national economies continue to resonate in today’s globalized world.

    However, while his theory of communal prosperity through individual self-interest was more successful than Marx’s theory of collective property ownership, it omitted to include one essential building block of free enterprise: education. Indeed, Smith did not develop his ideas through participating in the production of goods or services himself, but through studying how some workers specialized in one area of production while others concentrated on completing the finished product. If Adam Smith were alive today, he might have perceived that for individualism to work, a country must collectively provide for the education of its people.

    Economically enlightened nations educate their citizens in the hope that their investment will pay off in the form of a higher GDP. Thanks to this practice, there are individuals today whose personal wealth exceeds that of entire countries. Were Bill Gates a country, he would rank 37th in a list of the wealthiest nations. Many companies founded by private citizens have brought billions of dollars in revenue to the United States, much more than any business the federal government has transacted. Apple, which owes much of its success to the late Steve Jobs, has more cash on hand than the U.S. Treasury. Caterpillar, a company known for the manufacture of construction and mining equipment, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives, is worth more than US$89 billion. Its founders, Benjamin Holt and Daniel Best, displayed their creativity in 1892 by inventing a steam -driven tractor that could drag 50 tons at a speed of 3 miles per hour. Caterpillar, along with many other innovative companies, has become a proud American icon.

    What kind of education can create this type of success? There are two definitions of education in most dictionaries. The first and most accepted one is “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.” The second definition is much broader: “An enlightening experience.” The problem with seeing education through the lens of the first definition is that we tend to discount any innovation that is not backed by formal institutions of higher learning. Some of the greatest inventors and entrepreneurs have been self-taught. In 1980-81, for example, a Nigerian roadside mechanic used metal scraps to build a helicopter and made it his mission to fly it. He begged for funding from private citizens and the Nigerian government, but no one responded. Over more than a decade, during which time the prototype was exposed to torrential rains, the helicopter rusted and disintegrated. Could Nigerians have helped this young man and become Africa’s foremost exporter of indigenous-made aircraft?

    Whether education is self-initiated or formal, its aim is to benefit humanity. Any accumulation of knowledge that cannot be translated into a societal benefit cannot be regarded as useful. A Japanese man once asked, “What are the major inventions of Africans?” It’s a startling and rather provocative question. However, rather than getting angry or defensive, we need to ask ourselves, students and professionals alike, if we have translated our knowledge of science, economics, mathematics and agriculture into real discoveries that could revolutionize how we live.

    As the chart below makes clear, the countries whose citizens are the most well educated thrive in the global economy. From the beginning of recorded h istory, the pattern is consistent: education, combined with the practical application of knowledge, means success. The Greeks ruled the world because as the inventors of democracy, they needed an informed electorate. The Romans superseded them because of their better grasp of technology, military strategy, and educated elite. Britain was arguably the seat of the Industrial Revolution, which was brought about by capitalists using their knowledge to improve manufacturing and agriculture. Source:

    One final note: Some may argue that colonization negatively affected Africa’s progress, and that the developed world is therefore partly responsible for our current economic woes. Anyone who continues to wallow in self-pity and to apportion blame on external factors is simply not manning up. Here are the facts. The Roman Empire colonized Britain for more than a hundred years, yet the British shook it off and became an industrial and political leader. The United States was colonized by Spain, the Netherlands, France and Britain, but it is now the world’s richest and most powerful hegemon. China was invaded and ruled by many countries at different times, but this resilient nation is slated to become an economic superpower. The citizens of many of these countries fought ferocio usly to obtain their independence and often sacrificed their lives for it. It is true that Nigeria was colonized by the British, but it is also true that its freedom was achieved without a bullet being fired. It has been 52 years since Nigeria ceased to be a colony, and how far has it progressed either economically or politically? By modeling the education of its citizens on countries that have made learning a priority, Nigeria can contribute to global innovation and reap the economic rewards.

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