n this interview with MOTUNRAYO JOEL, the President, UNESCO Global University Network for Innovation and former Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission, Prof. Peter Okebukola, tackles various issues bedevilling the nation’s education system.
If we compare the curriculum of secondary schools and universities, would you say there is a link between both curricula?
Yes of course, there is a link. The National Universities Commission in developing or revising university curriculum, factors in the content of the lower level curriculum, in this case, that of the secondary level. Take the B.Sc. Chemistry programme for example, efforts are made to ensure that the contents of 100-level courses are pitched at the exit level of the senior school certificate. This way, fresh students are guaranteed smooth transition from secondary to the university.
To what extent does the university curriculum have the capacity to help our society?
To the extent that the university curriculum is delivered as intentioned, then one can say that it has the capacity to foster development of the society through the provision of high-level human resources to drive the economy and provide quality leadership for the public and private sector. However, the sad part of the story is that, for many reasons, there is a gap between the intended and the achieved curriculum. For instance, you plan an engineering curriculum at 300-level to cover 15 topics and to have full, hands-on practical work.
Owing to interruptions in the academic calendar, inadequacies in laboratory and workshop facilities, depressed quantity and quality of lecturers in engineering, poor reading culture of students, examination inadequacies and a host of other process variables; the curriculum is delivered less than it is intentioned. This is the achieved curriculum. Only 8 of the 15 topics are covered and practical work is hardly carried out by the students. The achieved curriculum ends up being about 45 per cent of the intended. We may take this as a simple mathematical expression of how we come about “half-baked” graduates.
The long and short of the story is that the university curriculum has the capacity to help the society, but this capacity is minimally explored.
What role does moral education play in preparing candidates for higher institution and against cultism?
Moral education is a key to good citizenship and pathway to instilling good behaviour and acceptable values in students. Secondary school students, who are already imbued with internal sense of right and wrong through moral education, will come to higher educational institutions with a stern aversion for cultism and examination malpractice. They will display honesty, respect for elders and stewardship. They will shun corruption and aberrant sexual behaviours that are prevalent in higher education institutions.
This is the theory side of the matter. The practical side shamefully shows that an elder, who the young secondary school student looks up to, has a derailed moral compass. In class, moral education teaches him or her to be honest and shun corruption. At home, his or her parents are dishonest and corrupt. In place of worships such as the church or mosque, religious leaders who preach good behaviour and good citizenship are not exemplary in their behaviour, as are known crooks around town. This mismatch imperils the success of moral education in schools. The fight for good morals and character should be carried beyond moral education delivered in and out of schools to the entire citizenry, young and old.
Is there any way that the university prepares students for life outside the profession they are trained in?
There are several ways, chief of which is entrepreneurial education. Entrepreneurial education is an offering which equips learners with knowledge, skills and attitudes to be an entrepreneur or innovator – the person who develops a new product, market, or a new means of production. In sum, it is all activities aimed to foster entrepreneurial mind-sets, attitudes and skills covering a range of aspects such as idea generation, start-up, growth and innovation.
The world out there is one which demands that the graduate, regardless of discipline, should draw on knowledge and skills for job creation. Over 90 per cent of our universities now run compulsory courses in entrepreneurial studies for all undergraduates. In a study conducted in 2011, the top five universities in terms of quality of delivery of entrepreneurial studies are Pan Atlantic University (formerly Pan African University), Covenant University, University of Ibadan, University of Ilorin and Olabisi Onabanjo University. Kwara State University is coming up quite strong in this endeavour.
Who is to blame for the fall in education standard?
The basket of blame for the depressed quality of education in Nigeria can be shared by all stakeholders. Mind you, I have not agreed that the “standard” is falling because I know it is rising. What has fallen is quality, including the proportion of those who can meet set standards. Let us leave that debate for another day. Government has its share of the blame with low investment in the sector. While parents are blameworthy for poor guidance and home support, teachers are to blame for delivering poor quality education. Students themselves carry a huge slice of this blame for poor attitude to work and the craving to pass without reading. They are more engrossed with social rather than academic life. For me, the goal is not to waste time shifting or apportioning blame, but to collectively explore how all stakeholders can be part of the solution.
How should universities deal with cultism?
There is a blueprint developed by the Federal Ministry of Education for dealing with cultism. This document is extensive in its prescriptions; including sanctions such as expulsion, publishing the photos and names of cultists, sharing of a database of cultists by all institutions so that they are not inadvertently admitted into another institution when expelled. The prescriptions also include counselling and public awareness campaigns on our campuses against cultism.
However, what do you do when the godfathers of these cultists are well placed in government and in religious organisations? While the universities should work towards removing the specks from their eyes, the larger Nigerian society should remove the huge log of cultism from its eyes!
How has your return to Lagos State University brought development to the institution?
I returned to LASU in August 2006 when I left the National Universities Commission and I am enjoying every bit of my teaching, postgraduate supervision and research. This is one side of my contribution to the development of the institution. We have set up a LASU Science and Technology Education Research Group to strengthen capacity of academic staff in research and be able to publish our research efforts in the most outstanding journals around the world.
Within the last one year, the 75-member group has been able to publish in the world’s top two science education journals. Before the end of 2013, we shall have 10 of our research papers enjoying space in high-quality publication outlets. Our current Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Obafunwa, has also asked that I serve as Chairman of the Academic Planning Committee. The committee has been working with the Director of Academic Planning and her staff to re-invigorate academic planning activities in the university.
In your opinion, what set of people qualify to become minister of education?
The minister of education of a great country like Nigeria should have two basic attributes- one acquired, the other innate. The acquired is the deep knowledge of the Nigerian, African and global education systems. The innate is a passion to lead the efforts to solve the multiplicity of problems bedeviling the Nigerian education system.
The first attribute can be read up from reports; it can also be part of the person’s training. On this count, some have rightfully canvassed that the minister should be a professor of education. For me, the second attribute is more important – the passion to heal the sick Nigerian educational system. The minister should have an undying zeal to selflessly serve and be one who will continuously aim a hard blow at the jugular of the problems facing education.
Is the Nigerian government successfully working towards curbing unemployment?
The government is making efforts. These efforts need to be stepped up.
Public universities are facing funding inadequacies, low teacher quantity and quality, interruption to academic calendar as a result of strikes, challenges of infrastructural facilities, poor curriculum delivery, and poor students’ attitude to work and social vices. These are the key issues. What should be done? That is the easy part. We should reverse the trend – invest more in education, strive to get quality teachers, provide adequate facilities… I can spend a whole day enumerating what we should do. The truth of the matter is we all (or most people) know what should be done. The political will at the local, state and federal levels is in short supply to reverse the trend.
Source: Punch Nigeria