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Stakeholders’ dedication key to rejuvenating education sector

By Kelvin Ebiri, Port Harcourt
02 April 2015   |   2:09 pm
DAILY, the nation is buffeted by talks regarding the falling or fallen standard of education in the country, which many finger as being at the root of the country’s inability to realise her developmental aspirations.

dDAILY, the nation is buffeted by talks regarding the falling or fallen standard of education in the country, which many finger as being at the root of the country’s inability to realise her developmental aspirations.

But the Vice Chancellor, Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Rivers State, Professor Rosemund Osahogulu, does not necessarily agree that the standard of education has totally deteriorated as bandied.

While, however, querying the dedication level of key players in the education sector, she argued that it was not entirely correct for the society, particularly, the older generation to continue to assume that the standard of education has fallen, without taking into cognizance the fact that subjects that are being taught in primary and secondary schools today have increased in comparison with what was the case in the past, when only a few subjects were indented in the curriculum, and covering the course outlines, quite easy.

She also pointed at the bloating class sizes of contemporary schools as being directly opposite what was the case in time past, when class sizes were manageable.

“Now, when you enter a classroom in a secondary school, you see 200 students and a teacher that is expected to teach them, mark their assignments and all that. This never used to be the case then. When I was in primary school. We were not up to 26 in a class and in the secondary school, the maximum number of students in a class was 30,” she told The Guardian in an interview in Port Harcourt.

“But today, that is not what we get. Even with the new schools that Governor Rotimi Amaechi, has built in a bid to attain that, there are still lots of schools that you get 100 to 200 students in a classroom. How do you expect a teacher to cope in this kind of condition?

“The teachers themselves because of the greed in the Nigerian society are no more fully focused on teaching. They are into trading while in school, and so many other things have occupied their minds. So, the dedication of the people in the education sector is one of the things we should point at when we are talking about the falling standard of education,” Osahogulu.

She continued, “The number of students we are handling in a class is too much. When I was at the college of education, we were just 13 in the class. When I went abroad to study for my first degree, we were about 8 in the class. But today, what the National Universities Commission (NUC) is trying to do is to give us a carrying capacity so that a university does not admit more than what the facility it has can cope with. So, for the sciences you can get a class that has a maximum of 60 or 35 students, based on what they have. In the primary schools, you shouldn’t have beyond 30 in a class so that a teacher can be able to handle that class effectively. And in the universities one can see with what the NUC is doing to improve standards. Some five or six years back, institutions were just admitting randomly and turning out graduates that could not cope with the needs of society. But it is not like that now,” she said.

The vice chancellor, however, regretted that one of the major ailments plaguing the education sector in the country is the fact that some of the people recruited as teachers were never desirous of being teachers in the first instance.

According to her, “This category of “teachers” irrespective of whether they have degrees in education or not, are the ones who think that teaching is like a first bus stop, where you can tarry and later gain access to higher remunerating jobs in oil companies or banks, which they reckon, is more fulfilling than teaching.

Reacting to the inability of some teachers in Ekiti State to solve primary three mathematics problem, she noted that perhaps the concerned teachers were not well taught, and even if they were well taught, they may not have been retrained over a long period of time.

She insisted that whatever knowledge anyone might have acquired over the years, needs to be refined through refresher courses as, according to her, it is expected that a primary school teacher is supposed to be a general subject teacher, which is not an easy task.

“By retraining teachers, they are being given new ideas because there is what is referred to as paradigm shift. During these retraining programmes, new things may come up and the teachers end up adding it to what they already know and used to teach. It may be something totally different from what they know. So, when teachers are retrained, they are being given a new concept of what they had in mind before.

“In Nigeria, there is a lot of retraining going on. And in our own case, we encourage our staff, both teaching and non-teaching, to go on conferences, because conferences are another form of retraining. In some cases, we organise the conferences and bring in experts, which is still another form of retraining. Our consultancy unit is involved in the retraining of primary and secondary school teachers. So, we really need to retrain teachers to give them new ideas in whatever subject areas they specialise in,” she said.

One thing that Osahogulu has given her full support to, as the country bids to reposition the teaching profession, is the plan to make first degree the minimum qualification for teachers in the country.

In this direction, she said her support is premised on the fact that it will help to improve the standard of education provided undergraduates are well taught in the universities.

On the recently concluded Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), where the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) resorted to the use of wholly Computer-based test, she noted that while it has helped to check examination malpractice, it has also failed to assist universities test prospective students expressional skill in writing.

According to her, “ What I feel they should try to introduce is to let the students write short essays; be able to express themselves for us to know we are getting the best through JAMB. Maybe that is why we organise our own post UME.”

The vice chancellor, who said her long term vision for the institution was for it to be where people who need teachers will come shopping for the best quality teachers, explained that in a bid to actualise this vision, a senate committee is now saddled with the responsibility of scrutinising all students result before approval is given for them to be graduated.

She revealed that some academic and non- academic staff, that were caught mutilating students scores, have been dismissed from service, suspended, and in some instances demoted, depending on the gravity of the offence, even as she described the act of trading in grades as “despicable” and “shameful.

“About 11 lecturers were suspended here because I felt that the only way we could deal with that matter (mutilating students’ scores) was by punishing those who engage in it. And that is what we have started doing. We suspend them, demote them and in some cases, dismiss them outright. For students who offer bribes, they cannot graduate because once they are caught in the act, they are out of the system, but the lecturers, may have new jobs, somewhere else.

“There was a lecturer that we dismissed and he went to the Federal University, Lafia, Nasarawa State for employment. The vice chancellor called me that he was about to be interviewed. I told him that we dismissed him here because he came in with a fake certificate, and even faked another one while he was still in the system and claimed that he had a PhD. That was how he lost the job at the point he was about to get it.”

As pioneer vice chancellor of the institution, Osahogulu explained that irrespective of her gender, she has been able to administer the institution comparably well. She recalled that at inception, interest groups that were not prepared to adapt to the radical changes she introduced tried to undermine her. But because she had resolved to actualise her dream for the institution (to be among the best in the world), she pressed on with her dreams, which everyone is now keying into.

“I passed through this institution myself, was taught by a lot of Indians and I know the quality of education that I was exposed to in this school. Now, when you look at these young ones (lecturers) who are coming in, you can see that they only want to sell handouts. You can also see a graduate assistant, who is not supposed to write any book copy other people’s works and claim that he has written a book just because he wants to make money. We are not tolerating it here at all.

“A lot of them who knew me when I was the Dean of Sciences, know that I could never tolerate that and that is why they didn’t want me to survive. It was a battle. But eventually I survived and now people are keying into the vision of what I want for this institution. We are making progress gradually,” she stated.

She further explained that under her watch, the quality of lecturers in the institution has improved remarkably. A lot of teachers who initially had just first degrees, have obtained their masters’ degrees and a lot are moving to the level of doctorate. Out of a total of 468 academic staff, almost 200 now have their PhDs.”

She informed that, “within the next three months, the school would have six new professors and six new readers. Just two years ago, the school got eight readers and five professors. And the school now sends at least 300 lecturers on workshops and conferences annually, including non-teaching staff.

“Corruption was tremendously high here and everybody had receipts that they were issuing and collecting fees from students. So, the money that should have ordinarily gone into the university’s coffers never got there. Only recently, we discovered one of such syndicates at St. John’s campus.