‘We have strategies to guarantee peaceful coexistence at AOCOED’
Prof. Bidemi Bilkis Lafiaji-Okuneye is the new Provost of Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED), Ijaniki, Lagos. In this interview with UJUNWA ATUEYI, the professor of health education reels out her strategy of maintaining peaceful coexistence among the management, workers, students and the entire AOCOED community, saying academic success and infrastructural development can be achieved and sustained in a calm environment.
You assumed duty at a time when workers were on rampage with the management of the institution, how did you cope?
I assumed office on January 13, 2020, and the strike has been called off before I resumed. So, I met a very peaceful campus and I intend to make it more peaceful.
Past union leaders of the college accused the governing council of interfering with the day-to-day activities of the college, have you started witnessing that?
The day-to-day running of the college is entrusted to the provost of the college, if you have heard anything contrary to this, it may not be very true. In the condition of service, it is expressly stated that provosts run the day-to-day activities of the college. The governing council are concerned with policy issues and other things that affect the college, which the provost will bring to the knowledge of the council.
As the college’s substantive provost, what are your plans for the school?
AOCOED as a teacher training institution in the 21st century has met the minimum standard in the award of Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE). However, there is room for improvement in the area of infrastructure development and funding of programmes to improve quality of teaching, learning and research. We will also key into the vision and mission of the college.
Other objectives we intend to achieve in the course of being the chief executive of the college is to further strengthen the relationship between the college, corporate bodies and other stakeholders; improve on infrastructure and sport facilities by ensuring that we get all that we needed from agencies that are concerned with the infrastructural growth and also intensify our effort to ensure that the state government have their presence felt here.
It is also our intention to continue to churn out quality teachers who are role models to the state and the nation. We are aware that what goes around, comes around. If we don’t train good teachers, it will come back to us. We may not have children in schools now, but of course we will become grand parents, and our grand children will also attend schools. It’s only when we have ensure that there is quality in the system, that we can sit back and said we have done our bit and posterity will be able to judge us well.
We also plan to create an enabling environment for teaching and learning, as well as improve the existing welfare packages for staff and students. What we met on ground was fantastic, so the challenge now is for us to make sure that we surpass what we met, and that is our intention. Whatever welfare package we met on ground, we intend to improve on it. It is only a motivational mind that will be able to have high level of productivity. So, it is when you ensure that your staff are taken care of, that you can sit back and be sure of what they are going to produce.
We would also create a synergy between the unions and the college management. What we intend to do in this aspect is to ensure constant dialogue and communication with our unions. Definitely there will be issues, but it is only when we sit and discuss those issues that crisis will be averted. Our strategy is to ensure that we don’t go to the street, or go through strike before we solve our problems.
We have communicated our intentions to the unions, and we have assured them to come to us and disclose any misgivings, rumours or anything they feel is not right. We will sit back and address such issues. In any war situation, we will still go back to the round table, so, there is no need for war. Yes, there will be issues because the unions are supposed to be for checks and balances, where the authority is not getting it right, it is the union, that will bring that out and seek a redress. Though sometimes the union cannot always be right, but it is only when we sit back and discuss that we can actually resolve all our issues, but we don’t intend to make our issues go out of hands, and the union has also assured us about that.
We have created a good relationship with our host communities and our health facility will soon be opened to residents. Consultations will be free, while medical tests will be run at a competitive price.
The college turns out hundreds of teachers yearly, yet there is still a public outcry on lack of qualified teachers, are you not bothered about this?
Our teachers are qualified and well trained, what happens most of the time is that some school owners recruit cheap labour. Rather than go for qualified teachers, they go for cheaper ones and still give him/her multiple tasks. You can imagine a physics teacher, teaching mathematics and chemistry, and some of them teaches up to four subjects and earn N12, 000 as salary.
An NCE graduate who trained in physics may not be willing to take all the subjects, and some of the school managers feel it is not cost effective to have one teacher teaching one subject. So, for us here, we train qualified teachers, they are licensed and are registered with Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN). The situation concerns us as a college because it is adversely affecting the system. There are qualified teachers in the country, but bringing them into the system is the issue. It is political and I don’t want to dwell on that.
In the face of rising academic fraud, corruption and indiscipline across the country’s institutions of higher learning, how would you bring sanity into the college?
We frown at academic fraud at both students and staff level; we can’t tolerate cheat in the system. As soon as you are found out, we take you through the normal process that is through the disciplinary committee until you are eased out of the system if you are found guilty. We will not tolerate academic fraud in whatever guise.
There was a rumour that the governor’s choice of appointing a professor as a provost was part of the agenda of upgrading the college to a university status?
It is indeed a rumour, because I am not aware the appointment of a professor as the provost was for the purpose of transiting the college to a university. But, I know the issue has been ongoing and few weeks after I resumed, the NANS delegation, southwest zone paid a courtesy visit to the governor, and the governor made a statement that in no distance future AOCOED will be turned to university of education. So the issue of a professor, being made provost in that regards is indeed a rumour as I’m not an insider to have that information.
How do you encourage young people to go into teaching considering the fact that there is low enrolment and a lot of youths detest teaching jobs?
It gives us concern; younger generations do not want to go into the profession, even my own children too, but I tell you, teaching is the only guaranteed job in this present economy. But lately, people are beginning to appreciate the teaching profession especially women, and our enrolment has increased compared to last year. And it will continue to increase because a lot of parents know that teaching is the only guaranteed job. So I always tell my students that teaching is a very noble profession, if you ask most teachers how they got into the profession, all of us will tell you we didn’t go out to study education, but one thing led to the other and here we are.
In my own case, I wanted to study Mass Communication, and I was going round announcing it and searching for admission, only for me to found myself in physical and health education. But, when I sit back, I tell my students, ‘I said I want to study mass communication and today, I gather people in a classroom to teach them, what am I doing?’ I am communicating to a mass of students, so to me, I’m still into mass communication. So, parents should allow their children to follow their passion, and encourage them as much as possible to go into the profession. Teaching is noble.
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