Tertiary Institutions’ll be more efficient, produce better graduates if given autonomy, says Azeez
Dr. Wahab Ademola Azeez was appointed the Provost of the Federal College of Education (Technical), Akoka, Lagos, on May 26, 2019. Reviewing his time in office to date, he highlights the multi-faceted challenges in most government-owned higher institutions, the innovations he has introduced to return the foremost teachers’ training school to its pride of place and suggests that with autonomy, tertiary institutions in the country will fare much better.
How would you assess your time since you were appointed the provost?
Since I assumed office, I have kept to the vision and mission that I submitted and presented to the governing council that appointed me. First, the college is a College of Education (Technical), the first of its kind in Nigeria. It was established in 1967.
Though the previous administrators tried their best, I noticed that there’s a missing link, which is focusing on why the college was established. The college was established to fill that gap especially in meeting the vocational and technical needs of the country, which is seriously lacking in our educational system. Today, we have a lot of graduates who are busy looking for white-collar jobs.
I feel we have the responsibility to key back into the objectives of the founding fathers of the College. So, I have strived to ensure that the College, under my leadership, provides that professional and technical needs and fill that gap such that at the end of the day, when our students graduate, they will have the opportunity of not only teaching but to also be skillfully engaged anywhere they are employed or they can decide to establish on their own.
Have you been able to achieve this objective?
Yes, to a greater extent, because what we have done since I came in is to strengthen the academic programmes of the College to make sure that most of our departments are better equipped and that lecturers and instructors are also given adequate support in terms of teaching and learning facilities and materials.
We are also developing and solving the infrastructural needs of the college because, without infrastructure, there’s little or nothing a lecturer can do. You need to also use those infrastructure and facilities to enhance teaching and learning so that the students can also benefit maximally. Therefore, since I came on board, I made sure that such infrastructure are evenly provided across the five schools we currently have at the college.
What are some of the initiatives introduced to bridge the technical needs gap?
In less than a year after I assumed office, I introduced the Centre for Vocational, Technical and Entrepreneurship Development (CEVTED), the first of its kind. Beyond teaching our students Pedagogy, I feel that we are lagging behind in the aspect of that practical skills. That informed the establishment of CEVTED as a directorate, with a director coordinating it.
At CEVTED, the emphasis is on practical skills; we made it compulsory for all our students to register for any entrepreneurship skill of their choice, which is different from the normal academic programme. Certain periods in the curriculum were marked for that course every Wednesday. So whether you are a science or business education student, you must go to that centre for a course. The idea is to encourage students to learn a skill such as phone repairs, tiling, catering, etc.
We are not relying on our lecturers but on instructors from outside the institution who are well-established and have their workshops, offices, equipment, and so on. So, it is not based on the acquisition of paper certificates but the acquisition of practical skills. It’s all about practicals.
The programme has been on for about three years now and many of the students have been practising what they have learned and are making money out of it. CEVTED gives our students Certificate of Competence on completion of their programmes for the centre.
This is an aspect that I feel that should be keyed into the establishment of the College of Education, Technical because we need those technical skills to be able to grow. So, the NCC later approved Entrepreneurship education. The Entrepreneurship Department relates with CEVTED as a Centre.
Where do you get the funds to execute these projects?
Honestly, it’s not been easy sourcing funds for what we are doing here. Most of the equipment we inherited in our studios and workshops were obsolete, but since we came on board, we’ve been trying to acquire more modern equipment to meet the requirements of running NCE and degree programmes in vocational, technical, and science education.
Fortunately for us, the TETFUND has been wonderful. If not for TETFUND, I don’t know where all our higher institutions would have been today. So we have been getting our funding from TETFUND majorly, especially for the procurement of equipment for academic programmes. Not quite long ago, such pieces of equipment were distributed to all the departments in science, technical, business and vocational education.
We’ve not got to the eldorado but what we are doing now is to make sure that every school has a new structure where the students can learn better in terms of skill acquisition. So we have built new technical workshops, new science and agricultural laboratories and new studios. We also have a new auditorium, or what we call lecture theatre because the students also need a very comfortable place to study.
How much private sector involvement have you been able to attract?
We are making efforts to attract private sector support. It is part of the reasons we initiated the Centre for Endowment Development, Advancements and Alumni Relations (CEDAAR). Again, it is a directorate on its own and liaises with entrepreneurs and private organisations and so on. It has not been easy but we are relying on the fact that the College has goodwill to attract the support of our alumni scattered all over the place.
The alumni members are coming around and they are seeing what we have been doing with the little resources we have. If we were to be a degree-awarding institution fully, I’m sure that we would have got better funding because as it stands now, only a few parents want their children or wards to attend NCE programmes.
Why is it that no parents want to have their wards in the College of Education?
The first reason is that no parents would want their children to go for the least educational programme because when you look at the requirements, it is the same five O’level results that NCE students possess that the university undergraduates also possess.
Ultimately, if Nigeria appreciates teachers’ education, NCE is good for the educational system of the country. However, the sad story is that even after spending six years, you don’t even get a good job, that’s the issue. So many of our NCE graduates are just there, roaming about the streets and being exploited by private institutions that are not paying them well because there’s no serious policy to protect them.
What is the way forward?
We have to establish a system that works, that also appreciates value. For example, to get a private tutor abroad, you pay per hour. So we have to also appreciate and value labour, either practical or intellectual. I don’t expect to find a university graduate teaching in our primary and junior secondary schools, it should be NCE graduates because they were trained for that purpose and they have the temperament. As a Ph.D. holder, you cannot ask me to be teaching in a nursery and primary school because I don’t have the temperament.
So those people working at that level are meant to be paid well because they’re professionals. If you move around schools, you will see how they take care of the children. It’s a lot of job that they do. So, we need to start paying teachers and our other professionals very well.
Talking about value, recently, Nigerian teachers were said to be leaving the country in droves. What effect will this development have on Nigeria’s education system?
Well, the effects are staring us in the face. You now have a situation where your best brains are leaving the system in droves. In fact, in the past two years, there’s been no month that a member of my staff did not resign for greener pastures abroad. It’s as bad as that. Until we are able to place value on those that we have trained and cater to them in terms of remuneration, the situation will get even worse.
Yes, Nigeria is not paying the 26 percentage recommended by UNESCO, the truth is that the Nigerian education system is highly subsidised. I am telling you this as an education administrator. Nigeria is one of the countries where you have the cheapest education. It’s debatable, yes. I can also challenge any of our activists in the university to tell me how much they are paying for what they use even in their offices.
We don’t pay for virtually everything we use. How much are the students paying for accommodation? How much do they pay? Here, we are not even allowed to charge school fees. The government is doing a whole lot in subsidizing education but it’s not being properly coordinated for the country to get value for it.
For example, after training a medical student for six or seven years with taxpayers’ money, because there is no programme to keep them, they are taken away from the country. The truth is an average Nigerian cannot train his or her child to read Medicine abroad. You must be somebody of the higher or upper class to train a child in Medicine or some other professional courses because it costs a lot of money.
To check this, there must be a policy to make sure that our doctors and other professionals hardly leave the country and they must be made to sign some undertaking with the government not to leave the country for a number of years after graduation. There must be something on ground to keep them because it’s the taxpayers’ money that was used to train them. Most of us, our parents were not educated and wealthy but still, we were able to get a university education because the government made it possible. That means something; the only problem is the lack of coordination by authorities.
How are you coping with the mass resignations of your members of staff?
It is affecting us but we are trying not to allow the system to collapse. The staff are not only resigning, they are also retiring and some have died. We are short of staff, especially academic staff. And you cannot employ a single member of staff without the Head of Service’s approval. So you can’t replace those that have died, retired or resigned because there was an embargo on employment.
There are so many vacancies to be filled and we only hope that things would get better sooner than later. In the system we are running now, everything is centralised. If all institutions are given autonomy to run their programmes and generate and utilise revenues, things will be a lot better.
What do you think the government should do to reduce the search for Golden Fleece?
First, the government should have a database of graduates, it is very important. If somebody is applying for a visa, the state should be able to know from the database everything about the person and their purpose of travelling abroad. So, we need that database. Again, the government should also put in place an efficient transportation system.
Here, workers have to struggle to come to work from their meagre salary. How do you expect efficiency or effectiveness? The government should also have in place housing schemes for different cadres of workers so that as a worker, I don’t have any business knowing how much a bag of cement or sand is being sold. All those things affect productivity because there’s no efficient mortgage system. There are too many challenges affecting our education system.