Interview by Olubusuyi Adenipekun
PROFESSOR Michael Faborode, the Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife was among the key stakeholders of education that attended the national stakeholders’ summit on education which held at Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja recently at the behest of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
According to Faborode, the summit is necessary because a lot of challenges presently beset the nation’s education sector, adding that Mr. President’s good intentions for convening the summit must be backed up with the political will to formulate policies that will really move education forward in this country.
In this exclusive interview, Professor Faborode, who came on board as the Vice Chancellor of OAU in 2006 and will be leaving office in June 2011 after five good years in the saddle, identifies the major problems facing the sector and proffers ways of overcoming them. He also talks briefly about the steps which he has taken in ensuring that OAU regains its past glory.
What role are you expected to play at this national stakeholders’ summit on education?
Thank you very much. This is Presidential Stakeholders’ Education Summit and I believe he is well-intentioned. I believe that Mr. President wants to get the way forward for education. There is no doubt that there is so much concern about the state of education in Nigeria. Most recently, the performances of our children in the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE), WAEC and NECO examinations, have given us a lot of concern.
The performances have not been what the country wants. And of course the state of higher education has also been a source of concern. So the opening shot by the Honourable Minister of Education, Prof. Ruquyyatu Rufa’i and Mr. President is to say look let’s us sit down together and talk frankly. Let us get the views of the various stakeholders.
Education is a very big area covering the primary, secondary and the tertiary where we also have the various categories. Also, particularly in the middle cadre, the technical and vocational education, is also an area of concern.
So, I think the summit is a good one. I can say that the exchanges have been very frank, sometimes they have been very blunt and the syndicate groups, I think have really addressed the issues. I think at the end of the day what is very important is that we must formulate the policy that will really move education forward.
Somebody said there is the need for a political will, a determination and I believe this is where Mr. President has come in. I believe he really wants to do something that will take education back to where it used to be and move it forward to where it’s supposed to be. Education is the key to national development. If we want to follow examples of nations that have developed, we cannot continue to toy with education. I am at the summit to deliberate with other stakeholders on ways of moving the nation’s education forward.
You are one of the key stakeholders of education in Nigeria and I think it will be more authentic if you highlight some of the specific problems facing the various levels of our educational system.
Realistically, it will be very difficult to identify all the problems. I think the panels at the summit have done a good job and I am sure their reports will b e a compendium that will help us. But, when we look at it, there is the problem of resource mobilisation for the various levels. How do we effectively fund basic education and who is going to be responsible?
Definitely, it has to be the government because it is like a right of every child to be trained. And training cannot be too much.
Also, at the secondary school level, we have seen that there are various provisions — private schools, government-owned schools, those schools that are owned by the missionaries and were taken over by government and some states are trying to give them back — we need to ensure that the foundation is solid from the primary school and continues to the secondary school.
Is the 6-3-3-4 system working? That is part of the challenges that we have. Another very critical problem is the problem of middle level manpower. Vocational and technical training has virtually disappeared in this country. And that is a great tragedy! If you don’t have the workmen, if you don’t have the machinists, it will be hard. This is the area we must go back to.
We need to rediscover technical education and position it properly. This must be a key feature of the way forward in this country. When you talk about technical education, problem of resource mobilisation is also there, There is the need for effective resource deployment. Then the issue of relevance of curriculum to the needs of the country.
It is not just the design that is not relevant, it’s the quality of total delivery, the level and the training of those who are going to teach at all the levels and adequate infrastructure at all the levels. Let me share an experience with you. At Ife we have the OAU International School and when we received the performance of the students we found that in at least five or six of the subjects we had 100%.
The minimum for the rest was 70%. And so I was taken aback when nationally we are talking of as low as 30%. That was last year and it has even fallen below that this year. Whereas the OAU International School still has very good result.
What is the difference? The environment, quality of infrastructure, adequate equipment, the classrooms, the boarding system and the quality of the teachers. So if public schools are to regain their glory there is a lot that we need to do. It is not a small task because the schools are so dilapidated. The pupils and students are not encouraged. The teachers are not motivated. So, we must be determined to say we must move forward the sector.
I am saying this passionately because if you take away education from any society, then that society is doomed. That is why it’s very important that we must address these issues. Of course, when you allow the critical problems to remain, then you have other smaller problems overwhelming you.
You just said that the technical and vocational education and training, which has been neglected over the years, is crucial to national development. What do you think the country can actually do to revamp this sub-sector?
One is to uncouple it from the 6-3-3-4 system. There must be a deliberate policy of encouraging people to go into the technical and vocational education area especially students who have completed the junior and senior secondary schools.
The graduates of these technical and vocational schools will then be the crop of people that will develop the polytechnics and technical institutions. Because if we don’t have these sort of people, we will just be building a castle in the air and then the middle will be very hollow and it will definitely collapse. We need the tradesmen, we need the craftsmen, we need those with the technical know-how to oil the factory, the industry. That today the industries are virtually comatose.
There is a myriad of problems But the issue of the manpower to really man the various critical functions of the industry is one of the problems.
As a vice chancellor, what should be done to rejuvenate tertiary education in the country?
One of the challenges in tertiary education is that of inadequate space as we are not able to accommodate all the qualified candidates. We cannot ignore that fact because if you don’t give them proper alternative we are going to have miscreants in the society. So the whole range of tertiary education must be developed to make it attractive. If you cannot go to the university, you must be able to go to the polytechnic.
So, what should be done to enable our universities take in more admission -seeking candidates?
There is a range of things that need to be done. One, those universities should be well equipped. I have talked about infrastructure decay that we need to address because it is possible that you can still take in a bit more and maintain the staff/students ratio that will give us quality education. It is still possible to take a thousand here and another thousand more there by another university.
That is more economical than starting a new school that will only take 50 and maximum of 500 candidates. So we need to get this situation right. The existing institutions are so overloaded, so overwhelmed with challenges of space for teaching, space for living and so many other challenges. So, the challenges before us is so great that I think it calls for this sort of summit. What we then do with this sort of summit is what is going to define where we go from here.
Do you think the recommendations from this summit will not end up in waste paper baskets like the previous ones?
There is that danger of coming up with so many recommendations without implementation. But I do hope that Mr. President is well aware of the challenge of history that is before him. He has put himself right on the spot and I think he has to take this moment and deliver good education for the country.
If he does that he will write his name in gold because that will well be the beginning of a new Nigeria of our dream. After 50 years of nationhood, the next 50 years should be a defining moment for us to go above all the sorrows that we have now and look with hope. Everybody needs hope in this country. The youths need their hope restored in the federation and I think we must focus on harnesting the energy of the youths. That is why education is key to development.
Your tenure as the Vice-Chancellor of OAU is gradually coming to an end. What was the state of OAU when you came on board and what is the present status of the university now in terms of infrastructural development and all the rest of them?
Well, that again is a long history. I will just paraphrase it. But we must thank God for what we have been able to do. When I came on board the challenges were very many. The university was virtually in a state of disarray. Academic calendar was totally unstable and at that time nobody even wanted to send their children to OAU. But we have turned things around.
We have shown that it is possible, with firmness and courage, to deliver on promises to turn things around for the university to rediscover its mission.
And I think the summary is that the university is now poised to continue on the forward march. There is motivation across board. Students are well motivated because we have moved away from where students lacked hope and could not see anything about their future.
We have gone beyond things that led to unbridled students’ unionism that was much disruptive rather than being progressive. We have repositioned the students now to the extent that they are now partners in progress of developing the university. That is the major achievement.
So, once we are able to create peaceful environment, progress is assured. And with this situation, we have been able to draw resources from various corporate organisations and the alumni, because government alone cannot provide all that we need.
We have seen that in the last two years we have been able to bring out more resources to move the university forward. We are solving the issue of classrooms. We are providing more lecture space because we know that the condition for teaching and learning must be conducive for students in order to get the best out of them.