As the country continues to grapple with the problem of examination with its rating as the country with the highest examination malpractice index, the Provost, Federal College of Education Okene, Dr. Iyela Ajayi, who recently bagged the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) award for best performing Provost in this interview with CATHERINE AGBO says the only solution is to de-emphasise paper qualification.
There is a contention that colleges of education should be phased out with the introduction of faculties of education in universities. This has led to loss of interest in the colleges. Do you subscribe to the view that they be phased out?
The simple reason is that there is this aversion to teaching as a profession because we are in a society that does not accord teachers their due respect. If you go to other advanced countries, teachers are among the highest paid professionals but in this country,, every Tom, Dick and Harry is a teacher and as such the society does not accord the teacher much respect.
Teachers are not given adequate remuneration probably because of this we find a situation where some ladies will tell you they will not marry teachers and so when you are in a society where the teaching profession is given low recognition, of course nobody will want to be a teacher.
But if those of us who are teachers are recognised by the society and highly remunerated and the condition of service is good, I’m sure more Nigerians will want to take to teaching as a profession.
Teaching seems to be a job of the last option. What can we do to make teaching be like other sectors where people struggle to work in?
It’s simple, improve the lot of the teacher, and give him that recognition and proper remuneration. Why would Nigerians want to go into the petroleum industry today? It is because of the remuneration. If you are going to pay me the same salary as the oil worker, why will I say I must work in the oil industry and not a classroom? It is the condition of service and remuneration that makes the difference.
So remunerate the teacher adequately, let him have a sense of belonging. There is this general saying that the teacher’s reward is in heaven and i ask, why is it that it is only the teacher who must wait to get his reward in heaven?
Why not the oil worker or people from other professions? So we are saying that take care of the teacher, improve his condition of service and I’m sure he will put in his best.
There have been calls for teachers with PHD and Professors to teach in primary schools. How do you see that?
I know that in the advanced countries like the USA, you have people who have such qualification in the secondary schools. I don’t know if we have reached that point yet because the PHD holder who is teaching in the primary school in the US is adequately remunerated.
In fact, there is no difference with what he gets as a teacher in the primary school and what his contemporary in the secondary school gets but that is not the case in this country.
You just bagged an award as the ‘Best performing Provost of the Year’ by National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) for numerous achievements. How were you able to do all that considering that your contemporaries elsewhere would complain of funding as a constraint?
Well, let me talk about the peace prevailing in that college first. If you know FCE Okene before my arrival there, you will know that there were many issues bothering on peace but since I came there I have been able to sanitise the place and we have been enjoying peace because I know that without peace there is nothing you can achieve.
When i got there, I summoned all members of staff to a meeting and told them that this is our college and if they want it to develop they have to cooperate with me and let there be peace because it is only when we have peace that we can have development. Of course I also started the idea of having monthly inter-faith prayers to take care of the situation.
Funding is a problem; there is no doubt about it. There are people who look at the rate of infrastructural development and ask how we were able to achieve that within two years. We have our own contacts.
Like I told you, I was acting provost in Katsina for some time and within that period, I know that we were able to achieve much and when I moved to FCE Okene, people who saw what I did in Katsina promised to help me to succeed at Okene and by the grace of God, they’ve been assisting us.
So what accrues to the school from the federal government and what would you rather get?
I will say that our monthly overhead is not even up to N4 million from which we use averagely N1.5 million for diesel for our generators because in a country where you have poor power supply if you cannot provide power for students to read it will be another problem so as much as possible we try to give students light from the generator form 7-11pm every night and we buy diesel which you know is very expensive. So if you buy only diesel for N1.5 million, what will be left.
There is even a bigger problem and we have been drawing the attention of government to it for many years now and nothing has been done about it. In 2007 of so, the government asked all institutions to outsource security and cleaning services and send away our security men and cleaners and hand over the services to private companies to run.
Federal Colleges of Education complied and gave out the services to private companies to run but since that time government has not been releasing money to pay these people and so from that N4 million, we pay them and the money is virtually gone. If government wants us to run our institutions very well, we require at least N30 million.
It is a challenge because government is not releasing money to pay them and we have to source money to pay them because we cannot do without security in an academic institution just as we cannot do without cleaning services because students will not understand if the whole place is dirty.
We have made presentation to the government at the highest level but until now nothing has been done. Whatever we get from government, we will utilise to the development of the council.
The way the issue of education is taken in the country; do you see us achieving education for all by 2015?
That is difficult. I’m sure you know that there is a UNESCO prescription that government should devote 26 per cent of annual budget to education but are we devoting even up to 8 per cent? There are countries that have attained that but this country is far from achieving that because I don’t know of any government that has gone beyond 10 per cent.
Obasanjo’s administration tried but not above 10 percent but you know education is not something that is cheap; you just have to pump money into it. But of course you also have to consider problems in some zones of the country.
In the northern part we have the problem of girl child education and in the eastern part we have fewer boys going to school. Unless we address these regional problems and the issue of funding, education for all will be a mirage.
How far have you gone with the accreditation of additional courses in the institution? How many courses are you looking at securing accreditation for?
I know that five years ago before my arrival, the college received full accreditation for all our academic programmes but you know accreditation is done every five years and by the grace of God, by third week of September, we are expecting another round of accreditation and I believe we will scale through.
But I think what I should draw your attention to is the fact that FCE Okene is seeking for affiliation to university of Ilorin to commence degree programmes and by the end of the month we are expecting resource visit by that university.
They will come and look into our facilities and human resources as well as other things and once that is over, we will sign a memorandum of understanding, the senate will approve and all things being equal, by October this year, the college will become a degree awarding institution in affiliation with university of Ilorin.
Are you usually able to meet up with your JAMB admission quota?
It is a big problem I must say. Like I earlier spoke about the aversion to teaching, nobody wants to become a teacher and people prefer their children to become engineers, doctors and all that.
Teaching is always the last resort and when you ask anybody who is a teacher what he is doing he will always tell you that I am only managing or prefer teaching at the tertiary level. The cut-off mark for admission into NCE awarding institutions is lower than that of universities. The reason JAMB had to lower it is to attract people to it but we are still having problems.
There is a call for students and pupils to be taught in their local languages. Do you support that and what are you doing to start training teachers in that light?
I know that in my college, we train teachers to become Yoruba teachers, Igbo teachers and Hausa teachers and for your information, very soon, we will begin another programme, NCE Ebira language, which is the major ethnic group in the vicinity of the school.
Of course countries like china and Russia are world powers and English is not a medium of expression in their schools, it is their own indigenous languages. I’m sure you know that China is almost competing with the world powers, Russia is a world power and these countries are developed yet they don’t use English as medium of expression.
So if they teach and are able to develop those countries with those languages, why not since other countries have done it successfully. People like the late Prof. Babs Fafunwa always advocated this when he was alive but what we have today is that everybody wants their child to be able to speak queens English and that is a problem.
What is your take on the issue of examination malpractice and what is the situation in your institution?
The problem of examination malpractice is a very serious one and has reached the point where even parents are involved in it and some teachers as well as government officials so the entire society is involved.
The people we are bringing up are supposed to be leaders of tomorrow and if you bring up a child and teach him how to cheat, what kind of leader do you expect that child to become? We will continue to have examination malpractice as long as we continue to emphasise paper qualification.
You have somebody who is very good in technical work, you give him vehicle to repair and he does it very well but he wants employment and you ask for a paper. He’s an expert in everything but that paper is not there, you have somebody who is an engineer who went to the university and acquired all the certificates yet he cannot repair ordinary electrical fault but because he has the paper, you give him more recognition over the other man who doesn’t have.
So as long as we continue to emphasise paper qualification, we will continue to have examination malpractice. There is also the issue of our educational institutions being unable to take in all qualified candidates because of space so people do everything possible to ensure they score high grades in JAMB and WAEC and until some of these problems are solved, we will continue to have the problem of exam malpractice.
Unfortunately, the problem of examination has reached an alarming rate to the extent that certain countries have no regard for our certificates.
In those days when you sit for WAEC and you are seeking admission in other countries especially the UK, you were given admission but now most of those universities require you to sit for examination before you are given admission so it is a serious problem.
In my own school, let me say that cases of examination malpractice are few because since my arrival there, we have put some measures in place to ensure that it doesn’t happen. I always tell my lecturers that prevention is better than cure and we should try to prevent the students from cheating. If you create the environment for them to cheat, they will cheat.
The first thing we did was to come up with rules and regulations for examination invigilators and we gave it to all lecturers. The rules stipulate what you as an invigilator must do before, during and after the examination.
Even though we have only one or two or no cases of malpractice every semester, we make sure that any student that is caught in the act is snapped, printed and posted all over the school and we also make sure you are adequately sanctioned.
Depending on the gravity of your offence, you can be rusticated or expelled but once there is a report before us that you are involved in exam malpractice, you are arraigned before the exams misconduct committee and once you are found guilty, the academic board takes action immediately.
We don’t encourage it and we don’t condone it. If an academic staff is involved, they know the implication because if we can expel students for exam malpractice, the punishment is dismissal so they don’t even try it.