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Making Tertiary Learning More Interactive

There is no gainsaying the fact that there has been a drop in the standard of education in Nigeria. Many including Professor Adewale Solarin Director and Chief Executive of National Mathematical Centre, NMC, have identified the causes. In this article, Nwakaego Ohaegbulam looks at how to make tertiary education better.

Education means different things to different people but despite the different interpretations given to it, its preeminence in facilitating learning, which includes the transfer of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs and habits to people (addressed as students) through story telling, discussions, teaching, training and or research cannot be emphasized.

Paying more attention to the formal type of education in Nigeria especially as it concerns that which is taught at the tertiary institutions, it is saddening to note that the quality of educational services offered in most of these universities are very poor and one cannot help but ask why?

Professor Adewale Solarin, the Director and Chief Executive of the National Mathematical Centre (NMC), Abuja, in a recent media chat, pointed out that a large number of lecturers were ill prepared for the job. According to him “I have been doing this statistics; watch your television station if you see those who are below the age of 30, when they communicate on the television, you realize that some of them cannot speak correct English. It is not their fault, it is the fault of the school system, if the teachers are not adequately prepared, uses the right method to teach, the products will be what you are seeing now. So what I also know is that teachers also need to be properly motivated in order to put in their best. The main challenge is that we have the worst of us teaching our children, preparing our future; that is the problem.”

This may be the reason why in recent times, most Nigerian university graduates have difficulties defending nay putting their ‘acquired knowledge’ to test if need arises. Does this mean that most university lecturers as one school of thought put it are ‘bookish’ lacking the technical know-how which is key to imparting knowledge to students? Continuing, Prof. Solarin said “The problem is teacher-based. When you talk about being teacher- based, it means the teacher must have the right knowledge; the material itself, the curriculum, what he is supposed to teach, he must know it himself, have the right attitude and right methodology to deliver that knowledge that he wants to impact. But unfortunately, they don’t have the knowledge or materials or resources to actually communicate that knowledge at the level that the students will be able to comprehend and then make use of.

“If you talk of knowledge, you talk of wisdom, wisdom is applied knowledge but you must not acquire the knowledge before you begin to know of how to apply, so it is what you apply now that becomes wisdom. When they acquire the knowledge, they also need to acquire the methodology to communicate with the pupils. When that is right, then the students will not have the challenge and of course the first thing that we are hoping is that the teacher gets all the right motivation because there is still something that we are not getting right, and it keeps affecting the future of this country.”

In confirmation of what the NMC boss said, a mechanical engineer, who simply identified himself as Kebena, said that he had the theoretical knowledge of the course which he described as “a far cry compared to what was obtainable in the field. Our university professors are bookish and they lack the practical skills needed to teach the course. This is coupled with the fact that most of the lecture materials are outdated and do not meet the latest standard.

Another man who is an electrical engineer, Mr. Orhorho, concurred saying that but for his determination to go the extra-mile by attaching himself to an electronics workshop as an under-graduate, it would have been difficult for him to fit in after graduation. He recalled a situation where an electrical engineering graduate employed at his place of work could not identify positive, negative and neutral wires in a fuse box.

The reasons for this pitiable situation of things in the tertiary education sector are not farfetched as Prof. Solarin pointed out; “There are many factors involved-60% of those who are called lecturers and professors in the university system today are not university materials and if you look at industrial process, that is why I always say we should not view education as a development programme any longer, let’s change the view, let’s begin to view it like an industrial process, because in the industrial process, you know that if you set up an industry today, you care about the output, because you know that if the output is not right, then you are not in business.

“When you look at the process, if you take lecturers that are within as part of the process, I am saying that 60% of them have no business being there. So, no matter what you try to do, they cannot compete with the best in the world. If they are the real university materials, even when you see that the facilities are not okay, they will use their ability to bring out something that will still be of world class.”

He likened Nigerian university to the industrial business sector whose output ought to be sellable. “If your output is not sellable, what do you do? You first make sure that your production process is right and then you make sure that you get the appropriate raw materials. If the raw material is not good, it will be garbage in, garbage out. So get the appropriate raw materials, and then your process is right and then your products will be good, it will be sellable. If our university products are not sellable, which is what we are having now, there is something wrong with the process or raw materials, but in this case, it is the two of them, both the process and the raw material, so we can’t get sellable products,” he said.

Another educationist, Uzochukwu Mike, further identified the challenges militating against practical education to include lecturers’ weakness to update their lecture notes; lack of proper training on proper teaching methodologies as a result of which many of them dictate notes without making any efforts to give explanations and their inability to keep up with latest trends not only as it concerns technology but also their various disciplines.

Mike also identified government failures as another factor militating against education taking its rightful place. He pointed at the incessant strike actions embarked upon by the ASUU due to government’s inability to pay lecturers as and when due all because government does not want to add quality to the education sector through funding preferring instead to embezzle public funds. Another factor is what he called ‘weak practical background’ whereby students are taught with little or no practical knowledge which is closely related to the fourth factor ‘hindrances from institutions’; this has to do with the attitude of the universities to the students. In other words, most universities do not encourage the students to learn from other sources or environments by so doing they foster the spirit of completion among the students.

Furthermore, Mike hinted that the deplorable condition of the lecture halls also contributed in making the students not to perform optimally. This is because most of the time the lecture halls were ‘jam-packed’ with students. Another key factor is what he called ‘sentimentalism’ a term he used to describe a situation whereby the Vice Chancellors, Faculty Deans and Heads of Department do not place the right persons in different departments of learning. This is the bane of the problem as most lecturers are assigned courses they know next-to-nothing about which invariably affects the quality of knowledge they impart on the students.

Having identified the major challenges facing the country’s tertiary education sector, stakeholders believe there are need therefore for government at all levels to pay more attention towards improving the nation’s human capital starting from the education sector. Until this is done, they contend, the nation would continue to bear the consequences of the actions of the thousands of mediocre churned out to society by institutions of higher learning. While commending the efforts of the Federal Government at establishing the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFUND, they say that more funds need to be provided to properly equip them with the needed machinery to aid practical learning. Sentiments should be put aside while employing lecturing staff because the future of these students depends largely on them; the right people should be put in the right position. On their part, the students should be encouraged to undertake jobs even whilst still studying that can afford them the opportunity to get hands-on knowledge about their courses.

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