On a sunny Sunday, not too long ago, I hosted a friend at my residence. I hadn’t seen him for quite a while and when he arrived, he revealed that his mission was to achieve three things. The first was to return some books he had borrowed from my private library; the second was to personally inform me that he had decided to resign his job to take up tenure with a federal university in the country. The third, which turned out to be the most important, was to ask for my advice on how best to approach the new job. I laughed off his request and told him I hadn’t been a lecturer before to know how best to advise him. I was quick to add that I could give an advice, if he wanted me to give it from the standpoint of a student, having spent eighty-two percent of my years on earth as one. He conceded, noting that it was exactly for that reason he was seeking my advice.
The visit reminded me of my introductory class in sociology of education where we explored the banking and dialogical models of education and settled for the latter as a better approach to knowledge-sharing. However much love I have for teaching, I have always seen myself as a student. So, I told him to write down my advice. The first was that he should never give out a handout, except it was to be given for free. Handouts, I emphasized, are meant to be handed out. I explained that he could prepare lecture notes and then email it to the students. The second advice was that he must mainstream the use of information technology into his engagements with the students. I explained that this would require his making sure the students all have functional email addresses which they could use to communicate with him and he could push global notes or information he needed to share beyond the classroom. I even proposed that he should start a blog where he would use as a means to interact with his students. The third advice was that he should become an active member of some professional associations and explore their resources and opportunities as much as possible, giving more time to academic research than teaching. The fourth advice was that he should adopt a life-building-skill approach to teaching, letting the students learn something worthwhile for their lives outside academic engagements. I added a final one, that he should be ready to face opposition from the established system.
It wasn’t quite a month after the visit when we met again and he shared a situation he was confronted with. He informed me that upon resumption he was assigned a course which was formerly handled by another lecturer who had a text book on the course and was requesting him to use the text for his class so that the students would be required to buy it. He expressed reservations about the text, noting that he didn’t think it was adequate in meeting the current needs of the students and course objectives. My observations on the textbook were twofold: the textbook was narrowly conceptualized, clearly written to beat the university’s ban on sale of handouts. It was a decorated handout. The second observation was that it was not a published text, but printed. You know the way you go to the printing press and place order for a funeral programme of events? The text fitted that mold perfectly, not minding the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) printed on it. After we discussed the matter, it was settled that he should politely wave aside the request on the grounds that he intended to use a number of reference texts for the course and would need time to study the present one as possible inclusion among the list. He was to add that the text would not be imposed on students, should it be considered for inclusion. In fact, I suggested that he should note his intention to come up with his own text as one of the grounds for putting the request aside.
As I go through the above scenarios, I am moved with great pity at the educational system in this country. Through my various engagements with lecturers, teachers and students, I have come to the conclusion that the educational system has been hijacked and no amount of funding would salvage it. I’m speaking from experience. I know many lecturers who should have no business being lecturers, but have found themselves there due to unemployment situation in the country. I know ones who obtained their magna cum laude class of degree through questionable circumstances and have found themselves into the university system as lecturers. I recall sitting in a post-graduate class as an MSc student to write exam alongside a lecturer who was studying for a doctorate then. He was an elderly man lecturing in a different department but studying for a doctorate in mine. When I observed that he had extraneous material that aided cheating in the exam, I called the invigilator to inform him. Unfortunately, the doctorate student was a senior colleague to the invigilator who was an assistant lecturer then, and all the invigilator could do was to walk up to him and plead with him to put the material away and pretended as though nothing happened. I have watched both grow through the academic ladder to senior positions in the universities, producing graduates for the Nigerian society.
I must tell you the truth: the academic system in Nigeria sucks, so terribly that the few good lecturers are overshadowed by the bad and indolent ones. It is only in Nigeria that people are awarded professorship on quota basis, and there are so many of them. I see lecturers come together to start a journal that is forced on students and can’t sell outside the confines of their faculties; yet these journals are used as a basis for award of academic promotion. Many times you don’t get to see the second volume of the journals. On a few occasions, I have shared opportunities for professional development with lecturers where the only condition to obtain full sponsorship to make the presentation abroad was to write a good abstract. I have been disappointed many times, with fear to make an attempt. In fact one told me that he was yet to check his mail after about a week of my forwarding the correspondence. I will avoid talking about the corruption that plagues the university system, given that the university is microcosm of the entire Nigerian society and whatever obtains in the wider society is very much entrenched there too.
Inter-university engagements are critical means of intellectual development. I believe lecturers should have exposure within and outside Nigeria to polish their perspectives on academic demands. The idea of a lecturer leaving one state university to a close one for sabbatical leave doesn’t show enough exposure. Our education system is rated one of the poorest in the world. It therefore implies that if we do not attract some exposures outside our shores, we are engaging in intellectual in-breeding which brings about net reduction in the quality of our knowledge production over time. Many young lecturers are still afraid to befriend the computer and modern information technologies. It is imperative that we mainstream these technologies and encourage lecturers to have websites where they can use as a means to interface with students. Students must be naturally encouraged to use modern technologies of communication and lecturers must drive this persuasively. The news that the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) has digitized its academic transcripts dating back to twenty years ago is one of the most commendable news to come out of our educational system in recent years. All other higher institutions of learning should emulate this and pioneer their own peculiar initiatives. The idea of the university is hinged more on research than on teaching and this consciousness should drive Nigerian higher institutions of learning. Without this singular drive, the university loses its relevance to social, political and economic interventions.