roles of alumni associations in reformation of tertiary institutions (I)

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By CHARLES IKEDIKWA SOEZE

I have a feeling of personal satisfaction and great pleasure as an alumnus of the Delta State University (DELSU), Abraka where I bagged my first degree in Mass Communication for being requested to serve as the guest speaker/lecturer to address this important occasion, end of year party and the Merit Awards to some distinguished personalities in appreciation for their excellent performance in their field of endeavours being organized by the DELSU, Alumni Association (DELSUAA) Warri Chapter. A very ‘big’ thank you to the Chairman DELSUAA, Warri Chapter, members of the Planning and Implementation Committee (PIC), Exco and the entire house.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, GREAT DELSU, before I continue on my topic, permit me as an insider to give a very brief history of the DELSU, Abraka, which I always refer to as “The Oil University” by virtue of the Delta State contributions to the nation’s purse through crude oil. The DELSU, Abraka is no doubt the oldest state owned university in Nigeria. This is because the DELSU took off from Government Teachers’ Training College (GTTC), which commenced in the early 1940’s in Abraka, later upgraded to College of Education (COE), Abraka. As part of efforts to solve and improve on the educational needs of Deltans, the COE, Abraka was upgraded to status of a degree awarding institution and was affiliated to the University of Benin (UNIBEN), Benin City. In 1985, DELSU became a campus of the Bendel State University, Ekpoma, now Edo State University, Ekpoma which was founded by Professor Ambrose Folorunsho Alli, a morbid anatomist and first executive governor of the defunct Bendel State. Following the creation of Delta and Edo States out of Bendel State, the DELSU became a full-fledged university by 30th April 1992 under the administration of the first executive governor of Delta State, Olorogun Felix Ovuodoroye Ibru. It is appropriate to say that the University is growing and progressing marvelously well with campuses in Anwai/Asaba and Oleh in addition with a School of Postgraduate Studies. The University has contributed tremendously in the training of all sorts of human resources that are assisting the state and Nigeria in general.
Before I proceed further, I have to remind everybody of the statement of Dr. Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe the first and only ceremonial President, Nigeria has ever got, media guru nationally and internationally and founder of the first indigenous and autonomous University in Nigeria, that is, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), while all other universities continue to remain campuses of the UNN (joke). He said and I quote “Education does not mean teaching people what they do not know but teaching them how to behave like they do not behave”.
Furthermore, progressivism as another term of pragmatism being used by John Dewey has a far-reaching application in American society. The type of influence or application it has in America is not yet seen in Nigeria. The reason could be that Nigeria has not yet seriously adopted pragmatic approach to education. This pragmatic approach simply put is “learning a situation where after theorizing, much room will be given for testing out; and any theory or knowledge that is not workable in concrete terms will be jettisoned”. This is the American pragmatism which for many years has helped put Americans in the foremost among the great nations of the world.
However, Nigerian system of education on the contrary is seen as educational technique aimed primarily at inculcating a mass of factual information to students, without giving them any means of utilizing it. Students are therefore crammed with the experience of the past rather than being prepared to face the challenges of the future. This type of education is the order of the day in Nigeria, the collapsing and if not the collapsed 6-3-3-4 system notwithstanding. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that education in Nigeria is still very much based on the grammar type of education brought to us by the colonialist, the type of education given to less privileged in Britain in the early 19th century. Hence, Onwuka in Elim and Alaeze (1988) quoted by Onuoha (2001:262) stated that the curriculum for Nigerian education is not relevant. According to him, Nigeria has thousands of so-called educated men and women who among them possess every imaginable certificate or degree in the world; yet Nigeria continues to run here and there looking for experts to solve some of the problems besetting the country. The curriculum also is not relevant to the needs of the Nigerian society in the sense that the content was based on what those who introduced western type of education knew and accepted as worthy of being mastered by any educated person. Hence, Nigerians were drilled in materials too foreign to have any meaning to them. Memorization is about the only effective way of passing examinations. This probably may be the reason for Nigerian society rejecting our graduates even before they finish from various institutions of learning.
In reality, functional education is part and parcel of American pragmatism but in Nigeria such functional education is yet to be achieved. Our curriculum planners have made serious efforts to change the grammar type of education to more functional type of education. This is done through making subject like agriculture compulsory in the secondary schools. Furthermore, through the establishment of polytechnics, colleges of education with technical and professional bias in most parts of the country. It is a truism to say that these efforts have not yielded any meaningful result because of politicization of education, corruption and insincerity on the part of public servants especially the top echelons. Graduates of our secondary schools complete their programmes without acquiring any practical skills. This has even extended to most faculties in our tertiary institutions.
One of the basic reasons why educational programmes have failed in Nigeria is that this nation do not have a clearly defined philosophy of education. This fact can be corroborated when one reviews the statements of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1981) National Policy on Education (NPE) in this regard. In this said policy document, it was specifically stated that Nigeria’s philosophy of education is based on the integration of the individuals into a sound and effective citizen as well as equal educational opportunities for all citizens of the nation irrespective of sex, rule, creed and religion.
The above philosophy do not appear to have a pragmatic or functional basis. There is therefore the need for a sound educational philosophy in Nigeria such as pragmatism. If the student learned how to solve problems, presumably, he would be better fitted for living in our ever-changing world with its manifold perplexities and ever-new problems. Dewey (1956) again reemphasized that rather than being trained in various disciplines, the child should be exposed and trained by being confronted with various situations in which he would have to develop methods for overcoming the difficulties that beset him. He would learn how to make satisfactory ‘adjustment’ to his environment, and thus develop various means which would aid him in solving the larger problems of the social world in which he would have to live. In other words, this type of education, the pragmatic education for life would train people for living. It will help people to confront new situations and open to exploration of new means for meeting difficulties. It is specifically designed to evolve to meet change and to adapt to new developments. In the words of Popkin, Strol and Kelly (1969), the student trained in problem solving will be able to be an active citizen of such a society, utilizing his techniques for dealing with unresolved problems in cooperation with the larger social group in the common search for satisfactory ways of dealing with the practical difficulties which hinder the best functioning of societies. What this implies is that Nigeria should as a matter of urgency, redesign the curriculum of education. This will enable both teachers and students to be practical and technical oriented. This new curriculum, I think and you will agree with me should be focused on self-reliance. This is absolutely necessary because the current curriculum has not only failed but failed woefully if I may quote the ex-president, Chief Matthew Okikiola Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo during his first tenure as the second democratically elected president while assessing NEPA now PHCN. This new curriculum can only be successful through the active participation of the government of all tiers, (national, state and local) since education is on the concurrent list of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN); individuals, Nigerian society and essentially alumni associations of the various tertiary institutions. Any new curriculum without effective coordination, supervision and implementation will definitely fail like UPE (Universal free Primary Education) of 1976 and 6-3-3-4 system of education already being practiced in the country. It is abundantly clear that government can no longer manage schools, as a result, there is the need for government to hand over all the ‘confiscated’ or ‘seized’ schools to the rightful owners. However, this is on-going in many states including Delta. Needless to say that Nigerian parents are currently deserting government (public) schools to private or voluntary agency schools. The private schools are better than public schools are not far from the education planners to have effective education in Nigeria, it is extremely necessary for a total overhauling of the entire education system and the various alumni associations need to contribute effectively, American pragmatic education being a pace setter. This is the only way, I believe that politicization of education which has ruined the entire education system in Nigeria may be halted.
However, all great nations employ education and the culture industries generally, implicitly or explicitly to maintain the social order, train bureaucrats and maintain a myth of mission among other things. In the modern world, education, in particular university education, has become a tool not just for elite reproduction but is increasingly deployed as a marker of a nation’s international prestige and cultural importance.
Nigerian universities which began their journeys as clones of British universities developed to a point in the 1970’s and early 1980’s at least in the social sciences where they could be subjected to systematic and devastating critique. Even at the level of policy, it will be remembered that the debate over the adoption of Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) during the regime of the first and only military president Nigeria has ever got, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida popularly known as “IBB” was led by intellectuals many of whom were based in the universities.
It is time to say that the first significant reform agenda for the Nigerian educational system came as early as 1954 when the nationalists advocated a change from 8-6-2-3 system, (i.e. 8-years primary, 6-years secondary, 2-years Higher School Certificate (HSC) and 3-years University to a new 6-5-2-3. In other words, the change resulted in reducing the number of years at the primary and secondary school levels.
After Nigeria gained independence in 1960, the reforms continued and in 1969, there was a National Curriculum Conference held in Lagos. Participants who were eager to set a new path for the future of the country’s education, claimed the inherited colonial system lacked the relevance and vitality that we needed for Nigeria to compete favourably internationally. As a result, the conference recommended the adoption of the American 6-3-3-4 system which Japan ably copied in 1945 and made significant progress. The major setback in Nigeria has been the implementation of the system without adequate planning. In the words of the Chairman, Presidential Task Team on Education, Professor Pai Obanya “the problem is not with the 6-3-3-4, rather it is with the implementation. However, if Nigeria is to achieve its aspiration to play a leaders role in the comity of nations; she needs to review the strategy employed in the implementation of the 6-3-3-4.
University education in Nigeria has a lot of problems and alumni associations need to assist the federal government to proffer solutions based on their experience and exposure (e & e) in the industry. Whatever the case may be, Nigeria like other nations, needs universities to train managerial workforce that would propel the nation’s development engine. It is crystal and abundantly clear that Americans realized this earlier and budgeted very well in university education. Consequently, American universities dominate the world rankings of the top universities in the world. This is translated to the rapid development in the American society. In order to improve on our educational system, our budget on education should be improved upon. For example, when Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo (of blessed memory) was premier of the defunct western region, forty percent (40%) of the total budget was allocated to education. Today, we can see the benefits from that part of Nigeria in all sectors of the economy.
To improve on the university education in Nigeria, we do not need commission, committee, task force among others to tell us what is wrong in our universities and other tertiary institutions. Alumni Associations including DELSUAA members who are in all sectors of the economy and at the same time exhibiting professionalism and excellence by virtue of their learning and development (L$D) are expected to contribute their quota in this direction.

The basic problems, as I see it having spent over 3-decades in the administration of a tertiary institution, I can boldly say without reservation that the problems are under-funding, the negative influence of a corruptive and valueless political system, planning and implementation problems. As a result, it led to the weakening of universities and other tertiary institutions administration, poor teaching and learning outcomes, diminishing research and consultancy traditions, and questionable service to the universities. A cursory look reveals at a glance that the last problems point to diminishing returns in the basic missions of universities. It seems that throwing money at the universities will not in itself solve the endemic problems within the universities system. Inadequate funding, poor planning, policy summersault and inconsistency as well as erosion of values have produced a culture of under-achievements that will take decades to change
The roles of alumni associations in the reformation agenda are as follows:
v How do you feel as an alumnus or alumna when you engage with or hear that a member of your alumni association has bagged a degree from your alma mater but cannot string together as articulate and coherent sentence? Without mincing words, alumni associations are critical stakeholders in this whole process. Alumni associations support is critical to the conceptualization as well as effective implementation of these reforms. This is because alumni associations represent a significant and vocal constituency. Alumni associations are openly exhibiting the ethereal affiliation between themselves and the institution that molded or built them. They are strong and powerful voice which could exert a considerable amount of influence on the policy direction of education reforms.
v As a member of an alumni association, your contributions in this association are an overt expression of concern and regard for the future of the institution and its survival.
v Members of an alumni association are to collectively facilitate or intervene to ensure development and progress in the reformation of the education sector. Those who graduated currently are expected to be well equipped than products of yester years in view of the introduction of some courses as General Studies (GST) that made them versatile. In other words, they should be more competitive and better prepared for active participation than previous graduates in the knowledge of the economy. However, can we really frankly say that in the current situation? The general tendency is for the alumni associations to abandon their responsibilities to government expecting it to handle all the burdens. Let me point out categorically that as we grow in our democracy, it becomes clear that democracy is a partnership between the government and the people. What it implies here is that collaborative efforts between the two parties are going to become increasingly common place especially for the provision of public goods such as an educated workforce. It is on record that strong alumni associations have been seen to decide and influence the education policy as well as curriculum of their alma mater. In doing these, they endeavour as much as practicable to provide moral support and financial assistance for the sake of change and development.
v As members of alumni associations, we have a special and critical role to show. We are the bridge between the past, the present and the future. Your participation in the affairs of the association of these institutions brings in a wealth of experience from the academic, the tertiary institutions gaining from wealthy benefactors who happened to be an alumnus or alumna of such institutions. Whatever the case may be, our support need not be financial only. Such supports can include the provision of infrastructures, stocking of libraries with relevant books and laboratories with important items of equipment. GREAT DELSU, I am aware that the Delta State University Alumni Association Worldwide recently launched a =N=100million alumni centre to be cited at Abraka, the main campus. This is a right step in the right direction. They were encouraged by all members as well as the authorities of the university. Kudos to the alumni association let us put our hands together for them.
v Members of alumni associations can render professional services to their institutions pro bono, that is, free of charge.
v The alumni members as individuals who have passed through these universities and colleges are best placed to offer advice on the relevance of the curriculum to the demand of the professional workplace. They can volunteer their services for seminars and workshops. The alumni members are expected to play a significant role in the evaluation of the reforms outcome. They can assist in monitoring and evaluating of educational reforms. In doing this, the public relations planning circles can be applied as adapted from Danny Moss (1990) lecture notes at the University of Sterling, Scotland as quoted by Ajala 2001:47.
In addition and by the nature of public relations practice, assessment of programme activities naturally leads to the beginning again. If programme was successful and objectives met, that may not necessarily mean the end. Other problems may surface or re-occur thereby needing another set of situation.
According to Nelson Mandela, one-time South African President that fought against apartheid in that country, “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a son of a farm worker can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another”. Also, education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned at school, according to Albert Einstein. If I may add, it is the surest way of survival at old age.
For education to be meaningful in this country, we must rise from our slumber and decisively address the cries of the students, the anguish of the teachers, the dilemma of the administrators and the agony of parents among others. Again, we must avoid perpetuating and perpetrating public service illegalities and absurdities into the education sector. It is therefore appropriate to say that was why Mahatma Ghandi said that real education consists of drawing the best out of yourself. In the words of the late immortal sage, Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo (an astute politician) the best president Nigeria never had according to Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (the Ikemba on Nnewi) and ex-Biafran warlord, (of blessed memory) “any person that is deprived of books, especially the right type of books, will suffer intellectual malnutrition atrophy and stagnation”. In other words, communication incommunicado (this is mine). However, one of the sad realities of Nigerian society today is the non-availability of good books in virtually all disciplines and this has led to flip-flop in education.
Mr. Chairman Sir, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, GREAT DELSU, I think that was why Professor Benjamin Maurice of the Temple University, Philadelphia, while coordinating the postgraduate programme in education at the College of Education, Abraka in 1978 (now Delta State University, DELSU, Abraka) presented a paper titled “Books and their place in the process of education in developing countries”. He maintained that the falling standard of education in Nigeria, is the decline in the culture of reading and by extension, the churning-out of deficient workforce from our institutions of learning are partly due to the absence of current and relevant books at affordable prices. It is quite evident that functional knowledge and skills acquisitions are hardly possible through the handouts and lecture centred learning process prevalent in our schools and training centres.
I am of the view that Nigeria should pay vigorous attention to education, research and development (R. & D.) meshed in high standards and vigorous curriculum to overcome years of low educational quality in the country. In order to promote equal opportunity and rid the country of poverty, quality education should be at the heart of such effort. Perhaps more indicative of the economic value of education is the high productivity and earning power of workers with quality education.
It is necessary to say that the appalling state of education in Nigeria could be ameliorated if consistent and sustainable corrective measures are taken with long-term planning and monitoring immediately by the Federal Ministry of Education. In addition, I still very much believe James A. Garfield’s power avowal when he said “Next in importance to freedom, justice, is popular education, without which, neither freedom nor justice can be maintained”.
Soeze is President of the University of Nigeria, Alumni Association (UNAA), Warri Branch.

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