interviewBy Dayo Adesulu
Prof Eberechi Osuagwu, is a Professor of Information Technology at the Dept of Information Management Technology, Federal University of Technology Owerri.
He studied at RVB, Delft University of Technology, Holland, M.I.T, Harvard University, Clayton University, American Heritage University of Southern California, School of Journalism & TV England, London School of Accountancy, United Christian University (formerly Carolina Christian University Thomasville), North Carolina and earned degrees in Control & Information Systems Technology, Artificial Intelligence and Computer Forensics.
Besides, he is a Fellow of Nigeria Computer Society FNCS and Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria FCPN, a Chartered Fellow of the renowned British Computer Society FBCS CITP. A member of the Institute of Electrical, Electronics Engineers of the United States (MIEEE) and Association of Computing Machinery (MACM). He has been in the ICT industry and has taught in the Nigeria and foreign University system for about 35 years.
He spoke recently with Vanguard Education Weekly on the need to revamping our vocational study.
Your school was recently granted a license by the National Board for Technical Education to float a monotechnic, can you describe for us what the hurdles were like?
At last, Operational License has been granted to South Eastern College of Computer Engineering and Information Technology, Owerri to commence National Diploma programs in specialized IT domains such as NID in Computer Engineering Technology, NID in Software Technology, NID in Networking and Security Systems. NID in Multi-Media Technology and NVC in Computer Studies will soon join the other three after a little amendment is done on our current facilities.
What is your vision for this institution and why have you chosen the name of a school that depicts a vocational study?
The original name that has operated for 20 years is Centre for Computer Engineering. The team altered the name to South Eastern College of Computer Engineering and Information Technology to align with the Federal Government's objectives on the National Innovation Institutions.
It is currently situated at No. 9 and 14, Mbonu Ojike Street, Ikenegbu, Owerri, Imo State. The defining vision of the progenitors is to provide an opportunity for vocational and higher education that is pragmatic and will lead to the overall interest of national productivity. The Centre for Computer Engineering will still remain independent and will run other courses not in the approved list of NBTE.
CCE is accredited by CPN at three levels of certificate, professional and tertiary. The NBTE accreditations accord the institution parallel CPN accreditation because it is done in collaboration with CPN. CPN is usually the chairman of such accreditation exercise, though controlled by NBTE for computing and information technology programs in Nigeria's technical education run in polytechnics, monotechnics and technical schools.
Besides being a Professor of Information Technology, you were running a private vocational institute affiliated to a number of universities, Why would you abandon such broader based institute for a mono structured institute?
Affiliations do not give you control over what you do. It reduces personal initiatives that can bring innovations. You just follow your parent body like a zombi , even where you observe serious deficiencies.
It does not also grant you leverage for growth and independence. This is why we now embarked on an institution recognized by the Government of Nigeria whose awards will also be recognized here and around the world for upward migration professionally and academically.
This initiative was further reinforced by policy somersaults - strict regulation by NUC on affiliations, regulation on satellite campus etc.
What is the strong programme point of this new school?
Specialized National Innovation Institutions (in our case ICT Monotechnic) is expected to eliminate observed weaknesses in our current technical education. Most of the graduates of computing and IT spend two years in a four year B.Sc/HND programme studying other courses other than IT.
These graduates are found to be deficient in several area of professional practice leading to huge criticisms by employers of labour who had to spend a huge budget to retrain these graduates.
The Federal Government is to be congratulated for the development of National Innovation Institutions because graduates of these new model monotechnics are going to produce full-baked professionals that can stand tall in the ICT professions. From the blow of the whistle in Year 1, core IT components coupled with Mathematics are to be taught.
NBTE will not accredit you if you do not have the required IT tools and manpower. They are very strict unlike university accreditation. For instance we have about 100 new PCS, 35 on the net.
Most of the lecturers apart from possessing B.Sc, M.Sc, M.Eng and PhD are certified members of CPN, BCS, IEEE with other international certifications like MSCSE, OCDBA, CNA etc. It is going to be practical intensive. Our graduates are expected to stand tall as hybrid IT professionals.
We shall ensure that at the end of the two years National Diploma, students who can raise money to do international certifications are certified before they leave. They may decide to continue their lives on their own, work for other organizations or proceed to the university on direct entry to complete their B.Eng, B.Tech, B.Sc, M.Eng, M.Tech, M.Sc and Ph.D.
What would you say about the fate of vocational education in the country today?
The major factor that dampened the spirit of parents sending their wards to Polytechnics and Monotechnics is this so called disparity between HND and B.Sc whereby HND would not reach the appex of GL 17 in the Civil Service of the Federation. Nations are developed via craftsmen and vocational professionals.
Check the history of all developed and emerging developing nations. This is part of why Nigeria is not growing. I do not know if this disparity has now been eliminated. However, since it is possible for a National Diploma holder to proceed to complete B.Eng from the second year, I do not envisage any problem for the graduates of vocational education. But what it will do is to tilt manpower to high level manpower and leave lots of gaps at low and middle level manpower which is not good for the country.
That is why there is structured unemployment in Nigeria today. The Federal Government is trying to address this gap with the new policy on National Innovation Institutions which specialize only in one area to ensure the production of high quality graduates.
What would be the explanation for the death of vocational education in Nigeria? Vocational education will not die because if it dies, there would be a big problem for Nigeria. The so called degree holders cannot do the jobs at middle level manpower unless they hide their degrees, otherwise they would not be employable.
The jobs are done by low and middle level manpower. The universities do not provide such education. Therefore, the Federal Government must do something fast to save vocational education and they are doing that already with the introduction of National Innovation Institutions.
Do you want to believe that 21st century Nigeria does not have needs for such vocational knowledge?
21st Century Nigeria needs more of vocational skills than graduates of paper qualification. Every lover of Nigeria knows this truth.
Are you not disturbed that the teaching of such essential subjects like Shorthand, Typing and Office Practice are entirely phased out from the school system, especially from the High Schools Curricula?
That is short sightedness! You need to observe me work. If you do, you will see that down to earth training in the above areas is necessary to give birth to a really educated and practical professional.
The type of graduates we get these days are not thorough-bred professionals. Some use one finger to type, their production skills are irritating. So why would anybody remove such subjects from the secondary school curriculum? Pitmans and RSA examinations now handled by NABTEB should be encouraged and not thrown away.
Again, writing of external vocational and professional examinations should be encouraged becuase they help to make students struggle to excel. The preponderance of values placed on B.Sc is creating multiple problems leading to parents scampering to get their wards O/L by all means.
There is a serious negative pyche on what the value of education should be and there has to be a new orientations towards the old order. I wrote the RSA, PITMANs, BSC at High School and proceeded to write the final examinations of Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of London, the Institute of Data Processing Management of London and the British Computer Society.
These made my educational development a rock. Interact with me and you will see a difference between me and so called educated people of late 80s to date.We need to go back to the old values when professional qualifications were sought first by employers before academic paper degrees. Unless this happens the educational system and the graduates emanating from there will continue to be weak products.