The Rector, Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi-Uku, Dr. (Mrs) Edna Nneka Mogekwu, in this interview with KOLA NIYI-EKE, speaks about the effort to transform the polytechnic into a high class institution.
How would compare the standard of education in the old days and what obtains now?
It depends on what you mean by old days; you should have given a specific period. From what I am can see from the time I was in school till now, there is a gap and you should also know that there are environmental changes now compared to the past. In the past, people were not glued to the internet system, they depended more on classroom teaching and home training. But a lot of learning is just going to the internet; you may even be downloading rubbish.
At what point did we miss the track?
I think when we started having all these military regimes, things just went bad, politically, economically and socially, including education. I think education suffered the most because it took the nation time to start being on our feet again and at that point in time, remember there was a time they were saying that you have to line up to collect essential commodity.
During this period, people were really talking about survival; major attention to even education or anything like that was dead. It was from that time that education really started collapsing; the educational system was destabilised because if you look at the military style, it was not part of their agenda; they were trained or they learnt how to kill and guard. That is the period I can tell you we started suffering educationally.
Then how do we correct this error?
We are already on it now. With democracy, things are improving. When did we start having the handset? Things are gradually improving now but you know it is easier to destroy than to build. Things are coming up gradually; your child can teach you how to operate the computer, it may take you longer time than it will take a 12-year-old to operate the computer.
But that again is not what we are talking about now: we are talking about the reading culture; we are talking about learning to survive; we are talking about putting what you have learned into practice, be self employed without having to depend on anybody. But you find out that graduates of these days are very theoretical - they are theory-based. For your education to be meaningful, you have to put your theory into practice. In the old days, they were very serious.
Somebody with the Cambridge University, the former WAEC equivalent of those days, speaks better English than the graduate of these days because at that time anyway, we were using the British syllabus and things were very strictly done. There were rules and regulations in teaching which we complied with. In many institutions these days, we do not even have attendance register.
Some lecturers/teachers do not even know how to mark it; whether students attend lectures or not is not even taken seriously. Even though we have continuous assessment, still it does not help the situation.
It is obvious we have a very great challenge on our hands. What are you doing here as an education administrator to improve the standard in this institution?
We are studying the modes of admission now. We are studying the standard, quality and qualifications of the academic staff. If the federal and state governments and the NBTE have listed the minimum admission standard; it is our duty to comply with that standard. So right now, the management and the academic board here are trying to make sure that we comply with those minimum admission standards.
Secondly, the Governing Board ordered the concept of 'operation show your certificate'; we want to verify certificates to make sure that only qualified teachers are the ones teaching the students. These are our efforts so far.
What has been your greatest challenge on this job?
The greatest challenge is when arsonists burnt our Records Department because I found it to be distracting; I didn't like it. I met other challenges here, for example, there are no structures on ground, no facilities and the students are reading with discomfort. And being someone who read in a very comfortable environment, I am not very comfortable seeing students studying in the present condition. It is a very big challenge to me and the management.
With this critical challenge of lack of structures in existing polytechnics, do you welcome the plan by the state government to establish four new ones?
I can't speak for the state government because I don't know what their intentions are. But if you truly want my honest opinion, I feel it will be added burden because, for me, it might be one too many. Like I said, maybe they have reasons which we don't know.
What is the admission capacity of the institution and what measures are you putting in place to ensure that the number is not exceeded?
Well, from the latest information I have, the admission capacity is 12,800 students at the moment. We want to first of all standardize the admission requirements by taking the best students - no more emotional admission. Apart from taking the best, we want to minimize exam malpractices, because, sometimes, when you take people based on emotion, they may not complete the programme or they may be tempted to commit exam fraud. Now we are online and, you know, we are the first polytechnic around here to go online for our post-UTME exam.
So from that, based on our cut-off, we are going to take the best. Not that we are discriminating, but if we have to standardize, it means we can only take the best that we can accommodate according to our facilities. But if we leave it just open, we can get up to 15,000 but we have to call a spade a spade. We are giving them the best by standardizing it. For those going to miracle centres for WAEC and UTME exams, the post-UTME will give them up because it will be properly supervised.
Another challenge is the pressure from politicians interceding on behalf of students seeking admission with lower scores...
... I have said earlier that the admission we going to have now is no more based on emotion. The procedures laid down by NBTE who is the supervising body of all polytechnics in Nigeria, there are policies laid down by the federal and state governments, you find out that the number one policy there is that you must have a minimum of five credits, English and Mathematics compulsory. You must also sit for the UMTE and beat the cut-off mark.
We are going to observe these rules in the admission process to the extent that even if my son does meet up to these requirements, I won't admit him. So if anybody that knows the rules and wants to violate same, I think our job is to let them know in a very polite manner that the rules must be followed.
How is your administration coping with the issue of cultism?
Everybody is worried. You know if you have a problem, you have to know the root causes of that problem, how do we curb it? What I mean is that they are not under our supervision after lectures because we don't have hostels. If there are hostels, I would be able to tell you this is what we are doing.
They rent houses outside and it is their private houses. Anything you do now to go check them, you are invading their privacy. If you want to check cultism among students, the best thing is to get them into the hostels and ensure they obey the rules and regulations. Like that, it will be easier for us to monitor them.
Are there plans by the state government to build hostels?
They are planning it because if we have hostels, for instance, it will curtail a lot of street gangsterism. You know, these armed robberies and kidnappings are from youths on the streets. If we can get them in, that would help.
That is why we are eager to develop the polytechnic here at Ogwashi-Uku; if we can bring in more structures, get the youths of the streets, get hostels for boys and girls, have junior and senior staff quarters, have standard library and recreational facilities - everything here, the youth would be less exposed to city life; they would be less exposed to temptation.
By the time they finish all the academic programmes, they will be tired, they will show little interest in city life. But right now they are in the middle of it, their parents are not there and nobody is watching.
In other words, nobody has been expelled or suspended for cultism and other related crimes in the past one year in this institution?
Maybe the police are doing that, but here the students are behaving themselves. They do it outside like I told you, but within here we have not been able to catch anybody because the environment is not conducive for them to openly do it.
Are you getting the maximum cooperation from the state government, particularly in respect to funding?
I have no problem with the state government. I am getting maximum cooperation. I am in fact encouraged. They cannot give what they are not supposed to give me. It is what is due that they are supposed to give me. The state has three polytechnics and that means that what they are supposed to give to one, three will have to share. What is there is which way forward, how much do we have to depend on them? This means we have to find legal ways of bringing in IGR to complement the effort of the state government.
What is the state of the part-time programme of the institution?
That is one thing I have to correct everybody that cares to listen is there is never a part-time; it was just a wrong nomenclature. It is morning session and afternoon session. The afternoon session has been wrongly called part-time. The advantages of the correction are many; number one, we will now bring in HND for the afternoon session. Before now it was only National Diploma (ND). If you are producing 5,000 ND a year, for instance, who is going to take them in for Higher National Diploma (HND)?
So with the correction now, we have vacancy for HND for the afternoon session. You also know that HND students pay more than the ND, which means the IGR will also go up. If you call it part-time, HND graduates from the programme cannot go for NYSC, but now they would graduate and go for NYSC and we will absorb our ND graduates. At best, it will reduce running cost by about 45% while the IGR is expected to go up. Then it will standardize the quality of our learning process here because everything will now be based on capacity building.
Have you also considered weekend programmes for the working class?
We don't want to over-do things given the limitations of the facilities. The academic staff will be over-worked if we introduce weekend programme. Weekend programme will distract us from focusing on standard and quality. Apart from the fact that the facilities are not available, lecturers that teach from Monday will have to continue till Saturday - they will over-worked and they would not have time for self development.
For now this is a young polytechnic, we are not in a hurry to do the wrong thing. If we take off on a solid ground, we will move faster. In fact, we are at an advantage to even compete with ivory league ones like Kaduna Polytechnic, IMT, Auchi Polytechnic and the rest of them. This is because the mistakes they made, we are not going to make them; we will use them as guiding principles. Such mistakes like over-admission, over-population, over-working of staff would be avoided.
So the weekend programme is on hold for now until the facilities and teaching resources are on ground. Right now, they are not there and we don't want to let IGR dent the future of our children; otherwise they will come in and go out with nothing. We are here to give them something; they are the hope of this state and hope of the future. My dream is to make sure they are confident when they graduate either with ND or HND.
What is your advice for the coming generation?
They should go into the field that they are interested in. Many of them want to become doctors because their parents are medical doctors or lawyers. They want to go where they can make money; I think they shouldn't do that. They should go areas of their interest and they will make it to the top.
Is this job very tasking? How do you unwind and how do you cope with the family pressure?
It is not tasking because I have been in it for 27 years and I have done harder jobs than this; there is nothing tasking in it. I don't carry my official duties home; I treat all my files in the office before I go home and I go home with nothing. And when I am home, it is my family, myself and my friends,
You said you have been on the job for 27 years, where were you before your appointment as Rector of this polytechnic?
I was in the biggest polytechnic in south of Sahara - Kaduna Polytechnic. I was many things there - as Head of Department, as Dean and as Academic Director. We have five colleges and mine stood out as the biggest in terms of student population and programmes.