Driving Change in Nigerian Varsities through ETT

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Uchechukwu Nnaike

As part of efforts to transform the curriculum and teaching methods in Nigerian universities, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Total Upstream Nigeria Limited, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have been engaged in the Empowering the Teachers (ETT) programme since 2010.

The ETT was designed to enable outstanding young Nigerian faculty in science and engineering to collaborate with faculty at MIT in developing new curriculum and teaching methods that adopt MIT’s emphasis on problem solving approach and developing entrepreneurial attitudes among students.

The programme, which started with eight fellows, currently has over 50 fellows spread across several universities in the country.

Speaking at a one-day ETT summit with the theme ‘Convergence of Change Agents: 5 Years of Inspiring Innovation’ in Lagos recently, the Managing Director, Total, Mr. Nicolas Terraz, stated that the fellows have become change agents, satisfying the intent of the programme.
According to him, one of the best ways to support and transform the local economy is through capacity building, adding that the country needs a critical mass of skilled people to support its industrailisation efforts.

While congratulating the fellows, Terraz reminded them that they have an important task on their hands. “You have been designated as change agents. It is by no means going to be easy as you may have some bureaucracies to contend with. However a lot is expected from you, we have gathered you to build a strong network of change. I understand most of you are already actively engaged in research. The company will support good innovations that you may come up with.”

In his remarks, the Group General Manager, National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), Mr. Dafe Sajebor, noted that one of the major challenges facing inclusive development of Nigeria is the technological deficiency in the education sector, which has negatively affected the quality/performance of graduates from Nigerian universities.

“More worrisome is the non-dynamic nature of the curricula of the science and engineering faculties, which leaves most graduates behind the modern global trends and standards.”
While commending NNPC/Total and MIT for the initiative, he said having sponsored about 50 fellows to MIT, it has become imperative to convene the summit to assess the impact the programme has made on Nigerian universities.

While maintaining that the provision of quality education requires the collective efforts of all, he urged the fellows to reciprocate the gesture of NNPC/Total and its partners by demonstrating high business and ethical standards in the discharge of their roles as change agents.
Sharing his experience, a fellow Dr. Victor Odumuyiwa of the Department of Computer Science, University of Lagos, who was a fellow in 2013, described it as an awesome experience.
Though he had a European experience during his PhD days, he said going to MIT is not the same as studying in Europe. “When I got there I saw how students are being prepared when they enter the classroom to do a course, they enter like novices and after the course, they come out like experts.

“Seeing how they were able to do it, the teaching methods, the kind of evaluation they do, the kind of projects they work on, it changed my orientation in terms of how to set expectations for students and when you set the right expectations for students and you create a process and put them through the process with the expectation set at the end of the day you will get the result. It is working because I am applying the same principle.”

He said the fellows are meant to be change agents and mentor others around them; rob off on their colleagues even senior colleagues and that is what they are doing.

He noted that foreign lecturers are more committed to excellence than their Nigerian counterparts. “If you are not committed to excellence you will find it difficult even when you are given the right method to apply. They take time to ensure that when training students it is not just about going to class and giving lectures, assignments and projects, but then they go through those things and give feedback to the students and even design assignments and projects that are relevant to what they will see in the industries.

“We are training students to be problem solvers that can be entrepreneurs and that can also be intrapreneurs even beyond what the industry wants, we not only want them to be fit for the industry, but even be able to change the industry.”