In this interview with Arise Television, monitored by Vanessa Obioha, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Covenant University, Professor Akan–Bassey Williams, says that the protracted COVID-19 pandemics has produced many positive results in the academic community including getting a set of Covenant University students to produce outstanding solutions to global climatic issues. Excerpts:
From your experience at CU how would you describe the impact of COVID-19 Lockdown on the country’s education sector?
The COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown have further exposed the inadequacies in our fragile education sector in Nigeria. To properly situate this standpoint, how many of our universities are engaged in online teaching and learning? Currently, there are 170 universities in Nigeria, 79 of which are private universities.
Yes! The COVID-19 lockdown has impacted our operations. But for this pandemic, Covenant University has always had an uninterrupted academic calendar from inception in 2002. You can predict us from resumption to convocation. Our students were on holidays after the Alpha (First) Semester examination for the 2019/2020 academic session and were about to resume for the Omega (Second) Semester when a few days to resumption institutions of learning were shutdown.
The lockdown has had impact on the following in many universities:Academic calendar;Face-to-face lectures;For us in Covenant, hosting of our International Visiting Professors has been affected;Inaugural lecture series;Convocation Ceremony and a lot more
We have missed the Covenant students. Recently, we sent a well- packaged video tagged ‘just checking on you’ to our esteemed students. We got very emotional feedbacks from them.
Our faculty and staff are working. A faculty is normally engaged for lectures, research and community service. Our students are engaged in our Moodle Learning Management System (LMS). Arrangements are at advanced stage to ensure that every student has internet access from home. Students have access to lectures, powerpoints, assignments etc. We had an online meeting with the faculty recently, and we got confirmations that many lecturers have covered about 70% of the course contents. Our students are also engaged in the Coursera COVID-19 Initiative where Coursera has unusually given Covenant 10,000 licences for online learning and certification. Our PG students are having their online lectures via Zoom on our Moodle LMS. We are having virtual Thesis/Dissertation defence and seminars.
Research is ongoing in Covenant. There is a research team put in place to seek solution to COVID-19. Most of our faculty and staff stay on campus. We are publishing. God has helped us in Covenant. We do not have any COVID-19 case here.
We are ready to resume academic activities. We have had atleast 3 Senate meetings virtually. We have been having regular virtual Management meetings, committee meetings, faculty/staff meetings. We have a resumption committee in place. We know the expectations and will do the needful. We have hand wash facilities manufactured by our Engineering faculty and technologists. We have distributed sanitizers and facemasks to our faculty and staff.
How would you describe the interventions of the FG working with the organised private sector on the pandemic? Adequate or inadequate?
While appreciating the interventions of the FG, the Central Bank and the organized private sector, I sincerely consider these interventions inadequate. We do not have reliable database in Nigeria. We do not know how many we are in Nigeria. We do not have the basic demography. Palliatives are not distributed based on statistical analysis. However, I see a beacon of hope in the initiative of CBN to SMEs.
What are the major takeaways from the episode so far?
The takeaways are many:
Man is limited. God is supreme and the end is close. We need to seek God with our hearts not with our face.
Health is, indeed, wealth. We need to be alive to do anything. The Nigerian government did not invest appreciably in the healthcare of its citizens. We need to build our healthcare system and reward healthcare workers appropriately.
Students’ learning experience needs to be streamlined. Blended learning (i.e a combination of face-to-face and Open Distance Learning) is the way forward.
Our dependence on crude oil is not self-sustaining; we need to diversify the economy. God has blessed this country with resources and the Raw Materials Development Council has the dossier. We operate the Esau way. We sale our raw crude oil. Other nations refine and sell the processed oil to us at a higher price. We do not tend our garden even when we know that fossil fuel is a finite resource.
From some of the narratives we have had, it is clear that man is wicked.
We have the human resources in Nigeria but the environment is not empowering.
What would you have suggested the government did differently?
Our COVID-19 regulations appear not to apply to everybody the same way. That should change.
Churches are closed but our help is only in God. You do not shut the doors against God, your Helper. In Living Faith Church, for example, we have more than 100 testimonies from COVID-19 infected persons testifying to their cure after engaging in our Online services.
Believe in Nigerian researchers and fund researches.
How would you describe the state of education in the country generally?
Not empowering enough! Not impressive.
From the 2020 University ranking announced by Times Higher Education (THE), only 4 universities from Nigeria are ranked. Namely, Covenant, UI, Unilag and UNN in that order. Thank God for Covenant, we are ranked 400 – 500 bracket, being the best in Nigeria and West Africa and jointly ranked No 4 in Africa.
We are developing other nations with our human resources
A state of emergency should be declared for education: now public primary and secondary schools are meant for the poor; we have decayed infrastructure. I went to a public primary school.
I recall discussing with Prof. Wole Soyinka a few months ago and noted on a lighter mood that he needs to give Nigeria another Nobel Laureate. He is the only Nobel Laureate we have since 1986.
If you were the minister of education what would be your winning strategy?
I will provide leadership by example. Leadership is a serious business because I know as John Maxwell would say that ‘everything rises and falls on leadership’. Our Chancellor, Dr. David Oyedepo says ‘it does not have to be white to be right’.
Blended learning is required in our learning experience. The ODL modalities should be changed. I do not expect NUC to still require a university interested in commencing ODL to start with just a course as provided in the guideline.
2007 BMAS (Benchmark Minimum Academic Standard) is still being used for accreditation. The updated version should be published. The world is moving at a fast pace, we should not be left behind.
There is need to invest heavily in postgraduate studies including regular accreditation of PG courses.
I would build research labs across the geopolitical zones of this country and fund research. We need to change the narrative.
I advocate a lasting town-gown relationship. There are many researches that have been carried out in the universities with the findings on the shelves. Some industries would require the findings for development if there were strong town-gown relationship. In Covenant, town-gown relationship is cultivated. Indeed, a minimum of three town-gown lectures are expected in a semester from each of the academic departments in the university.
TETFUND should be made available to all researchers in public and private universities. The private universities have been driving this for years now. I recall I raised this issue in the meeting of Association of West African Universities in Ghana some years ago and our then Minister of Education was uncomfortable. TETFUND is contributed by the organized private sector. We work in the same country, we eat from the same market. Public universities are ranked together with the private universities. We have money unutilized because people are not taking advantage of the fund. Truth be told, we are comfortable in Covenant. We have funds for research but I am saying this on principle.
Tell us more about SOLUTION 17 project? What motivated it?
Solution 17 for climate action in Covenant University is an initiative of Creative Youth Community Development Initiative (CYCDI) powered by one of our ambassadors. The project was designed to engage young people to produce Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) based solutions that can be implemented locally and are relevant to tackling problems that will clearly accelerate the achievement of the Global Goals by 2030. The project outcome has led to the birth of the “Global Movement Against Climate Crisis”; an initiative that will cause paradigm shift through the development of solutions to human-centered problems in Africa and the world at large. We like to acknowledge the support of THISDAY Group, which will go a long way to boost youth development and the actualization of SDGs
The motivation comes from the challenges the world is facing from climate change. People are suffering from the catastrophic effects of extreme disasters exacerbated by climate change. The earth’s climate has constantly been changing over geological time, with significant fluctuations of global average temperatures. It has become clear that humanity has caused most of the global warming by releasing greenhouse gases via the burning fossil fuels, agriculture and land-use and other activities that drive climate change. Climate change involves not only rising temperatures, but also extreme weather events, rising sea levels, etc. The major driver of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels which has increased the concentration of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
There are many strategies to be adopted, including awareness, to mitigate the effect of climate hence Solution 17 is tailored towards addressing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Incidentally, Covenant is highly ranked in Times Higher Education (THE) Impact ranking focusing on the SDGs.
At the commencement of the project, hundreds of Covenant University students and alumni in May submitted essays on ‘Climate Crisis; A Race We Must Win!’, a topic was later expanded to ‘Lesson Learnt from COVID19 to Fight Climate Crisis” as the outbreak of Covid-19
47 Covenant University qualifiers presented climate action social impact projects and enterprises to a global audience in a virtual live event which began on June 2, 2020. There were screened by Refiners, a team of Judges and mentors. The event ended on June 3, 2020 with the presentation of the 17 Finalists with 17 Ideas, 17 Social Impact Projects, 17 Climate Action Enterprises and 17 SDGs.
Did you ever believe those students could achieve the feat?
Absolutely! I would have been surprised if they did not achieve that. In Covenant, one of our 7 core values is possibility mentality. We say what we mean and mean what we say. We have many talented students and this assertion can be validated at different fronts. In the last few years, our intending students have always been in the top 10 high scoring students in JAMB. Two years ago we had the highest JAMB scorer in Covenant. Recall, in the past administration about 10% of the Winners of the Presidential Special Scholarship Scheme for Innovation and Development (PRESSID) were First Class students from Covenant. For three years running, Covenant graduates are adjudged the most employable graduates in Nigeria. Many of our graduates are entrepreneurs. That is not surprising as Entrepreneurial Development studies is a compulsory course for all students in Covenant from 100L to Ph.D level. Our system is built on a departure philosophy to raise a new generation of leaders. COVID-19 LOCKDOW has brought the best out of our students
Can you share the big picture of the project with us. What happens from the time the finalists were selected?
The 17 Finalists with key members of their team will shortly be admitted for training, project development and sustainable business creation at the Solution 17 Reality Innovation Hub.
The project will train and empower the 17 successful teams to mitigate the effect of climate change.
Later in the year, the 17 climate action enterprises will be presented to world leaders in New York, this will be followed by implementation of pilot projects, product development and massive community engagements. Under the Solution17 Business Model, each participant is expected to train 17 young innovators across Nigeria under the Train-The-Trainer Entrepreneurship Network Marketing (ENM) Module.
The project will complete its last phase this year (2020) with ‘African Youth Summit in Covenant University’, a youth dialogue for global cooperation on ‘The Future We Want’ to commemorate the United Nations 75th anniversary.
What lessons can we pick from the project?
Raising a new generation of leaders is practicable and it is the way to go. In the last 60 years, the continent of Africa has externalized their solution, look away from her strength and concentrate on old solutions to new problem with the same mindset! We are changing the narrative with sustainable interventions, not just for climate crisis, but for other problems that has plagued Nigeria and the rest of the continents.
How can the country tap into the LESSONS?
Nigeria should focus on human resource development and the empowerment of the talents we have. Yes, we can. Let’s task the brain, it will be productive even if it sweats. The future is here.