Achankeng: Way Forward for Nigeria’s Education System

Faunkem Achankeng, a Conflict Analysis and Resolution professor from the University of Wisconsin, on sabbatical at Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun, in this interview with Funmi Ogundare, says leadership will have meaning if people’s lives are impacted positively. He said if Nigeria expects to be counted as a world leader, its education must change with the times

Why did you choose Babcock for your sabbatical?

As a faculty member from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, an institution where excellence and opportunity meet, I chose Babcock for my sabbatical because of my admiration for Babcock University for its focus in upholding a cutting-edge excellence in education. My desire to come to Babcock began after my contact at the University of Texas at Austin for the Africa and​ African Diaspora Conference with Professor OlaJumoke Yacob-Haliso, then Dean of the Adeleke School of Social Sciences. That desire was further strengthened when I first visited Babcock in the summer of 2019 for the Toyin Falola Africa Conference (TOFAC) of that year. Since then, I made up my mind to explore the sabbatical opportunity. Fortunately, both the University of Wisconsin and Babcock University approved my sabbatical application.

How would you compare education at the University of Wisconsin and Babcock?

I am very proud of Babcock and Nigerian education as a whole. I am a product of Nigerian education. I took my undergraduate degree (with a first-class honours) from the University of Benin under Vice-Chancellor Adamu Baike in Benin City, the university President Shehu Shagari referred to as UNIBEST in the early 1980s.​ I am very proud and, indeed, indebted to Nigerian education. This said, I must state that there are more similarities and obvious differences between the two universities. Even in Nigeria, I believe no two universities are the same, but I also​ believe deep down in my heart that the ultimate goals of both institutions are the same, namely; to mould individual students for the world today and tomorrow. First, we have to understand that comparing Babcock University and the University of Wisconsin is not the point;​ these are two different worlds. I would rather concentrate on the uniqueness of the values that both institutions hold and how both can benefit from each other working together to build a better world. I also believe both universities believe in grooming good citizens, and responsible and respectable leaders for our respective communities and the world as a global village. Both universities already produce great students with a global standing like the two Babcock students I learned, Caleb Adeniga and Joel Omoroje, who produced an e-commerce application (Trazumi) to cater for multiple vendors. My presence in Babcock is to explore the opportunities here.​

My mission here is to learn from the rich endowment of Babcock and to understand more from the Nigerian culture that groomed me in my earlier years to be who I am today. My mission is to see how I can bring my learning here back to Wisconsin to help me to be a better teacher to my students there and a better community member at the University of Wisconsin. Further, my presence here is to learn from this difference. I am learning already and although I have spent only two months here, I have learned a lot and particularly the sense of humility that I see all around me in Babcock University. I hope as I learn, I will also impact the students and colleagues here at Babcock University.

How will you impact the Babcock community with your wealth of experience?

As a student of peace and conflicts, my sabbatical focus is in trying to understand how the people of this world can get beyond speaking about peace to actually making the peace happen. In addition to a book project on the peace discourses that animate world community leaders, I am also editing a few other books, and reviewing articles on request from journals across the world as well as evaluating PhD dissertations at some foreign universities as external assessor. These different projects keep me pretty busy, and I hope I can tap on the knowledge of my Babcock colleagues and students and we can work together and publish more.

You have won several research awards. What do you hope to do differently to impact lecturers at the university?

As I indicated in my answer to one of your earlier questions, I hope my sabbatical stay in Babcock will be impactful to those colleagues and in the Political Science and Public Administration with whom I interact regularly. I am opening up my work to them and partnering with some to write and publish hoping that such publications will be here several years after I leave. I also hope, as I stated earlier, that I can tap on the knowledge and experiences of my Babcock colleagues and students such that we can impact the academic world together through our published works. Let me restate that I came to Babcock University to learn. It is an opportunity to benefit from the wealth of knowledge I saw here when I first visited Babcock for the Toyin Falola Africa Conference in 2019 where I served as Banquet Chair. I want to continue to use such learning to grow as a professional. Since I view teaching and learning as synonymous, I hope as I learn from Babcock, Babcock will also learn from me.

How do you see Nigerian education and what is the way forward?

I think I addressed the question of my view of Nigerian education earlier when I indicated that I am myself a product of Nigerian education from my undergraduate days at the University of Benin in Benin City. In thinking about the way forward, western education and university institutions came to Nigeria very early. In terms of western education, the University of Ibadan is one of the earliest institutions of higher learning in Africa. That pioneering example brought along a series of other universities in my time here. I returned to find out that several other new universities have been opened and many more may follow. All I can say is that Ibadan and the earlier universities were outstanding in their time. Today, those earlier universities provide some of the best professors one finds all across Africa and the world at large. One of the world’s most renowned professors I know today, Prof Toyin Falola, at the University of Texas at Austin, is a product of the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Time changes and the world is changing. Nigerian education must be changing with the times and the world if Nigeria expects to remain in the leadership of Africa and be counted as a world leader. In stating these facts, I am cognizant that education is the backbone of every society.​

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