Among the challenges Dr Ademola Azeez is grappling with as the provost of the Federal College of Education, Technical, Akoka, Yaba, is staff attrition, as many professionals are leaving the country for greener pastures abroad to the detriment of the system. He said the government can curb brain drain by having a database of graduates, just as he highlighted his achievements in office so far and other issues affecting teacher education. Uchechukwu Nnaike reports
In May 2019, when he assumed office as the Provost, Federal College of Education, Technical, Akoka, Yaba, Dr Ademola Azeez sought to fulfil the founding fathers’ dreams to fill the gap in technical and vocational needs of the country.
This, he said, would enable the graduates to not only teach but also be skillfully engaged anywhere they are employed. Or they can decide to establish their own businesses.
Azeez pursued this goal with vigour by strengthening the college’s academic programmes to ensure that most of its departments are better equipped and that lecturers and instructors are given adequate support in terms of teaching and learning facilities and materials.
“That is why we focus on also developing the infrastructure of the college because, without infrastructure, there is little or nothing a lecturer can do. We need to also use these infrastructural facilities to enhance teaching and learning so that students can benefit maximally,” he said.
According to him, he ensured that infrastructure are evenly distributed among the five schools.
The vision also led to the establishment of the Centre for Vocational, Technical and Entrepreneurship Development (CEVTED), where all students are mandated to register for any entrepreneurial skill of their choice, which is different from the normal academic programme.
“Whether you are a science or business education student, you must go to that centre to offer a course. And what we do is that we don’t rely on lecturers from the college,” he explained. “We are relying on established instructors from outside who have their own workshops, offices and equipment. We invite them. It’s not really based on an acquisition of paper certificates, but the acquisition of practical skills, and there is a long list of courses they do there.”
He said initially, it started as a non-credit programme (practical 80:20 theory).
“They’ve been doing it, and they are in the 300 level now. Many of them have been practising what they have learnt there, and they are making money with it. It’s also an aspect that I feel should be keyed into the establishment of the colleges of education (technical),” Azeez said.
Considering the cost of equipment for technical and vocational education, the provost said since he assumed office, he has made efforts to overhaul the obsolete equipment in studios and workshops to meet the requirements of running NCE and degree in vocational and technical and science education.
“Fortunately for us, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has been wonderful. If not for TETFund, I don’t know where our higher institutions would have been today. We have been getting our funding from TETFund majorly, especially for the procurement of equipment,” noted the provost. “What we do is allocate a substantial part of that funding for teaching and learning equipment, which are also distributed to various departments.”
He desires to make every school have a new infrastructure where students can learn better regarding skills acquisition.
“We have technical workshops, we have a new science laboratory; we also have new studios in Agriculture and Fine Arts. We also have a new auditorium/lecture theatre because the students also need a comfortable place to study,” Azeez stressed, pointing out that it may be in private universities “that you see students taking lectures in air-conditioned rooms.”
He added, “When we were in universities in those days, we used to sit in air-conditioned lecture rooms. We are bringing back that tradition to the college so that any student that passes through this place either for NCE or degree will be happy that he or she attended this institution.”
For private sector involvement, Azeez said he established the Centre for Endowment Development Advancement and Alumni Relations (CEDAR), a directorate that liaises with entrepreneurs, private organisations and others.
“We’re relying on the fact that the college has goodwill; we have tried to attract many of our alumni scattered all over the place to come and do something for their alma mater,” stated the college provost. “As we are also preparing for our convocation on April 26 and 27, we hope that many of them will also be here to support the college. We are hopeful that such support will come because the alumni who have been coming around have seen what we have been able to do with the little resources we have. If we are to be a fully degree-awarding institution, we would have got better funding.”
Despite his efforts to reposition the college, the provost decried the staff attrition rate.
“For the past two years now, there is no month that my staff don’t resign for one thing or the other, both in academics and administration. They are going for greener pasture,” said Azeez. “Until we are able to value those we have trained; after their training, they must be catered for in terms of remuneration.”
He said the government should have a database of its graduates to address Nigeria’s brain drain.
“If someone is applying for a visa, from the database, you would be able to know that this is a Nigerian. Where does he work? If he wants to go for further studies or something else you would be able to know. So, if he’s travelling abroad for this thing, on record, you would be able to ask how many years he is spending,” the provost explained. “What is he going there for? “If he has just finished school and he is going abroad, the government must be interested in where he is going and what he is going there to do; because that person that wants to travel abroad has been trained by the state, with taxpayers’ money.”
According to him, there is no database.
“When someone graduates, he leaves. Somebody who was even given maybe student loan, there is no record. Nothing. We need that database,” Azeez said.
He said he is trying not to let the system collapse, adding that the college needs staff/lecturers in all departments.
“And the staff are not only resigning, some are also retiring; some even died; and for the past three years, there has been an embargo on employment. You cannot employ a single soul now without the head of service’s approval. We have made presentations even to the National Assembly,” stated the college provost.
Azeez stated that close to four years now, “I can’t boast that I have employed two or three staff -even though the law allows me to employ certain categories of staff without even going to the council,” explaining that after six months, “then I can now present them to the council. But since the introduction of IPPIS, the story has changed.”
He further stated, “We learnt that the embargo had been lifted now, and our college has been pursuing it to make sure that before I even finish my first tenure, let me even employ few staff. In the past three years, about three senior lecturers have retired. As big as this college is now, in academics, we don’t have more than one or two assistant lecturers. And these are the staff that should come in from that level. You would get to a department, maybe the least lecturer there is a senior lecturer. We hope that things would change.”
Commenting on parents’ apathy to colleges of education, the provost said no parent wants his or her child to go for the least educational programme in a higher institution.
“If you look at the requirements, it’s the same five O’level results that an NCE student possesses that a university undergraduate also possesses. So if you go for JAMB and you score maybe 180 and above, and you’re given admission to the university, you prefer that to the college of education where you will spend three years for the NCE programme (though we’ve been trying to also change that),” said Azeez. “You go for three years for NCE and later another three years, making six years. Somebody in the university would have spent those six years to read medicine – even though ultimately, if Nigeria is able to appreciate teacher education, it’s good for the system.”
He said the sad story is that even after spending six years, many NCE graduates are just roaming about the streets, being exploited by private institutions/schools that are not paying them well because there is no serious policy on the ground.
He, therefore, called for a system that works and appreciates and values labour, whether practical or intellectual.
“I don’t expect to find a university graduate teaching in primary school or junior secondary school, it should be NCE graduate because they are trained for that purpose; they have the temperament. As a PhD holder, you can’t ask me to go and be teaching in primary school. I don’t have the temperament. So, people working at that level are meant to be paid well because they are professionals. We need to be paying teachers and other professionals very well,” Azeez said.
He argued that education in Nigeria is highly subsidised by the government, but it is not properly coordinated for people to get value for it.
“For example, after training medical students here for six, seven years, they start work, there is no programme on the ground before you know it, they are taken away abroad. An average person cannot train his or her child to read medicine abroad. He must be somebody of a higher class; to train a candidate for medicine or any other professional courses. There must be a programme on the ground to ensure that doctors hardly leave the country, and they must be made to sign an undertaking that if they finish the programme, in the next five years they cannot travel anywhere.”
Highlighting the projects executed by his administration, the college provost said most of them are either being completed or nearing completion.
“I initiated the construction of the technical education workshop, a new structure that is more than 90 per cent completed now. I also initiated the School of Science laboratories for all the departments in the School of Science. We have the Physics Education Department laboratory, Chemistry Education Department lab, Integrated Science lab, Biology lab and the Computer Education lab,” Azeez stated. “They are completed now. I also initiated the construction of a 500-capacity lecture theatre, the first of its kind in the college. It’s been completed and has been handed over to us by the contractor.”
He also revealed that he initiated the construction of infrastructure for Fine Arts and Agric Education in the School of Vocational Education, about 90 per cent completed. Azeez also mentioned that he initiated the “Student Activity Centre,” the first in the college.
“It’s TETFund-funded. It’s completed now. We are also renovating the auditorium of the School of Education. We have also constructed a new office block for the lecturers there,” said Azeez.
On programme accreditation, he said since he assumed office, the college has conducted accreditation for its NCE and degree programmes, affiliated with the University of Benin.
“Most of our programmes have been fully accredited. Those that were given interim accreditation before I came in, we made sure we got full accreditation,” he explained. “You know accreditation is usually every five years. All the programmes were not given accreditation at the same time. Maybe this year, we may have one or two programmes.”
Apart from staff attrition, he said funding is another major challenge, adding that there are many things the college needs to do, especially in terms of infrastructure. But it is not able to meet up because of lack of funding.