The trouble with Nigeria’s Education sector – Rector, Federal Polytechnic Ilaro
The Rector, Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, Arc. Olusegun Aluko, recently bared his mind to Uhuru Times about the state of Education in Nigeria and his school, in particular, among other issues:
For now, the Federal Polytechnic Ilaro is the best in Nigeria. How did you get there?
That’s a very difficult one. How did we get there? I would say, one, it is the grace of God; (and) the commitment of our staff to standards. Because (it is) not only standards in teaching or delivery of the curriculum; even morals, because they (lecturers) are supposed to impact on the students. And, what you don’t have, you cannot give. So, I think after the grace of God is the commitment to discipline and the crop of staff that we have in this institution that has made us the best Polytechnic in Nigeria today.
But the same staff have always been here. So, what happened that has brought about these changes?
You see, at any point in time in the life of an organisation, God will raise somebody, who’ll change the narrative. And, I think the success story of Federal Polytechnic Ilaro started about 12 years ago, when my predecessor in office, became the Rector. He is somebody that is highly respected, a visionary leader. He laid a very good foundation, which I am lucky to start building on about 5 years ago. So, I shared his vision, because I’ll say I was part of his administration too. And, it is a common vision that we shared. And, we are following the blueprint, because it was during that time the Polytechnic had its first Strategic Plan for the institution. You know the institution was established in 1979. It was about 12 years ago that we had the first strategic plan. It is a programme of mission and vision for the institution, which all the stakeholders gathered together and said, this is direction that this institution must go. So, God gave him the grace to implement part of it for the first 8 years. Later, I now came in. And, as I said, there was continuity. So, we are following that strategic plan. And, after completing that strategic plan, we have another plan we’ll work with till 2020. So, it is when you have systematic building of ideas, definitely you’ll get there. And, that has been the magic wand.
Let me tell you, one of the mission of that strategic plan is to have a stable academic calendar, and for the past 13 or 14 years, the Federal Polytechnic Ilaro has had a stable academic calendar. We know when we’ll resume. If a student resumes today in Ilaro, he/she knows exactly when he/she is going to graduate because as at today, we already have the academic calendar for 2019 – 2020. So, those students that are coming in, in October, will start their lectures same month, and they know that by the end of July 2020 they are done. So, those are the kind of things that the regulatory agency looked at and said ‘you are the best Polytechnic in the country’.
Let me tell you, we are the only institution that has its convocation every year. Now, the date of our convocation is 5th of October every year, except when it falls on a weekend. That is when it comes before or after. It is only in private universities you find out that when you resume, you know when you are going to graduate. People will start saying, ‘is there no strike in Federal Polytechnic Ilaro’? It is part of the commitment of the staff. And, except it is absolutely necessary, Federal Polytechnic Ilaro will not go on strike. Because apart from taking into cognisance the welfare of the students, we also take care of the welfare of the staff. Those are the things that we all agreed to in the strategic plan, and that is the magic that has been going on here.
In any part of the world, higher institutions are supposed to contribute to the larger society, especially their immediate environment. What has been the contributions of FPI in this regard?
There are so many things we have done to positively impact the society, not only in Ilaro, even outside Ilaro. Let me give you the latest one. We participated in the recent exhibition of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN). We just concluded it last week. And, we were the only Polytechnic that went there with our products. And, as of today, we have orders for the production of fruit juice manufacturing equipment. That was just last week. We know that the future of this country is in Agro-production. And, that is why we focus on manufacturing equipment to support agriculture here. We have manufactured equipment that can process gari without all these messy processes that local people can use. So that when they form groups like that, we just install one for them to take care of their food industry. Apart from that, we have manufactured palm oil processing plant in this polytechnic.
Two, we have even manufactured feed mill lines. All these are there for people to see. The only problem that we are having is that we want to patent these equipment as the products of Federal Polytechnic Ilaro. At the exhibition I mentioned, there were a lot of equipment they wanted to buy from us. But we have not patented them. And once you don’t patent them, it becomes a problem of ‘who is the owner of it?’ Our Electrical Engineering students have produced solar street lights that we can use on the campus. Until we get patronage from the industries, there is little we can do. For instance, we are about mass producing the fruit juice equipment I spoke about earlier because we current have about six orders. There are a lot of things we are doing that the public is not aware of. That is why we capitalised on that exhibition of MAN to showcase what we have, so that they could see that most of the things they are looking for abroad can be done here.
Today, the Deputy Rector is in Lagos. And, the Minister of Science and Technology will be visiting a company, Betamax, to commission the place. And one of the equipment to be commissioned was manufactured in our Mechanical Engineering Department here. It is an equipment that can grind any type of grain and convert them to flour.
For a very long time now, incidents of cultism is very rare, if not non-existing in the Federal Polytechnic Ilaro. What is the secret behind this?
I will always refer back to our strategic plan, because we sat down as a community and agreed that this is the way forward. One of the way forward then was that, when a student sits for an examination the result must come out six weeks later. It is when the result comes out at the appropriate time that students will sit up. But when students write examinations first year, second year and the result is not out, those that are supposed to have left the school having failed, they will still remain on campus causing trouble. Of course, they might have seen individual results, while the cumulative remain. But those who are not serious and have failed will always try to bring others to their level of failure by getting them involved in nefarious activities. So, what did we do? We decided that once a student writes an examination, six weeks after the examination all the results must be out. So, those students that are withdrawn will know their fates and we communicate with their parents and the whole (Polytechnic) community. So, those that are not supposed to be within Ilaro will know. That is one.
Two, where there is no rule, there is no offence. The first thing we do when students resume is that we give you the students’ a handbook, which contains all the rules and regulations of the school. And, we promised ourselves as staff and custodians to be fair and just in our dealings. So, if the son of the Rector violates the rule, he will face the punishment. So, we don’t say because you know somebody you’ll not be punished. No. There are offences you commit here that there is nothing you can do than to just leave our system. For instance, if you are caught fighting, either in the town, school or back home, if you are a student of Federal Polytechnic Ilaro, and you fight anywhere, and it is reported to us, we’ll dismiss you, because it is not in our culture. If you are caught cheating in an examination, you are gone.
Also, we made our students to understand, because 90% of them live outside the campus, that if anybody offends you in the town, come back and report in the school. We’ll not spare them. I’ve taken some people to court for assaulting my students. I insisted they must go to court. And, in the court, they were sentenced. I often use that as a deterrent to let people in the town know that they cannot maltreat our students and get away with it. And, I also told people in the town that once any of our students offends them, they should not attack the person. Instead, we encourage them to report such students. If you report them to us the punishment we’ll give them will be more than whatever you might want to do to them. And they’ve seen examples. For instance, a landlord can report a student. Once we discover the student has misbehaved, we apply the appropriate sanctions. If a landlord is causing problems for our students, we tell the (Polytechnic) community that nobody should rent houses from such landlords. It makes both sides behave. So, we have checks and balances. All of us have agreed that there should be standard decorum in the administration of the institution.
Recently the Director General of the NYSC lamented about the quality of some Nigerian graduates. As the Rector of an institution that has been adjudged as the best Polytechnic in Nigeria, what should be done to improve on the quality of graduates being produced by our higher institutions?
I can say it anywhere that we produce quality graduates in this Polytechnic. The feedback we always get is that, once applicants are called for interviews, products of this school are set aside as exceptional. For instance, if you go to Nestle today, our products are making us proud there. One thing we make sure is that, we agreed as a community that we’ll give our best to these students. If I am going to have any quarrel with a lecturer, delivery of the curriculum will most likely be the issue. Some of them often call me Headmaster. I don’t mind. But I go to classes and make sure that the teachers are there. We have what we call Servicom. I gave Servicom the authority to go round and report any lecturer that is supposed to be on duty and is not. And they submit these reports to me monthly. So, the point is that, we must first of all deliver the curriculum the way it is supposed to be delivered. We are not saying that some students are not bad. But majority of them want to learn. That is why they came here in the first place. You know in this school, we have what we call ‘test week’. During that ‘test week’, every student must be present. And they know the ‘test week’ from the beginning of each semester. We don’t allow this indiscriminate administration of tests. We have tutorial classes. That was the way we were taught too. After lectures, we have tutorials. So, let’s revert back to the old ways of teaching. Don’t let us lose our focus.
For example, if you go on strike now for six weeks, you come back and want to meet deadline, the work of six weeks, you come and do it in two or three weeks, and you say the students are not good. Let us play our roles first. Give the students what you are supposed to give them. And, in this part of our country, especially Ilaro area, we have this problem of electricity supply. But you find out that in FPI, we ensure that our students have electricity to deliver the curriculum to them, especially their practicals. That is the only thing you can give to them. I often tell my staff that the students you did not teach properly might be the ones that will teach your children or grandchildren. So, you better do it well, so that your offsprings will be taught very well. Apart from teaching them very well, we also created a conducive environment for them to learn. I can tell you that in Ilaro now, a female student can walk round this campus at 10 in the night and nobody will harass her. She can stay in the classroom and read till any time she pleases. Nobody will harass her. If she forgets her phone, the security men will pick it and get the owner. That is the level we are here. The environment is very conducive for learning.
Then, you know, as a Polytechnic, we have competitors. We have external and internal competitors among other things to take care of. We worked through all these and asked ourselves, how can we have comparative advantage over our competitors? The answer was, practical. That is why anywhere I go I am proud to say it that, bring a university graduate and bring any of my students. Let them go to the field. As an employer, you are free to pick. Because we are sure that, we have given these students what is needed to be given. As of now, about 40 of my staff in Engineering have been on training for the past one week. The person that is training them is from Germany. I am paying for the training. They are being trained on the latest equipment in their respective fields. So, tell me, how will my students not excel in the area of Engineering? So, those are the kind of things that we do. I just read somewhere last week that the NUC will soon be organising training for staff by taking them to industries. We have been doing it for a very long time. We always send our staff out for IT, just as their students, so that when they come back here, they perform better.
In the case of Nigeria, how do we get out of the problem?
The problem with our educational system, nobody can say this is where the problem is. But I want to tell you one thing, in terms of curriculum, the curriculum of Nigerian education is very rich. But there are certain things everybody must do. There should be sacrifice on the part of the lecturers. Sacrifice on the part of the parents. And, sacrifice on the part of the students. No matter what Government will put in there, if you don’t have lecturers that are ready to make sacrifice, we’ll not get anywhere. If we don’t get parents that are ready to encourage and sponsor their children, we can never get there. Because there are some departments that need additional support from the parents in terms of equipment that the students would use. Because some of them will need laptops to continue to function very well. But you discover that most of them do not have it. The parents cannot afford it. And there is no way Government will be able to provide iPad or laptops for students.
Secondly, we have conventional universities. We have universities of Technology. We have universities of Agriculture. And, we have Polytechnics. Until the current Administration in Nigeria came, all of them had lost focus. You go to a university of Agriculture all departments are either Accountancy or Estate Management. They’ve lost focus. But when this Administration came, it directed all of them to revert back to their original mandate. The Polytechnic, especially should come back to what they were meant for. Let me give you an example. If you look at the SMEs, furniture manufacturing companies, automobile companies, in the olden days, they were established by Polytechnic graduates. I remember my great uncle in Kaduna, he just had a Diploma in Carpentry, and he had one of the best furniture companies in Kaduna at the time.
But now, a Polytechnic graduate of Carpentry cannot even construct a chair talk less of being an entrepreneur. Because, we’ve lost focus. And that is what we are bringing back here in Ilaro. We are returning everybody back to the original masterplan of the Polytechnic. You have a mechanical engineer that cannot even drive a car, not to talk of repairing it. We are the only higher institution in Nigeria that has a driving school. You have marketer that cannot drive a car. Who will employ you and give you a driver? It is not possible. Even if you have the best of of qualifications, you need to go out. Will the company now hire a driver for you out of your salary? But if you have that skill, it is an addition. So, we make sure that what are the things that our students will need to function in the industry.