Friday, January 16, 2009

Reflections on essence of university education in human development

BEING the address delivered by Dr. Goke Adegoroye, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education on behalf of the Visitor, The President, Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of The Federal Republic of Nigeria, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, GCFR, on the occasion of the 36th Convocation Ceremony of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria on Saturday, 20th December, 2008.


IT is my pleasure to address this gathering at this occasion of the 36th Convocation Ceremony of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. I note with delight that the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Ms. Amal Pepple and a number of my Permanent Secretaries, including the Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Education, Dr. Goke Adegoroye, who is representing me here today, are products of this University. There are countless others in government appointed positioIns and in the private sector, all doing outstanding work in diverse areas of human endeavour. Accordingly, this is one university that is "Great", not in name only, but in the quality of its products whose contributions to national development have been so remarkable that you cannot but doff your hat to this institution as a truly Great citadel of higher learning.

I wish to congratulate His Royal Majesty, Alhaji Abdulmumini Kabir Usman, the Emir of Katsina who was earlier in this ceremony installed the new Chancellor of this great University. Your Royal Majesty, this is a distinct honour, and we pray that the Almighty Allah will mercifully grant you the grace to impact upon this University your amiable endowments, for its advancement to greater heights.

I also congratulate my brother President, His Excellency, Dr. Thomas Boni Yayi, the President of the Republic of Benin, who was conferred with the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in Political Economics. The honour is an acknowledgement of your contributions to the cause of humanity, particularly in the West African sub-region. I have no doubt this recognition will further forster the fraternal bond between our two peoples and advance the cause of the development of our two Nations.

I have noted the strides being made in this University. For this year, in particular, I note the performance of the Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE), who for the second year, have represented our great country enviably in SIFE global competitions. When viewed against the numerous challenges facing our universities, these types of achievements are commendable. I also commend the Vice-Chancellor and his Principal Officers for their efforts in ensuring normalization of the university academic calendar and also for the various initiatives that he has embarked upon to mobilize funding support for this university. The Lecture Theatre and the lift (Elevator) earlier commissioned during this Convocation are the result of some of these initiatives.

Your Excellencies, Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Graduands, Ladies and Gentlemen; In the tradition of our university system, as President and Head of State of Nigeria, I occupy the ceremonial position of Visitor to all our Federal Universities. Accordingly, at every Convocation of each of these Universities, I am duty-bound to make a statement. On receipt of the Convocation notification and formal invitation to today's Convocation of the Obafemi Awolowo University, I noted a number of important points:

(i) First, this University is situated in Ile-Ife the cradle and epicenter of the Yoruba race;

(ii) Second, the Convocation itself is taking place in a Hall named after Oduduwa the progenitor of the Yoruba race;

(iii) Third, over the years this University has stood out both in the quality of its products and the courage that its members have displayed in contributing to public discourse; and

(iii) Four, today's convocation is the last in the National Universities Commission's calendar of Federal Universities convocation, and it falls on the last Saturday before the Christian festivities of Christmas.

Arising from these four important points, this Convocation, in terms of the venue and timing, offers itself as the most appropriate platform and point to reflect on the very essence of education and, in particular the university as an institution, in human development so that we all can wake up to a new Year in 2009 in a new frame of mind and commitment to what we must jointly do to address the challenges that face us as a nation in a globalized world. In this regard, therefore, Mr. Vice-Chancellor, I take you as the point of contact, not only with your fellow Vice-Chancellors but with all other heads of educational institutions, public and private, great and small; from tertiary through secondary to the basic, in this overall reflection on our educational system and the charges arising therefrom which, later in this address, I shall pass to all of you.

Over the past 18 months of my Administration, I have noticed that in the course of my performing the role of Visitor, certificates, particularly the first degree certificates and Diplomas are presented to graduands with the usual statement of conviction of having been "found worthy in learning and character". I recall that the same statement proceeded my being handed my own certificate when I graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University some 33 years ago. I invite everyone in this congregation to now take this statement again and ponder why in spite of our citadels of higher education's conviction of producing graduates who have been found worthy in learning and character the human society, including ours in particular, continues to face the myrids of challenges that now beset us. What percentage does character contribute in the award of the Certificate? Who imparted it and how was it assessed in the course of the student's programme of studies?

Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Members of the University Senate, Honorary Graduands, Graduands, Ladies and Gentlemen; At no time in human history has the human society faced as many challenges as what we face today. The past 200 years, spanning the industrial revolution and the post world war quest for development have left in their wake not only such grave environmental consequences as global warming but socio-economic challenges that manifest as endemic poverty and cleavage between rich and poor. Arising from the challenges of globalization and interconnectivity are the larger accident of artificial systems and the very recent yet-to-abated rattling of the global financial system. There are, yet still, the modern evils of terrorism, drug and human traffic, cyber crime and the mega city problems of solitude, suicide, etc.

Scientists, social scientists and philosophers are all in agreement that these challenges combined can obliterate the human society from the face of the earth. But they are also in equal agreement that the key to the survival of human society lies in the appreciation of, not only the concept but, both the genuine pursuit of knowledge and the deployment of strategies that promote the principle of sustainable development.

This calls for the overhaul of the world's socio-economic systems as well as efforts at the national and individual levels aimed at transforming, not only knowledge, but the way we think and relate to one another, the skills we emphasize to be acquired and deployed to the society, as well as our values, attitudes and lifestyles. What we need are fundamental changes in the quality, type, orientation and focus of the education we place at the disposal of the society to drive development.

It was Albert Einstein who said that no problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it and that a new way of thinking is required to solve such a problem. As a former teacher now in governance, with the benefit of the appreciation of education within the vortex of the overall national yearning for development, I am beginning to appreciate that the difficulty of the direct impact of education to development comes largely from too much separated systems of knowledge and knowledge creation.

The orthodox education that the whole world has relied upon over the last two centuries is yet to achieve a good balance between knowledge acquisition and the appreciation and consequent internalization of human values, including respect for the environment, in the pursuit of development. There is excessive disciplinization of knowledge. Arising from this, the choices that orthodox education has so far placed at the disposal of our students have compelled them to study such disciplines as Chemistry, Physics, Architecture, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, English, French, Spanish, Yoruba, Hausa, etc. These disciplines address single and fractionalized issues and hardly allows their products to think out of the box. This is in contradistinction to the realities of the larger society where the challenges and issues are inherently inter-disciplinary and hence require a holistic approach.

Disciplinisation therefore has robbed humanity the benefit of appreciating and deploying knowledge within the holistic and inter-disciplinary practical approach of, close to life, problem solving, values-driven, respect for others, local relevance and participatory decision-making as well as providing a wide range of skills, including critical thinking and questioning skills and learning about and from the environment. In other words, acquisition of sheer knowledge alone is not enough to address sustainable development. We need the infusion of skills, attitude and values.

Chancellor, For Learning and Culture is the motto of this great University. How far has the university gone in ensuring that our intangible cultural heritage and values of society have been infused in the individual disciplines of this University to enable them put us at the fore-front of Education for Sustainable Development?

Like all nations of the world our country Nigeria faces the challenges that I enumerated earlier. We also face additional challenges of our socio-cultural and religious plurality as well as such syndromes of under development as corruption, inefficient management of public utilities etc. My Administration is poised to squarely face these challenges so that we can bequeath to the generations coming behind us a better society, built on justice and rule of law, equity and the achievement of human security, peace and prosperity. It is towards the realization of this goal that I have enunciated the 7-Point Agenda as the platform for the achievement of our vision of becoming one of the 20 most developed economics in the world by the year 2020, (Vision 20:2020).

Over the ages, in times when it appears that society, nay humanity, has strayed, the human societies have always turned to the academic and spiritual sanctuaries. Being removed from the hurly-burly of the larger societies and as groups that place premium priority on knowledge and spiritual wisdom acquisition, members of such sanctuaries have succeeded in living above board, in terms of being inflicted by the ills of the larger society. Accordingly, they are imbued with the natural moral courage to profer solutions to the problems facing the larger society.

Rather sadly, the academic sanctuary epitomized by our Universities are today plagued by the same ills of the larger society. The Federal Ministry of Education and the National Universities Commission are daily inundated by reports of various vices being perpetrated by those to whom the nation, not only looks up to for answers to its ills but, have entrusted with the responsibility of moulding the knowledge and character base of our children for the future development of our nation.

These reports have graduated from the usual sexual harassment and sexual temptation to the bizarre: e.g. Certain Universities recruiting and forwarding the names of hawkers and touts to the National Youth Service Corps for national service, while scores of genuine students who have completed their programmes of studies are denied places and have to wait, sometime up to 2 years after graduation, before securing a space; Some Lecturers supervising students projects demanding between N250,000.00 and over N500,000.00 from their students before their Final Year Projects and Theses can be accepted. There are reports of swapping of grades, and awarding of grades and even whole degrees to students that do not appear in an examination hall.

Compounding these bizarre acts is the problem of incessant closures of our Universities and the disruption of the academic calendar. In the process, it had, in the recent past, taken some of our universities upwards of 6 - 7 years to complete their 4 year programmes. Graduates from such programmes are sentenced to a life long academic record stigma of spending 6 - 7 years to earn a 4 year degree. On the contrary, their lecturers earn their full 6-7 year pay. For the University community, particularly, the academics, this is a moral and ethical burden which the hackneyed excuse of being also engaged in research and administration cannot wipe clean.

The emergence of private universities can be seen as a logical response to fill the demand gap created by the inability of governments to meet the number of universities required. However, the current success of private universities as the preferred choice for students that put premium on quality education and predictable calendar, even by children and wards of Professors of the older Federal Universities, is a sad pointer to the realities of what we have jointly failed to do. For too long our joint energies and efforts have been directed largely on Government-Teacher relations, in terms of funding and conditions of service. I agree that funding is important. But if all of the funding we require is provided, would the university community be able to resolve all the issues that I have enumerated above? I believe that the answer is no. We therefore need a deeper and more encompassing reflection of our realities.

As a former teacher of a tertiary institution myself, I know that the academic community is populated largely by sincere, hardworking, committed and self-sacrificing people and therefore that the ills of the type that I highlighted above are perpetrated by a few individuals. But it takes only one little dash of a wrong ingredient to spoil a whole pot of soup, or as they say, "little foxes spoil the vine".

Recognizing the fact that most university undergraduates are still in their impressionable age, have we wondered how the ills of these few lecturers have influenced the attitude and values of the graduates that pass through them and the consequence for the society? When at Convocations some of this group of lecturers end up at the podium in their capacity as Deans to present their students and make the usual introductory statement of presenting students who "have been found worthy in learning and character", are we being honest to ourselves and to our nation? What character could such group of lecturers impart to our students? When will the Certificates and Degrees that universities award on the basis of having been found worthy in learning and character begin to live up to the highest level of the content of its intentions?

Your Excellencies, Chancellor, Mr. Vice-Chancellor, Members of the University Senate, Honorary Graduands, Graduands, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen; Coming to the concluding part of my Address, the essence of all that I have tried to say is this: The challenges of the 21st Century are different and more complex than what human society has faced in the entire history of mankind. The results of the industrial revolution and the pursuit of abundance from the 18th to the 20th Century are atavistic, manifesting as environmental consequences and the development challenges that we currently face. Because they are atavistic we can and, indeed, we have been able to, identify the causes through accumulated knowledge, and so are able to fight these challenges. On the other hand the challenges of the 21st Century, which I call the "modern evils" do not present us with easily identifiable enemies to fight, outside us as individuals. Rather the consequences of modern evils lurk behind our intentions or actions, ready to attack before we notice. This therefore makes it difficult to fight against. By way of example, take the evil of cyber crime; What does society do when the expert that has been trained to fight cyber crime, for one reason or the other, turns against the system?!

This is the nature of the challenges of the 21st Century, where the legitimacy of human actions are going to be assessed, not on the basis of experiences of the past but largely on the basis of the expected consequences for the future. Accordingly, a whole range of new integrated knowledge will be required to address sustainability of the human society. And the time to evolve this new integrated knowledge is now! This is the essence of the declaration of 2005 -2014 as the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

The form of education that the world needs in the 21st Century is one that will put emphasis on the development of a "New Being" - a whole, total- packaged human being, whose university training is based not on discipline but on the full integration and internalization of human and societal values and respect for the environment, in a holistic interface that seeks to achieve justice, equity and world peace.

For us as a nation, and indeed for Africa, this truism translates to our ability to recognize our intangible cultural heritage as the bedrock of our education. Judging from the experience of other stable cultures, I believe that it is through this path that we can achieve sustainable development in this increasingly competitive globalized world. We must go back to the basics and recognize that our strength lies in the rich values of our diverse cultures which stress the need to take care of the under privilege, to respect elders, shun greed and promote harmony and peace.

My Administration is committed to providing the necessary support to the academic community to enable it play its crucial and indispensable role in this new venture. Only last week the Federal Executive Council considered that a Bill be sent to the National Assembly (NASS) amending the Education Trust Fund (ETF) Act to enable it focus on tertiary education, with particular emphasis on universities as originally intended. Now that the new Ministers have been sworn-in, we will announce the newly constituted Governing Councils for the Universities and other tertiary institutions of the Federal Government. Thereafter, I would expect the universities to swing into action by addressing the ills that I highlighted earlier. Already, the Minister of Education has been directed to ensure that the National Universities Commission supported by the Security Agencies fish out and extricate the bad eggs in our universities.

The next step is to commence the overhauling of our curriculum to ensure that the learning psyche of our students is reoriented towards sustainable development. Even our Basic Education would have to be reoriented to address sustainability through expanded curricula that include critical thinking skills, skills to organize and interprete data, ability to analyse issues that confront communities and ability to make life-style choices that neither erode the natural resource base nor impinge on the social equity and justice of neighbours. There is no doubt that in addition to improved funding from Government, the University system still requires considerable autonomy to enable it take responsibility, not only for the content and quality of its programmes but, the mobilization, channeling and management of the resources it requires for its growth and development. This is the only way it can aspire to compete with world acclaimed Universities and be relevant in the knowledge-driven society of the 21st Century.

Mr. Vice Chancellor, Visiting Vice Chancellors, Members of the University Senate; As members of the Academic Community, to whom the society looks up for direction, you carry the burden of a moral responsibility to live above board in order to be able to advise on the direction of governance and nation building. You also carry the professional responsibility, not only of understanding but, of putting to practice what you intend to impart into your students. Sustainable development is anchored on the principle of societal integration and acceptance. Esoteric research and paper publication for the sake of numbers and accelerated promotion is shallow academic pursuit and runs against the principles of sustainable development. I therefore, charge you to quickly find the missing link between research publication and societal development and let your Appointments and Promotions Committee begin to bridge the gap between peer review acceptance and societal relevance and acceptability of the research findings published in academic journals and assessed for the promotion of your members.

Finally, let the Certificates and Degrees you award on the basis of having been found worthy in learning and character live up to the highest level of the content of its intentions.

We have an urgent joint task, not only of restoring the lost glory of our universities but, of overhauling our entire education system through proactive strategies that will guarantee our march towards sustainable development. Arising from the motto, For Learning and Culture, which places on this University a moral responsibility, and its academic records as one of the very best in Africa, I have the confidence that this University can blaze the trail and mobilize its counterparts to henceforth produce for our nation, Graduates of the 21st Century, the New Beings, who are true products of an education based on learning and character. This is a task for which we cannot afford to fail.