n, the development is a wake-up call for Nigeria as a country and a challenge to explore other sources of revenue. In this interview with WINIFRED OGBEBO, she talks about vast potential of the country which she sees in students of the unique institution.
Your institution combines academics with development. How easy is it to handle this?
Yes. That is our mission. We are the only university on the continent, there is one other in Costa Rica that has an agriculture focus. If you look at all the literatures on learning, most of it is beginning to say when we focus on problems and solutions and give students hands on experience they bring that back to the classrooms. Then they start asking questions – why are these kids here not in school? Why aren’t they reading? So it stimulates the learning. They are not separate. They are really connected more than we ever realized as teachers, and as faculty that when students are really exposed to problems, it stimulates them to start thinking about how can I contribute? What are the solutions?
I teach a development class and we have our students each time we do a session and it really improves the discuss, it improves their motivation. When they just walk out the front gate and they see we have a hundred boys who can’t read and who don’t have enough food, it cannot force you to say what can we do here to improve this? So they are not separate issues and in most universities they call it engagement scholarship, they call it community service. We say it’s problem centered learning so they are really connected. It’s not two separate things.
What are the guidelines for admitting students here?
It is not just the JAMB. They have to take an exam here, they have to take a placement exam. Here is how it works, this is a liberal art university. The first two years they don’t go into a major like other Nigerian universities. The students doing software engineering, or petroleum or chemistry, they don’t start with that. Everyone starts with a similar curriculum that is called the first year experience. Everybody is in that class. You learn how to study better, you learn how to manage your time, what the mission of this university is. They do writing classes in maths and sciences. They study widely the first two years. And then they make a decision what they are going to major and minor in. So it’s a bit of a different approach.
We focus on writing, critical thinking on being able to find and evaluate resources because of course we live in a different world in terms of library. This has been ranked one of the three best libraries in the world by the American Library Association but that is not the issue. Yes we have millions of books but the world we are living now is not having access. It’s been able to evaluate that information. So we really teach skills of evaluation. Everyone for the first two years is reading similar courses, then they major in chemistry, in petroleum engineering and business and so on, in the last two years.
Now it’s going to be a bit different with our law school as you know they will all be together in the first year and the law students will take one separate course called legal research method. But still that whole first year for all our AUN students will be similar except for that.
What is the number of students you accept each academic year?
It is four times those who apply that we accept. We have a huge pool applying and then we are really careful sorting who is accepted. We bring in between a hundred and fifty each semester but we have about four times that amount applying. Then you have who is accepted. We have a lot applying not just from Nigeria now- South Africa. The pool is getting bigger and bigger of those who apply but we don’t accept everyone because not everyone is ready for this kind of education. Honestly we have been trying to balance from your country (Nigeria) the six geo-political zones. We don’t want students just from the north or just students from the south. We don’t want just men. We are trying really hard to increase the number of women.
You said Nigeria was facing a new and complex challenge. Can you explain that?
I believe Nigeria is full of potentials. You are right. We should look at the problems. Price of oil has dropped 72 percent now, right? I don’t think you used all those money coming in all these years well. That is pretty scary. So this new administration walks in, there is no money, there are new problems. I think the president has been rightly focusing on stopping this war, that is what it was. We have been in the north, I have all the pictures for you. It was not an insurgency, it was a disaster. So he has made really good progress at that. Some ways, the challenges with oil are going to force you to say what is next? What are the other sources of income in this country? You have many. You have agriculture, you could be the bread basket of the country – this area alone. You have minerals, you have brilliant people. Maybe it is my nature but I see promise, I see potential and I see it through our students.
But poverty, unemployment and other challenges remain enormous and widespread.
First I think education is the basis of everything. If you can educate young people – you Nigerians are so creative, so innovative, and so hungry for education. That little boy, if we can somehow figure out how to get education to these young ones- that is why STELLA and TELA are so important. TELA, which we call Technology for All, is using a thousand tablet computers to reach four thousand kids with apps written by our students and another 18,000 via radio. It is an experiment. The US government is funding this.
We are reaching 22,000 kids. We have like seven months to improve their reading, literacy and numeracy by 50 percent. It is not a big win though but we think we can do it, 22,000 kids, 700 sites here in Yola and about 600 students, faculty staff teaching. If we can show that in six months we can improve reading by 50 percent with 22,000 kids, why can’t you do it all over the country? And that is really our vision.
So I think it is your moment because of the challenges. Sometimes when you have big challenges in your personal life or in a country the best comes forward. You can’t do it the old way. You can’t rely on oil. So what else does Nigeria have? Nigeria has many more resources. They have smart people. They just have to be dedicated to improving the society and think a little less about becoming rich.
Credit: Leadership Newspapers