Professor Victor Akin Adisa is the Director, Ibadan Study Centre, National Open University of Nigeria. In this interview with MODUPE GEORGE, he spoke about the activities of NOUN, uniqueness of the Open and Distance Learning as well as its shortcomings. Excerpts:
What is the rationale behind the new i-NOUN idea?
Actually the platform is already in existence; it’s also known as i-Learning. There is a portal through which students interact with their facilitators. NOUN does not engage the services of lecturers. It is an Open and Distance Learning institution, where the learner is physically separated from the lecturer. Here, we do not talk about space, lecture theatre or classroom, but facilitation. You can read on your own, but you have to flesh up what you have read from another source or expert. In other words, the facilitators and the assistants gather students into study groups; he doesn’t lecture them. What he does is to discuss certain grey areas in their studies that may be difficult for them. We call it facilitation.
Isn’t this system of learning complex?
We have what we call course materials, which the university makes available to students, and they are in form of hard or soft copies. Students can also go to our website to download the course materials; but even if you are a genius, you may still find some grey areas such as Mathematics, Logics, Physics, Computer and so on where you need assistance. This is where the facilitators come in.
How would you grade the effectiveness of your website in line with this mode of learning?
It’s just because of the level of infrastructural development in Nigeria. For instance, I have an uncle, who visited his daughter in US and his daughter told him and said: “Daddy, please, I want to go to class and I will be back in three hours’ time.” So, he waited in the sitting room, but he noticed his daughter did not leave the house. After three hours, she came to him and said: “Daddy, I’m through with my interaction. Then, the father said: “You didn’t leave the house; how come you told me you were going to class?” She said: “I did everything in my room. I interacted with my lecturer through video conferencing.” That is the ultimate where the infrastructure is adequate, internet doesn’t fail and the broadband is excellent. But I must admit that we are not yet there.
Is Nigeria ready for this mold of education?
If we say we are not ready, the question is ‘when are we going to be ready’? We have to start somewhere. When the history of education is written in Nigeria, the name of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s will be written in gold. He was the one who prompted the idea of Open University and he said he did not care whether we have infrastructure or material or not. He said just go and admit students for the next two years. There was really no foundation, but if the university didn’t start that time, I’m sure it would have taken another 10 to 20 years to start it.
Compared to the conventional mode of learning, don’t you think ODL has lots of disadvantages?
A good product does not need much advertisement; and that is what we inculcate into our students. The basic truth is that, it is more difficult to earn a degree through the ODL. If you don’t create enough time to read your course materials, there is no way you will pass.
With the influx of young people into the university, don’t you think the aim has been defeated?
The university is actually established for the working class, and that is why our motto is ‘Work and Learn’; but the 1977 National Policy on Education, came to the conclusion that the conventional university could and would not be able to cope and admit qualified candidates and therefore, came up with the idea of how to be able to increase access to quality education. This was how the idea of Open University came about. It first came up sometimes in 1982\83 during the regime of President Shehu Shagari, but when President Obasanjo came on board, it was resuscitated and that was when it was re-christened National Open University of Nigeria. The word ‘open’ means the door of the university is opened; admissions are now flexible; you don‘t have to lobby or know anyone, and the day you apply is the day you get your letter of admission. There is no way the conventional universities can cope with huge population of qualified students in the country.
How do you sift the bad from the good and inculcate discipline?
Basically, that is why we have study centres. We have some (candidates) who are really bad, and some have been expelled. We have a programme called ‘Orientation,’ and it is compulsory for all new intakes. We also have students’ fora, where we meet them twice or three times in a semester. Another thing is that we try to be role models. Basically, the policy at this study centre is that no matter who you are, if you are not properly dressed you would not be allowed to sit for examinations.
What is the management doing about the continued fight on the discrimination of graduates of NOUN by National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and Nigerian Law School?
The agitation from our students and the university that our students should be mobilised for NYSC is an issue that is ongoing; it has not been effected. Meanwhile, our students are issued exclusion letters, not exemption letters, for employment purposes.
It is not discrimination per se from NYSC. The issue has to do with perception on whether our programmes are run on part-time basis. Our own programmes are not part-time. If they were (part-time), the NUC would not accredit our programmes. As I speak, all our programmes are accredited, except Law, where we have issues with the Council of Legal Education.