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Distance Learning Is Solution To Admission Problems —Prof. Okunade
The Director of Distance Learning Centre, University of Ibadan, Professor Bayo Okunade, in this interview with SAHEED SALAWU, keeps distance learning system of education in perspective, among other issues. Excerpts:
What is distance learning all about and how did it evolve in the university?
Distance learning, to a large extent, is distinguishable from part-time programme or regular or full-time programme, first and foremost, by its mode of delivery. The programme is about allowing prospective students or students, who have enrolled in the programme, to have the benefit of university education wherever they are without having to come within the four walls of the university.
That is the ideal. Distance learning provision is not new in the country. Even now, there are hundreds of Nigerians that are schooling abroad even without going to the institution in which they are schooling because it is largely mediated through information technology. Like I said earlier, the concept is not new in the country. There are so many Nigerians who studied through correspondence college. But what differentiates distance learning as it is now is conditioned by globalisation which is driven by information technology, that is, the power of internet, the worldwide Web.
What we do is that we mediate essentially with our students, not necessarily through face-me-I-face-you physical contact. But we use all opportunities that information technology affords to reach our students. We use the various IT facilities. Distance learning is a virtual university; a university of the present and the future.
How have you been able to safeguard the system online from hackers and other internet criminals?
We subscribe to all forms of security that are available so that people would not be able to hack into our data. We have a system that is highly protected. What we do now is not about having CD ROM or hard drive or external drive; we are hosting our documents not even on a server, but in the cloud. That is the latest technology which affords you to save your data, your documents and you can access it anywhere in the world.
What is the role of the National Universities Commission in the activities of DLC of UI?
It is not about the University of Ibadan. The NUC has a national mandate. And by the virtue of the fact that university is a global concept, I would say NUC has a global mandate to make sure that it regulates the activities of Nigerian universities to ensure standard. The commission has a responsibility to make sure that Nigerian universities operate in a way that is consistent with global standards. In view of the recognition of the importance of distance learning education by the Federal Government, we now have a special unit in NUC that is in charge of open distance learning. What NUC is doing now is to really assert its responsibility in the running of part-time or distance learning.
The recent announcement of the commission regarding the running of part-time programmes in some universities was said to have created a distortion in people’s perception of distance learning. How have you managed the development?
In April, we came out with publications on the issue. There were advertorials and it was clearly stated therein that some approved distance learning centres in the country, including the University of Ibadan, were not affected. The clarification was made even by the Executive Secretary of NUC.
If Nigerians got a good understanding of the distinction, the confusion as to the recent directive of the commission would not have arisen. We were inundated with calls from people who wanted to find out whether we were affected or not by the proclamation by the commission. Of course, we have appropriately reacted and newspapers have carried our position on it. Part-time programme is only different from regular, full-time programme because of the fact that the students come for face-to-face contact at a fixed time. Under distance learning, that is not what we do. Essentially, most of our students have to study on their own, at their own rate and at their own pace.
The whole issue of distance learning is different from part-time. There is hardly any difference between part-time and full-time. The only distinction is when they come for lectures. While regular students go to lectures Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to a certain time, part-time students come early in the evening on weekends. I am saying that in the case of distance learning, the whole issue of face-to-face contact is reduced to the minimum. Instead, students are left to study by themselves and of course, are guided through information technology.
We have academic advisors that relate to the students using all the social networks.
How wide is the reach of the centre beyond the shores of the country?
Like I said earlier, distance learning is a virtual university and when we conduct our affairs online, it means anybody in the world is able to register. Even in the past when we had external degree programme, the University of Ibadan Distance Learning Centre had students in Cambodia. It is on record. This means, if we could do that about 20 years ago, it is by far easier for us now to have students anywhere in the world. The Distance Learning Centre of the university has a national and global agenda. And of course, anything that has to do with distance learning presupposes that it is a global university.
How well have people availed themselves of this opportunity?
It is for them to really believe in distance learning. Even as of now, there is a lack of understanding: people think that distance learning mode of education is inferior to regular programme. But in the University of Ibadan Distance Learning Centre, we try as much as possible to make sure that our students meet the university standard. People believe that one cannot work and study, but you will find out that most of our students are mature people who have made it in their various callings. Distance learning is a global concept, a worldwide acknowledged practice, but in Africa, we are just moving closer to what ought to be the case.
How well are employers of labour reacting to certificates obtained through the system?
We don’t have any problem about that. The University of Ibadan is a brand name, and of course, we don’t differentiate between our DLC students and others. The other time when we had revalidation exercise, the people we used to showcase the university DLC programme are PhD holders who are now lecturers in other universities. And of course, we have many of them in our employment and they are everywhere. The people distance learning is designed for are those who are already in paid employment, but who need certification for advancement.
Since physical interaction is substantially reduced in distance learning, how do you judge a student in character, even if he has excelled in learning?
We subject our students to the same conduct like the regular students. It is not difficult to adjudge a distance learning student to be good in character. The way you judge character within a university is your conduct during interactive sessions and examinations. If you don’t behave in an uncivil manner, we assume that you are good in character. You adjudge a student to be good in character if there are no adverse reports about him. Our students go through the same disciplinary procedure as their regular counterparts.
Is there any room for young school leavers in the programme?
In fact, young school leavers have taken over everything. In Nigeria now, there is the problem of access. About 1.5 million students might be applying to go to the university where about a million are qualified and there is access for about 400,000. This year, the University of Ibadan took less than 3,000 students.
Where do others go? There should be conscious attempts in the country to expand distance learning centres so that more students can be accommodated so as to solve the problem of access in the universities. If the government decides to establish, say, 10 new universities, cumulatively, how many students can they admit, when some of them are even admitting as low as 200 students?
Where more students are admitted, they are not more than 500. That is why some of us might not be favourably disposed to the establishment of more universities. Rather, we prefer encouragement of distance learning centres to admit more students and expanding existing infrastructure in the universities.
When you have more universities, the overhead cost is there, which could have been used to expand infrastructure in existing universities.
There are universities in the United States of America with over 250,000 students. In Nigeria, I don’t know if there is any university that has more than 30,000 students in all programmes, not degree alone. But if the universities are encouraged, they can take more students than they currently do. So, in addition to establishing more universities, I think existing universities should be encouraged to expand their facilities so that they can take more students.
For example, recently, the University of Ibadan did its post-UTME for 7,000 candidates out of a pool. And out of the 7,000 candidates, less than 3,000 will be admitted, not because the others are not qualified to come in. The problem is that those 4,000 candidates that will not gain access this year will have to join those just leaving the secondary school. That is why Nigerians should know that the solution to the problem of access lies in distance learning education. I am not talking as the director of distance learning. Distance learning is not my property, but that is the solution. And of course, for us to succeed in that endeavour, we must put an end to discrimination between distance learning students and those in the regular mode. Those going for distance learning are not inferior. It is a matter of choice.
What I am saying essentially is that the solution lies in the government encouraging Nigerians and Nigerians understanding the whole issue of distance learning and of course, the whole issue of expanding the existing universities.
The infrastructure should be expanded and there should be more lecturers.
If young people are being asked to enrol for distance learning, does it not mean that they would have too much time on their hands, since it is not all the time that they would need to visit the campus?
People don’t understand that being a regular student does not mean anything. We teachers know that even when we say there should be 70 per cent attendance, some students would not attend and we cannot force them to attend lectures. There are regular students, not even distance learning, who don’t attend lectures. What you make out of education is what you put into it.
What I tell our students is that they should see themselves as full-time students, especially the young ones. They should have their own timetable.
What people get in lecture rooms cannot really make them first-class candidates. What makes you a first-class candidate is what you do in addition to what you get in the classroom. In a classroom environment, you might not be able to take two per cent of available knowledge. When you go on internet, you find out that what you have got in the classroom is so insignificant to available knowledge. But the lecturer would give you guidance.
Let me say this: in Nigeria, because of the problem of unemployment, there are people that have several degrees and masters thinking that one day, they would do a course that would give them a good job, but it doesn’t work that way. Part of the problems we have is that students want to go on youth corps service.
This was something that people tried to escape in the past. But now, people want to go on youth corps service because of the problem of employment.
There have been corps members who have even repeated youth service because to them, it was a form of employment. At the University of Ibadan, what we are trying to do is to give our students the opportunity to work and study.
How would you react to a claim that universities adopt distance learning programmes mainly for financial reasons?
That might be true for other universities, but not the University of Ibadan.
Distance learning in the university is revolutionary. It started over 30 years ago.
For us, it is not a gold mine. You can check the fee profile. We charge N15,000 tuition. Other things are transferrable to the students, like course materials and identity card.
How does the country break away from the past in the running of the education sector?
Education is just a segment of the Nigerian society. There are so many things that are wrong in this country. It is afflicted with many problems. If you open a discussion on other sectors like health or sports, it might even be worse. There is a fundamental problem. To get out of it is not about solving education problem alone; we must address the issue of governance.
The problem of underfunding of education in the country has to do with corruption. This year, the country budgeted about N400 billion for education.
But go and find out how much Nigerian students pay in Ghanaian universities.
What they pay is more than Nigeria spends on education in a year. So, who is deceiving who? And who is helping who? Even the budget does not tell anything in Nigeria. The budgets are only financial indicators. There is no relationship between the financial indicators and what we have on ground in the country.
What you spent on road does not tell us that the road is there. What you spent on education does not mean that the quality is there. The Nigerian state does not have the moral right to expect high standard of education from Nigerian universities. It is what you give that you take. Universities that are celebrated in global ranking are those that get what they need to run a proper university system. Until recently, what Nigerian universities were getting was nothing more than recurrent expenditure. In terms of infrastructure, there was nothing to show off. And we say we want to compete!
The system has not done its own bit and that is why it cannot expect any more than it is getting. If Nigerian universities must improve and compete favourably with their counterparts globally, necessary funding must be provided. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Give resources to Nigerian universities, they will perform. Give our students better environment, they will perform.
There is poverty in the land and it must be addressed. But poverty cannot be addressed in a situation where some people are taking more that they deserve from the system. We cannot develop, and our education system cannot develop unless the war on corruption is won. My worry is that those things that the country was known for are fading away gradually. I ask my students: when last did you hear someone say, ‘Nigeria is giant of Africa’? Ten, fifteen years ago, the country was celebrated, but now, people don’t utter it. That is where we have got ourselves. There is no aspect of our national life that is settled. Even our education system is better, the situation elsewhere is worse.Share