From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Kamoru Olayiwola Usman, professor of Mathematics Education, is provost, Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo State. He is of the opinion that every Nigerian should acquire basic skills in special needs education. He also wants the college upgraded to a degree-awarding institution.Excerpts…
After about six years as provost, what is your assessment of this college?
This college was established on May 19, 1977, and since then it has been living up to its mandate. We have been graduating students in various areas of special education, especially in the areas of sign language. More than 80 per cent of the people who had that training today in Nigeria must have graduated from our college.
Since I came in, we have been working to sustain the achievements we met on ground, and move forward beyond what we met to make sure that the institution is doing the exact purpose why it was established.
This is a college for special-needs people, what are the issues you have in the area of funding and how have you been coping?
The issue of funding is universal, especially in that context. In Nigeria, there are about 21 federal colleges of education, government has added another six. So, from the 21 colleges, 12 are conventional, that is, where you can go for any type of study. Then, eight are dedicated to technical education. We are the only one dedicated to special education.
The government is funding us uniformly, except the technical colleges that are given entrepreneurial opportunities. The government gives us the same amount uniformly without any prejudice to our own condition. When you raise the issue of being ‘special,’ they will ask you what you mean by special.
The people that thought of the idea, special needs education, maybe they are no more there, and no reference to the book to know that it costs three times to train somebody living with disabilities than training a normal student.
In our walkway, you have to make provision for the blind for their safety. Some of these things will cost more money, not to talk of facilities for training. So, when you talk of money, don’t even go there. But in terms of TETFund (Tertiary Education Trust Fund) and other philanthropists that have been coming around to assist us. The money is not just there. But we are managing.
Has there been special package for the special needs of the college? If not, what are you doing to make it come to reality?
It is not in place and it has never been in place. It is the normal thing that they give to others that they give us. But we have been managing the little we have. It is as if you go to conventional college, if they give us the same amount for staff training, they may be able to send 10, while we will not be able to send more than three in our own case.
National Assembly is working on a bill to upgrade this college to a University of Special Needs. What is your take on the bill?
Ordinarily, nobody will just think that you deserve anything, except you push for it. We are pushing for it. We are the one that initiated the bill and gave it to Senator Teslim Folarin, representing our senatorial district, Oyo Central.
Earlier in 2016, a member of the House of Representatives from Oyo Federal Constituency, Prince Akeem Adeyemi, moved a motion. But there is a difference between a motion and a bill. The motion then could not go far. We went as far as public hearing for that motion and it went into the cooler. This time around, we have to resuscitate it in terms of bill. We are part of it and we will be very happy if this college is upgraded to University of Special Education.
Though there is no money, this college has what it takes to be a university in terms of infrastructure and human development. As at last count, we have about 121 Ph.D holders lecturing in various special education and other areas in this college and others are on it within and outside the country.
No university in Nigeria can boast of one-tenth of the equipment we have for training on special education. Giving people NCE after studying is like we are wasting resources of Nigeria. Very few universities can boast of our infrastructure. The facilities here are awesome.
If we are upgraded, the government, in the first five years, may not spend extra kobo. We will still maintain our salary, keep our staff because we need to graduate first set, and the human materials and facilities we have can train undergraduates before we can pump in more money for postgraduate programme. The upgrade of this college to a university will be a blessing to the people living with disability.
For now, our NCE students are stranded because they are not fit into degree programmes we have in our universities. Like somebody who is trained in the area of visual impairment, when he applies to a university, they will give him like adult education. They change our courses. They divert them from being special educationists.
But we have University of Jos (UNIJOS) that has something similar. They have a good environment. Most of our staff that went for further higher education attended UNIJOS. University of Ibadan (UI) has, but it is just the theoretical aspects they will deliver because they don’t have facilities to train people for special education.
University of Calabar (UNICAL) and University of Ilorin (UNILORIN) also have visual impaired education at Masters degree level. But they teach theoretically. They don’t have facilities that we have. Becoming a university will give room for other lower tertiary institutions to develop, using our own facilities.
Are you optimistic that the bill will see the light of day?
It has just passed second reading. And by the grace of God, we are working hard. The Bill will soon be slated for public hearing.
A senator opposed the bill, saying there was no need for a university for people living with disabilities because they do not want to be isolated. What is your reaction to that?
With due respect, he should have read about what special education is all about. In this college, we have 60 per cent of people living with disabilities, while the remaining 40 per cent are normal. The issue is that we are training people that will help people with disability.
If I want to communicate with the deaf, if I don’t have the skill as a normal being, how do I communicate with him or her? If you want to talk to the deaf, I can help you talk to the person because I understand sign language. You’ll talk to me in the language I can hear, and also understand the sign language of the deaf. It is not meant only for people with disability. Also, the people that are reading the brail, the blind, can read with their fingers. Somebody with sight needs to train them.
If I have my way, every Nigerian should study special education so that they will know how to handle these people. They do not like you to sympathise with them. You need to understand them.
During the COVID-19 when the college was closed down, some of the parents became sympathetic with us because we are taking care of their children better. As parents, you have to undergo the training to know how to handle these types of gifted special people. The school is not meant for only the disabled. It is meant for any normal human being that has the feelings and God has sent to help these special people.
How would you appraise the prejudice against the special needs people?
Everybody needs information about special people and the only way to get the needed information on these types of people, is through special education. By the grace of God, this college will become a university, unlike what we have now.
We are restricted under what we have now. But as a university, we can organise workshops, and other forms of training for the Nigerian public on what special education ought to be, how to care for people with special needs.
It is not only people that are disabled that belong to the special education. We have some groups of people that are normal but brain wise, they are not normal. We call them, gifted and talented. Before you say something, the person has answered. If you don’t know how to care for this kind of person in the classroom, you will send the person out.
Before you ask a question, the person will raise his hand and say ‘I know it, I know it.’ You need to probably study this kind of person, know exactly what the person needs. You don’t need to isolate him or her. But you can still groom the person within the normal set up. You need to do extra work on such a person. He is not blind and he is not deaf, but he is highly gifted and talented.
What is your assessment of education in the country as it relates to budgetary allocations?
As a professor of education, most of the times, there is nothing wrong with our curriculum. As per budgeting, if our budget is well managed, it is okay. But we pay more attention to the managerial aspect of our education, than the people on the field. The chunk of the budget goes into the managerial aspect of salaries and other emoluments. That is the nature of the country’s budget; less than 30 per cent goes for the capital, while 70 per cent and thereabout goes for recurrent.
At the mention of downsizing, people will be talking about retrenchment. But it is high time we think so much of developing our infrastructure and let individuals take up the issue of creating jobs. Government should employ less, but should allow individuals to develop, provide infrastructure for them so that they can absorb millions of unemployed youth.
Government needs to do something about infrastructure. If you want to do anything, you first of all set aside 20 per cent of your resources for energy generation, for water, for road, and even for transportation that is supposed to be as easy as any other thing. This could kill your intention of setting up any establishment.
If there is a way, the government should reduce the amount of money for recurrent expenditure. It is the same thing in this college our recurrent is over N2billion, while capital is about N154million. In the capital, you will buy equipment, and build house. Our overhead is a no-go area.
How have you been generating funds?
Our major source of funding is TETFund. Only human beings are not TETFund. But they are also TETFund because the organisation has supported them on education. They have attended conferences through TETFund. Meanwhile, TETFund is the baby of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).