Clement Adeyi, Osogbo
Dr John Taiwo Adekolawole is the Rector of the Federal Polytechnic, Ede, Osun State. Before assuming office three years ago, the institution had been bedevilled by an avalanche of crises, leading to staff apathy over instability of allowances, nonregulation of appointments and promotions as well as non-steady academic calendar.
It was not long after settling into the job that the Rector managed to restore stability to the system, returning the institution to the path of progress, succes and achievement.
In an interview with Daily Sun, Dr Adekolawole provides an insight into the efficacy of polytechnic education and its relevance to the technological and economic advancement of Nigeria, stressing that polytechnics are the answer to what he termed the ‘technological emancipation of Nigeria’.
The Rector also shed light on proactive steps being taken by the Federal Polytechnic, Ede, to blaze a trail in innovations of technological benefit of the country.
What is your assessment of polytechnic education in relation to its contributions to economic development?
‘Here we train technologists who can work with their brains for innovation. For example, we have a weather station. When I came in, I created an Innovation Technology centre to be able to put in place an indigenous technology. The technology transfer era is almost gone because what you did not participate in during the design and building, you cannot maintain and retain. So, it is now a do-it-myself era. For instance, Kwara Tech took to “Keke NAPEP”, now it is all over the world. Polytechnic education is the answer to technological emancipation of Nigeria. In universities, engineers design, using computer-aided design applications. But polytechnics do not only design but also build. When university engineers bring up a design, it is polytechnic engineers that build. Some years ago, a naval officer was doing a programme in one university in Nigeria. He built a certain censor that failed to work. But when he was directed to the Federal Polytechnic, Ede, we worked on it and it started working. In other words, we complement each other.’
How do you intend to blaze a trail for other polytechnics to follow in the effort to advance the cause of polytechnic education, which is supposed to focus on technological development and advancement for nation-building?
‘At the Federal Polytechnic, Ede, our focus is to bring the objectives of polytechnic education to bear on the socioeconomic development of this country. The remarkable growth and development that developed countries have attained in different sectors of global economy is due to technological advancement.
‘This can only be achieved through technological knowledge and innovations which are the thrusts of the polytechnic education curriculum. In Ede, we try as much as possible to realise this vision.
‘In the next one month, we shall sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Machine Tools in Osogbo, Osun State, to run some ND, HND B.Tech and PhD engineering programmes. They have manufacturing equipment with a training school. We will leverage on their training school programmes to come up with more technology and innovations. This move is in tandem with institution and industry collaboration initiative in Nigeria which had been proposed since many years ago. We are going to implement it now; that is moving from the conventional classroom to the industry.
‘Instead of the normal laboratory practicals, we now want to move to the industry for innovations and production of technological products.
‘Machine Tools Management has shown a lot of commitment towards the collaboration. In a month’s time, the MoU will be signed. Through the programme, we shall improve on model designs. All our products shall be prototypes and then we push them to the industry and go to market.
‘With the programme, our students will be able to have the expected industrial and manufacturing training and competence. Then they would come out as hot cakes for employers in various organisations where they would showcase themselves with the knowledge they have acquired and contribute meaningfully to nation building which is our dream.’
What did you meet on ground when you came on board and what values did you add when you arrived?
‘When I came on board in November 2017, there was staff crisis in the school. The gates of the school were locked. Staff allowances were stepped down in the wake of the crisis. Even the academic calendar was no longer regular. We were using a whole session to run a semester. There was general apathy among the staff. They were not happy. They were demotivated. But when I came, I put some machinery in place and resolved all the lingering crises.
‘I ensured that all the staff allowances that were stepped down were paid completely as at February 2018. Even, some allowances that were reduced were later increased by 100 per cent.
‘As at the time I came in, the appointment of about 300 staff was not regularised. But l did not only ensure the regularisation but also upgraded them based on their qualifications. Staff were being paid 75 per cent salary, but I ensured regularisation of 100 per cent. Also, those who qualified for promotion were promoted. All these ended the staff agitation and they started putting in their best. So, stability was restored to the system.
‘Soon afterwards, the academic calendar and programmes also stabilised. We started using three months for a session as usual. As a result, students enrolment increased significantly. This paved way for our students to be admitted for direct entry programmes at the Obafemi Awolowo University, (OAU), Ile-Ife. In fact, in most of the different departments at the OAU most direct entry students are from the Federal Polytechnic, Ede. We were also able to secure N1 billion TETFUND grant. This has accelerated our infrastructure development especially at our south campus site as well as entrepreneurial skills programmes and laboratory equipment commitments.
‘As a result of the stable and improved academic activities, our students who participate in competitions with other tertiary institutions, especially universities, come first most of the time.’
Reports have had it that Federal Poly Ede is notorious for cultism and hooliganism. How do you curb this?
‘We have zero tolerance for cultism and hooliganism. That is why we don’t admit students from schools that are notorious for these crimes.
‘In the past we hired the services of security personnel to maintain law and order during students union elections due to hooliganism. But I came up with an idea that any student that does not have good academic performance with at least 3.0 GPA and above does not have any business with a students union government position. This is because it is those that are academically deficient and score 1.0 and near dropouts that cause chaos in school. Since then, peace returned to the system. Students union elections have been conducted peacefully several times since then, without inviting police.
‘In view of the stable academic calendar, stability in the system, discipline and zero tolerance for cultism, parents now advise their children and wards who can not gain admission to university to come to the Federal Poly Ede, where they can also get what they are looking for in the universities.’
What is your research strength and to what extent has it shot the institution to the limelight?
‘We specialise in Adaptive Research and Development. We are known for electronic devices. We have radiometers that have a huge vegetation coverage capacity. We have a weather station, we have two radio stations – 19.1 and 108.0 FM – for our Mass Communication Department that we are currently building.
‘We have technology, engineering and management sciences. Almost all the IT solutions in Nigeria are from graduates from The Federal Poly Ede.
‘We have been invited to a global exhibition in Singapore, but for the COVID-19 lockdown, we have not gone. We are hoping to go in November.
‘Our global rating for polytechnics have increased. We have moved from 13th to 7th position. Among the 112 polytechnics in the country, we are now No. 7.
‘We have also emerged the 6th best institution in an exposition organised for all tertiary institutions in Nigeria by the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology.
As a technical/technology-inclined institution that is supposed to contribute to efforts in solving problems facing the country, what roles did the Federal Polytechnic, Ede, play during the COVID-19 pandemic?
‘We developed two devices, which include remote sensing thermometer and portable rechargeable ventilator, which could be deployed to isolation and treatment centres across the country to fight against the deadly pandemic. We also fabricated three in one (3 in 1) disinfectant boot or cubicle to contain the spread of the pandemic. In addition, we produced medicinal products such as sachet tea, herbal drinks which we named as COVID-19 herbal recipe, a rich nonalcoholic herbal mixture with antiviral and immunity boosting properties for the treatment of the COVID-19 patient.’
How do you ensure production of job creators instead of seekers?
‘When I came on board, I reinvigorated the Centre for Entrepreneurship Development. We moved from the usual skills such as barbing, fashion designing, etc to technopreneur such as computer maintenance and repair, web page design, computer application development, fabric design and tailoring techniques and textiles, agric business animal husbandry, poultry, sailing, rabbiting, crop production, particularly rice plantation, production of face masks and sanitizers, disinfectants, photography and video editing, interior designs and decoration, confectionary Students are expected to take a minimum of two of these trades alongside their ND/HND prigrammes.
‘One of our graduates who went to US is now making waves in tye-and-dye. With these skills and the courses they graduate in, our products would not struggle in the labour market, looking for jobs. Certainly they can get jobs easily and also create and become employers of labour.
What is the justification for social sciences and humanities courses in polytechnics instead of technology and engineering courses that a polytechnic education is basically meant for?
‘It is one thing to design or build an instrument as a technologist or engineer. But it is quite another to commercialise or market it. The commercialisation requires branding. It is the business people that do project designs and branding. Then the marketers do the advertisements. They may not know about the technological and engineering nomenclature of products, but may know the functionalities and marketability of the instrument or product and make it attractive to the consumers. When the Volks Wagon Passat was designed many years ago, it was advertisers and marketers that showcased it to the audience through: “Elegant, smooth Volks Wagon Passat!”
‘If you have an industry that manufactures items or goods, you need advertisers or marketers to push them to the market. You also need accountants that handle the financial aspect of the operations and records of finance. That is why polytechnics offer Marketing, Accounting and Management and other courses in social sciences, humanities and others. From all indicators, polytechnic is at par with university education.’
What is the reason behind the discrimination between BSc and HND certificates?
‘It has been due to the hand over of the education system by the colonial masters. During the colonial days, the colonial masters were encouraging Linguistics, English and Phonetics. University education deals with theoretical content, while polytechnic education focuses on practicals. We need both to compliment for nation-building. But the level of technological development in Nigeria requires more of the polytechnic education than the rhetoric and theories. In the polytechnic, we have hands-on-the-job scenarios, which is the real practicals for designing and building. If you want to build your own world through technology, maintain and retain the development that you have created through it, you need a polytechnic education. Both university and polytechnic educations compliment each other. That is why the Federal Government removed the dichotomy that fostered the discrimination between BSc and HND.
‘Now we have the same entry point, which is level 8 and the salary is also the same based on the grade level.
‘In advanced countries, polytechnic graduates stand the chance of getting a job ahead of university graduates because they rely on practicals. At interviews, they emphasise trying of hands-on things they want done.
‘In 1995, one of our students went for SWES at a brewery in Ibadan as an ND II. When they got to the lab for a job interview, he beat BSc, MSc and PhD holders in the interview. He was given the job immediately after the IT programme. Also, there was a time an oil company in Port Harcourt was looking for a Quality Control Manager. It was an ND graduate from The Federal Poly Ede that got the job after beating degree holders in the interview.’
What are the challenges facing the polytechnics and Federal Poly Ede in particular?
‘Funding is the most crucial challenge. This is because, our laboratory materials are cost intensive. The devaluation of the naira is another factor. Ede has a very high infrastructural deficit. But since I came, we have got about four or five grants that have helped us to tackle the deficit.
‘With the TETFUND grant that we got, we have been able to massively develop the school. We really thank President Muhammadu Buhari for giving us the attention.’
What is the next level at your new campus?
‘A very massive development is going on there. Engineering, Environmental Science and Technology as well as Business Management programmes will move to the campus, while part time and collaboration programmes with other universities will remain at the old campus. We have about 25 acres of land undergoing development at the new campus. Our Agric Engineering Department will catalyse agricultural development through horticulture, land scalping and agro allied products.’
COVID-19 has thrown up fresh opportunities for satellite and online programmes. Is The Federal Poly Ede ready to key into the innovations?
‘Yes, indeed. The COVID-19 saga has opened the eyes of the world to zoom and online programmes. We have gotten approval to start running satellite and online programmes known as Open Distance Flexible e-learning (ODFL) for e-polytechnic education. We shall start in full swing in the next session in all our programmes.
‘The curriculum has been designed and approved by the National Board for Technical Education. The framework, too, has been approved. We have done the pilot study as approved by the National Board of Technical Education. The pilot study has worked because we were able to graduate a set of students through it, majority of whom are in overseas now. We shall deploy our mars board and FM radio stations and TV studios to run the programmes. Though online, the programmes will be run for the normal duration of two years for ND and HND, post HND or B.Tech. We shall admit students from different parts of the world. There shall be practical aspects which shall be face to face classroom encounters. Once in a while, students will have to come around because we will demonstrate as if they are doing it themselves and get results.
‘I am sure that the flexible nature of the programmes shall offer increased opportunities for people to access polytechnic education that they have been yearning for, especially those who can not get admission to the universities and those whose tight job schedules have made it difficult for them to upgrade their academic qualifications.’