Professor Can Nwankwo, a counselling psychologist, was head, Department of Guidance and Counselling, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. He has served in many committees within the faculty of education and university community. Currently, he is the postgraduate sub-dean, Faculty of Education. In this interview with GABRIEL ALONTA, he discusses the state of academic research in tertiary institutions, counselling system and the falling standard in education.
In tertiary institutions across Nigeria, there seems to be poor academic research from both undergraduate and postgraduate students, what is your thought on this unfortunate situation?
For undergraduates, it could be understood but that of postgraduate, there are many factors surrounding it. When you come to research, it has two basic areas; the issues of information gathering and analysis, dealing with statistics, especially if it is quantitative research. Many people shy away from research because of the statistical part and that to me, is what I call the root of the problem of PG students in research.
At the first degree level, we noticed that the present day university undergraduate move from one university or the other to pick already supervised projects. Such things will not give them room to learn and when they carry this attitude to the postgraduate level, it becomes a problem for them. Another trend, is postgraduate students employing machineries to write their research work instead of bending down to learn the rudiments of research. Despite the fact that higher degree students are exposed to advanced statistics and research in education, you will notice that most of them are interested in copying research work more than learning the actual thing. How can they learn? If you give them correction, they go to meet the person that is writing for them. So, to this people, once they can copy and succeed or someone writes for them and they succeed, their goal has been achieved. However, some of the lecturers are not interested in helping the students and it is very bad.
How can lecturers help to improve the ugly trend?
The lecturers should sit up, especially those that know the rudiments of advanced research and statistics because it is unfortunate that some of the lecturers went through the same process of copying another person’s project or contracting people to do it for them. But there are people who went through pure research and learnt it, they should play key roles towards revamping this unfortunate situation. It is equally pathetic that some lecturers try to undermine these sincere efforts because some will posit that we allow the students to go which does not mean well for them. However, it is a shameful thing sometimes that lecturers are responsible for the poor quality of research by students.
What is the implication of this in the education sector?
The implication is that the future is dark. Another issue is that most researches we carry out whether it is quantitative or advanced research, government is supposed to look at them and make use of the research report for the betterment of the country. But you will notice that all the researches that are done in Nigeria, especially in the universities are packed in the departmental or university library. The highest that can happen is that PG school now sends it online for people. The Nigerian government is not interested in knowing if you carry out research report or not and that is why they cannot even sponsor a single research. If government sponsors research, definitely they will look out for the outcome of such research but because they don’t sponsor it, they are not interested in the findings of the research.
How can the government intervene in the situation?
The government had been approached previously by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), to sponsor university research works. They initially opted to use Educational Trust Fund, but how many people have they given that fund? Even when they say that the money is available for academic development, they will place stringent measures to access such funds. If you apply, no matter your quality or qualification of your paper, if you are not in the good books of one or two officials in the university, you cannot access the funds and most of the people that apply for it did not get them. The university management will claim that there are billions of money to access but when you apply they will tell you that there is no fund. Government should try to be realistic and sincere with academic research and when they are sincere and firm they will be able to monitor how it is utilised. In that way, when the findings of the research are out, they will use it to advance the course of the nation.
Most lecturers complain about work overload, how can it be addressed?
The issue of work overload, remember I said earlier that so many factors contribute to low quality of research. Most lecturers are entangled with so many works. If my responsibility is to supervise five doctoral dissertations and 10 master’s thesis in a year, that could be due to lack of lecturers or those qualified to supervise higher degree students. But remember that these lecturers will be taking regular courses, Continuous Education Programme (CEP) courses, Sandwich courses and other extra jobs that are being assigned to them in the university. With this bulk of load, so many lecturers have died. There are departments where six lecturers are teaching the entire departmental courses with top lecturers and professors retiring, but there is no succession plan in the system. The government should urgently address the issue of dearth of teachers in the education sector. We have many problems in the system.
So, are you calling for total overhaul of the system?
To help improve the situation, the university administration should tell the Federal Government that there are so many things that are lacking in the system. The universities should stop borrowing lecturers from one institution or the other during accreditation exercise just to window dress.
Can you comment on the state of counselling service in Nigeria or is it going moribund?
If you come to counselling, it is supposed to be growing in Nigeria but there is this attitude by Nigerians, anything they don’t pay money for, they neglect such services. They treat such gestures with levity. I recall when I spoke on radio concerning psychological counselling, we added interaction with people who called in during the show. It was then I realised that our people are suffering and living in darkness.
If you go to secondary schools, the mistakes that we make back then are still being repeated. Counselling encompasses all areas, such as vocational counselling, educational, social counselling that deals with problems arising from interaction between two people and then, personal. There are people that are going down every day, people that have low self-esteem, those suffering from inferiority complex, and very depressive cases. Depression is the only psychological problem that leads to suicide. There are no counselling clinics to attend to people with such challenges. If you go to the secondary schools and see what is going on, some of the schools force the counsellors to teach and some of them are empty because they don’t know what to do or what services to offer. Such attitude by Nigeria affects their behaviours and there are so many areas that we need attention. Remember that counselling is not just for those in primary or secondary schools, but we lay emphasis on early stage just to arrest issues at cradle and catch the younger ones earlier so that they will not repeat the same mistake that others made. Even these days, no student goes to see a counsellor except when they fight in school before the counsellor will come to intervene. That is not counseling, counseling is looking at a child, knowing fully, the clinical pictures the person is giving to know how to offer help to them or if the person knows that he has a problem, he can go to the counsellor for assistance.
Could you proffer a step-by-step approach to revamp the already comatose counselling services in Nigeria?
The Counselling Association of Nigeria (CASSAN), at the state level should go down to communities to establish what is called community meeting centre where they will have to interact with people because guidance is information oriented. What people need is correct information and when they get that, you have helped them. But if the correct information is lacking, they will definitely continue to be misguided. The association should be giving counsellors license to practice and establish counselling clinics so that it can create room for specialisation. While the doctors are after the health of patients in hospitals, the counsellors are there for the mental and emotional wellbeing of the person. The therapeutic counsellors when they have clinics can help to assist those with social and psychological problems, those in area of sex, relationship and marriage counselling will also proffer solutions in that regard. Look at the rate of divorce in Nigeria today, people are just living together because the church will not allow them to separate, otherwise, there are so many people living in bondage in the name of marriage. They are living together but not married because marriage does not mean when you wed in the church, but sharing responsibilities in the home. But if the counsellor is there, they will arrest such issues and help them to live as united family. Also, different town leaders, traditional rulers and president generals should come together to have a place to create clinics or something like recreational centre where counsellors can come and talk to them. If such things are done in different towns and people come there to interact and see the counsellor, they will be assisted accordingly.
What do you think is responsible for the falling standard of education in Nigeria?
There is nothing like falling standard of education in Nigeria, the only problem is that people are no longer interested in learning. A child in a university, will be focused on making money rather than learning because those that did not go school come back with different cars. That is what the society worship, they don’t recognise anything that is academic any longer. So, if the society have abandoned the value, the much educational level the people has acquired means nothing to them. There is nothing like falling standard of education, what we have is total lack of interest in education because of misplaced societal values.
The way forward
Let the National Orientation Agency (NOA) work on the conscience and value system of Nigerians because value system re-orientation is the key. Once you do value system re-orientation, all this problem will stop, though it will take time.