Our education system does not encourage excellence but mediocrity-Elizabeth Ikem

A former provost of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Elizabeth Ikem, speaks with JOY MARCUS on his tenure at the institution and other matters

You have been the Provost of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism for over 14 years. What held you back for so long?

I served in the NIJ for 14 years and five months. For me, my time at the NIJ was not a job but a divine mission. The Board of Trustees, then led by Mallam Ismaila Isa, and a host of others, motivated me with their goodwill in ensuring that they gave students a quality education, not for personal gain. They helped me in my mission because I didn’t have to worry about whether they had hidden agendas or not. So that gave me a good working platform. When I joined NIJ in 2000, the school was closed but it was growing and when something grows, it becomes dynamic and you have to respond to the dynamic. But in the case of the NIJ, no one responded and they started issuing certificates that the institution did not have the authority to award. Over time, students started asking questions because if you give them Higher National Diploma certificates, they should be able to go through the National Youth Service Corps program just like their counterparts at other institutions. Eventually trouble began and continued until the students became so restless that the institution had to be shut down. I thank God for the council led by Mallam Ismaila who knew it was time to reorganize the school and put it on a good footing so that it would get accreditation from the right authorities. NIJ is no pushover as it has trained so many people over the years. I met great people who greeted me with enthusiasm that they were in school at different times. My goal was to reposition the NIJ to earn the place it has today.

How long has the school been closed?

The school was closed for four years. It was a difficult task and the first four years were used to reposition the school. While we were doing this, we did not open the school, but we had restless students who troubled us. However, when I look back today, I thank God. We worked with the board and tried to raise funds as funding was a big challenge. We spoke to CEOs and CEOs of companies who have helped the institution because the school has a reputation. Fortunately, we were able to obtain approval for the reopening of the establishment. We met the standard set by the National Council for Technical Education and continued to work hard to make the school great as we were on our way to building a new generation of journalists who would bring changes in the industry. When it was time to leave, I was satisfied because I believed I had finished my homework and done what I had to do in school.

While you were provost, did you also give lessons?

Yes. I taught effective writing classes. The course is not offered at diploma level, but we do occasionally and it is open to all. I discovered that we often have ideas but don’t know how to put them in writing. Thank goodness for audiovisuals, but what is written is more important and more powerful. There are books that were written many years ago in which you will still find embedded truths. A writer does not write for himself but for his readers. He must be able to get his message across and be understood.

Are there other innovations that you have introduced in the institution?

We looked in the library; because I remember the NBTE saying that we had one of the best libraries at the time in terms of communications equipment. Whenever I traveled, I spent my own money to buy books for the library and we made sure the environment was conducive. When I arrived, the school was like a desert. We cleaned everywhere and made the school a real institution. I know that some students were not very happy with certain innovations, but it was for their own good. The establishment is non-residential and to ensure adequate security in the context of violence which was increasing in the tertiary establishments, we had to set resumption and closing times. It helped us control school operations to some extent; and we’ve introduced a parent-teacher forum where parents can ask speakers about their children’s performance.

What is your opinion on the state of education in Nigeria?

Someone said that the education system in the country has collapsed, but I don’t believe that because there have been changes in the policies, and it depends on how we adapt them to our needs. Besides theoretical knowledge, we also need practical sessions. I think I like what they’re trying to do now, which is the art of entrepreneurship. However, while doing this, we must not forget about integrity, because everything we have must be earned. There has to be a way to deal with the kind of malfeasance that is happening in our education sector. We have good policies, but who are the people driving them? For example, if a student is supposed to pass a certain course and his teacher tells him to pay for his grades, how do you expect that student to be serious about his studies?

Nowadays, many people go to study abroad. What is your opinion on this?

People go to study abroad because if they do well, the teachers will grade them accordingly and if they don’t do well, the teachers will tell them and encourage them to do better. The education system in the Western world is able to check and balance itself. And students can also rate their teachers to find out if a teacher is giving their best. I’m not saying their system is perfect but to a large extent there is evidence of efforts to do well and have a fair educational environment.

Honestly, I don’t know how we got here, but hopefully we’ll get back to where we were before because I didn’t study abroad and in my day the system was great. We had to work hard to earn our marks.

Do you think the system encourages excellence?

The system does not encourage excellence; rather, it encourages mediocrity. If you mean well, they’ll tell you you’re a fool. In fact, some people will tell you not to stress when you can easily pay your way. Look at the professor who was recently disgraced. Things like that make me wonder why a man who worked hard to earn his professorship would ask someone else to do less. I did not buy my certificate; I worked very hard to get it; therefore, I cannot tell anyone to do less. The system should ensure that it allows excellence to thrive.

Why do you think many young people are not serious?

It’s because no one talks to them. The young will always be young. There is stupidity in the hearts of young people because they do not know the contrary. They would rather sleep than work hard. If we don’t show them the right way, they won’t know the alternative. However, we who know better should guide them at home and at school. It is so unfortunate that parents encourage their children to indulge in exam abuse these days.

It is the collective responsibility of students, teachers and parents to rectify this problem because there are no two ways to succeed.

What is your educational qualification?

I have a PhD in Communication and Language Arts from the University of Ibadan.

How do you relax?

I am a very busy person but when I want to relax, I spend a lot of time in the presence of God praying because I find it very refreshing. Also, I like to write. I presented my books a few weeks ago on the occasion of my 60th birthday. One of the books is a collection of my inspiring thoughts in the presence of God and the other is a professional book as I am also a pastor. The book is my contribution to the art of writing. It’s a writer’s guide to learning how to write effectively.

How do you feel at 60?

I am filled with excitement and joy. I am a twin; so me and my twin celebrated together. I am so thankful to God because my twin brother has just retired as Head of Radiology at National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos. God has been good to us because we are safe and sound. I remember at that time, every time I saw someone who was 60 years old, I wondered if I was going to reach that age.

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All rights reserved. This material and any other digital content on this website may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without the prior express written permission of PUNCH.

Contact: [email protected]

Janice G. Ball