By Peter Ogbuokwa
Like an eagle that soars swiftly to the top, Odera Ogbodo, 23, from Enugu State, graduated in First Class division in Information and Communications Technology recently at the University of Greenwich. This came barely few weeks after an exclusive report by Education Review on 21-year-old Precious Oyelade, born to Nigerian parents living in South London, who also won the best first degree academic project at the Cambridge University. She wrote on a project, titled: Changing Representations of Nigerian Identity: An Exploration through Nollywood and its Audience.
Can anything good come from Nigerian education system stymied by decades of neglect and rot? Ogbodo, who started his early education in Nigeria before travelling abroad, bares his mind in this exclusive interview.
I attended the University of Nigeria Primary School Enugu Campus and after the common entrance examinations, I was accepted into King’s College, Lagos, which was my first choice secondary school and University of Nigeria Secondary School, Enugu Campus. After a short spell at King’s College, I switched to University of Nigeria Secondary School, Enugu Campus, where I completed secondary education.
What contributed to your First Class result?
My degree class was achieved as a mix of various occurrences. I have always been very intuitive and brilliant. However, I would say that I achieved the degree class based on my hard work, mindset and a will to succeed as the best in my educational career. In addition, the encouragements and advice from my family, friends, fellow students, tutors and colleagues at work including lessons learnt from other people’s experiences played a key role in my academic success. I would add that the availability of resources also made it somewhat easier.
What were your reasons for going abroad to study?
I had the opportunity to witness what the Nigerian education system was like. From my observations and research, it was crystal clear that studying abroad delivered better learning conditions with respect to the educational infrastructures and tutoring methodologies. I wanted value for education; to be able to defend my degree at any given instance. In addition, I felt it would provide more opportunities like internships and placement in my career path while I’m studying which aid in the development of my personal and professional characteristics and enhance employability.
How much did it cost to study in London?
It was no walk in the park. My tuition fees alone were over £9,000 per session. Accommodation cost about £7000 per year. In three years this amounted to nearly £50,000 (that’s approximately N13.5m) spent on tuition and accommodation alone. Travel cards, mobile top ups and internet bills, plus other living expenses have not even been included.
How would you Compare Nigerian academic standard with British?
Compared to the standard in Nigeria, I would say we are nautical miles away from the standard of education in England. The infrastructures are well maintained and regularly updated. Libraries, laboratories and e-resources are all well stocked and maintained. In three years of my undergraduate degree, I can honestly say that I never purchased a textbook or journal (or handout) for any of my courses. Everything I needed, I found in the library, labs and/or e-resources. In addition, the tutoring methodologies and mentalities if I may add, are way different to what we have in Nigeria. I believe this is very important because the attitude of tutors have direct impact on the learning of students. I have experienced lecturers in our Nigerian universities who do not take well to being asked questions. The attitude of lecturers is very different in the UK and I believe that may be one of the reasons the student satisfaction rate is high in most UK universities.
How would you rate the academic abilities of African and British students?
That’s a trick question. It’s hard to say. I mean there are very bright students there and there are very bright students in Africa as well. You could argue that if we were to trade places, the students over there would not last a week in the African institutions whereas the Africans would thrive in their institutions. However, that theory is not proven. Some African students overseas do not do well because they are not used to the system there. However, I have met some English students who studied in Tanzania and did real good. That being said, I personally do not think students over there are brighter than Africans. In fact, they are not. They just have better infrastructures and a better system.
What is unique about ‘white’ students?
Honestly, nothing. You meet a few who are exceptional. But then again you also meet geniuses that are Africans. So for me, there is nothing unique or special about the Caucasian students. My opinion.
Are foreign schools better than Nigerian academic institutions?
I can’t speak for all foreign schools, but in my experience with institutions in the UK, I would say yes they are more conducive for reasons which I have touched on earlier (like infrastructure, tutoring methodologies, even course coordination). The way they run their programmes makes it easy for the students to excel. For instance, in Nigeria, an average student takes about 9-12 courses per semester. However, in England, students take about 4-8 courses per session. Personally, I only took four courses per year throughout my degree. These are more in depth and focused and there is a big possibility that the students would perform better and also retain the course contents as opposed to when they are taking 12 courses per semester for 4 years. Now, you may argue that the system is different and the curriculum is different and everything is different. But the truth is, they have implemented it and it works for them. I saw in the papers the other day that an average Nigerian student cannot defend his degree. Maybe it’s time to change the system.
What were your challenges studying abroad?
There were lots of challenges. I said it was no walk in the park. The most challenging thing I faced was the cost of living and funding my education. My family paid for the tuition as a joint venture while I fended for myself and catered for my living expenses. As an international student, I had no recourse to public fund, therefore I could not get any funding (like loans, grants) whatsoever. In addition, my student visa had a 20-hour per week work limit during term time. This made it very difficult for me to make enough money to pay my bills all year round. In those cases where I fall short, I would fall back on savings I made from working full time during summer break. Sometimes I had to ask my family to help me out when I ran out which was very difficult because I couldn’t bring myself to ask them for money after the huge sum they pay for tuition.
But in the process of passing through the challenges, I gained irreplaceable life skills and experiences. I have four years’ experience working in different sectors and industries, which include IT, education, retail and hospitality. I have had job roles as a Data Analyst, IT Technical and Application Support, Admin Assistant, Bartender and Sales Associate. These roles have aided in my personal and professional development and have also instilled the right mindset in me.
After school, what next?
I plan on using the practical as well as theoretical experience I have gained in England to help develop my country to the best of my ability. At the moment, I am looking to join an innovative business where I can contribute practically and in essence make a positive impact in the society. I have been asked by a lot of people why I did not head straight into postgraduate studies and get a Masters and PhD. But the thing that people fail to understand is that, to succeed in anything, you need to set a plan, timeline and milestones; just like you would do in project management. I studied ICT. ICT is very broad (web programming, business development, strategic planning, enterprise architectures, database administration, data warehousing, data analysis and prediction, and loads more). After my degree, if I decide to go into postgraduate studies and do an MSc and PhD, I would have to randomly pick a specialty, where I ‘feel’ I would excel. It’s a gamble because after getting a Masters in the randomly chosen field, I may realise after some time working in that area, that I, in fact, do not like it and would not want to spend the greater part of my career working in that area. Then, I would either have to go and do another Masters or worse, stay in that career path and grumble. The latter is what most people would do and that would lead to job dissatisfaction.
To avoid that, I plan on making my way into industry. Get a job- a good job, work in a chosen sector and slowly discover the most feasible career path to specialise in. That way, I would be doing a Masters degree not as a clueless student with a lot of theory, but as a professional with a lot of experience. That way I can get more out of the degree and in the process make positive impacts on my fellow students and tutors.
I have met managers of businesses who are 22 years old. I had the opportunity to speak with one and he said he got into the industry on time. His parents always pushed him to grab as much industry experience as possible and that way, he rose quickly in rank. Most Nigerians believe in gathering qualifications but with no real industry experience. Employers these days do not just need qualifications, they need experience. They ask for experience.
What is your take on the anti- corruption war by President Buhari?
I think corruption is the most fundamental issue Nigeria is facing. And when I say corruption I do not just mean high end corruption, I mean grass root corruption as well. Let me give you an example, my sister once noticed her car was not moving properly so she took it to the auto shop for diagnosis. The man, sensing that my sister does not know anything about auto parts, told her that the engine was bad and the injector needed to be changed. But in fact, the car just needed a plug cleaned. So corruption in Nigeria is not something that should be only tackled on top government officials, but also on every Nigerian. I commend the efforts of the current administration on corruption and I think it is the step in the right direction.
But I urge my fellow Nigerians to help the government (and help ourselves in essence) by discouraging corruption in our paths as well. It might take awhile, but if we rid Nigeria of corruption, I believe we can become one of the greatest countries in the world. I want to be part of that Nigeria.
What is your advice to the Nigerian government on improving education?
Education is very vital to the growth and development of every country. The quality of education we give our children is what will lead them on to become the leaders of tomorrow. We can’t expect good leaders in the future if we fail to instil good education in them. Therefore, I would advise the government to follow up on the budget on education in order to make sure it is indeed being used for the purposes of enhancing our education system.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and as at January 2015, we were the third fastest growing economy in the world. I would say we are doing a lot of things right. However, it would be ideal if the government would invest in IT infrastructures around the country. Four out of the top five most valuable companies in the world are IT companies (Apple, Microsoft, Google, IBM), the only exception Coca Cola at number 4. This goes to show the impact of IT in everyday operations. Investment in IT infrastructures will ease a lot of business processes and eliminate lag to a great extent thereby creating more avenue for growth. This will help the economy in the long run. Also, I would like to commend the recent improvements in electricity and encourage the war on corruption. Getting these aspects right will definitely deliver a push to economic development.