Dr James Bassey Ejue has just been appointed provost for the College of Education in Awi area of Akamkpa LGA of Cross River State. After three months in office, the astute provost spoke to schoolwatch.com.ng grapevine on his plans, including why he wants to make the college degree-awarding; why many more departments will be introduced, and why staff would be given full scholarship to study abroad.
Before now, the COE Akamkpa was merged with other tertiary institutions in the state in 2002 to found Cross River State University of Technology (CRUTECH). Why was that so?
The Authorities then had their reasons. But as events went on it became apparent there was a big gap in middle-level manpower in the teaching profession. So when Governor Liyel Imoke came on board, towards the end of 2008 he re-established Cross River State College of Education through an Act of Parliament of the state House of Assembly. Academic activities commenced in earnest in 2009. The state government had a vision in re-establishing the College of Education Akamkpa to produce excellent teachers, especially in the sciences, technical and vocational studies and other areas of education generally. You may recall that when CRUTECH was founded to cater for technological-based studies, the faculty of education at CRUTECH did not cover all core areas. For instance, there is no training of teachers in English and social studies which are core areas for our primary and secondary school sectors. So it became necessary for us to embrace that in what we are doing.
The COE Akamkpa had Strategic Plans. So far, we have had success story in the implementation of the ‘First Strategic Plan’, at least up to 80%. We are talking about success in terms of infrastructure. When the college was first established there were no infrastructure. The old buildings were all devastated by windstorm but the governor intervened through comprehensive building and renovation of old structures in the school. Functional science laboratory complete with modern equipment was put up. The First Strategic Plan also included employment of skilled manpower in critical areas.
As a new man at the helm of affairs, what will the future of COE Akamkpa look like?
It will be brighter as I intend to consolidate on achievements of my predecessor. My own administration is now working on the second Strategic Plan. This is going to be defended before the state exco.
Nevertheless, we have started the gradual implementation of the second Strategic Plan, which focus is to continue expanding our infrastructure because we are looking into the future in order to meet the manpower needs of the state. Number two is that, we want to focus on continual staff development.
Upon assumption of office you promised to improve the academic prowess of your lecturers. How do you intend to do this?
I have challenged both the academic and non-academic staff that the first ten of them that will get admission in any foreign universities will receive full sponsorship from the College. And we mean this. So far, only one person has applied.
I even went ahead to say that those in technical education, in addition to the ten, will equally receive full sponsorship once they come with letters of admission from such overseas-based schools. This is because COE Akamkpa emphasises on continuous educational development of its students and staff. This is why we also sponsor staff to attend national and international conferences and seminars. We have just granted approval to 100 academic and non-academic staff to attend such workshops.
Recently, your predecessor stressed the need for the college to start degree programme?
Indeed. The second Strategic Plan of the college focuses on degree programme.
This will commence probably in 2015 if we receive the blessings of the state government. This is because we have some programmes at the school now running where if they not have degrees at the end might become an end itself. We are among pioneer Colleges of Education in Nigeria to run NCE programme in early child education. And many universities in Nigeria don’t have that, many graduates in Early Child Education get stranded midway. Therefore, it is justifiable for us to select some programmes for degrees.
Are you thinking of expanding your course curriculum?
Yes, we are actually looking at expansion in academic programmes. For instance, government set up COE to respond to the needs of school system. Our interaction with managers of school system in the state reveals that they don’t have teachers of computer sciences. What obtains presently is that they find somebody who read physics or chemistry and he is drafted to teach computer sciences. No we think that Cross River standard is above that. We want therefore to respond to that dire need by establishing department for computer science, so that we can train computer science teachers. We want also to establish another department for science and applied arts. We want to give our budding children opportunity to blossom.
Is it true that you intend to teach Chinese language?
We are looking to establish a department for the study of Chinese language.
You may be aware that the government is looking to introduce Chinese language in the state. The simple reason is because Nigeria and much of the world is now turning to China. Chinese firms are everywhere in the state and Nigeria, and we are doing business with them. And if we must have the best of negotiation, relationship and benefits, it would be added advantage if we understand their language. In this regard, the ministry of education in the state has already engaged consultant to work out modalities. So, we as a teacher training institution we want to key into this development. In 2015, we want to recruit five persons with language background and send them to China to study the language may be for two years. On their return in 2017 we should be able to introduce the programme at pre-NCE level so that prospective students could start to learn the alphabets, the sound and get familiar with them before actual NCE programme.
Could you let us into the much-taled about quality assurance of the college.
You could have the best staff, best structures and all but if there is no quality assurance mechanism your energy will lie waste. We do our best too to implement the prescribed curricula. To achieve success, we make sure that we match theory with practise. That’s why we are planning to build an ultra modern technical workshop where our students can practicalise the theories. We have the same plan for Home Economics. We are partnering with Highbury College in UK who in partnership with the state government are establishing the Management Institute of Technology (MIT) in Ugep in central Cross River State. They are already training our staff who are in technical education. With this partnership, we should be in a position to support the MIT and also train enough technical manpower for the state.
What efforts are you doing to contain academic malpractices?
We don’t tolerate academic crimes and malpractices by students and staff. As I speak, we have four students in court. They are prosecuted for impersonation.
Those who come to exams hall to impersonate for others we hand them over to the police. One lecturer has lost his job this year for extorting money from students.
Four other lecturers are undergoing investigations, if found guilty they will be sacked.
We learn you are laying emphasis on English language?
That’s correct. We have introduced a course known as Akamkpa Functional English Project to help neighbourhood students (those from the locality) who are still having difficulty in expressing themselves in the English language. It is a compulsory course for all new students. This will enable them cope with their science and technical studies.
What’s the impact of the school so far?
In the production of skilled manpower the college impact is being felt.
Recently, a principal of a school where we had sent our product for teaching practise told me to send him more trainee teachers as he was set to reject those from other colleges. Our products are very handy for recruitment into the Federal Teachers Scheme which is a stop-gap measure by the federal government to supply teachers to needy states. Ours are found to be very competent. In the State Universal Basic Education our first batch of 669 graduates performed well in their exams out of over 1000 or so intake. COE Akamkpa also consults for the state and re-trains trainers because our lecturers are fit.
Why has your college not joined other colleges and polytechnic on the nationwide strike?
When I was appointed in March this year, I invited the union leaders in the college for a dialogue. I told them that we should isolate the demand of the national strike; that some of the demands by the national body have already been addressed in Cross River State. For instance, the state was the first to implement the payment of the current approved salary for COE. So they agreed that we should separate what were national demands and the ones the state could meet up. These we addressed and they returned to work.
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