The Federal Government, in partnership with Gallaudet University, United States, among other stakeholders, is planning to establish university for the deaf in the country. But experts in the teaching industry feel that the project is another misconceived priority at this point in time.
The university, as envisaged by the Federal Government, will either be situated in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja or Shagamu, Ogun State, once arrangement is concluded. Already, series of meetings had been held in this regard with the National Universities Commission (NUC), Federal Ministry of Education, National Assembly leadership and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).
Already, a site visit to Gallaudet University, the official partners of the project, has been scheduled between October 28 and November 1, 2019. Once that is accomplished, the country might witness its first ever University for the Deaf any time soon.
As good as this project might appear, owing to its ability to spark increased awareness on challenges of deaf education and other issues affecting the physically-challenged as well as their civil rights, experts expressed doubts that government is going about it the right way.
Top on the list of their worries is whether the government will also establish university for the dumb, the blind and the lame. What will happen to the products of this university upon graduation? When will government shun the vainglory attached to creation of more universities?
They submitted that in other climes, leaders are developing strategies to integrate the disabled in the mainstream and give them a sense of belonging, rather than isolating them, arguing that this particular move is capable of isolating them.
The entire move, they concluded, will amount to another waste of huge resources that will benefit only the few championing the project.
Rather than establish a new university, they advised that government should strengthen the existing special units in varsities; create more robust centres in top universities in each geo-political zones for a wider reach; find out the challenges affecting deaf education and address them. Before now, there had been an outcry from the physically-challenged group in the society pleading with government to expedite action on inclusion process and mainstreaming disability in governance.
Though government has directed that ministries, agencies and parastatal should at least include one physically challenged in their unit, the statusquo still remains.
National Vice President, Nigerian National Association of the Deaf (NNAD), Mohammed Adelani, had in a report explained that, “Gallaudet University, U.S., is the only deaf university in the world. Many people with hearing impairment in Nigeria and Africa attend the university. It is the dream of everyone with this challenge in the world to have Gallaudet experience.
“So, to make it accessible to such class of people, Gallaudet University is making efforts to collaborate with Wesley University and Nigerian National Association of the Deaf to establish its campus in Nigeria so that those concerned can have access to Gallaudet experience of all-round education.”
In the same vein, he said, “We are still at the foundation stage to get other relevant stakeholders from government and the international community. A series of meetings have been held with the NUC, FME, NASS, JAMB, World Bank, AfDB, TETFUND and many others.
“A site visit to Gallaudet University has been scheduled for between October 28 and November 1, 2019 with many others willing to attend. The institution is expected to be established in Abuja or Shagamu in Ogun State. The NUC is very much aware about the project and series of meetings have been held with the commission; they are very committed to the project.”
But a professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Ibadan, Albert Olawale, said the project was another directionless project.
Some of the questions he raised are how many schools for the deaf or departments of special education do we have in Nigeria? How well are they equipped or patronised by the government? What value is the foreign university coming to add to what we have?
“Almost all universities in Nigeria have department of special education and we have schools of the deaf all over the place, including college of education (special). So, what is any foreign university coming to add? It is the usual waste of money. It is the usual jamboree we do in Nigeria. If government thinks we are not doing it well, why will they not visit all those existing institutions and find out why they are not doing it well, and then address the challenges.
“They tell us in the university that we are not performing like Harvard University faculty members, but we go to Harvard and Oxford to do sabbatical. We go there and they give us their facilities and we perform better than their people there. And yet people will be criticising university teachers. The government is always talking about Harvard; do we have the Harvard facility? Are we collecting Harvard salary? Or they think they will bring a scholar from Harvard to come and stay in this rickety system we are running here and the person will stay for one week?
“So, we have existing institutions, government should focus on face-lifting the facilities and equipping the staff to do the work better. We have existing universities dealing with these issues already. They have their challenges, find out what their challenges are and address them and see if there won’t be great improvement,” Olawale submitted.
For a distinguished professor at University of Lagos, Ayodeji Olukoju, it is good that government is showing concern to the plight of the physically-challenged, but establishing a specialised university is out of place.
He said: “On one hand, we commend the Federal Government for trying to implement affirmative action in favour of the physically disadvantaged in the society, but this is certainly not the best way to go about it because at the end of the day, we may have to start setting up university for each category of ailment. With this, we are proliferating universities as if they are secondary schools. University is a very serious affair, it is not something you institute based on sentiments.
“It is good the government is thinking about this category of people. But must you do so for every category of physically disadvantaged citizen? We shouldn’t be doing things for vainglory. The second question is must we have more universities in Nigeria, isn’t it possible to create a special unit for those people inside our universities? This is certainly not a smart move.”
The professor of History also stated that in the current state of the nation’s economy, the economy does not need specialist universities, but general universities in which people can specialise.
“What the system needs right now is to pool resources together and not to dissipate them. We need universities that are truly so-called, universities in truth and in deed, universities with facilities and requisite number of qualified and competent lecturers. And if you want to reach a larger audience, you don’t need to put everybody on campus, you should do distant learning, and this will work on the basis of good infrastructure, regular electricity, very good telecommunications network and properly trained teachers who will handle those things, that is the way forward, not to proliferate, not to be creating jobs for the boys,” he said.
Olukoju further stated that Nigerian universities currently are completely over stretched, with a handful of PhDs.
To this end, he advised the promoters of the university for the deaf, as well as the Federal Government, to strengthen the existing special education centres in various universities.
“If possible, government should focus on five top ones. May be in the five oldest universities, create special centres and develop them even to the faculty level. Also, we may have one in six geopolitical zones so that nobody can complain about distance. So, they should focus on existing university and probably give them grants to facilitate the project.
“Another question is when they have acquired the degree, what is next for them? How do we engage them, what can we do with the product of these institutions. So, we need to train them to be independent and be able to develop capacity in other people that are similarly disadvantaged. Affirmative action is good but they should go about it with wisdom,” Olukoju said.
Meanwhile, Registrar, Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof. Ishaq Oloyede had in one of the meetings with the delegates on the proposed university suggested that the Federal Government should establish more centres of learning for deaf people in the country.
This, he said, would help the deaf in the country achieve their dreams and visions.
He recalled that the Federal Government designated University of Ilorin as the national centre for the deaf in Nigeria, lamenting that the centre, which was established for over 30 years, has been neglected due to lack of funds.
He, therefore, advised the Federal Government to establish such specialised centres in five other geopolitical zones of the country, as it will go a long way in meeting the needs of the deaf.
He recommended Wesley University from the south and Al-hikmah from the North for private Universities; and Bayero University, Kano, University of Maiduguri, University of Calabar, University of Ibadan as well as University of Nigeria, Nsukka to join University of Ilorin as specialized centers for the deaf in Nigerian Universities.
To better the lots of the group, the JAMB boss suggested that at least one deaf person should be employed in all ministries and agencies to provide employments for the deaf and physically challenged.