AUN: Focus on e-learning, quality of graduates, by Nelly Ating
Issues bordering on education, economic development and empowerment will dominate the agenda on Saturday, May 10, when the American University of Nigeria holds her 6th Commencement. President Margee Ensign, one of the resource persons at the World Economic Forum in Abuja, which holds two days before the graduation ceremony, will lead faculty members, diplomats, students, parents, dignitaries and community, religious and business leaders in Adamawa state to deliberate on how to leverage on Nigeria’s huge human and natural endowments to win the national war against poverty and illiteracy.
A major highlight of the May 10 Commencement will be the dedication of the University’s award-winning library, which is now named after the late former United States National Security Adviser and pioneer AUN Board of Trustees member, Dr. Robert Pastor. The new library building is a revolutionary concept in multifunctional deployment of e-resources and maximum use of space—a concept which may influence a radical paradigm change in library development in Nigerian universities in the near future.
Dr. Pastor, who served the administration of President Jimmy Carter as NSA and later became a Senior Fellow at the Carter Center, is credited with establishing programs in election monitoring in Latin America and China. He authored seventeen books on US Foreign Policy in his lifetime. In his tribute to the late board member, AUN Founder His Excellency Atiku Abubakar said of Dr. Pastor, “He trusted my dream and vision for the American University of Nigeria, and worked with total dedication till the end.”
The new Dr. Robert A. Pastor Library and E-Learning Center is a three-storey high broadband Wi-Fi complex featuring a 224-seat auditorium, lecture halls, classrooms, a 24-hour library facility, reading rooms, state-of-the-art radio and television studios for community broadcast services, a traditionally fitted sit-out named the Yola room and the Atiku Abubakar Leadership and Business Development Center.
According to Engineer Alex Cobo, Director of Facilities at AUN and the brain behind the design and construction of the new library, it will “play an important role in AUN’s mission to promote service learning and educate leaders who will be prepared to tackle the development issues of Nigeria”.
Many scholars have argued that Nigeria and other developing countries need to leverage on e-learning resources to bridge the widening gap in education services. The World Bank estimates that more than 10 million school age kids are out of school in Nigeria. Despite the growing number of public and private universities and other tertiary institutions in the country, a large army of young people denied access to education continues to mount. An average of 1.5 million candidates annually sits for university matriculation exam out of which only hundreds of thousands, accounting for roughly 11 percent, make it in the end. A view held by experts, including former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, is that technology, especially online and distance learning, is the surest path to increasing literacy. Already AUN is leading in expanding the classroom by its well-thought out e-learning approach. AUN’s excellent ICT infrastructure base and diverse faculty from across 28 countries come in handy in launching the Online & Distance Learning programs.
In the words of Mr. Julius Ayuk-Tabe, Chief Information Officer of the university, “the management of AUN is sparing no effort to ensure that the Online and Distance Learning (ODL) program takes-off within the best environment. In this regard, a select group of faculty is currently undergoing an online workshop course on “Problem Centered Instruction” with the legendary Professor David Merrill author of “First Principles of Instruction” on how to develop effective, efficient and engaging instructions. It is also hoped that AUN’s 99.9% e-library will be accessible by students around the country, continent and world to improve their learning”.
Commencement keynote speech will be delivered by a former White House aide, Ambassador John Simon. Ambassador Simon, a product of Harvard and Princeton universities, has a vast and rich experience in undertaking development projects.
More than 250 students from four faculties (including Graduate School) will be graduating. In addition, the University will be graduating her first batch of post graduate diploma students on the same day.
President Margee Ensign is confident that the graduating students are sufficiently equipped in terms of academic training and orientation to become leaders in business, politics and society. AUN has consistently taken a position that its graduates have a competitive advantage over their counterparts worldwide, because they are trained in the American liberal arts and science tradition, which President Ensign says produces independent thinkers and problem solvers.
Adding more thoughts on the interdisciplinary nature of the American liberal educational system, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Idorenyin Akpan says it allows a student the opportunity to take general education courses, thereby having basic knowledge in all disciplines including philosophy, ethics and leadership, public speaking, biology, and chemistry, as this knowledge guides them in the society we live in today. He reiterated that the liberal style of education.
“This is a system which exposes students to everything as in a globalized world today one needs a complete, not a regimented education. What comes out of such a system as AUN are graduates who can think on their feet, lead with fresh ideas, create employment, and also work as problem solvers”, he said.
But how will AUN graduates fare in the larger society, in the job market, in culture and politics. Can they hold their own? Yes, says Professor Linus Osuagwu, Dean of School of Business and Entrepreneurship, who argues that the inclusion of compulsory courses on entrepreneurship for all students of the university gives them the intellectual and practical knowhow for business startup or leadership in paid employment.
The University also forges ahead to help its graduates prepare for the tough job market by organizing the now famous Annual Career Fairs. Various blue-chip local and international companies come to select the best of the best the school has to offer. AUN’s Career officers assists in training the students on how to prepare for interviews, write resume, and work ethics, and general business attitude, which employers find useful, as the number of participating companies has continued to grow.
AUN’s strong ICT background is legendary, the institution being the first Nigerian university, public or private, to offer Software Engineering as an undergraduate program. Every graduate of AUN has above-average ICT skills. Upon admission, every student gets a laptop and takes compulsory ICT classes. Dr. Mathias Fonkam, Dean of the School of Information Technology & Computing said that software engineers are needed to groom a nascent software industry in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa. He said in the context of the current information technology revolution, the software industry presents the most opportunities for economic development and job creation and this is why AUN breeds graduates to become entrepreneurs in their various fields of studies. He cited an example of AUN graduates who developed the OpenERP (enterprise resource planning) system, which is an Open Source replacement for the older Banner ERP system which the University has deployed with astounding results. In addition, the graduates from Business and SITC collaborated to develop the POS (point of sales software) that the University is currently using in its cafeteria and by some local businesses in Yola-Jimeta.
Keynote speaker Ambassador Simon comes with rich credentials and his lecture will set the tone of discussion on the issues. He will be the sixth since the inaugural Commencement in 2009. John Simon, From his outstanding effort and passionate in yielding impact through sustainable projects, was called upon by the American President to serve in the White House as Special Assistant and as Senior Director for Relief, Stabilization and Development for the National Security Council.
Recently, Mr. Simon served as the United State Ambassador to the African Union, Executive Vice President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, OPIC. He is also the founder and Managing Partner of Total Impact Advisors, an investment consulting agency. Not the least, he also authored a book, More than Money, a report on impact investment as a developmental tool.
During his tenure at the National Security Council, John Simon supervised the implementation of ground-breaking development initiatives, including the Millennium Challenge Account, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, and the President’s Malaria Initiative. He was actively involved in responding to international humanitarian disasters for the US government such as the 2005 South Asia Earthquake.
He had an astounding impact at OPIC, overseeing the agency’s involvement in the social impact investment marketplace, financing housing in Africa, involvement in growing small and medium businesses in Liberia and large-scale renewable power.
Ambassador Simon has sterling credentials in African development issues and this is why other institutions should emulate AUN.
Nelly Ating is a Communications & Multimedia Designs major and member of the AUN Class of 2012.