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(INTERVIEW) COVID-19: Ogwu Says DELSU Saved 2019/2020 Academic Session, Hints On Her Achievements In Office

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Professor (Mrs.) Grace Ogwu, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic, Delta State University (DELSU), Abraka

-Management Is Determined To Create Free WIFI In All Three Campuses For Students, She Reveals

Professor (Mrs.) Grace Ogwu is the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic, Delta State University (DELSU), Abraka.
Oasis Magazine had an exclusive chat with her recently immediately the lockdown on tertiary institutions was lifted by the Okowa administration.
According to her, DELSU has duly saved the 2019/2020 academic session despite the COVID-19 challenge.
She also hinted on what the management is doing through ICT to give students the needful advantage even as they obey the protocols needed to curb the spread of the disease.

Let’s meet you ma
My name is Professor (Mrs.) Grace Ngozi Ogwu, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), Delta State University, Abraka. I am a Professor of Ceramics and Art Education. I am from the Department of Fine and Applied Art.

Students are back on campus after many months of lockdown. How prepared is DELSU for the students?
You know Delta State University has never been on any kind of lockdown in terms of ASUU strike. The lockdown that we were involved in is because of COVID-19 and it was the federal government that shutdown the university and the Delta State governor being the Visitor of this university also took a cue from that and also shutdown all the institutions in Delta. But as the government studied the situation with COVID-19, each governor decided to look at the possibility of resuming their tertiary institutions. The first to start was Lagos State governor and our own governor too also directed that we should prepare if we were asked to resume. And if you look around you’ll find a few things that we’ve done to the buildings. There are very many points for washing hands and running tap. That is, you don’t need to move any bucket around. We don’t want to put our messengers and cleaners in dangers by asking them to empty buckets. So, we use running taps and fix them to all the buildings so that the students and staffs will be using. So you can wash your hands before you get into the lecture room and also after you have received your lecture because of the surfaces you have touched. We’ve also made sanitizers available in case the students are in the lecture room and they are changing lecture immediately they will have to apply sanitizers. And we have also made facemasks available as many as possible. Our Entrepreneurial Center has been producing facemasks and one of DELSU’s students was kind enough to donate over 25, 000 facemasks for the students. It is labeled and customized. It will be given to students as they resume. We also request that students should on their own pick up facemasks because it is something we use on a daily basis.
We’ve gotten to the point where the government said we should resume but we still need to do more things to continue to preserve the lives of our staff and students and to protect them health-wise. So, we need to do additional installations, increase the infra-red thermometer that would be used to check temperature as the students are moving in to the campus and around lecture rooms. We need to get more on that so that we can reach all the students wherever they are with some other installations instead of using this infra-red all the time. We’ll make sure to install the type that you can walk through then instantly you read your temperature like what we see in the airport. For that reason we’ve discussed with the university Students’ Union Government to tell them that we need to charge a little fee for us to be able to keep together some money to be able to improve the health provisions that is on campus and we ended up asking the students to pay a token of N5, 000 (now N4, 000). That was discussed with the students and they looked at it and agreed.
Now what we requested to be put together and to be able for us to use is far above what the students are going to pay. But we cannot ask them to pay that kind of amount because it will be too huge for their parents. So we are going to supplement whatever the students are going to pay.
We have also made available an isolation center. Should we see a bad case amongst the students, we’ll have to isolate that student immediately so that it does not spread to others. The isolation center is in place in Site 3. It was supposed to be our health center in Site 3 but because of this COVID-19 situation we decided we should use it temporarily for isolation center. It’s not a permanent isolation center. It’s just a place to move the students that we may find or staff that we may find with a bad temperature situation and then we’ll carry out a few tests, if there is need to send the person out to the main isolation center in Asaba or other places. These are some of the things that we’ve done and we’ll continue to do more.

We are aware of the phased resumption in DELSU. Our readers will like to know how that arrangement will look like.
Well, the truth of the matter is that the calendar approved for resumption for first and second semester of the university has the final year and 100 level resuming first. We don’t want to have a crowd of students at once on campus.
Before the students resumed, we had reduced the crowd drastically. Because JAMB continued their program, they have to do their admission for 2020/2021 session and we have been in the forefront of resumption in this country because we do not go on strike here. So we need to always prepare our students that are supposed to be admitted for Jamb admission. Eligibility for Jamb admission is for you to make your result ready.
We called pre-degree students to come and spend two weeks to revise their teaching because they were taught online at school and took their exams so that their result can be ready for Jamb admission. That set left because they had the whole space on campus to use. Social distance was maintained, face mask and washing of hands were maintained.
Another group was the Diploma year 2, who will want to get admission for direct entry. If we don’t allow them get their result ready they won’t be qualified and considered by Jamb for admission. They were also teaching them online. They came for revision for two weeks and wrote their exams. Using that style, we were able to reduce the crowd.
Next was the JUPEB. The JUPEB program is organized from Lagos. They have their center in Lagos. So they brought their calendar and gave a period that students must be taught and then take exams. So we brought that group too. They are also considered for Jamb admission. We took all these groups before we brought all final year and 100 level to resume. That way we have reduced the crowd in the school. Those ones have their results getting processed as we speak and once we are done with Post-UTME exams we’ll need to consider them for admission because jamb portal is open for admission for 2020/2021. Now the final year students and the 100level Students resumed on the 5th of October for lectures.
They’ll do their lectures for one month into the first week of November and then they’ll take exams for the next two weeks into about 15th of November. Then they’ll vacate the campus. Immediately, 200 and 300level Students will come on board. They will resume and then start lectures around 16th November. We are looking at terminating their exams on the 23rd of December but we have said because of inconvenience of travelling to their homes, we’ll use time tabling system to try to make sure they finish around 21st and 22nd December so that they can go home. We do not hope to stay too long. As soon as we finish the new year celebration we’ll resume January for the 2020/2021 academic session. We are trying to save the 2019/2020 academic session that was affected by COVID-19 that allowed our students to stay at home for about 6months due to covid lockdown so there won’t be holiday for so long.

What is your advice to students as they resume on campus considering the COVID-19 realities?
The first advice I’ll give, as the university management we have put in place what they should do… the DO’s and DON’Ts. No need to begin to go in groups. You can walk together but give a distance from each other. The reason is that we all are from different homes. Many of our students are from Lagos where the COVID-19 was a turbulent issue. So you don’t know anybody who was sick. There are people that are illness might not show symptoms on them. They might affect somebody else who is fragile and that person may become sick. So, we want the students to try and obey social distancing.
Even in the lecture room we have marked the chairs that students can sit on considering the social distance. The once that was not ticked should not be used by the students. We expect the students to organize themselves in such a way that there is distance to the next person as they go out. They should also wash their hands. Even in school hostels, they have been rearranged. They are no longer 4 or 5 in a room. There are 2 in a room for them to observe social distance.
They should be able to obey that if they cannot buy sanitizers they can wash their hands always. And then we expect them to maintain the issue of using their facemask not wearing it on the chin not only because you want to protect yourself. You need to protect your neighbor and the Student Union has agreed on this with us and they try to talk to their students to obey these rules.

DELSU is known to have a working calendar. Now that COVID-19 has come to shake the system where does that leave DELSU?
We do not have any problem because we were at the forefront as a university to develop a means to teach our students at home. While students were at home, we were teaching them. I’m not going to tell you categorically that all the courses were taught completely because each lecturer plans their lectures but we made sure that we created DLMS which means DELSU Learning Management System platform. This was done by the DELSU ICT Unit. We were using that means to teach our students at home. That was why we had to give one month as soon as they resume. Many of our lecturers have concluded their lectures using DLMS. So, for the ones that could not complete their lectures, they have this one month that we gave for them to pick up the topics to be treated.
The saving of 2019/2020 session already started long ago because we knew that by the time you come back we will not be able to save 2020/2021. We will eat into it if we didn’t do this DLMS teaching.
It caused us so much to be able to bring about this DLMS because there’s a host for it. We paid to a host to make sure it is running 24hours to make sure students can go there and discuss with their lecturers on things that are confusing. The 2019/2020 academic session as far as we are concerned has been duly saved that’s why we are trying to make sure that we do not encroach further by giving long holiday again. DELSU has always keyed into the world calendar because we have some exchange program with universities outside Nigeria. So if we don’t key into the world calendar our students can’t go and take second semester in another university. Now, as they are starting their first and second semester we are starting already. We want to get back quickly despite Covid-19 to that world calendar because of our exchange programs that we have, so that our students who want to go on long holidays abroad can use their three months break.
The lecturers too would want to go out for some researches or go on holiday with their families. They can also use the 3 months break. That’s why we don’t go on strike but it’s not as if we don’t appreciate what ASUU is doing nationwide but we just feel like it’s no use for a student who gets into a program for four years and ending it after 9 years or 5 years because of strikes.
So we are doing so much here to make sure that we maintain a steady calendar and students graduate as at when due.

If I’m not mistaken, you have been in office for over a year now. What are your achievements so far and what more should the DELSU community expect from your tenure?
Well as far as I know, I’m Deputy Vice Chancellor Academics of the university and I know my duty is to make sure that the academic activities of the universities are running smoothly. I’m always on ground and I try to have my eyes everywhere to make sure that lectures are going on. The issue of the DLMS… this Vice Chancellor as soon as he came, helped me revive the ICT. The ICT we had was not doing as well as the current ICT staff and as DVC I’m in charge of the ICT because the ICT services are all programmes. So, I’ve effectively complained to him and he gave me new directors and helped to change their offices, relocated them and they are comfortable. That’s why we were successful in creating DLMS because we didn’t want our students to forget everything about their studies for that period. We wanted to make sure that we engaged them to save the 2019/2020 session. The DLMS is part of the effort I made as Chairman of ICT committee and we’re still working. By the directives of the Vice Chancellor, we’re heading to creating WiFi for all campus. So, you can sit down under a tree and take your DLMS lectures because even now some lecturers will use the DLMS to teach. If you have a large crowd of over 600 students and you feel that social distancing will not be effectively maintained you can use DLMS to teach them. They can stay in their hostel room, while WiFi is operating, and take their lectures. They can come down under the tree sit down and take their lectures cause that’s the essence of DLMS. So we’re still in the process of improving all the services that we can get through the ICT. The state government also helped the university by bringing in opportunities for learning management system called Delta State Learning Management System. We plugged it into our own because our own had specific functions as is required of the university to give to its students and staffs. So we added it so we thank the government and Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, the Governor of Delta State. He gave us also another opportunity for e-learning system for library system (e-library). The same company came and installed e-library. So when you plug into our DELSU Learning Management System, you’ll find a space for E-library where you can search for your latest journal and books in your discipline. That was an effort by the state government and I was also in the forefront to make sure that the state government offices and the company that came to do this work did it successfully.
So the ICT is something that evolves. You and I know that you open your phone today and you’ll find new activities going on. That is what ICT is. It is never static. So, we are continuously building on the services of the ICT and we are now heading for WiFi to make sure that everywhere on the three campuses at Asaba, Oleh, Oghara, Warri, any where we have our students, we have WiFi for them to use all the time and to reduce the data that they will have to buy for their phones to receive lectures.

So what you are saying is that DELSU is ready for the COVID-19 challenge?
Yes we are more than ready.

As an academic of repute, what is your call to stakeholders in other universities around Nigeria as the world battles Covid-19?
The truth of the matter is that the state government has been the one helping by providing some of these things I have mentioned to you earlier. But the university also makes its own effort. Only this last weekend one of the renowned Deltans, Prince Ned Nwoko was here and was given an award for his role in the issue of the fight against malaria in Nigeria and beyond. In the process of giving him that award, he also made a donation to Mass Communication Department towards preparing them for accreditation and getting their studio ready. We are not looking at only state government because there’s no government that can do it alone. Education is so capital intensive. You’ll need help from anywhere… the town and gown arrangement.
Accreditation by NUC for 2020 must take place according to their calendar between November and December. We need to prepare. Government alone cannot do it. So, we usually open up to sons and daughters that are doing well from Delta state to support us. And we also open up to outside the state within Nigeria. The isolation center we’re about to use was a clinic donated by Central Bank. Central bank is not a Delta State government company or establishment alone…. It’s Nigerian. Although we want to use it as isolation for the purpose of COVID-19 but immediately COVID issues are over we’ll convert it back to a clinic so that it’s convenient for our students to receive medical services because of nearness to their lecture venues. We have one in site 2. So, if we don’t create one in Site 3, it’ll be too far for students who are having issues to come here for treatments. That’s why we created that.

Would you like to speak about the revival of several programmes in the institution?
As at the time we were running that program, I wasn’t DVC but I was in the system. Then, I was Head of Department. So I knew the challenges that they were facing. At some point Sandwich started reducing in population, enrollment started dwindling. The reason is that many institutions around us started Sandwich. We were in the fore front to start so people were traveling from far (Ondo, Ogun, Lagos) to come for lectures, to enroll themselves for studies for Sandwich because of the 3 months break we were having at that time. But when other institutions around them started, it was just natural that because of distance to Abraka they would choose to go to the school nearest to them.
So that made enrollment to reduce drastically. But as time went by, you know of course those programs were supposed to be paid for because it is the money the students pay they’ll use to run the program, buy all the stationary, write all their exams and then pay the lecturers, because it is a per-time program.
When population was no longer in the programmes, it became a non-viable program especially Sandwich. If you were supposed to have about 50-60 students per course, now you’re having about 2 to 5. It won’t make sense. There’s no amount of school fees that you’ll ask these 2 to 5 to pay that can survive the program because those 2-5 Students will still receive the 15 lectures they need to receive. The lecturers will still teach them based on the curriculum as guided by NUC. So at the end of the day you’ll find about 15 lecturers teaching 1 person and the person’s school fees cannot even pay one lecturer. The management of the university then discovered they were going to look for money elsewhere to pay for those programs and therefore decided that they cannot continue running those programs. So, we gradually phased out such programs, graduated the sets that were on ground and stopped admitting. Now as we speak, there are Deltans who have gotten NCE, and Diploma degrees that have found themselves in teaching at the primary and secondary school level. They may want to go to school. We looked at it and said sometimes you render service as a university.
It will be painful for them to be going elsewhere to look for opportunities to go to school. So let us revive the programs and see whether enrollment will improve this time around. And then with the economy too that is not doing very well, many cannot travel far unlike what it was in the past. So we may find ourselves having better enrollment this time around in some of the programs. Again we also created new ones because the university is an entity that helps to develop mankind for the economy. If you find that the economy is growing in one direction and you do not prepare programs that will develop all persons involved in that establishment then you’ll be doing the government a disservice.
Sometime, all of us will leave the scene; so we need to prepare the future generation.
So when we find that the economy is dwindling so much that people are no longer able to go far to seek opportunities for improving themselves academically, we’ll have to as a university within the environment create programs that can accommodate such people so that they can build up on themselves. Again because of the depth in employment, employment opportunities are not available as we speak not just in Nigeria, not just in Delta, all over the world. You have to learn as a university to develop programs that can train the people to be able to establish for themselves. Entrepreneurial skills are very important in every university. Even our students that are running various programs we allow them pass through the Entrepreneurial skills. So that when they graduate as you are waiting for that pharmacy firm to employ you, you can take off using the experience you got from Center for Entrepreneurial Skills (CES) of the university. So we look at all of these in creating programmes; the new programs we have created are to help such people who may not be able to leave the little jobs that they are doing. Because if the leave it they can’t get it back due to the poor economy of the country. Those people can now study to improve their educational background through the weekend degree program.
So the current VC in his wisdom decided that we should revamp some of these programs and even create it more as we look at the economy. Then try to meet the people around Delta States and around the states that are in the catchment area like Anambra, Bayelsa, Edo, Ondo…. We can attract students from those areas into such programs. That’s why we created such programs and we’ll see how it goes. We are starting for the first time this very next session with all the programs and with time we’ll monitor the programs to see how we are doing to know the ones to retain after four years and the ones to forget about.

What legacy do you intend to leave behind by the time you exit the office?
By the time I exit the office, I want to make sure that this university is stable in terms of providing academic services. As DVC Academics, I monitor every activity concerning academics of the school including SIWES, Nursing programs, pharmacy and all kinds of things concerning academics and make sure I follow up to make sure that there are no hitches. I also make myself available all the time, leaving my phone open for the students to call in, to tell me what situation they are facing and try to address it. The idea is to make sure that all the programs we have established are running smoothly and I hope to hand over this to my successor by the time I’m leaving God willing, a peaceful academic calendar, a successful academic program as established and approved by NUC through their accreditation process. I also want to make sure that accreditation for all the programmes are successful at the very worst we must get interim. Because without accreditation, you don’t have a university. If we are denied accreditation for any programme, that programme will not admit students for three years. Which means that by the time they are coming back for a revisit, the final year students will be the only students who will be in that program and if for any reason they are not able to come back within the next three years, that programme will be regarded as a fresh programme. I don’t want that for this university. So since I came last year, I handled accreditation and I’m the chairman of accreditation too. I handled accreditation for 19 programmes and all the 19 programmes came out fully accredited which means that for the next 5 years they’ll be running smoothly. For this year we have another 23 programs coming up for accreditation and I’ve started working to make sure that with the help of the state government and support of the Vice Chancellor which I’m also enjoying, we’ll be able to get the programmes through to full accreditation because it’s easier and more comfortable for the university to have full accreditation since for five years you’ll be comfortable. But if you get Interim, they’ll return in three years. If for any reason after that 3 years they come back and still give you Interim, they will push you back, which means you can’t admit. So we don’t fight for interim. I usually fight for full accreditation. And by the grace of God for the first year I was here, I was able to make full accreditation for 19 programmes and I’m praying that God willing if they come for this 2020 accreditation, I hope to get 23/23 full accreditation. That is my interest. And it is because I am DVC Academics that I really get fully involved in this, trying to get support from wherever and that is why I told you of Prince Ned Nwoko’s donation. It was all the plans of their Head of Department, Dr. Mrs Ogwezi and I supported it fully. The VC also gave us permission. We all supported the cause and we succeeded with it. It’s towards success of Mass Communication accreditation that we did all of that.

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