This first class diary series features Damilola Olisa, a first class graduate of Adekunle Ajasin University. What excites me most about Damilola is his thirst and passion in media and communication. Damilola is a Common wealth scholarship recipient and has recently completed an executive course in Psychology of Leadership from the Department of Continuing Education at University of Oxford. In this interview, he shares his experiences as an undergraduate, how focus and dedication has paved the way for greater achievements. Enjoy!
To deepen my knowledge, I decided to delve into the intersections of international development and communication technologies. For my master’s programme, I studied MSc Communication for Development, examining the roles which communication technologies, including mainstream media could play in addressing development-related challenges in developing countries.
Abigail Ibikunle of Edugist: Could you please give a brief description about yourself?
Damilola Olisa: My name is Damilola Olisa. I am a media and communications executive with interests in other areas such as social entrepreneurship, public speaking, public relations and public governance. I have over 5 years of professional experience working in these related fields for both large and medium scale organisations across Africa and Europe. I focus on meeting the communication needs of both international development organisations and corporate business organisations. I recently completed my master’s degree at University of Reading in the United Kingdom on a fully-funded scholarship from the United Kingdom government. I also completed an executive course in Psychology of Leadership from the Department of Continuing Education at University of Oxford recently. I had my first degree in Mass Communication from Adekunle Ajasin University where I graduated with a first class and was awarded numerous prizes.
AI: Were there any motivating factors that triggered the choice of your course of study?
DO: From a very young age, I have always been very fascinated about the roles of the mass media in every society – especially radio. I was interested in how we could use the mass media to contribute positively to solving societal problems. Every society has its peculiar problems and I believe we could utilise the mass media to address some of these problems. I had my first degree in Mass Communication to understand the general operations of the mass media in Nigeria, laws guiding media operations, and the operations of ICT. To deepen my knowledge, I decided to delve into the intersections of international development and communication technologies. For my master’s programme, I studied MSc Communication for Development, examining the roles which communication technologies, including mainstream media could play in addressing development-related challenges in developing countries. By this, communication campaigns could be used to achieve social change and behavioural change and support development-related projects.
AI: As a first-class graduate, there were surely some moments you likely experienced some setback in your performance. Could you still remember any of those moments?
DO: The moment I experienced most setback was during my third year, when I couldn’t secure a first-class grade during that session. I was always very particular about achieving the best in every semester. This is because I had both short-term and long-term goals for academic excellence. My short-term goal was achieving a first-class grade every semester. Similarly, another challenging aspect in my academic endeavor was combining academics and professional career. Right from my undergraduate programme, I had always engaged myself in internships, part-time jobs and industrial trainings. This is to help me acquire and practice necessary skills obtainable in the professional work environment. In this age, it is not enough to graduate with a first class or distinction. You need to have sufficient skillsets to make you employable. Good grades without adequate skillsets, no doubts, is counter-productive.
I discovered that academic excellence is not as difficult as most people think. It requires clear identification of goals and concentration. Lots of students on campus are often distracted by too many extracurricular activities. Achieving academic excellence requires full concentration.
AI: There are two major skills that every student must possess: COMPETENCE and PERFORMANCE. While competence revolves around skill acquisition, performance is much more concerned about skills application. It is believed that most graduates are competent because their academic performance testifies to this, but they are performance-challenged. This poor performance ipso facto hinders them from getting lucrative jobs in the labour market. Do you agree with this assertion?
DO: I would say that the challenge of performance which has led to sporadic increase in unemployment rates in the country (Nigeria) emanates from the deficiency in our educational system. The challenge is not only in the area of performance in terms of skills application, but also competence – skill acquisition. Many students do not even have sufficient skillsets which will make them competitive. Students with sufficient skillsets will not have issues with gaining employment or setting up businesses. There are still jobs in Nigeria, but the problem is unemployability.
AI: What do you think are responsible for competence without performance and could you suggest ways of improving the performance level of university students and graduates?
DO: First, we need to realise that we still have challenges in both competence and performance. Our educational curriculum needs to be reformed. We need to focus on equipping our higher institutions with relevant facilities for teaching and learning to address this challenge. From my experience studying in the United Kingdom, I would say that studying in higher institutions in Nigeria is a very difficult situation. Many universities in Nigeria do not even have e-libraries that subscribe to journal articles or academic software application for students and academic tutors. For our students to have sufficient level of competence, we need to invest massively in our educational sector, ensuring that there are modern facilities for students to learn and practice.
AI: Achievement in life transcends one’s personal efforts. There were people who, during your programme, rendered some assistance that made your dreams a reality. Who are specific persons whose contribution you can’t forget in your first-class feat?
I was always very particular about achieving the best in every semester. This is because I had both short-term and long-term goals for academic excellence. My short-term goal was achieving a first-class grade every semester.
DO: In my own case, the efforts of my parents during my first degree remain unforgettable. They ensured that they provided all I needed for me to remain focused all through the programme. Despite their financial constraints, they ensured that I was comfortable on campus, paying up all my fees at the right time. Their efforts really assisted me to stay focused on my academics.
AI: As a first-class graduate, are you currently gainfully employed?
DO: Before I left Nigeria for my master’s degree in the UK, I was employed with a multinational Chinese corporation as a media and communications professional, handling both internal and external communications activities for the organisation. I would say that since completion of my first degree in 2015, I never spent up to one month jobless. It has always been from one job or project to another.
AI: Do you think your grade have or is giving you any major advantage over other graduates with lesser grade?
DO: Obviously, Yes. I cannot deny the fact that graduating with a first class has given me leverage both in academic and professional pursuits. I believe my grade has been one of the differentiating factors in my scholarship applications. However, I would not attribute my exploits totally to grades. I have also invested adequately in acquiring relevant skills for employability.
AI: For students who aspire to graduate with outstanding grade like yours, what would you advise them?
DO: From my experience, I discovered that academic excellence is not as difficult as most people think. It requires clear identification of goals and concentration. Lots of students on campus are often distracted by too many extracurricular activities. Achieving academic excellence requires full concentration. However, I will like to stress the fact that academic excellence without necessary skillsets for employability is counterproductive. Even while you are pursuing academic excellence you need to keep yourself updated with employability skills obtainable in the industry and build relevant professional network.
AI: What would you advise the government to do to improve the standard of our education system?
DO: First thing is we need more budgetary allocation to education. It is sad that as at 2019, our budgetary allocation still permeates around 7 per cent of N620.5bn contrary to UNESCO recommendation of 20 per cent. Sadly, our higher institutions cannot produce quality graduates in academic environments. This is due to infrastructure deficit, non-payment of salaries and arrears, and frequent industrial strike action. It is very hard for such educational system to produce graduates with relevant skillsets needed in professional workplace environment.