Similar to what is obtainable in other democracies, institutions of learning in Nigeria are expected to create and manage knowledge for the growth of individuals, businesses and society in general. The realisation of this depends on the extent to which human and material resources are appropriated in line with organisational structure.
Like other nations in the world, roles are assigned to individuals on a needs basis and as the job titles suggested towards knowledge creation and management in relation to status, authority and power. Hence, there are managers and subordinates. The execution of tasks by the managers and subordinates is mostly driven by culture. This is in two folds; organisational and societal culture.
Whether corporate or societal culture, in countries with high power distance, subordinates are expected to respect their managers or supervisors while carrying out the assigned duties. When counterproductive work behaviours are perceived, the subordinates cannot escape the wrath of the managers. In most cases, failure to perform the assigned duties is seen as a breach of trust. From the university environment to business premises, power distribution is determined by context. It is interactional and situational in nature.
As students, lecturers and authorities working towards knowledge creation and management in the country, it is imperative to reflect on the effects of power distribution on learning and unionism. The reflections are driven by the recent study conducted in collaboration with a colleague and happenings in the universities.
The first place most students experience power is the classroom. Both the lecturers and the students need to come together before knowledge could be created and managed. In our study, we found that age, gender and ethnic groups of the students, who participated in the study, facilitated the expected respect and obedience to the lecturers in the classrooms.
This is a reflection of the Nigerian society where cultural upbringing and values demand that young ones remain quiet when elders are talking. One of the consequences is hindrance to contribute or ask questions in the classroom. Beyond this, some strict cultural rules and personal beliefs prevent students from contributing during classroom interactions, our study reveals.
Students at lower levels are more likely to respect their lecturers. This does not mean that those at the higher levels disrespect their lecturers. Our study suggests that familiarity of the students with their lecturers reduces the degree to which they key into the anticipated hierarchal context for engagement.
The issue is complicated because the lecturers and students must interact for any meaningful learning to take place. According to one of the lecturers who participated in the study, while interacting, there must be mutual respect. In a situation where students do not respect the lecturers the atmosphere of learning will not be conducive and the listeners (who are the students) will find it difficult to assimilate the course.
On suggestions for improvement among students and lecturers, one of the lecturers said both students and lecturers must understand that they need each other. Hence, nobody will exist without the other and nobody knows all things. While the lecturer passes the knowledge with humility, the student must also receive it like a child for the purpose of scholarship. Students on their own part would want lecturers to be open to ideas and come down to the level of students while still maintaining their respect and integrity.
In a recent article published on this platform, the writer captured a typical power distribution during students’ engagement with their lecturers while writing the thesis (for postgraduate) and project (for undergraduate). “So, what do we do? We go home, sit down and try to unravel what our supervisors meant by “recast”, “expand”, “rephrase”, “expunge”, “explain”, “What is the relationship?” or whatever is written.
We were even happy when we see things like that, trust me. It was better than seeing two long strokes running through the page with captions such as “not accepted”, “redo”, “cancelled”, “rejected” and things like that. Honestly, course works were more fun in school than writing projects. Truth is that in course work you don’t have to get your lecturers ‘angry’ by asking questions.”The writer’s position was further explored using real time data that established public interest in thesis, project, explain, cancelled and rejected within education sector between 2014 and 2018.
University or any higher institution of learning is not created for academic purposes alone. It is a place where many politicians in the society honed their political skills and knowledge through unionism. The need for unionism has been premised on the fact that student rights must be ensured by the authorities, while their entitlements such as better living condition must not be jettisoned.
When there are obvious reasons for the students to agitate for improved living conditions or protect their interest, authorities usually exercise authority, expecting the students to respect it. Since the establishment of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in 1980, many battles have been fought, won and loss by the association.
In most cases, authorities believed that student unionism is impeding the expected function of the institution. Over the years that students and institutions have had frictions, students on their part believe that unions make administration easy. Despite this position, administrators believed that students cannot be nurtured for the positive benefits of the society in environments where there is no respect for authority.
One of the solutions to the emerging issues is a formulation of cultural management strategy. Authorities need to have the strategy as part of the overall strategy for knowledge creation and management. It would be better some training courses be held for the lecturers and the students to get acquainted with the classroom cultural management strategy. Lecturers who appropriate collectivistic teaching and supervision strategies such as small group and discussion during teaching and thesis or project supervision less need to be encouraged to increase the use of the strategies.