“Education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world”, said the late South African leader and global statesman, Madiba Nelson Mandela. A look at the world map shows that the nations that are described as leaders in development, technology; nations with the highest GDPs, social stability and peace, are also nations that boast the highest numbers of educated persons and continue to improve the growth of their educational sectors. In the last six years, the Emirate of Dubai has been investing in a project tagged, ‘Educate the child, build a nation’ that hopes to complete her transitions from a product (oil) driven economy to one driven by information.
With dwindling oil prices, resurgence of armed militancy in the Niger Delta, and a teeming army of uneducated youths that easily become thugs for desperate politicians and self-seeking ideologies, Nigeria cannot remain indifferent to current educational global trends if she must position herself as a viable member of the Global Village. This is perhaps why private citizens of the country spend billions of naira educating their children in top-class schools and ivy-league institutions around the world; recognizing that the quality of students (products of the educational process) is always a reflection of the quality of teachers.
Quality teachers, all around the world, come in different shades, but few can out-shine Professor Rajunor Renner Ettarh (M.B., B.Ch., Ph.D.), the Nigerian Director of Graduate Program in Anatomy and Vice-Chair for Education in the Department of Structural and Cellular Biology at Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
This is because on Saturday May 14th, 2016 Prof. Ettarh was honoured with the 2016 President’s Award for Graduate and Professional Teaching that recognized him as best lecturers in the Tulane University School of Medicine. This event was the Tulane Unified Commencement Ceremony described as, “the pinnacle event of the academic year”, where not only outstanding graduates are recognized; but is “an opportunity to honor the university’s best teachers… faculty members with a compelling record of excellence in teaching, learning and research, and a commitment to educational excellence.” The award came with a special medal and a token.
In a country where it has been drummed into our ears from infancy that ‘teachers’ rewards are in heaven’, where teachers only get paid for the services they render (sometimes after months of being owed), one considered it a thing of wonder reading of such recognition and honour conferred on the distinguished professor.
Just who is Rajunor Ettarh and how did he get to such enviable heights at Tulane, whose School of Medicine is not only the second-oldest medical school in America’s Deep South, but also the 15th oldest medical school in the United States?
Born in Lagos on February 13, 1964, Rajunor Renner Ettarh is from Ediba, Abi L.G.A in Cross River State. He graduated as a Medical Doctor in 1985 from the University of Calabar. Even then, he had his eyes set on a career in teaching and from 1987 – 1989, taught Anatomy at the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. A recipient of Scholarship Association of Commonwealth Universities, London, 1989 – 1992, he proceeded to the Queen’s University, Belfast, Ireland from where he earned his PhD in 1995. Besides, ABU, Zaria, he also taught at Queens’s University, Belfast, and University College, Dublin.
In Ireland, Prof. Ettarh carved a niche for himself in radiobiology, focusing on “epithelial cell biology of the digestive tract, the regulatory mechanisms that mediate uninhibited proliferation in gastrointestinal cancers, and potential therapeutic targets.”
He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, London; Member, Irish Radiation Society; Member, Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He has published extensively, edited two books on colorectal cancer, and continues to write reviews for a number of cancer journals. Besides strict academic writing, he is also a playwright credited with the 1980 radio play, How Good Are They?
With such a resume it is no surprise that an institution like Tulane University would seek his services. He is Tulane’s Founding Director of Innovative Master’s Programs – biomedical researchers, surgical anatomy and clinical anatomy. Tulane’s website also credits him with having “introduced new teaching approaches in Gross Anatomy and redefined how Medical Histology is taught.” Little wonder he is said to have had “exceptionally high ratings from the medical students and has received the Professor of the Year award from the medical school’s Owl Club in 2012, 2013 and 2014.”
From Prof. Ettarh’s example, we see that teacher training and the whole business of education has gone beyond the point where teachers simply read textbooks and come to regurgitate the same thing (year in year out) to students. Teachers, especially those who train teachers, should be in the forefront of research on not just how best to teach, but also the development of subjects and courses that are relevant to the times.
Government and society must also make it a duty to encourage outstanding teachers where they are found. While not repudiating our talent shows (especially since they have been able to take lots of our youths out of the labour market), it is high time our corporate citizens and bodies thought of sponsoring teacher-talent shows or teacher-award-of-excellence nights. These will go a long way to encouraging more persons to pursue teaching careers and not see it as last resort.
As we laud the present policy thrust of the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to employ about half a million teachers to boost the growth of the educational subsector of the economy; one only hopes that proper attention will be given to teacher-training. That way, the country can grow a crop of teachers who will help position our educational sector at par with other countries’ and churn out teachers and students that will – like Prof. Rajunor Ettarh – position the nation for swift development in this age of rapidly growing information and technology.
– D. Marcus Chucxz is a Port Harcourt-based writer and media entrepreneur. He can be reached at email@example.com or via twitter @chucxz2020