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Date Published: 07/01/10

Returning Imo schools to missionaries: Is Ohakim right? By Grey Nwadike

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The Imo state governor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim Monday, 27th June 2010 in Owerri, the Imo state capital eventually and formally signed the Bill for return of schools in the state back to their original owners, the missionaries. The Imo state House of Assembly had passed the Bill which was submitted to them over a year now by the state governor.

The event put to rest the many speculations, uncertainties and misinformation of the citizens by opponents of the government and mischief makers who feasted on the gullibility of the public to hurl out falsehood against the governor and his otherwise noble idea.

There is no denial the fact that the high standard of education to which the Nigeria pre-independence child benefitted from through the colonial masters under the missionary administrators is no more the same being enjoyed today by the average Nigeria child.

Four cardinal objectives of Nigeria education, according to Jem Ndudi Mbakwem in his New Perspectives in Teacher Education are “the inculcation of national consciousness and unity, the inculcation of the right type of values and attitudes for the survival of the Nigerian society, the training of the mind in the understanding of the world around and the acquisition of appropriate skills, abilities and competencies both mental and physical as equipment for the individual to live in and contribute to the development of his society”

Mbakwem further explained that since the above are the overall aims and objectives of education at all levels in Nigeria, it means therefore that the quality of education in the country have to be determined in terms of its relevance in meeting with the stated national objectives which are centred on the positive development of the Nigeria Child.

This is even as many writers have variously defined the concept of education as “the united concern of a people for the right upbringing of its children and the improvement of its national life” Nduka (1964:133).

It is also a “process by which every society attempts to preserve and upgrade the accumulated knowledge, skills and attitudes in its cultural setting and heritage in order to foster continuously the well-being of mankind and guarantee its survival…” (Nwagwu 1976:2) or “a process of acculturation through which the individual is helped to attain the development of his potentials and their maximum activation when necessary according to right reason and to achieve thereby his perfect self-fulfillment” (Okafor 1984:19)

The above definitions clearly highlight the dreams of the colonial fathers who brought to us the western education that has today formed the bedrock of societal developments but not a deviation from Nwagwu’s reference to accumulating education in its cultural setting and heritage.

No doubts the expected philosophy of Nigeria education is geared towards self-actualization, better human relationship, individual and national efficiency, effective citizenship, national consciousness, national unity as well as towards social, cultural, economic, political, scientific and technological progress with the school as the agency assigned with the responsibility for equipping the individual of a particular society with appropriate and desirable skills, attitudes, concepts, competencies that would enable them attain self-actualization by drawing out all their potentials and having them developed to their optimal level. This, Mbakwem maintains is “the surest way and the only way that individuals can adjust to society expectations”

There is no brushing aside the fact that the present Nigeria education system is no more the type that produced such academic geniuses like Professors Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and a host of other world acclaimed authors and nationalists from the country which warranted the decision of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe to champion the development of a Nigerian University and education system that would replicate these concepts the Nigerian way and even better. But how the great Zik of Africa would be wriggling in his grave today!

Even while various governments pay lips services to the problem and shouting to the rooftops in planning, researching and developing theories and blueprints on how best to recapture the education system from imminent total collapse, not many of the players in these governments pay as much as attention in the practical salvation of the system as their wards attend schools abroad and or in private schools in the country run by churches and missionaries.

While these missionary and private institutions would be running at full speed enjoying uninterrupted academic calendar, inculcating the basic societal norms, skills and competencies to the children of the rich government officials and politicians, artificial crises are created in the government public schools thus when the child of the rich is out of the university at the age of 22 and qualified for employment in governments’ ministries, the children of the poor who attended public schools would have clocked 30 and may still be serving the fatherland as a Youth Corps member. He would have been above government’s employment age and eventually resorts to falsification of his age to apply for his rightful job.

This is the beginning of many corrupt tendencies later to be exhibited by that individual.

Worried about this dwindling standard of education and its related effect on the quality of leadership, many futurists are already planning and mapping out strategies on how best to caution the Tsunami that is bound to come as the result of poor standard of education.  One of such moves recently is the decision of the Imo state Governor Ikedi Ohakim to return about 44 government schools to their original founders, the missionaries.

This move, in the wisdom of the governor and other rational thinkers is to pave way for equality and quality in academic standard for every child in the state as well as instilling excellence, sanity and commitment in the management of educational businesses for the production of tested and trusted leaders of tomorrow.

But like all other good initiatives that had been introduced in the state by the governor, initially kicked against and later be accepted by the people and even by other states as noble, the decision of Ohakim to return the schools to missionaries has had its own hullabaloos with majority coming from some ignorant, misinformed and uninformed members of the public who fear a possible increment in fees in the schools when taken over by the missionaries.

As genuinely as this fear may be however, and inasmuch as the Ohakim’s government had severally promised to ensure some bit of observatory and monitoring roles over the schools even under the missionaries and had assured the state of quality education for all by the time he leaves office in 2015, my honest take on the debate about increment in school rates is that nothing good comes so cheap. This is at least, the much on success I have leant from different life experiences.

While not pre-supposing my honest submission to confirmation of a possible increment of fees by missions eventually, I have not also forgotten the song we used to sing in those days even as otaakara (Pupils) in the primary schools which goes like this: Akwukwo n’aso uso/O na-ara ahu mmuta/Onye were ntasi obi/O ga-amuta akwukwo/Ma o buru ma Nne gi  na  Nna gi nwe ego/O buru ma Nne gi na Nna gi nwe ego! This song simply says “Education is sweet/But it’s hard to acquire/Determination and Perseverance/ Would Guarantee success/But this is only when your parents have the money to finance it/Yes, it’s when the parents can finance it!

As many years as this song remained popular in the South Eastern Nigeria; a region that has never slacked in its position of combining commerce with education; an area known for reeling out quality graduates from the universities as well as producing the highest number of WAEC and JAMB participants in the country over the years, our fore-parents had always known that education is expensive and had invested in it efficiently. This explains the good products of students who are today regarded as geniuses and academics scattered all over the world. Yes, education is expensive but I wonder who would prefer illiteracy.

The truth is that governments, in all civilized economies have never been seen as good business agencies. Nigeria governments have failed in managing virtually the most critical parts of society, including the education sector thus the need to allow individuals, private organizations and missionaries to manage and sanitize the system.

Explaining to Ndi Imo the need to hand over their schools to missionaries, Governor Ohakim who has been variously described as the “Nostradamus of our time” said there is urgent need to rebuild the character of youths through moral education. “We want to challenge the church leadership to re-invent the strict discipline that was the hallmark of education on the part of teachers and students”

He said the policy would also allow government enough elbow room to play its traditional role of regulating education and enforcing standards, adding that “this will ensure that we produce graduates who are worthy in character and in learning.

Conscious of the enormous challenges the process would pose to the state in terms of adaptation, the governor had proposed to carry out the handing over policy in three phases. According to him, phase one would be to the missionaries; phase two to communities while the third and final phase would be to individuals. Ohakim’s plan is that 44 schools would be handed over to missionaries that are willing and have indicated interest, intention and readiness in writing.

Desirous of providing the initial take off brace for the schools as handed over by the missionaries, the government also promised to take responsibility for the payment of teachers’ salaries for the first two years as well as guarantees the payment of the retirement benefits of teachers involved in the handover process during the period of transition. What a futuristic foundation for tomorrow leaders!

As a developing nation, Nigeria has too many problems and challenges which it hopes to come to grips with using education as a tool. For instance, Nigeria is in dare need of national unity. It is hoped that education should produce national consciousness and unity in Nigeria by actually producing children who love their country and are ready to defend its unity. That is, education should produce nationalists, not tribalists. It should train our children to be good and active citizens who are ready to accept their civic duties and give unalloyed support and respect for constituted authority and the law.

Education should enable our children imbibe such virtues as truthfulness, goodness, honesty, acts of civility and discipline. It should train them to develop the ability for critical thinking and rational decision making which are sine qua non for democratic living and for a civil society as exhibited by our fore nationalists like Tafawa Balewa, Zik, Awolowo and the rest of their days.

Thus in his recent outburst over the absence of these expected virtues on our children and in a swift move to save his state’s education system which he claimed had lost both its infrastructure and standard, the Imo governor vowed to tackle indiscipline, cultism, sorting as a rot in the system while promising to ensure the delivery of accessible, qualitative and functional education since according to him the 21st century would be knowledge-driven.

Although the year 2010 for Ohakim’s administration has been set aside as a year of radical transformation in the education sector, a build up to most of these expected reforms had been set in motion ever since the inception of his administration. For example, the Michael Okpara College of Agriculture, Umuagwo was upgraded to the status of a Polytechnic under the present administration and government released about N45m for accreditation of 10 programms of the institution. It also recruited a total of 91 academic and 38 non-academic staff to enable the institution get full accreditation. Also, the handover of the Alvan Ikoku College of Education Owerri to the Federal Government was equally completed under the Ohakim’s administration.

In its commitment to further boost the adult and non-formal education, the state government under the Ohakim’s administration distributed learning materials to all the Study Centres across the state even as it awarded a total of 2, 600 scholarships, and 600 for the physically challenged students of the state in both secondary and tertiary schools in the country.

To further boost education and rehabilitate all educational infrastructure in the state, the administration has embarked on launching an Education Trust Fund through which a whooping N52 billion is being targeted. The launching kick-started in all the 27 Local Government Areas in December 28 2009 and the grand finale is being planned at the state level.

The governor took another practical step in his reform agenda when he decided recently to reduce the fees paid by students of the state in secondary schools from N8, 000 down to N3, 700.

He had equally declared his intention in the 2010 to embark on the policy of disarticulation and re-articulation of junior and senior secondary schools in the state in order to reduce cost and make teachers available for teaching functions. Disarticulation, according to the governor is simply the running of Junior and Senior Secondary Schools in one school with two different Principals while re-articulation is the merger of Junior and Senior sections under one Principal.

Under this arrangement, ten schools out of 311 Secondary schools in the state will be merged as the schools with better facilities will absorb the others. Schools with very low student population and are in very close proximity to each other will be merged to reduce costs and avoid wastes. The administration for now plans to limit its policy on disarticulation in 15 schools with student population of 1000 and above.

No wonder the governor has been variously described in some quarters as the digital Iroko of our time. His reformation ideas, like the corner stone rejected by the builder, always have a way of becoming the major stone upon which the house is eventually built.

The nation’s education system, no doubts needs a serious genetic surgery and this must begin from the grassroots through the various state governments. Governor Ikedi Ohakim has already shown that he can see tomorrow and is currently working to get there with his head held tall through his deep-seated reform initiatives in the education sector.

The negative image of the country today having been included in the list of terrorism watch nations is a direct fall-out of the nation’s poor standard of education. Our 23 year old Farouk Abdulmutallab who was sent out of the shore of this nation in search of quality education perhaps may not have found himself studying overseas were the standards set for education by the original owners (the missionaries) conserved to the expected equilibrium. There is no other better time to act than now!

Greg Okey Nwadike is the Coordinator, Imo People’s Movement (IPM) and founder, Nigerians Without Borders Organization (NIWBO). He is a media practitioner based in Abuja, the FCT.

 

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