Pastor (Mrs) Omolara Kazeem, a Zonal Pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) Ogun Province Eleven, last week celebrated her 60th birthday together with retirement from the civil service. In this interview with Bankole Taiwo, the immediate past Principal of Igbile Community High School, Odogbolu Local Government bares her mind on how best to reposition the education sector, life at 60 among other topical issues.
How was your growing up?
I had a memorable childhood, I grew up here in Sagamu with my grandparents but my mom feared that my grandparents might turn me to a spoilt child due to their love for me as the first born of my parents, so I had to leave for Lagos after completing my primary education in Sagamu. I actually went to St Paul Primary School, Aiyepe Road, Sagamu though I started at St. Paul Primary School, Alagbo but the practice at that time was that after completing Primary two, we would be moved to St Paul Primary School, Aiyepe Road to finish up. I must have started primary school around five years because I was a bit on the big side and tended to look more mature than my age.
In the early sixties, when you started it was still not common for girl child to be sent to school, what makes your case different?
The almighty God must have had hands in it because nothing is achieved without Him. Secondly, my grandparent’s house where I had my childhood was opposite St. Paul Primary School, Alagbo, Sagamu. In fact it was like an extension of our family compound where we used to play, so, when enrollment began that year in 1965, I got admitted with no fuss. Additionally, my father was also fairly educated up to Standard Six though he told us he studied at home. He was into clearing and forwarding business at Apapa, Lagos. My mother was into selling of household utensils at Awolowo market, Mushin, Lagos. So after primary education in Sagamu, I moved to Lagos to continue my education. I got admitted to Model College, Fadeyi but later joined Lagos Secondary Commercial Academy. Secondary education was very tough and competitive during our time. Merit counted and discipline was the order of the day. You have got to work very hard to pass your examinations and move on to greater things in life.
Since your mom was a trader, was there anytime you engage in hawking?
No, I never engaged in hawking but usually follow my mom to her shop very early in the morning around six to help with arranging and displaying the wares for sale. She was into selling of pots, stoves, coolers among other household utensils. I would then go back home around 10 to get set for school which begins around 12 in the afternoon. I attended afternoon secondary school and we usually close by 5:30 or 6 pm.
After your secondary school, what next?
Due to financial constraint, and to also allow my other siblings to further their education, I had to work for about two years at Leventis after which I went to Teachers’ Training College, Oru Ijebu. After finishing in 1980, I taught briefly at Fidiwo near Isara Remo but left in 1981 for further studies at Ogun State College of Education now Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijagun, Ijebu Ode where I studied Geography and History. I finished in 1984 and served from August 1984 to August 1985. We were the last set of NCE graduates to serve. In December of 1985, I was offered teaching appointment by Teaching Service Commission of Ogun State and posted to Agbele Community High School, Sagamu.
What will you say informed your choice of teaching as a carrier?
Honestly, I had wanted to be a nurse and had written series of qualifying examinations unfortunately the admission letter came late when I was already at the Teachers’ Training College. I got the information late may be due to problems of our postal service at that time and it never occurred to me to opt out or that I can defer the admission. It was not really common at that time to be changing school and worst of all there was nobody to tell me that some of the alternatives highlighted above were possible. Though, this is not to say I have any regret because just like I would have impacted on humanity for good if I had been a nurse, I have been able to do same with teaching. I have in the last 34 years been doing my bit of moulding destinies and helping people to be the very best in life. It gives me joy and satisfaction when I see those small boys and girls of yesterday who passed under my tutelage doing well in life.
How will you describe your 34 years teaching experience?
It was very rewarding and interesting. Teaching cuts across all races of the world, even our Lord Jesus was a teacher. I enjoyed it because it gives me privilege to shape lives such that they can be useful to themselves and the society, it was very rewarding doing this for 34 years.
How best can we tackle the rot in education sector?
The problem of loss of moral, the general societal decadence has dealt fatal major blow to our education. There is so much gross indiscipline nowadays. During our days no parents will raise eyebrow for punishing their children but the situation is not the same now. The loss of moral values from family setting, the basis of every society has affected the education sector a lot because a teacher who is not ready to be committed is from a particular family, what sort of training did such receive? The emergence or should I say proliferation of private schools is also not helping matters at all. Because these schools are in business for money so, some students feel they can misbehave and then escape to private schools. In our own days, unruly students would always meet road blocks if not at home then in school. The problem of bad economy leading to poor funding of the education sector by the government is another challenge. Sometimes government will say education is free yet it won’t walk the talk. We all must go back to the basics embracing these precious values of respect, hardwork, diligence, honesty, selfless service among others. The modern gadgets too like television, phones are also contributory and that is why as parents, we must be firm and ensure that these gadgets are not misused. Government must be very sincere in its determined bid to develop this sector.
What of the problem of examination malpractice?
It is another cankerworm that has eaten deep into our education and it is an offshoot of the monstrous corruption ravaging the country. I never heard of things like this while in school. The problem began much later after leaving secondary school may be around early eighties but was not as embarrassing as it later assumed. It is worrisome or how do you describe a situation when students already have access to the questions papers two, three days before the exam. This problem however thrives on conspiracy, collaboration with external invigilator, some WAEC staff and the school. I hope the government and law enforcement agencies will be more proactive and step up their games to halt this shameful act.
What excited you most during your teaching career?
That was when I received my letter of promotion last year as Principal. It is the joy of everyone to reach peak of his or her career. Though, it was elusive for some years and seems like it won’t even come but at the time God so appointed it came. What really happened was that there was a time our progression was stagnated. Those who were our juniors, those who started working four or five years after we joined service, some of whom we even taught in school were promoted ahead of us as Vice Principals because they started their teaching career with first degrees while we started with NCE. It really became an issue because nobody wants to be subordinate to his or her junior. Bear it in mind that we have also gone for our degrees after joining the service. I started my degree programme in 1991 but did not finish until 1997 because of the incessant strikes. This was an injustice many of us considered ought not to have been.
When will you consider as your lowest moment?
When else could be one’s lowest moment other than when you have to serve under your juniors? We were just at a spot marching on one level for years, what you call motion without movement. It was really a bitter pill we had to swallow but we trusted in God for the right thing to be done. To the glory of God, some years back the government began to work on our demand correcting this anomaly and here we are today at the finishing line as a Principal.
Were there times you feel like quitting teaching especially under the military era when the salary was very poor?
There was never a time I feel like quitting even though there were challenges but God saw me through. Some years back when salary was very poor and we would be owed for months especially under the military rule, I took to trading, selling wears and household utensils to survive. We bless God that things have really improved and we hope it gets better.
Teachers are agitating for special salary structure like health workers and others, any justification?
We have every justification to demand Teachers Special Salary (TSS) because the doctors and other health workers benefiting from special salary structure are not more professional than us. Would there have been doctors, nurses, lawyers without the teachers? In fact, teachers ought to be the first professionals to enjoy any special salary structure. It is injustice of the highest order for government not to have done this before now. Government should please give the teachers their due without further delay.
How does it feel to be 60?
I am absolutely grateful to God at 60, sometimes, I wonder if truly I am 60 because I don’t feel it an inch. I feel I am still in my 40s, strong, agile and healthy. I use to joke with my children that may be my parents did actually not get my birthday correctly. My father used to tell me that I was born on 12th of April, 1959.
What next after retirement?
I will by the special grace of God go into full time ministry. I am a Pastor in charge of a Zone already in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). Although, Redeemed does not employ people from age 60 and above but the point I am making is that I will have enough time to serve God, the least to do for His enduring mercy and faithfulness
Any message for the teachers?
I urge the teachers to show more commitment, give their best at all time and they can be so sure that God will handsomely reward them. God really has a special way of rewarding faithful teachers. I started on a monthly salary that was less than N400 but truly God has been faithful. I urge the teachers to respect their Principals, cooperate with them, give their best to the students and they can be very sure that God will handsomely reward them.
If you have another opportunity, will you still prefer to be a teacher?
No, I will prefer to be a nurse because that was what I had wanted to be but for circumstances. As I have earlier said, I still enjoyed teaching because it is also very natural to me but if by any other means I have the opportunity to make my choice again, I will like to explore the world of nursing.
What will you miss most as you retire from the service?
I will miss the school setting, this is where I have grown familiar with in the last 34 years. I will also miss the N30,000 new minimum wage and the Teachers Special Salary scale which I believed is long over due and should come into fruition any moment from now.