Improve funding for public schools, make education count — Principal advises FG

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The Principal of Loyola Jesuit College, FR.Chikere Ugwuanyi spoke with Nigerian NewsDirect correspondent TINA OMOREGIE on the solutions to the challenges of Nigeria’s educational sector. Excerpts:

What makes Loyola Jesuit Unique?

It is a wider question because Loyola is part of a worldwide Jesuit Schools and we have over 3000 Schools around the world ranging from nursery, primary, secondary, university and non-formal education. So it is a member of a wider family. If you are asking about the uniqueness, that of Loyola Jesuit college is best put into context, of the uniqueness of Jesuit Education. That’s where the uniqueness is really on the Jesuit aspect of the name because we have be running schools for over 470 years and that is a cumulative experience for us around the world.

Loyola is just one out of the thousands of Schools and we share the vision and mission of the Jesuit education. It is a Jesuit school and Jesuit schools are unique.

How is this school planing for the future?

Actually this is interesting because after the Ebola pandemic Loyola made a decision to become a high breed school. That means, ability to continue education whether on campus  or at home, so when COVID-19 came we just scaled it up. Currently we are fully a highbreed school. Ready to continue whatever we are doing on campus as well as at home.

During the lockdown we had our exams, our CA, we even had practicals. But we have developed a system to continue. So that is what we are planing for the future, to be a fully functional highbreed school, be able to admit students from every part of the world. And they no longer need to be here and also in our classroom, we have the facilities or possibilities of having some students in class while some of them are not in class and they all feel they are inside the class.

What is the minimum standard for teachers and non-teaching staff?

We follow Government’s instructions which means anybody who has NCE is qualified to teach in a secondary school, we can’t set another minimum standard beyond what the federal government has required.

Now in our recruitment, who do we really recruit to come in is a different matter, So our minimum standard is the federal government minimum standard, when we recruit whether you have NCE, or BA or masters. Some of our teachers are doing their doctorate decrees, almost completed. We have all but the minimum standard is what is set by the federal government but we have within the system those who have Doctorate degrees.

What punitive measures are in place for violators of school regulations?

Actually this will surprise you, Loyola is not built really for those who violate rules. Any child who is not yet an independent learner will not  benefit from Loyola because it is a school designed for those who have decided to learn, they know how to learn and they spend most of their time firing up.

Do we have children who misbehave?

Yes, they are teenagers, so in a school of 624 students you have 30 students who misbehaved in a term, you notice it is nothing, and it is a mixed school boys and girls JSS1-SSS3 and they stay here, no going home. And you have 30 students who come to school late come, use insultive words. This is the indiscipline teachers generally deal with. Just like when you have a child at home you have measures to make sure the child is being corrected, the child is behaving well.

What is the selling point of Loyola Jesuit?

I think our parents and our students will answer that one better than myself. But I can only think of two things.

Firstly, Loyola is a merit based school, any child you see here is qualified to be here.

Secondly, our product seems to have a balance life, they are intellectually okay and they are behaviorally okay and that is what a lot of parents wish for their children not only to be bright but also good children.

That is what I think may be our selling point from what I have heard, but from that question you can ask our students and parents, they will know why they keep coming here.

How many awards have your students won?

We have won up to 7 this year already both national awards and international. But since the inception of the school, they are more than 200 both National and International Awards.

This year we just won Channels TV Essay Competition, we were the Abuja third in Presidential Award (Science Competition).

You can see our cabinet (points to cabinet) and that is not just all, actually we dispayed only the recent ones.

What do you think the Government lacks in terms of Education?

Generally, if you just say let’s look at budgeting what goes to defense, what goes to different areas of Nigerian lives and what goes to Education, you can say that will be an indicator of what is lacking, you also say the continuous destruction to education. Education is a process, whenever you stop a process it is a problem to continue. The continuous destruction to the education process is a big issue and we have not yet found a good solution to that unlike other things you can stop and start.  Currently this is my observation, I don’t know whether it is right, immediately NASU(Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities) finish going on strike, ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) will go on strik. If they finish, students will riot, same thing with secondary school and so on. We keep stopping and starting, I think we need to find a way of ensuring that the process continue.

Another thing I thought about is a commitment to make sure that Education counts. It is not about going to school but also the value we put into having gone to school. If for example I was thinking about this in January, oh, we have scientists who have gone to school, and you tell them, please provide a report on this. You don’t set up another commission or parastatal, no, you already have them. It’s like having a child at home and you are going to employ somebody to do something, when you already have children who can do it, you say my children go ahead and do this.

Any expertise you can think of is already found in the school system— secondary school, primary and University school system—just use them. If you want to produce food you already have Agric department and students who reading Agric who are teachers, go and produce food and channel whatever so that education counts, by using the infrastructure we have already to advance what we are trying to do as a country.

And I think if we pay attention to those three things — look at the investment in education, look at the process of education, and finally look at how education counts. So I don’t need another body to satisfy doctors, or another body to satisfy journalist.

These are my thoughts.

Do you think it is a good idea for government to support private school financially as well?

I think, no, private school should be a choice and should remain a choice, but let government school be so good that private school becomes really a choice. Let them pump whatever energy or resources into a government school. Private school should be a choice. A parent may choose to send a child to private school based on certain things and not a default, so let private schools struggle by themselves, let them look for their resources, let government focus on government schools and give the government school. So that private school becomes a choice for the parent. So that if a parent says, I want my child to go to a private school of any kind the parent is making that Choice based on other factors, but not based on the fact that other schools are not ok. So let it be a real choice.

What is your advice in regard to continuous attack in schools (bandit abducting school children)?

I don’t think it is a school issue. It is a national one because the difference is just that ‘the children are wearing uniform’ but the wider question is that are they safe at home? If they are not wearing uniform are they safe at home? So when we talk about safety or security, that ability to feel at home whether you are wearing uniform or not, for me that is a wider question because security is all encompassing. The fact that it is happening to children wearing uniform doesn’t make it a school one. No, it is about safety, can someone whether in uniform or not be free from all type of molestations?

Despite efforts to curb the issue of out-of-school children, Nigeria remains one of the countries with the highest number of children not going to School. What do you think can be done to address that?

First is to disabuse the mind that school is the best option for everyone. No, school is one of the options and a very good one and in terms of thinking about schooling you can have varieties, you now know that there are children who go to football academy, and there formal education is designed from the perspective of football they will still do mathematics, English, chemistry and so all, we know that some children go to school of arts, they are child actors and actresses. I think that is part of the out-of-school children. We have made formal education only one straitjacket and therefore, it is impossible to fit everybody inside. We don’t have alternatives to adapt to certain things that family reality may create for a child. Because a lot of the out-of-school children if they have parents who say  go to school they will, but if they don’t have parents who say go to school because that parent life situation doesn’t even walk around going to school, what other options can we use to caption those?

I think that those who are better of can think of varieties of education. Like education around market where the mother will be selling but there is a school inside that market not the same structures or processes like Loyola Jesuit college or Government college Orozo but still a school around market. We know some parents go to farm and we have heard farm settlement schools, set up around those who rear cattles.

My observations is — can we think schooling as a something that is not just one size fit all that will enormously reduce those who are out of school? We call them out-of-school because they are out of the kind of school we have designed. As we know life is more complex and complicated, it is high time we designed different kinds of schools that will be able to cater to different realites of lives and family circumstances.

I was thinking one day, okay we say people don’t go to university but the universities are been built far away from people, far community that even if you want to go to the university you need to rent another house close to the university even if your parents are living in the same state with you or take long bus to the university. Immediately those calculations, even if the school fees is free, the university is not part of where people are and it makes it more difficult. From Gidanmangoro the closest University to us is University of Abuja that is after the airport. Which is an Hour and 10min from here, or Bwari an hour 40min from here, Nile university and so on.

So it is almost impossible for a child who lives at Gidanmangoro to access University education. That is what I could say.

The personal safety of Students and Staff are very crucial. What steps have you taken to ensure safety here during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We submitted ourselves like other schools as required by the federal government to the quality assurance department of the ministry of education to access our COVID-19 readiness before resumption. We did that which they gave us a certificate that we are COVID-19 ready.

But that is to meet the minimum requirements. At Loyola we always go for more, you pass through our disinfectant machine when you came in and also another machine for scanning of bags and poster. We did community things, we have done COVID-19 test severally and if you go around the compound you will see different washing basins and sanitizers and so on. And we also have a disinfectant for all rooms, when you leave now I will plug it to make sure we are safe because you are coming from outside.

How can Nigeria institutions of learning be improved to meet Global standards?

In my opinion the Nigeria curriculum is robust and rugged. Loyola uses Nigeria curriculum even though 80% of our students go to school outside the country and they write international exams. I think what could be done is implementing what we have, I talk about process at the beginning, process is about implementations, that means a child should never write Junior WAEC without going through the required reading/materials for Junior WAEC because there could be a knowledge gap and someone may have 8As but if there are knowledge gap it is difficult. As you must have found out that practicing journalism is not as easy as what you sit down in class to do, but imagine throughout your training you really did all things that are required part of it. It would have been internship part, it would have been writing, publishing the School journal every month and that would have been giving you whatsoever you need. You have been supervised properly but when they tell you journalism needs to be smart what does it mean? You are not in the field to know what being smart is. I think what should be done is, if we say we are going to have 14 weeks for term we should do 14 weeks for a term. I know because of COVID-19 a lot of school didn’t have inter-house sport and I wonder if the inter-house sport is for the visiting parents or student running among themselves. Inter-house is for the student competing among themselves. So, as long they are in school they run, they do the inter-house sport because it is part of the curriculum, there is something that inter-house sport is meant to teach them. So it is to implement our curriculum to the latter.

What are your encouraging words for students who are done with secondary school but no admission yet?

I will just tell the public, what I do tell my nephews and nieces because some of them are these children who have finished secondary school but no admission yet. And this is what I tell them, nobody can stay in the house for more than a year before gaining an admission, that means if you wanted to do medicine and you didn’t get it the first year, the second year choose polytechnic, if polytechnic did not work choose college of Education, if college of Education did not work choose entrepreneurial school. In this country we have 4 options every year, University, Polytechnic, College of education or Entrepreneurial school and in each of those options choices of courses are bound so if you can’t get this one go to another one, when you finish you are done with one then after that you can still pursue the other things you are pursuing because it is worse to stay out of school for 3 years waiting to get into federal government university to study law, by then you must have finished your NCE. And you have your NCE certificate which you can use to work. And with NCE you can do direct entry, you don’t need JAMB again. And so on and so forth. My advice is seize opportunities because within our system we have a lot, college of education are looking for persons in different departments, even in the same federal universities there are departments that don’t have enough candidates and they are related so you shouldn’t just think of your future and your life only from one prism and  that’s what I tell my nephew and nieces and that’s what they are doing.