Opinion: Now That Schools Are Schools By Amiel Fagbulu

The arrival of a new child should ordinarily be a thing of joy not only for the lucky parents but also for those around who love them and know the hazards and hardships of childbearing. So one who knows what it means for a child to be seated and learning in a pleasant environment cannot but rejoice with those State governments that are bending over backwards to provide first-class physical facilities for the children to learn in.

Most people take for granted that governments are only doing what they need to do by providing functional, spacious and convenient facilities for the children at school. They hardly pause to think of the extreme cost of those facilities and the juggling of budgets that have to be done to meet the other needs of the parents of those children for good roads, health centers, safe drinking water, and to some extent work. I think if they do, very few of them will want to be state governors for whom we should really be sorry because of the stress they undergo just to make a dent on the state of hopelessness in which most Nigerians have found themselves.

Being blessed with a child is unfortunately just the beginning of many human problems. Children need food and clothing; they are helpless and so need to be attended to like kings most of the time. They also know how to yell when they lack anything! God bless them.

Those governments that are shunning cheaper, less safe and effective school structures and are at the same time increasing the number of children going to school are not  unaware of the need to ‘feed and clothe’ these children who need to be attended to properly. It is a heroic act and one of great commitment for anyone to take up the expensive challenge of putting up many purpose-built learning institutions across a state as large as that of Ọṣun, and providing at the same time food, uniform and instructional materials that are delivered at the cutting edge of technology.

Fortunately these children have no reason to yell now because they are provided with almost everything that they need to enjoy schooling, learning, and securing their future. The quality and quantity of teachers have been assured; parents have also been relieved of the burden of paying for a thousand and one things for their children’s education; and children have not had it so good in Nigeria since independence. They should therefore guard what they have been given on a platter of gold jealously.

A long time ago I attended King’s College, Lagos. I taught at the Government College, Ibadan. I was Principal of Edo College, Benin City. As an inspector I visited educational institutions from Warri to Ilaro. As a Chief Inspector I knew intimately all secondary schools in the old Western Region. Above all, I was part of the Aiyetoro Comprehensive High School dream. I feel qualified therefore to say that the standard of the provisions being made systematically for children of the State of Ọṣun match and in some respects surpass what those schools of the past that have become legends had.

With the injection of dedicated and properly oriented head teachers, and the internalization of the Ọmọluabi philosophy, there is no reason why these schools cannot match or surpass the greatness of King’s, Igbobi, Baptist Academy, Queen’s, St. Anne’s, Aiyetoro, Ikenne, and other great schools that have become legends of our time. That however is a story for another day at another place.

Now that schools are really schools and qualified teachers and not quacks are in charge of the future of our children, some of us who have been around for almost too long are already concerned about the future of the schools that are being celebrated today.

Once upon a time there was a beautiful super-building known simply as ‘1004’ in Lagos. Within ten or so years it still looked beautiful on the outside but it had been turned into a rat-infested slum inside. I lived there once and so did top civil servants The same is true of some hostels at our universities that became slums and health hazards after a few years of glamor. One can go on and on.

Already at Sabo in Ileṣa some people have found it very attractive to use the premises of a school for convenience and other suspicious purposes on a regular basis. Not only are they unrepentant but also so degenerate as to attack those who question their presence there. That single incidence is a good pointer to what future challenges could be.

These structures built at great cost by visionaries who have resisted the urge to use the funds available for causes less important to the future of the State will no doubt be degraded by use. It will need foresight and calculated planning to ensure that they are used with care and are maintained appropriately.

There are many strategies that could be adopted to safeguard the future of these buildings. An obvious one is for government to employ one or two guards to keep watch around the clock especially after hours. Another is for the buildings to be handed over to the community to upkeep and secure. The third is for the Local Government in which the school is located to take responsibility for keeping them properly maintained and secure. Another is to have a dedicated body to do nothing more than maintain all such facilities as they become commonplace in all our towns and cities.

The demerit of the first is that because schools belong to the people it is an absolute disservice to the community for it not to make an input – any input – to providing education for its children. What one gets free is easier forgotten than what one really worked for.

Handing the building over to the community has its downturn. Do the people feel committed enough to undertake the responsibility of keeping the school absolutely clean at all times? What if the will is there but the wherewithal to accomplish what is desired is not? These and other questions need to be asked and answered satisfactorily before any action is taken in that direction.

Of the first three options the most appealing is that the schools be handed to the LGA to maintain and guard vigilantly. That body, unlike communities, can be sanctioned if it fails to perform this duty. Also the budgetary obligations can be met by any LGA that is serious and responsible. And since the LGA is supposed to be the people’s government, the communities in which they are situated will be involved in one form or the other in their upkeep and proper use.

Finally, a Schools Maintenance Board that will also have a Training School attached to it, to train and certify janitors at the highest level to upkeep schools, and public and private facilities could be established to do the work. Expertise would be developed and costs would be minimized by offering paid services to institutions and private companies. If properly managed it could be the answer to elongate the lives of these structures.

We are witnessing history today. Let us ensure that those who made it possible are there tomorrow.

Amiel M. Fagbulu B.Sc., P.G.C.E. (Lon.), Ed. D (Harvard), FNAE

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