By Yemi Obabori
What can you do?
What can I do? What can you do? Indeed, what can anyone do? The airwaves of Nigeria of the early 1980s through 1990s were filled with different guises of the “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what can you do for your country” mantra that the average person on the street could be forgiven for assuming they were the words of a Nigerian leader, rather than the historic 35th President of the United States of America – John F Kennedy. History has since borne witness to the powerful effect of the arrangement of the nine (9) unique words into a seventeen (17) word sentence by its international adoption and adaptation by many other leaders of nations and organisations, having been inspired and awakened to their civic responsibilities and duties thereby, and in turn seeking to inspire those in their own sphere of influence by the same token.
Against the backyard of a massive decline in almost all things government related in our country, Nigeria, a group of individuals, namely, Government College Ibadan Old Boys Association (GCIOBA) asked themselves, “what can we do for our Alma mater, our beloved Government College Ibadan (GCI)?” Rather than joining the finger-pointing, fault-finding and government-bashing past-time that is the vogue, GCIOBA took it open themselves to identify a key area of need that successive governments have struggled with for a myriad of reasons and offered to cooperate with the government to find lasting solutions to the chronic problem of degradation in the academic output of GCI, when compared to the excellent standards the school was known for in its hay days, as a reference point for the general deplorable state of education in Oyo State in particular and in Nigeria as a whole.
The effects of GCIOBA’s extensive negotiations and relentlessness on this matter recently culminated in the widely publicised signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with The Oyo State Government (OYSG) that will see GCIOBA play an active role in the management, operation and development of the School when the agreement takes effect. Some of the key provisions of the agreement include:
• Continuing to uphold the OYSG free education policy which guarantees that students of the School will not be required to pay tuition fees.
• Ensuring adequate representation of relevant stakeholders, namely, OYSG and the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) on the Governing Board of the school, which is to be responsible for the administration of the school.
• Old boys continue the good work of the infrastructural development of the school, on which a cumulative sum of well over N2,000,000,000 (two billion naira) has been spent.
• Old boys to deploy strategies to improve teaching methods and provide staff training for the purposes of enhancing the quality of teaching and learning engagement.
The agreement is to be for a set period to allow its efficiency to be reviewed by both parties. The OYSG will retain all powers to make policies relating to the school and will act in supervisory capacity to GCIOBA in the delegated areas of management, operations and development.
In a rather shockingly, surprising and highly regrettable manner, the charitable efforts of GCIOBA have not been well received in some quarters. All sorts of allegations have been levelled against the hard-working body that is merely seeking to contribute to the civic society. While some of the allegations may be excusable and put down to misconceptions or lack of understanding, others are downright disingenuous and utterly baseless. As one example, many of the headline coverage of the MOU signing between OYSG and GCIOBA included the words “handing over” or “hand over”, which may reasonably be a source of anxiety where a contextual knowledge of the agreement is lacking. In the writer’s opinion “OYSG delegates management, operations and development duties to GCIOBA” or “GCIOBA appointed to oversee management, operations and development” or “OYSG hands over limited oversight functions to GCIOBA” would have been more appropriate captions as the government continues to retain ownership of the school. As to the suggestion that the landed resources of the school are being targeted for appropriation, nothing can be farther from the truth. It can be categorically stated that since 1934 when GCIOBA was formed and has been expending personal funds, expertise and time in the development of the school, not a single Old Boy has taken possession of the teeniest inch of GCI land or asset. While in the instance of the headline captions of “…hand over…” and “…handing over…” mentioned above, it could perhaps be seen how misconceptions could have arisen as to the true intent of what is to transpire. However, in the case of allegations relating to land grabbing, it is simply a baseless allegation and one that is difficult to imagine its proponents are not fully aware of its untruth, which then leaves one wondering as to their true intentions.
For the avoidance of doubt, GCIOBA is a charitable (not for profit) organisation for the purposes of giving back to GCI. The culture of giving to GCI to help the continued growth and advancement of the school is well ingrained during the school days of every GCI boy. Each one witnesses Old Boys giving back to the school for no personal gains but as a form of “service to others, not to self” and “consideration for our Nation first”, according to the dictum of our School Song. This is indeed the driving force behind all the good that GCIOBA does and seeks to do.
Just as GCIOBA has found something they can help with, it is implored that all hands are on deck to rebuild our educational sector and our Nation as a whole. GCIOBA is proffering solutions to chronic issues of lack of accountability, inadequacy of teaching staff, absence of stimulating teaching/learning environment, zero maintenance culture of facilities and development of infrastructure. Each and every one should find whatever little or big way they can add value to their alma mater or schools in their local communities for the greater good.
What if we all do nothing?
Frankly, the alternative to the proposed controlled, managed and mutually agreed intervention of GCIOBA in the affairs of GCI, that is, simply do nothing and carry on maintaining the status quo is simply unimaginable. For starters, only a person whose dwelling is under a rock or in a cave will be unfamiliar with the fact that our educational system as a whole has been in free fall decline for decades. The products of government funded secondary schools are doing so badly in their school leaving certificate and tertiary institution admission exams that the bulk of admitted students to Nigerian federal and state universities, polytechnics and colleges of education are from private secondary schools. This ought not be so.
In many parts of the world, where measured, there is a direct correlation between access to good quality education and social mobility. This explains why in seeking to eradicate poverty and eliminate inequitable societal inequalities, campaigners often advocate for fair access to education for all. GCIOBA is seeking to ensure that every GCI boy is adequately equipped with excellent education so as to be able to complete with their peers not only on the local scene but internationally, as well. In turn, this will also help in improving social mobility.
Currently, the plight of a GCI boy is quite akin to that of a boxer being thrown into the ring for a championship bout with his hands tied behind his back while his opponent is free to rain punches on him. No special powers are needed to envision how that is likely to end.
When due consideration is given to the fact that the jobs that secondary school student of today and the future would want when they enter the job market, be it in research and development, manufacturing, space, technology, town planning, clean energy, electric vehicles or other fields yet unidentified at this time, will be keenly contested by not only their local peers, but also by peers in China, Japan, UK, US and other parts of the world, it will become crystal clear why we cannot but ensure the wards of today have a fighting chance in the future by giving them the best education possible. Suppose one thinks about how uneven the playing field might be by asking the question: “in a coding competition, how can a school boy who has never used a computer compete fairly with another who regularly writes codes for how programs on the computer should work and interact?” Although it does paint a grim picture but we mustn’t shy away from our responsibilities on the account of their enormity. We must rise to the occasion. Even in parts of the world where Affirmative Action has been adopted, members of the favoured groups still have to be competent and skilful to benefit. In other words, no free lunch exists.
In most competition, one has to signal intention to engage or challenge an opponent. However, what if one’s mere existence is the signal for competition? With the world increasingly shrinking into a global village, students of today could very well be in the ring with a competitor and know it not. We owe it to them to help them prepare well as best possible.
As education is one of the four cardinal point of the Governor Seyi Makinde led administration, it is refreshing to see that the government is putting its money where its mount is while admitting that third party help will be needed because its first assessment of the educational sector upon assumption of office revealed a whooping sum of N40 billion (forty billion naira) was needed to even bring the standards of education in the state to the barest minimum at the time. That His Excellency’s government is honest enough to have made the public aware that the burden is too heavy for the shoulders of government is commendable. Equally commendable is the commitment of N56 billion (fifty-six billion naira) to education in the 2021 fiscal year budget, which represents a sizeable chunk (21%) of the total budget even though it remains insufficient. Nonetheless, Governor Seyi Makinde and his team should be encouraged to continue the good work until the desired effect and outcome is achieved. However, it will be useful to further look into the actual breakdown of how the spend on education is split across the primary, secondary and tertiary sub-sectors of the state. Although not intended for direct comparison purposes, it is noteworthy to highlight the fact that 50% of the UK government spend on education for the year 2020/21 was expended on secondary education.
If we are expecting our underfunded secondary school children to favourably compete with the well-funded secondary school children in places like the UK, Japan, China, etc, we do need a change of approach to secondary school management and operation and we need it fast.
What should we all do now?
We should join forces and work together, forming alliances with relevant bodies and government institutions, where necessary, to ensure students in our secondary schools receive world class education that will stand them in good stead when they find themselves competing on world stages, as they will. GCIOBA is already leading the charge and taking ownership for the task at GCI, others are encouraged to also take responsibility for whatever they can do to improve the lot of their own alma mater and together, we will all build a better future for our children and their children after them.