Salvaging public schools through alumni associations

A dilapidated Methodist Public Nursery and Primary School, Papa Ajao, Mushin, Lagos State PHOTO: ENO-ABASI SUNDAY

Public schools – particularly primary and secondary are in a shambles in terms of infrastructure, teaching and learning. With ever-dwindling financial resources committed to these educational centres, the future of Nigerian children will remain bleak. However, thanks to alumni associations in the country, the schoolchildren ‘s tomorrow can be bright, writes Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal

The walls of the buildings are weather-beaten and smeared with all manner of waste. Some of the buildings’ corrugated roofing sheets fly in the air hanging precariously to their wooden support just by a nail or two.

The windows have lost their covers, leaving gaping outlets for some unruly students to sneak in and out of the class. Inside some classrooms, the concrete floors have given way with pot-holes here and there.

Some desks have lost a leg or two and now only supported by some blocks. It is the same with the long benches in some classes.

Away from the buildings, not far away is the staff room with a ramshackle door unhinged welcoming you to the teachers’ office.

What confronts the eyes is an eyesore: torn, dirty curtains dancing shamelessly at the windows; teachers speaking raucously at the top of their voices, some of them sitting on their desks because there are no chairs.

The food shed of the school has various dirty-looking food vendors courting the attention of hunger-stricken pupils as flies struggle with schoolchildren already having a meal. Their rumbling stomach cannot let the rancid smell oozing from the half-collapsed toilet ruin their appetite.

The school is less than 50 years but it appears to be on the edge of extinction. This is not a school in Sudan or Somalia. It exists in Nigeria.

There are dozens of such public schools across the length and breadth of the country –without travelling too far you may catch a glimpse of one or two even in so-called “big cities” in Nigeria.

In recent time, since the failure of state and federal governments to sustain the infrastructure and knowledge acquisition in public primary and secondary schools, alumni associations have been coming to the rescue of such schools.

Little wonder then that not a few stakeholders have admitted that such associations play vital roles in developing the education system.

Last year, in his address, the Chairman of the Conference of Old Students and Alumni Associations of Western Nigeria, Prof. Delana Adelekan, emphasised that old students have an important role to play in the educational development of schools.

“They are to be non-partisan and operate with high level of transparency,” Adelekan said.

The deplorable state of public primary and secondary schools did not escape the eye of a monarch, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, the Alake and paramount ruler of Egba when he said: “We lost it all and today, we find ourselves living in gloom and despondency, without any future that promises anything but despair. We know how we brought ourselves to this regrettable state of affairs we as a people, abused the goodwill of government and allowed free education to destroy us. When free education could no longer assure quality education, government refused to admit; and we, as a people, equally refused to accept.”

In his lecture titled, ‘The role and importance of old students Association in alma mater’, Olusola Ladipo-Ajayi, stated that financing education is the responsibility of the federal, state, local governments and private sector.

The Principal of Baptist Academy, Lagos State, Bosede Ladoba, during the 35th anniversary re-union/dinner for the 1976/81 sets, on the platform of the Baptist Academy Old Students Association (BAOSA), called on old students associations to rise to the challenge of transforming their alma mater.

According to Ladoba, old students must not lose touch with their alma mater rather they should look for ways to give back to their former schools.

She said: “Sometimes when the old students come around, they say to us, this is not our school. Our school used to be very beautiful. It was as if we were overseas but because of transition from the government to mission and to the government, there tends to be change of things. They must not forget their alma mater, the source of their success.”

Chairman of the association, Seyi Malomo, applauded the 35-year-old friendship amongst its members, leading to personal growth, happiness and development of their alma mater.

Alumni associations also play advocacy role. For example, the St. Anthony’s College, Ubulu-Uku Old boys Association (SACOBA) in Delta State, once appealed to the state government to come to the aid of the college, specifically asking the authorities to renovate dilapidated buildings, and provide potable water.

The Chairman of the association, Dr. Phil Nonyeh Ofulue, noted the years of negligence the school has suffered in the hands of the government. The school founded by the Roman Catholic Church in 1956 has no befitting structure.

In view of this, the Asaba Branch Chairman of the association, Anthony Ifeanyi Uzogo, said: “Consequently, our association has resolved to set as our signature project the provision of a borehole, reticulation plant, and a 30KVA power capacity generating set for the school.”

In 2016, the Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun, had declared that unless old students and alumni associations are part of the revamping of the education sector, restoring the glory of Nigeria’s academic excellence would remain a mirage.

Amosun, speaking at the maiden convocation of assembly of old students/alumni associations of western Nigeria held in Abeokuta, had stated: “We have had series of national conferences and summits on education; trust funds have not only been contemplated but instituted in some states; and more federal input has been courted.

“But I am convinced the surest way to restore the glory and pre-eminence of our education sector is to effectively harness the massive size and passion of our old boys and girls associations. A true alumnus is always a proud ambassador of his alma mater and shoulder the responsibility of promoting and advancing the cause of his old school.”

The governor was, though, wise not to suggest any abdication of the government’s responsibility to provide quality education to the people as he added: “For us in Ogun State, we remain attached to our history of education, and we continue to build on those glorious days of high quality education that will guarantee skilled and efficient manpower, a decent job and dignity of life.”

The quality of teaching and learning and provision of infrastructure (libraries, laboratories, etc) has become a thing of shame in the country.

The Managing Trustee of EIfDW, Adebowale Thompson, admitted this much. According to him, plans are underway to turn around the fortunes of public schools.

Thompson pointed out that his organisation had adopted the strategy to mobilise the rich and poor, alumni of institutions, trade groups, community development associations as well as market women and men across the south west to “do something” for their former schools.

“Institutions that were established many years ago are fast becoming shadows of their past glories. This is simply because the political class with best intentions pledged to carry out free education at all levels to the citizenry but have very little funds to support the programme.

“The citizens themselves have not been fully mobilized and shown that they themselves can contribute to lift up the falling standards by contributing towards the development of education,” Thompson had said.

In February 2018, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 2 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General Okudili Azinta had asked alumni of public schools to rise to the challenge of rescuing their alma mater.

He made the call during the commissioning of the N8 million-project executed by the ‘Class of 1988’ graduates of Command Secondary School, Ibadan.

“I want to thank the ‘Class of 1988’ for contributing their quota to the recommendations for the uplifting the school. Doing more, whisper to some other sets to contribute to their school. We all know the government cannot fully shoulder funding of schools again. It is time to rally round your alma mater to make it what you can proudly show to your children that you were there,” Azinta said.

Weighing in on the issue of alumni association and their roles in public schools, a former presidential spokesman, Segun Adeniyi, said: “Although alumni activities are more vibrant in universities, it just means that there many lessons for secondary school alumni associations to learn from. Alumni associations help their alma mater by alleviating its financial burdens through donations.

“In Nigeria where the government will continue to find it increasingly difficult to meet up with its responsibilities, alumni associations should play a vital role in providing assistance to these institutions. An alumnus’ perspective is important on the board of school management because an alumni manager has a good understanding and a sense of belonging to the school. Alumni association members are in a good position to offer advice on the relevance of the curriculum to the demand of the professional workplace.”

Writing, 10 years ago, on ‘Rejuvenating Nigeria’s collapsed educational system: The roles of alumni and old students’ association’, Akintokunbo Adejumo, accused the government and politicians of ruining the sector and warned that if Nigerians are waiting for the same crop of people to revamp it, they might as well “put their hands behind their backs or open our mouths expecting manna to fall from heaven.”

Adejumo added: “The old students and alumni associations will definitely not be the panacea to all these problems but they can certainly intervene positively. They can contribute to fund projects in their respective alma mater and most important, they can apply pressure on politicians, governments, industry leaders and individuals to start doing something as far as education is concerned.

“We all owe our various alma mater for whatever education and position we have today. Do not let once-great secondary schools and universities die because our leaders are not doing anything. If they won’t do it, let’s do it our way.

Easier said than done you will say, but believe me, it can be done with the right attitude and commitment.

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