There are laws concerning the establishment of schools and there are still extant laws on conduct on school premises either by teachers or their pupils. In other words, schools are legal entities. They can be sued and can as well sue. These laws are without prejudice to the ethics and ethos of teaching, as a noble profession. However, most parents are not even aware of their rights and the rights of the children they entrusted in the care of schools especially during school hours. Worse still is the brazen ignorance sometimes displayed by some school owners/school authorities who know nothing about their limitations under the laws despite the fact that they are the investors who established the schools or got appointed as custodians of schools.
There were cases where pupils’ rights were breached on school premises and school owners and teachers got away with them since parents were not even aware that such rights exist. In cases where knowledgeable parents asked questions, schools often resorted to threats and intimidation. This assertion is based on my participation in some schools’ parents/teachers’ associations either as an active member or a member of the executives.
I did not know the import of these rights until I attended a workshop as a youth corps member in the ’90s. It was organised by Shell Petroleum Development Company for youth corps members under its ‘Science Teachers’ Scheme. A professor from the Faculty of Education, Delta State University, Abraka, was one of the resource persons at the one-week workshop, which was held at the Federal Government College, Warri. The professor, whose name I cannot remember now, was an orator. His understanding of the Nigerian education system, laws on setting up of schools and conduct of teachers, school owners, parents, pupils as well as the expected relationship between teachers on one hand and their students on the other hand was deep. Even those who had background in education among us acknowledged that the professor’s brilliance and pedagogy were unique.
I later found some of the things he taught us quite useful as a parent who attends PTA meetings. Interestingly, some court cases he cited were backed up with reading from the Nigerian Weekly Law Report, a compilation of decided cases by the late legal icon, Chief Gani Fawehinmi. Among the cases, he cited, two have refused to leave my memory. The first was the case of three pupils that were sent home after they were brought to school by their parents on account that they had not paid their school fees. On their way home, they were killed by a hit-and-run driver. This, the professor said, happened in Calabar in the late 80s.The school proprietor was charged with manslaughter and was subsequently jailed.
The parents of the pupils knew their right; they asked for it and got it. The court established that the school had no right to send pupils brought to school by their parents home except if there are adults to accompany such pupils home who must in turn hand them over to their parents. This is to ensure nothing untoward happens to such pupils between the school and their homes. In case parents of such pupils are not at home, schools were advised to hand them over to a responsible adults in the neighbourhood or get in touch with the parents of such pupils and act on the parents’ directive regarding who to leave the pupils with- the bottomline is to ensure the safety of such pupils. The second was the case of a teacher who flogged a pupil to ‘death.’
The said teacher was said to have flogged a girl on the school premises for indiscipline. When she got home, her father was infuriated not because she was flogged but because she was injured with canes, which left marks all over her body. He went to see the teacher who could not control his anger to register his resentment. But when he got to the school, the parent’s anger was said to have subsided. He rather pleaded with the teacher to control his anger whenever he wanted to discipline any errant pupil. But as far as the teacher was concerned, it was an insult for a parent to give him unsolicited advice and he could not take it in his stride. Immediately the girl’s father left, the teacher reportedly sent for the pupil. He gave her another merciless beating with his cane for reporting him to her father and asked her to kneel under the scorching sun. After about two hours, the girl became exhausted, collapsed and died on the spot. The teacher was put in the dock and after months of trial, he was also found guilty of manslaughter and subsequently jailed.
These cited cases still happen in both private and public schools except that they may not often result in deaths. Teachers are kings esand queens and deserve to be revered. But reverence should not turn teachers into bullies. They should rather serve as a bulwark against bullying in schools. Bullying can come in various forms. When Queens’ College was in the news for the wrong reason in 2016 following alleged sexual harassment against one of the male teachers, I did warn in my column titled: ‘The ugliness of Queens’ College’ that asking the pupils to carry placards with various inscriptions exonerating the alleged teacher was another form of bullying. I likened the act of the protesting pupils to ‘Rent-acrowd’, a despicable act, introduced into our polity by politicians.
The only difference is that in the realm of politics rented crowds are always given financial inducement but in the case of the pupils, I strongly suspected that the pupils were cajoled to protest in order to provide an alibi for the teacher. I argued then that the countenance of the pupils was not convincing enough that the protest was natural or their own initiative. I had asked if the pupils used their pocket money to buy those cardboards and markers used in writing those inscriptions. Some reporters who were at the so-called protest said they only saw pupils who had been tutored on what to say during the sham protest? Allowing the pupils to embark on the so-called protest is the height of irresponsibility and unbecoming of a prime school like Queens’ College . If my suspicion about the so-called protest by the pupils then was right, then the saga involving a pupil that came to the school with fixed eyelashes and long nails should not be a surprise then.
Discipline had broken down in that school long ago and there may be worse cases of indiscipline than the one, which involved a pupil that came to school with long nails and fixed eyelashes recently. While I won’t pretend that I have the details of what happened beyond the video that went viral, I won’t also doubt that the school rules would not have allowed a pupil to appear as a model preparing to do Salsa Catwalk on the runway. In my days even as a primary school pupil, there were days when we were asked to stretch the back of our palms and those who had natural long nails would be asked to move out of the queue we had formed while some teachers would use rulers to hit the long fingernails of the pupils found with such repeatedly. The reason why we were never allowed to keep long nails was because; they could appear unkempt and harbour germs, which could endanger our health.
The rules were many and most of the pupils knew them by heart and knew the implication of going against any of those rules. When errant pupils were punished, their parent won’t come to school to fight teachers as we often see nowadays.
However, parents have the right to ask question if their children are wrongly punished because some teachers can hide under indiscipline to bully pupils and find justification for their actions. But even at that, parents need not be indecorous in their approach when confronting teachers who were not fair in dealing with their pupils. Bad parents will end up raising badly brought up children. We have seen cases where parents procure question papers for their children.
Some parents out of desperation connive with authorities of highbrow government-owned schools like Queens’ College to ensure their children are admitted to such schools even if they do not merit them. When such thing happened, such parent already have the impression that they can get away with anything from such school. The Economic and Financial C rimes Commission (EFCC) shocked us some weeks ago when it revealed that mothers of “Yahoo boys” have reportedly form an association, perhaps to give backings to their children who are doing wrong things. Queens’ College cannot afford to always be in the news for wrong reasons.
The comments of some Nigerians most of whom don’t have all facts on the issues have shown the kind of people we are truly. Some comments show that moral decadence has eaten deep into the fabrics of our society and moral rectitude has lost its meaning. As far as some are concerned, the girl and her mother should be given a clap while the security men are the gate should be thrown under a fast moving bus. The issue is still nebulous and only the school authorities can shed light on the matter. We need to know what exactly happened beyond the social media thing. We need to know the exact role played by the security men. For instance, did they act outside their brief? If the school finds itself in a similar situation, how best can it be handled? This is the only way, the school can avoid a recurrence of that ugly situation.