Plans by the Ondo State Government to return mission schools to original owners is causing anxiety among critical stakeholders in the state’s education sector
Catholic Church: It’s a welcome development
ASUSS kicks against move
There are discordant tunes among critical stakeholders in the Ondo State education project over plans by the state government to return primary and secondary schools to their missions and original owners.
This is as the moves by the Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN)- led administration that mission schools forcefully taken over by the government would be returned to the owners has continued to elicit mixed reactions from parents, teachers and the original owners of the schools, as well as other major stakeholders in the state.
While some sections of the stakeholders described the government plans as a welcome development, others, who expressed reservation about the moves, however, criticised such plans and cautioned the government about the decision.
Prior to the advent and proliferation of private primary and secondary schools in the country, various missionaries including the Church Mission Society (CMS), Catholic Mission in Nigeria and the Baptist Mission, among others, were in the forefront of establishment of schools to address the education needs of the citizenry.
The missionaries were said to have established primary and secondary school education for the people primarily to ensure that their evangelism succeeded. The early missionaries, who introduced Christianity to Nigeria, also came along with education for which the first set of elites in the country was educated.
But, with the taking over of mission schools by the government during the military regimes, education had become the prerogative of the three tiers of government, which places education on Concurrent List.
There are bodies saddled with the responsibility of regulating the affairs of the schools at every level of government, such as the State Universal Education Board (SUBEB) charged with supervision of primary school education, while the Teaching Service Commission (TESCOM) is in charge of secondary schools.
The need to further re-evaluate the basic role of missions in secular education, which culminated to the take-over of the mission schools in the 70s dated back to the era of military rule in the country, which shared the perspective that the idea of the elimination of mission schools within the Nigerian educational system should be given serious consideration. This was further given credence with the creation of Ondo State on February 3, 1976 from the defunct Western State.
The state originally included what is today Ekiti State, which was split off in 1996. Following series of failed moves by the previous administrations to return the schools to their missions in the state, Governor Akeredolu had in his message at the first working day prayer session held for workers at the State Secretariat in Akure, the state capital, organised to usher in the New Year announced the state government’s plans and expressed the readiness of the state to return both primary and secondary schools to their original owners.
Meanwhile, there had been agitations from different quarters that the schools should be returned to the missionaries for proper and better administration of the schools, given the poor standard of the schools, dearth of facilities due to inadequate funding, low discipline tone among students and teachers, poor education quality since the taking over the schools many decades ago.
But, according to the governor, the decision of the government to return the schools would not be without certain conditions stipulated by the state government to be met by the missions willing to take over their schools. Part of the conditions to be met by the interested missionaries, the governor said, include assurance that the returned institutions would not discriminate against any pupil seeking admission into the schools.
“Once the hurdles listed by the government are cleared by the mission owners, we shall gladly hand them back to the missionaries,” Akeredolu said, even as he directed the religious organisations interested in taking over their schools to approach the state Ministry of Justice for necessary briefs.
Meanwhile, the secondary school teachers under their umbrella union, the Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUSS), Ondo State chapter have kicked against the government’s planned return of the mission schools to their owners.
The state Chairman of the union, Comrade Balogun Tajudeen described the move as ill-conceived, saying it will only set back the state’s education sector.
According to him, the entire teachers under the umbrella of ASUSS are not in support of the move to return the mission schools to the owners.
Balogun, who stressed that returning the schools to the mission owners means that the schools would be commercialised and thus deny the children of the poor easy access to quality and affordable education.
He said: “We foresee a situation where the state government will stop paying the salary of teachers when they know that they are not directly in charge of the schools.
This is part of our concern as a union as the need for the schools to meet infrastructure needs and payment of staff salaries would be a big challenge.
“If the government stops the payment of salary, it means the missions will start sourcing for money internally and charging exorbitant fees to meet its financial obligations, and what becomes the fate of the poor children.”
The Chairman also noted that the commercialisation of the mission schools will lead to a high rate of school drop-out among children of the less-privileged in the society.
He, therefore, urged churches agitating and lobbying for return of their schools to channel their funds and energy in building more schools rather than seeking approval from the government for a return.
“If they are so much interested in education, they should build more schools. We have many mission schools today that are not under the state government,”Balogun added, asking the governor to reconsider his stand of handing over mission schools to the owners, saying it would only worsen the already bad situation of the sector and the standard set by his administration in the education sector.
“Our appeal to Governor Akeredolu is to allow the status quo to remain. If care is not taken, it will get to a stage that mission schools will be discriminating in terms of students to be admitted and teachers to be employed to teach in their schools,” he noted.
Also, in their reaction, the Catholic Church Nigeria, which has many of the leading primary and secondary schools in the country, has expressed delight over the decision of the state government to return schools established by missionaries to their original owners. In his swift reaction on behalf of the church in the state, the Bishop of the Ondo Diocese, Dr. Jude Ayodeji Arogundade, described the decision as heartwarming and gratifying.
The Bishop, who said the decision to return the schools is long overdue and had long been anticipated, however, insisted that no government anywhere could solely shoulder the responsibility of educating the people.
The cleric further said that education is a collective responsibility, which all stakeholders must be allowed to participate completely in educating the citizens. Arogundade added: “I am happy that the governor had finally conceded after a lot of pressure from the leadership of the Catholic Church Nigeria in particular that some missionary schools took over a long time ago that have become a shadow of themselves.
“We feel that if the government allows us to take over some of these schools, we can do a little better because those schools and facilities that we have and were not taken over are some of the best today.” He noted that though the church does not have enough money to turn the schools around in one day, he promised to work with the state government and the good people of Ondo State to bring back the schools’ lost glory.
The Bishop explained: “Education is not free anywhere, not even in the United States of America. So, all have to make commitments. We are of the view that we can bring down the level because we are a church and we are always sensitive to the needs of the poor in our society. “We are not trying to build a school for the upper class or the very rich.
However, we need to charge some fees in order to be able to pay the teachers, develop and organise the school.” Arogundade, therefore, called on the state government not to simply wash its hands off the schools, but to continue to support them, saying: “The students are children of the government so the state government has to continue to make commitments to the schools.”
The Bishop, who was of the view that the resources of government were not adequate to cater for the needs of the schools, hence the need for the reversal of ownership of missionary schools, also stated that parents had been nurturing the false hope that education could be free, but assured them that some fees to be paid by the students would not be astronomical, but affordable in order to give every child the opportunity to acquire qualitative education irrespective of their parents’ socio-economic background.
“We cannot allow them to continue like this. Even the state government has said that they do not have adequate resources and financial wherewithal to bring these schools to where they should be and at a level they would be proud of.
This is very obvious. If the schools are released and we begin to manage them and do the necessary things, things will turn around for the better for all and the standard of education will further be improved in the state.”
However, some parents have continued to express anxiety that should the schools be handed over to their missions and original owners, they would charge exorbitant school fees and thus price education out of the reach of the not well-to-do children, who also aspire to acquire qualitative education.
They further argued that what would be the fate of students and teachers in the schools, who were admitted or teaching in the school as their future would hang in the balance when the missionaries finally take over the institutions.
Though the state government has not outlined the criteria, requirements or conditions that must be met by the missions and original owners of the schools before the schools could be released or handed over to them, some stakeholders, who spoke with New Telegraph, however, suggested that the state should adopt the Lagos State model of returning the schools.
According to them, the return of the schools should be a gradual process of five-year period, until when the current students in JSS 1 to SS 3; Primary One to Six for primary schools will graduate, while the schools will start to admit their students in the next school year.
“During that period, the students in JSS 2 to SS3 will still be referred to as ‘government students’ and the teachers as well, while the students will not have to pay any fees, except the fresh students admitted into JSS 1.
The teachers employed by the government are also to be paid by the government for those years until the last set of ‘the government students’ graduate and the remaining teachers are redeployed to government-owned schools,” they explained.
Despite the position of this group of parents, a parent, Mr. Samuel Akinfolarin, however, insisted that education was better funded and managed under the missionaries, and when the missions were the ones running the schools, saying most of the best schools in the state were either owned by the Catholic or Anglican Churches.
He cited the example of Saint Louis and Aquinas Secondary Schools in Akure, the state capital, which today stand out in terms of quality of education delivery, student discipline and adequate facilities.
But, to him, the policy of free education from primary to junior secondary schools could be in jeopardy as the churches, which are the original owners of the schools, might not be able to fund free education especially the payment teachers’ salaries when the schools are returned to them.
A teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told New Telegraph that payment of salaries and other emoluments might be difficult if the schools are returned to the original owners.
She also noted that it would be difficult for teachers, who are not of a particular faith to head such schools if returned to the original owners.