Schools across Anambra State are beginning to take new shape following their return to the missions that originally established them prior to the civil war.
It would be recalled that the then General Yakubu Gowon-led military regime took over all the mission schools across the country immediately after the end of the civil war.
His government also came up with a number of policies including the ‘takeover’ policy on education, the idea that was geared towards ensuring a uniform standard of education across the country but it later gave the nation’s educational sector a set back.
However, the Anambra State government recently took the bull by the horns by returning the schools to the missions, their original owners. It did this by employing a model, where stakeholders in the sector participated.
Although the idea to return the schools to the missions was first initiated by a former Governor, Chinwoke Mbadinuju, it was never implemented.
During administration of the current minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, as governor about six schools were returned to the churches as a pilot scheme. But in 2011, the state under the administration of Peter Obi returned all the schools to the missions.
It will be recalled that initially, the decision to return the schools to the churches was unpopular, in fact, all the cabinet members of Obi were against his decision to do so.
Ironically, the state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) that was supposed to be at the forefront of the reform policy was also against the move to return the school to their original owners. In deed, Obi was alone in his determination to turn around the education of the state. It led to a litigation between the NUT and the governor, but the former governor triumphed.
The court judgment which was in favour of Obi marked the turning point for the education sector in the state.
While the schools were returned, the state was still in charge of payment of salaries of teachers of the returned schools, while regular subvention was given to missions to manage the schools. The partnership between the state and the churches especially in the area of education worked magic. Dilapidated buildings were renovated while new ones were built, morality, quality and standard education returned to the schools in the state.
When journalists visited Queen of the Rosary College (QRC) in Onitsha, established in 1942 as a missionary school, the Vice Principal (Administration), Mrs. Nwanko Gloria, said tremendous changes had been made in the school since government returned it to mission recently.
She disclosed that the school was upbeat at inception when it was being controlled by the mission, until government took it over after the war.
She explained that, all the hard work of the mission went down the drain after government took over, resulting in examination malpractice, immorality, and other forms of in discipline.
She, however, affirmed that the return of schools to the missions who are their original owners had restored sanity and hope to the educational institution in the state, as according to her, some teachers who liked to work at their own pace are now forced to sit up with strict supervision from the church.
“The administration of Peter Obi returned the schools to the mission in 2011. When the mission took over, the mission built ultra-modern kitchen, hostels, renovated old ones, built new refectory and new chapel that accommodated more students. The school pavilion was renovated by the old girls association.
“The access road was not like this before because it was overrun by gully erosion. The school had very close to 3,000 students when the school was under the control of government. The mission has reduced the number of students that they admitted in the school for optimal care and supervision. Now the JSS1 has 200, the JSS2 has 200 students. Now we have about 1,600 all together,” Mrs Nwankwo said.
At Christ the King College (CKC), Onitsha, the school principal, Rev. Father Celestine Okafor (PhD), revealed that the school was established in 1933 and it was a pioneer secondary school East of the Niger.
He said the school had produced worthy alumni including former Governor Peter Obi; the incumbent Anambra State Governor and his predecessor, Willie Obiano; former Governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili; Olisa Agbakoba and Pat Utomi, among others.
He added that the buildings in the school were like monuments, stressing that they were built by missionaries at the beginning of the 20th century, adding that the college presently has 1,800 students, all living within the college.
Okafor stressed, “You all know the story of mission schools in Nigeria. In December 1971, all the schools were taken over from the mission because of a government policy that many of us are yet to understand. Maybe someone said they wanted to make a uniform standard, but at the end of the day, they took the schools away from the mission, catapulted our schools not up, but down; the force of gravity was unprecedented.
“But when you make teaching a civil service as it is now in many places, teachers are not as committed as when they were teaching with conscience, as believers in something beyond the now.
“In those days, their teaching was a ministry, they saw it as part of their Christian vocation. But when the government took over the school and nationalised it, the teachers unions started gradually and everybody believe teaching is a civil service.
“In 2011, the then Governor Peter Obi, who was a student of CKC, saw that their own time was different from the time in which we are in the sense that schools have degraded so much. He began to pump money into education.
“He began to renovate schools and gradually he also saw that in those schools where the missions were managing, when he gave for example, N10 million and he give the same N10 million to the government school. You have a principal in a government school and in a mission school, he saw that when he visited them after one year they had done a work of N25 million, the same N10 million you gave to a principal in government school, he has done nothing, they just brought out some sand on the ground.
“From there the governor started to think about returning the schools to the mission and that was when the process began and the gazette was prepared to hand the school over to the missions.
“It wasn’t easy for him because most of the teachers felt that the missions would be so strict and they didn’t want it, they wanted to be free, they wanted licence to do the work at their own pace but the missions would punish you. So, they restricted him but he went to court and defeated them and he handed the schools back to us.”
It was gathered that the Catholic Church presently has about 400 schools while the Anglican church has over 300 schools, in the state.
He explained that since the return of the schools to mission in 2011, there had been tremendous improvement academically, adding that students’ performance in WAEC had improved.
Okafor noted that this year, 4,000 sought the school admission, only 400 could be accommodated. To make up for the shortage of teachers in the school, he said that the church employed 40 teachers and more than N2m is being paid to them as salaries every month.
Also, Bishop Samuel Ezeofor, the Bishop of the Diocese of Aguata, Anglican Communion, said that the period when government was in charge of the schools and when the mission was in charge of the schools could not be compared.
He stressed that there was standard, quality and morality in schools run by the mission.
He stated that, “When I was growing up, the schools were in the hands of the mission for a few years before it was taken over by the government.
“The mission was fully in charge and things, I must tell you, were better in terms of morality, in terms of quality education; teaching and learning were better.
“Then government took over schools and things began to deteriorate. It wasn’t obvious at the beginning but gradually things began degenerating to a point that people began to cry out that we are losing standard, quality.
“It took quite a long time, from the 70s up till this recent time that the government decided to hand over the schools. But in between this time, missions began to open schools again and the whole thinking is to go back to what it used to be. When you compared the schools that the missions were running before the government began to handover the schools back with the ones the government are running, the difference was quite clear.
“There is more dedication and commitment by staff and teachers and they gave their students quality education and the morality also, we didn’t hear about exam malpractices in those schools being run by the mission but all of that were so rampant in government schools.”
Ezeofor said now that government had begun to hand over the schools to the mission, people would begin to see the difference again.
In his own contribution, Venerable David Okpalaononuju, who is the Provincial Education Secretary and supervises all the schools under the Anglican Communion in Onitsha, decried lack of enough teachers in the schools. But he added that due to the progress recorded in the sector since the schools were returned that he would like to recommend the model to other states.
After leaving Onitsha, the investigation train headed for Awka. The story was the same as Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, of the Catholic Diocese of Awka, Okpuno, commended the return of the schools to missions. He said when people were working according to their religious belief, they impacted better on the students.
He noted that indiscipline in the schools across the state was very high while academic standard was equally going down when the government was in charge.
He explained further that when the former governor muted the idea of returning the schools to the missions, the missions were apprehensive because of the level of decay in the schools, but he noted that Obi provided the money for the rebuilding of the schools.
He was, however, of the opinion that the partnership between the church and the state government should be taken to another level, adding that in as much as government provides support for the returned schools, additional grants should be given as it was done before the civil war.
Ezeokafor said that the money being given to the mission schools as subvention should be made statutory and be part of the budget, adding that the money was regular during the administration of Peter Obi.
In the same vein, the principal of St. John of God Secondary School, Awka, Lady Nwanekie Oriaku, said that the subvention and investment during Obi’s administration cannot be compared with the present administration’s.w