Keynote speech presented by Chairman of United Nigeria Airlines, High Chief Obiora Okonkwo Ph.D. (Dikeora) at the 2nd Worldwide Convention of Old Boys Association of Boys Secondary School, Ogidi now Archbishop Heerey Secondary College Ogidi on Tuesday, December 28, 2021
Let me begin by specially wishing everyone of us here a Merry Christmas, even if in arrears. May this special season of grace commemorating the birth of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ bring us God’s abundant blessings. And with the new year around the corner, it’s only proper that I also use this opportunity to wish you a prosperous and blissful 2022. As we count our blessings (big and small) in 2021, may we redouble our efforts towards helping the downtrodden in our communities given the enormous challenges our country faces.
I particularly thank the leadership and members of the old boys of this great institution for finding me worthy to be the guest speaker at your 2nd Worldwide Convention. The topic for today’s conversation is very apt- how best an alumni association (such as yours) can positively affect education and school development. The topic is undoubtedly a recognition of the crises facing the educational sector, just like various other sectors in Nigeria today. That you left your other commitments in this intensely busy festive period to be here today underscores the importance you attach to the issue. This truly gladdens my heart because education at all levels along with its spinoffs is the life of any nation without which very little else can be achieved. I can only hope that you stay the course by making this interest a lifetime commitment.
Given the festive period we are in during which people’s schedules are usually very tight, I plan to be very brief. And in doing so, I will try to focus on more practical ways to address the issues, including from my own personal and modest efforts to change the trajectory of education in our dear country. As we are all probably aware, Nigeria has never been short of conferences and related activities in which ideas are often generated but barely implemented, including in areas of stakeholder roles in quality education and school development, many of which are gathering dusts in government offices across the country. The abject failure of governments, particularly at the state and local government levels has fostered the spirit of individual and collective self-help in Nigeria. And no place is this more pronounced as in the growing interest of individuals and associations to support schools that helped make them who they are.
However, before delving into the topic, it is necessary to first operationalize three key concepts in the title- Alumni, Stakeholders and Quality education.
What is an Alumni?
Alumni which is plural for Alumnus simply means former students of a school, college or university. In broad usage though, it goes beyond schools to include former members of a group, company or organization. At the root of the word Alumni are two Latin words- Alma Mater which simply refers to a school one previously attended. It is in that context that you all point to BSSO as your Alma Mater. However, a deeper reflection on the meaning of Alma Mater is necessary at this point to more fully understand its significance. Alma in Latin means ‘nourishing’ or ‘fostering’ and Mater means ‘mother’. Put together, the phrase Alma Mater means nourishing or flourishing mother. Ascribing the mother role to a school is hugely significant. We all know what mothers represent in the home, family and community. We all have experiences of our mothers. We can relate to how caring and how concerned our mothers were and, are, about us. We can relate to how our mothers always wanted the best for us; how they scraped the surface of the earth to make sure we grew healthy and strong. All of us here have various experiences to share about how our mothers nurtured us and looked forward to see us grow to become responsible and valuable members of the human community. It is not therefore not surprising that arguably the most immortal piece of music ever produced is Nico Mbarga’s hit piece Sweet Mother.
The school as a mother figure who helped make us what we are is very apt. As ‘mater’, the school nurtures you; takes you through key formative stages of life to ensure you become a decent and productive member of society. During this period, you learn basic skills, gain knowledge, hone your talents, and even more importantly, imbibe moral values which is essential for human coexistence. The latter is a continuation of the basic home training vital to a child’s development and in situation where that is missing, the school helps fill in the gap.
This is why many insist that basic home training is vital to a child’s development and growth because it is from the home that children learn basic values that take them through life. School primarily offers the child academic education. The home essentially inculcates in them values that are not academic in nature. Either way, the mother role either at home or in school setting is central to the life of a child. Therefore, those who ascribe the feminine gender to school, were undoubtedly properly guided.
Stakeholders generally refer to individuals, groups or institutions whose involvement and support are essential to an organization’s existence and success. Types of stakeholders in the corporate sector include Customers, Employees, Investors, Suppliers and Vendors, Communities and the Government. Broadly, stakeholders can be divided into two categories- Primary and Secondary. In the context of our discussion here, while school administrators, teachers and Students constitute the primary stakeholders, Parents groups, Alumni associations and host communities can be grouped under the secondary category. Either way, both stakeholder categories are critical to the smooth functioning of the institution. Although the later are not directly involved in its day to day operations; their contributions, as many alumni associations have recently shown, are critical to the institution’s overall success.
Education and the Quality Variant
We seek to get an education in part, to become better persons. World Vision Canada defines education as the process “where an individual acquires or imparts basic knowledge to another. It is also where a person develops skills essential to daily living; learns social norms; develops judgment and reasoning, and, learns how to discern right from wrong”. The organization further explains that the “ultimate goal of education is to help an individual navigate life and contribute to society once they become older.”
Education is so critical to global development and it is no surprise that both the United Nations-led Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which succeeded it, have education as their bedrocks. Among the 17 SDG goals are no poverty eradication, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, industry, innovation and infrastructure, reducing inequality, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water, life on land, peace, justice, and strong institutions, and, partnerships for the goals. It is obvious that without education, none of these will be achieved. In fact, the full title of Sustainable Development Goal 4 is “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning for all”.
As Mohammed Reda argues, “If we want to see the world as a just and fair place where everyone is given equal opportunities, education is what we require. Education is a must if we want to do away with the existing differences between different social classes and genders”. According to him, “education majorly affects our understanding of the difference between right and wrong. An educated person is well aware of the consequences of wrong/illegal actions and less likely to get influenced to do something which is not legally/morally right; your educational degree is considered as a proof of your knowledge by many. If you are educated you have more chances of being heard and taken seriously; Education helps you become an active member of the society and participate in the ongoing changes and developments, and, Education saves you from being exploited and fooled”.
Reda equally acknowledges the importance of education in fostering self-dependence, financial independence and the capacity to pursue one’s dreams along with the success popularity and respect that go with them.
He concludes by underscoring the inextricable link between education and the economic prosperity of a nation. According to him, Australia, USA and Japan are among countries with very high literacy rates boasting of citizens with high per capita income in contrast with developing nations with low literacy rates where the vast populations of citizens live below the poverty line.
Time will not allow me to further discuss the many great reasons why education is so important. But permit me to quickly add two vital statistics with respect to gender, which again evokes the mother image of an Alma Mater. Education promotes gender equality and helps empower girls and women. A World Bank report found that an extra year of schooling for girls reduces teen pregnancy rates by six per cent and gave women more control over how many children they have thus making them more responsible mothers. Similarly, a UNESCO report found that education reduces child mortality as a child born to a mother who can read is 50 per cent more likely to survive past the age of five.
My life story embodies the transformative impact of education which some of you may already be familiar with. As a youngster, I enjoyed the allure and the little cash that trading with my late father at the Main Market in Onitsha left me with. Perhaps, only God knows what would have become of me if my elder brother did not force me out of the market and make me return to school to get education. I have often related my experience of enjoying what the Main Market offered then and for this reason, while others were reading to pass their final examinations, I was reading to fail. The only reason was that I was making little money from the market and feeling good. I never knew that with further education, I would be better much off. This is why I believe that we must support others to get education and become better persons. However, in doing this, I am aware that not every child is equally gifted. While some are very good in academic education, some may also be gifted in vocational education. We must therefore support our children to get education either way, because the more children we educate, the better for our society and the easier it is to govern and lead.
The concept of Quality Education
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) identified the following as the key elements of quality education:
- Learners who are healthy, well-nourished and ready to participate and learn, and supported in learning by their families and communities;
- Environments that are healthy, safe, protective and gender-sensitive, and provide adequate resources and facilities;
- Content that is reflected in relevant curricula and materials for the acquisition of basic skills, especially in the areas of literacy, numeracy and skills for life, and knowledge in such areas as gender, health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS prevention and peace.
- Processes through which trained teachers use child-centered teaching approaches in well-managed classrooms and schools and skillful assessment to facilitate learning and reduce disparities.
- Outcomes that encompass knowledge, skills and attitudes, and are linked to national goals for education and positive participation in society.
According to UNICEF, “the quality of children’s lives before beginning formal education greatly influences the kind of learners they can be.” A 1999 study by McCain & Mustard came to the same conclusion that “physically and psychosocially healthy children learn well. Healthy development in early childhood, especially during the first three years of life, plays an important role in providing the basis for a healthy life and a successful formal school experience”.
This presupposes that adequate nutrition is critical to a child’s brain development. Thus, nutrition, family support and regular attendance at school, are critical factors for quality education.
Another essential component of quality education is school development which, presupposes a convivial environment for learning. Again, as UNICEF explains “learning can occur anywhere, but the positive learning outcomes generally sought by educational systems happen in quality learning environments. Learning environments are made up of physical, psychosocial and service delivery elements.” Physical elements to quality education refer basically to school infrastructure which include classrooms, libraries, textbooks, laboratories, desks and chairs, among others. According to UNICEF findings ‘the quality of school buildings may be related to other school quality issues, such as the presence of adequate instructional materials and textbooks, working conditions for students and teachers, and the ability of teachers to undertake certain instructional approaches. Such factors as on-site availability of lavatories and a clean water supply, classroom maintenance, space and furniture availability all have an impact on the critical learning factor of time on task.”
From my personal experience, I believe that the issue of class size is also a key factor in quality education and empirical studies on teacher-student ratio have backed this up. There is little doubt that the quality of education received in classroom of 50 pupils or a lecture theater of 200 students is not as good as a classroom with much lower student numbers.
The psychosocial elements to quality education relate to such issues as peace and absence of crisis in educational institutions or the sector at large. This is critical to ensure that parents allow their children to go to school. In most cases, the girl child is at greater risk of violent or threatening conduct in such environments. Besides, the issue of discriminatory polices affect quality education as children who feel discriminated against or bullied are less likely to participate fully in the learning process. Some may even drop out of school on account of such experiences.
Teacher quality and conduct are also key factors under the psychosocial element of quality education. There have been situations where parents have withdrawn their children from particular schools because of teacher quality and conduct just as ineffective disciplinary issues have also worked to make some parents withdraw their kids from school. Like I said in their introductory part of this paper, while a school is seen as a ‘mater’, it bodes well that a ‘mater’ relates and disciplines children in such a way that they remain endeared to the ‘mater’ rather than become afraid and, even in some cases, resent the ‘mater’.
Tough love is what good parents use when necessary; an approach summarily captured in the expression- spare the rod and spoil the child.
Other factors that may affect the quality of education include capacity building/training and re-training for teachers, conditions of service for staff, especially teachers, access to school resources including teaching aids, quality of tutorial, among many others.
Role of Alumni in Quality Education in Nigeria
Let me begin this section by posing some rather rhetorical questions whose answers are probably obvious to all of us. Do alumni associations in Nigeria have a role to play in making education qualitative? Do they have responsibilities in ensuring the development of their alma mater? The answer to these questions are resoundingly yes. It is perhaps on the how question that we may not completely agree.
In fact since about the past 30 years, Alumni of Nigerian schools both in their individual capacities and through their associations have increasingly played a prominent role in helping improve the quality of education in their Alma Maters. Having watched with consternation as their former schools, many of which were very famous, gradually degenerate to a sorry state of disrepair, Alumni stepped in to help restore their lost glory. These came primarily by way of infrastructural support- building new structures ad rehabilitating old ones (e.g. Classrooms, Dormitories, Libraries, sporting facilities etc.); the provision of learning resources like books, laboratory equipment, the institution of scholarships and awards, among others. Aside from wealthy alumnus, graduating classes and entire alumni associations have chipped in, in what in some instances, have become desperate salvage missions. These are mostly government-owned schools or previously mission schools forcefully taken over by the state. Even the old boys of the storied Government College, Umuahia which produced our own legendary Chinua Achebe have gone a step further by taking over the management of the institution which it runs through a foundation solely established for that purpose.
Having identified what constitutes quality education and the impediments to it, it is only natural for alumni and their associations to strive to give back to their ‘nourishing mother’ to ensure that her upcoming children are also nurtured to maturity. As stakeholders, the alumni are strategically positioned to understand, and appreciate the challenges of their alma mater. And they should be commended for stepping up to the plate.
However, for me, the biggest challenge to education in our country today goes beyond crumbling infrastructure, paucity of teaching resources and the absence of motivational incentives for teachers; among a plethora of other challenges. As worrisome as these are, it is the erosion of moral values in our society which the devaluation of education standards has engendered, that should most outrage every person of conscience among us.
Today, our society is faced with myriad problems that are directly associated with failed ethical values than they are with lack of education infrastructure. This is where I think, and believe, the alumni association should also turn their attention to. We would have achieved nothing if we build and equip the best of schools but turn out children utterly bereft of moral values and ethics. As the biblical author of the book of Proverbs in Chapter 14:34 counsels- Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.
I agree that alumni associations should play different roles to ensure that schools are equipped and libraries have the current edition of books and other teaching aides. But it should not end there. Yes, we should offer scholarships to students of our alma mater; we should build and donate school halls and hostels; we should build chapels in schools or even donate uniforms and vehicles to them. But the greater challenge is turning out children whose moral standards could be recommended to others; who should be the cornerstone for Nigeria’s moral regeneration.
A key part of this by way of Alumni support is more hands on Mentoring. Alumni individually and collectively should adopt students and even entire classes and mentor them, hopefully for life, not just on professional development, even more importantly on values and ethical living. And it may not cost anything remotely close to putting up a physical structure. All it needs is a bit of your time. And when that child succeeds, he remains eternally grateful to you. Just imagine what we can all achieve individually and collectively if we can find a bit of time for mentoring these young people and helping keep them on a straight and narrow path which the Holy book tells us is the way to heaven.
This is one area of giving back to society that I am most passionate about. I have a feeling that many of the social problems that we face today, as a society and a people, are not simply the result of lack of quality education but the direct consequence of the loss of ethical values from our school system. I may not be able to itemize all, but from my observation, even the resort to hard drugs like Methamphetamine (mkpuru mmili) leading to sundry crime, is the direct outcome of the failure of ethical values in both our family and school system. Sadly, most often, it begins from the home.
The way forward
I want to, at this point, invite members of the alumni association to come along with me. You may be aware of my involvement in the race for the governorship of our dear state, Anambra in the November 6, 2021 election. I must state before you, once again, that my involvement in the race was not for personal benefits or to satisfy any previous deprivations. My intention was to use government as a tool to help redress our failing moral and ethical standards which had made our school systems turn out youths who are ill-prepared for the challenges of the future or even take advantage of the immense benefits of education as stated earlier in this paper.
As some of you may recall, one of the cardinal points of my vision for the state, as contained in my 10-Point Agenda was ‘rebuilding our ethical infrastructure’. I am aware that the elections are over and no one is campaigning anymore. But permit me to once again, share my vision in helping rebuild our ethical infrastructure and why I believe that ethical re-orientation and attitudinal re-engineering hold the key to solving many of the social problems that we see as outcome of the failure of education standards like drug addiction, kidnapping, armed robbery, human trafficking and others forms of crime.
I had said that “working with the civil society, the religious organizations and the private sector, the government shall promote a Center for Values and Character”, and that this would be responsible for:
• Value and Attitudinal re-orientation of all Citizens.
• Continuous training of all cadres of Anambra citizens on integrity, civic rights, duties and responsibilities.
• Training of political appointees and civil servants.
• Restoration of traditional Igbo Ethics and Cultural Values.
• Institutionalization of moral instructions in schools and in Adult education curriculum.
• Enthrone culture of modesty, trust and honesty through appropriate educational programs, including theatre and film.
• Work with the Church and other Civil Society Organizations to enthrone the right values among the citizens.
• Advise government on anti-corruption measures in procurement and project execution.
• Promote a robust anti-corruption legislation.
• Support and undertake corruption studies and research that would inform government’s anti-corruption agenda.
My vision in this regard was built around my belief that our education standards ought to be rebuilt in such a way that education become more meaningful to all, both parents and children. In this regard, I had, as part of the 10-Point Agenda, promised to revitalize education to ensure massive human capital development. I had said that “the standard of education in Anambra needs to be raised if we are going to build the skills of the future. Our diagnosis reveals a system that has stagnated for the past several years; with poor input, process and outcome indicators. Teacher quality and morale across the state are unacceptably low with many seeing teaching as a part-time and temporary job; a profession of last resort. Lack of teacher/school supervision has meant that instructional materials are outdated; students are left on their own to learn with no modern tools for learning. Our teachers feel abandoned with no clear-cut reward and incentive systems and punishment for dereliction of duty. This situation has led to the migration of students from poor public schools to sometimes equally poorly supervised and substandard private schools with serious rural-urban dichotomy. Over the years, our Student’s performance (measured by pass at credit level) in critical subjects of English, Mathematics and sciences in standardized examinations such as WAEC and NECO is improving but the performance is largely driven by performance outside the public system.
“At the tertiary level, our flagship institutions, Anambra State University does not feature in any notable ranking. It has been infected by the same neglect and lack of ideas, with the schools’ management constantly struggling to keep the institutions afloat even as many departments find it difficult to maintain accreditation. Our children deserve quality education from all state institutions and that is what this administration promises to deliver.”
Our planned actions were targeted at: early childhood education; upgrading teacher quality –through continuous teacher retraining; supervision –a new invigorated supervisory scheme for quality control; equal but differential access –model schools that are strictly merit based –with mechanism for improving access from the rural/low-income families; new reward and incentive system that promotes excellence and rural deployment of good teachers; recreating teaching as a noble profession; parental engagement and, rationalization and autonomy of the higher institutions.
Ideas encapsulated in this agenda were not things that we were only talking about. They were actions that we already initiated to ensure that we changed the narrative on education in our state. Recall that through my foundation, Pro-Value Humanity Foundation, which motto is Recreating Humanity, I had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Salesian Fathers of Don Bosco to start a more engaging and detailed vocational education of Anambra youths with the aim of making them market-ready. Interestingly, part of the former Boys High School Ogidi, has been graciously mapped out by the Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha and given to the Salesians for the building of a vocational school that will deliver quality vocational education to Anambra youths. It is our intention to ultimately transform the school into a polytechnic to offer both OND and HND certificates. It will interest you to know that the Salesians are the world leaders in youth vocational training and development with thousands of Indian youths trained and exported in recent times to the global market by the group. My vision is that we shall achieve similar development from Ogidi.
Further to these, my company, United Nigeria Airlines, signed three memoranda of Understanding with the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka to grant, annually, 20 students of Engineering opportunities for fully paid internship programmes with the airline with chances of retention for those who excel. Secondly, to work with the university to develop its capacity for animal feed production and; thirdly, to create exchange programme between UNIZIK and Russian Universities.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me make a disclaimer here. I have not reeled out these details as self-praise. Far from it. Rather, I am using them as examples of what an alumnus of any institution can do to help improve on the quality of education at his alma mater and further, to help build a better society. In whichever way we execute it, whatever an alumnus does for his or her alma mater is a way of giving back to society. It goes a long way to build a better society for all.
However, I am aware that we are not all equally endowed and cannot all operate at same level. But I am very hopeful that as alumni of Archbishop Heerey Technical College Ogidi, we shall all do whatever little we can to help uplift the quality of education at the school in such a way that the ethical values of the children who graduate from the institution will be a testament to the godliness that goes with academic attainments there.
High Chief Obiora Okonkwo Ph.D.
Dikeora @ Ogidi 2021