Part 1 can be found here.
I went to Owerri Girls’ Secondary School (OGSS) Owerri, Imo State when OGSS was OGSS! Back then in the mid-nineties, only pupils who made exceptionally high grades in the State Common Entrance Examinations automatically qualified to write and pass another special entry examination to enable them gain admission into the then star models schools: OGSS (for girls) and the Government Secondary School Owerri, (also known as Government College Owerri (for boys)). Expressions like “My daughter is in Owerri Girls”…”My son is in Government College”….were then very common ways overjoyed parents used to show off their children’s upward academic performance. My parents were certainly, no exception.
Apart from being deeply steeped in the catholic tradition, OGSS was peculiar and very popular for many reasons. Firstly, students of OGSS (popularly known as Ojimgbo babes) never disappointed whenever their intellectual and academic prowess was called to question. So high was the school’s rating that parents living in different parts of the world: Britain, America, Canada and many parts of Nigeria usually “deported” their daughters to Imo State so that they would have a taste of solid Imo-bred education. Consequently, the best of brilliant amazons from different ethnic and social backgrounds were pooled together with a very strong expectation they’d acquire the knowledge, values, attitudes and skills they need to actively participate and succeed in the spheres of family, workplace and the country. Secondly, mundane requirements like background, class, wealth and social standing played very insignificant roles both in the admission processes and in the school’s handling of the students affairs. Thirdly, the school was famed for the intense pedagogic competition among the students. Baits over the next captor of the coveted 1st position were commonplace just as the release of the results of Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations (SSCE) often impelled proud parents to pop champagne.
Today, the situation is dramatically different. Not only have standard and quality gone to sleep, but also those unique values and passion that united students: hardwork and scholarly radiance have also taken flight. In the first place, the qualifying passmark for consideration into model schools have been so lowered by the State Education Board to such a level that casts doubts on need to even designate certain schools as Model Schools. Not only that, the then revered Model School Entry Examination has suddenly, metamorphosed into an ordinary routine devoid of any intellectual coloration. For parents with means, the exam is simply a walkover while the sharp divides between the haves and have-nots permeate deeply into the admission processes and student-to-student relations.
With the predominance of a highly-educated populace in Imo State, the lowering standard of education, with resulting high unemployment rates has unsurprisingly, been a major cause of concern. Probably after having read the mood of the people, Governor Rochas Okorocha’s gubernatorial election campaign harped on the need to reinvigorate the educational sector, a strategy which effectively endeared many to his candidacy. Just after his election victory, Okorocha’s declaration of education as the main agenda of his governance furthered inspired confidence among the Imo populations that a new dawn has indeed, come.
As Ndi Imo expectantly await Okorocha’s robust renaissance of education in Imo State, there are certain sad trends playing out in several states of the federation that HE MUST CLEARLY AVOID! For instance, aesthetical improvements (especially the repainting of school walls) in the physical environments of educational institutions have often been confused with increase in the standard of education. It is not uncommon these days for state governors to skew official emphasis on photographic objects and shine-shine structural improvements that do no more than attract a media hype that “education is receiving attention”. In one such Southern State where wonder edifice-styled schools dot the length and breadth of the state, scant evidence and information exist to show that curriculum development and implementation, teaching methods and tools received similar revamping. Another state in the West even resorted to providing akara balls to students as a strategy for increasing standard of education! Cameras clicked away as these phony initiatives held sway. Several years after the vigorous implementation of the structural enhancement program and akara ball provisioning in those states, boy/girl child enrolments in schools have not increased by even one percent while the failure rates of students in national examinations such as SSCE and the National Examinations Council (NECO) have remained constant, if not higher.
Imo people certainly do not deserve nor expect this kind of media-frenzy improvement in education. There is even a strong likelihood that Imo parents may prefer to have their wards trained under trees and open fields provided the quality and standard of learning is guaranteed. With a high dose of anxiety, the good people of Imo State are looking forward to Okorocha’s unveiling of a sound sectoral policy that elevates education to the status of a fundamental human right for all Imo children. At the very least, such a policy must: 1.) expand the access of all Imo children to free or affordable education 2.) ensure that the curriculum and syllabus development for primary, secondary and tertiary education in the state meets international standards and best practices while not losing focus on the religious, cultural, and moral development of the child; 3.) ensure the continuous improvement of the material and welfare conditions of teaching staff; 4.) ensure that teachers are subjected appropriate educational and training programs that take due account of socioeconomic and technological changes; 5.) and that school children are provided with adequate social and physical infrastructure that enable them learn in safe and non-exploitative environments free from physical and mental abuse.
Governor Rochas Okorocha must bear in mind that these justifiable expectations of Imo people are not photographic in nature, and as such, may invite the temptation to tow the less impactful, but colorful lines followed by other state governors. He owes Ndi Imo a moral and legal duty to stand out from the crowd, by reinventing the way and manner governance is done in Nigeria. Most importantly, the education revamp promised to Imo people must not just be certificate-oriented, but rather, be of such a nature that will propel young people to spearhead positive social change – leading community initiatives, operating small- scale businesses, and reshaping political processes.
Nothing really stops Governor Okorocha from delivering on his campaign promise(s) to Ndi Imo. He is not known to have god-fathers nor associate with the same politicians-for-life in Imo State whose only known source of livelihood is aiding and abetting the looting of the state’s treasury.
Now that the yam, and the knife are both in his hands, will he do the right thing, or will he – like by his predecessors in Imo State and other States of the federation – succumb to the alluring temptation of media-focused good governance? Only time will tell….Imo people are watching!