Mr Chukwuma Ilezue, a chartered accountant and an educationist, is the principal of Destiny Kings/Queens Model College, Nasarawa. In an interview with UJI ABDULLAHI ILIYASU on the occasion of Independence Day, he talks about education in the past, the declining education quality and how his school is giving back to the community in terms of quality education and moral character.
How do you see education now and in the past?
The quality of education at present seems to be on the decline. In the past we were not aware of any examination malpractice in the external examinations. We sat for our school certificate examinations by ourselves. There was no way someone would sit for exam for you in the Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE) or Senior School Certificate Examinations (SSCE). But now students’ minds are already set that once it is external examination, it is going to be written for them. At Destiny Kings/Queens, we have made concerted efforts to see that our students are able to sit for both internal and external examinations and pass creditably on their own terms. At Destiny Kings/Queens, teachers and management staff are able to put their heads together to make sure that students excel in both BECE and SSCE on their own.
Why there has been emphasis on private schools in the country unlike in the past?
I can confidently respond to this question because I, myself, am a product of public school. In the past there was academic discipline in public schools. In secondary schools, principals made sure that lessons in the classrooms went uninterrupted. Truancy on teachers’ or students’ part was not condoned. But in public schools today lesson sessions go without lessons and no one holds anyone responsible. Many sentiments played against our public schools at present. Private schools which are businesslike in character exploit the loopholes found in public schools. Now they are attracting more pupils and parents to them because their education is strengthened. In public schools you often see teachers chatting leisurely in groups during lessons. Pupils go to school in the morning and leave during breaks and no one penalises them. The premises of public schools are not even secure. But at Destiny Kings/Queens, we ensure that students take their lessons and abide by all school rules and regulations. We ensure total control of the school in terms of academic activities and character control. Public schools have failed to some extent. Teachers are given teaching jobs in public schools based on who they know. But here we take teachers based on merit. We have a continuous monitoring system here, which means after employing a teacher, we still monitor him in all school activities. Every day, before a teacher goes to the class, we will ascertain the extent of his work and still go to the class to monitor what he delivers to the children, so efficiency is ensured. But in public schools, it is a case of I put my brother or sister there whether he is efficient or not. These are parts of the challenges in government schools.
Malam Nasir el-Rufai has taken his son to a public school in Kaduna. Do you see his action as a step towards returning public schools to their glorious days?
I saw Malam Nasir el-Rufai as a true leader living by example. Many leaders take their children to study in schools outside the country. If our leaders ship their children outside the country it means they have more confidence in foreign education system than ours, and this is a big problem for our education. El-Rufai has taken a bold and commendable direction in spite of what his critics might say. I implore all Nigerian public officeholders to emulate Governor el-Rufai and enrol their children and wards in public schools. By this, they will ensure that government schools become functional. If you don’t fix your own education system, no one else will do it for you. If the schools are not providing the right education, they will be able to know by the performance of their children. But in a situation where their children are not in public schools, who will give them the feedback? How will they appreciate the problems and prospects of the schools? In Destiny Kings/Queens, all our proprietor’s children are enrolled here. This shows the level of confidence he has in the school. If he is running a school like this and his children are enrolled in other schools, what would prospective parents say about his school? That means he is not confident in the ability of his school to give quality education to his children. This is the absurdity Nigerian education sector is witnessing today.
Do you think private school owners may be frustrating government’s effort at making public schools work in the belief that functional public schools will become a threat to their business?
I am an educationist as well as a chartered accountant, so let me answer the question from business perspective. If public schools are returned to their glorious past it is going to be a huge threat to private school owners or a total phase-out of private schools in the country. I serve in Osun state. You hardly see private school there. All public schools there are functional. The decadence in public schools is more pronounced in northern states. In the western part of Nigeria, public schools are well functioning because they have effective monitoring system. Their state governors pay their teachers’ salaries as and at when due. There is a weekly monitoring team from their ministries of education. If a teacher plays truancy he will not be paid his salary. I served in the ministry of education there during my national service so I know it all. To your question, there will be no business for private schools if public schools become functional, more so that parents are groaning under the current harsh economic condition. Parents who are now struggling to pay their children’s schools fees can use the money freed from private school charges for other necessities in the family. For example in Nasarawa, Government Secondary School, Tammah, has begun to come up gradually. So parents are enrolling their children and wards there based on the confidence they now have in the school.
What is the major contribution of your school to the educational development of Nasarawa local government area?
I am happy to tell you that education is not all about academic knowledge. A good school provides and inculcates both academic knowledge and character in the students. So at DestinyKings/Queens, our students are found both worthy of character and knowledge. We make sure we instill good character in our students for the benefit of Nasarawa LGA, Nasarawa state and Nigeria as a whole. In schools nearby and beyond, our old students excel in their various disciplines. And even in public and private job places, our old students stand out among their counterparts from other schools. The society today is rife with drug addiction, cultism drunkenness and other vices but at Destiny Kings/Queens, efforts are directed towards making sure that these vices find no shelter. Our students are being moulded into moral individuals and patriotic Nigerians in such a way that even a mere playground foul language is regarded as an act of indiscipline. All this rubs off on the society. The issue of truancy, boy-girl relationship outside of academic works and cultism is not heard here. So we are giving back to our society functional education and sound moral upbringing. This will ensure a better and violent-free society. In other schools, students take law into their hands but here every action is clearly defined by the school rules and regulation. So bullying has no place here. We are moulding a society where everyone will be his brother’s keeper.
What can you say about the eradication of polytechnic-university certificates dichotomy recently?
I myself hold HND and B.Sc. in Accounting also have a Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). So I know what they all mean. I know that President Muhammadu Buhari is making great efforts towards eradicating the HND-BSc dichotomy, but by personal experiences, I would advise parents to go for university degrees. Though polytechnics are good in their own way, the dichotomy will remain. There are some job levels that require a degree holder. And the fear is that after President Buhari, the dichotomy may return.
In polytechnic, you spend more years to acquire HND and after graduation you are looked upon as an inferior product. As a parent, I will never allow my children and wards to go to polytechnic because this discrimination is traumatising. In the university, you spend four years for a degree and you are recognised. Polytechnic is time-wasting and placing unnecessary financial burden on parents.
What is your opinion on the reduction of cut-off points for UTME?
Looking at it from business point, reducing cut-off points of University Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) is the same as telling students to stop working hard. This surely reduces scholarly quality and competiveness in the UTME. For example, placing the bar on 400 as the cut-off point will witness increased hardwork on the part of students towards achieving their educational aspirations. Now the students know that much effort is not required to pass UTME and unfortunately carry the scholarly laziness to their undergraduate works.