State of public schools: Alumni associations to the rescue
Public schools, particularly, primary and secondary schools, are facing inadequate infrastructure, and poor teaching and learning environment challenge.
With less financial resources committed to these educational centres, the future of education is at stake. But alumni associations in the country are coming to the rescue, writes IYABO LAWAL.
The wall of the school complex is weather-beaten and faded. Its corrugated roofing sheets fly in the air, hanging precariously to their wooden support, just by a nail or two. The windows have lost their covers, leaving gaping outlets for some unruly students to sneak in and out of the school.
Inside some of the classrooms, the concrete floors have given way to embarrassing ‘holes’ begging to be filled. Some of the desks have lost a leg or two and are supported by blocks. It is the same with the long benches.
A few metres away from the building is the staff common room, with its ramshackle door, unhinged, torn and dirty curtains dancing shamelessly through the windows.
The school is less than 50 years, but it appears to be on the fringe of modernity and close to extinction. This is not a school in any poor country in Africa or Asia. It is in Nigeria.
Despite the government’s repeated commitment to fund education in the country, schools have been left to their fate. The responsibility of running schools has been abandoned by alumni associations, who are forced to save their alma maters from extinction. There are dozens of such public schools across the length and breadth of the country.
Public commentators and analysts say since the failure of federal and state governments to sustain knowledge acquisition in public primary and secondary schools through investment in infrastructure, alumni associations have taken up the task of saving public schools.
Stakeholders admit that these associations have become an important structure in the educational sector, as they play a vital role in developing the system. They say so many graduates from universities and secondary schools have taken up the duties of saving their alma maters, as worthy projects are continually embarked on by them.
They operate national and state chapters, with many former students freely joining to contribute their quota to the common goal.
Chairman, Association of Nigeria Universities Alumni, Dr Wale Fasakin, said:
“We come together every quarter of the year to review activities of associations and find solutions to problems identified in relation to university communities and education system.”
He said these “associations depend largely on subscription rendered by graduates, which is grossly inadequate to do much. Despite that, a lot has been done by various presidents and their executives in terms of endowment funds, donations to worthy causes, the building of structures and awarding scholarships to students.’’
Fasakin, however, suggested that presidents of such associations in universities be made members of their school’s governing board to get acquainted with the challenges of the institution in budget implementation, and to give associations insight into how they can assist their institutions.
The Guardian gathered that intervention of old students associations helps to bridge funding gaps, their actions reflect a strong response to governments’ clarion call to assist schools, as they cannot tackle the challenges alone due essentially to misapplication of resources.
Most importantly, old students embark on the assistance schemes as strategies to give back to the society that has so blessed them, crediting their foundation of successes to their alma maters.
While appealing to alumni to rise to the challenge of providing funds, a university lecturer, Prof Suleiman Ambali, at a reunion dinner of Government Secondary School, Afon, Asa Council of Kwara State, said they should help facilitate effective administration, policy drive, voluntary career mentoring, role model, provision of scholarship, ensuring commitment and effectiveness among teachers to save education from collapse.
He described alumni associations as opportunities to socialise and increase horizons, enumerating benefits derivable in reunion, which include relieving good memories, facilitating job placements, business opportunities and political patronage as alternative means of funding education.
Also speaking on their roles in public schools, ex-presidential spokesman, Segun Adeniyi, said: “They help their alma mater by alleviating its financial burdens through donations.
“In Nigeria, where the government will continue to find it increasingly difficult to meet up with its responsibilities, alumni associations should play a vital role in providing assistance to these institutions. An alumnus’ perspective is important on the board of school management because an alumni manager has a good understanding and a sense of belonging to the school. Alumni association members are in a good position to offer advice on the relevance of the curriculum to the demand of the professional workplace.”
For the President, Alumni Association of the Federal University of Technology Owerri, Imo State, Ndubuisi Chijioke, the aim of every association is to create a community of graduates with lifelong relationships to support themselves and their alma maters.
According to the Global Publicity Secretary, OAU alumni association, Akeem Amodu, the union’s objective is to promote the academic interest of their alma mater and network for personal and collective development.
He said: “Great Ife alumni have existed for over five decades and contributed to the development of the institution in terms of infrastructure and creating an environment conducive to learning. The platform and individual members have contributed to the development of the health centre, halls of residence, boreholes, installation of electricity, and solar panels in the university. We have generated funds through the alumni centre that has been ploughed back to the institution in various areas of academic, administrative, or infrastructural needs.”
He explained that there were economic, social and political empowerment strategies achieved through seminars, and workshops to educate and expose members to local and global opportunities.
Former Vice Chancellor, Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Prof Joseph Fuwape, said with the dwindling resources for the funding of education, the contributions and involvement of alumni associations have boosted universities’ core mandates of teaching, research and community development.
Fuwape added that lasting legacies could be built when alumni partner with schools in areas of the endowment of prizes, funding research, donations of physical facilities, equipment as well as giving material support. An opinion, which was also canvassed by Dr Segun Amusan, an executive member of St Gregory’s old student’s association.
Amusan said many educational institutions owe their survival and development to the vibrancy and enthusiasm of these associations. He noted that they could serve as entities in marketing educational institutions and promoting the best interests of their alma mater, adding that they also engender a spirit of belonging and unity, which is a necessary element in surmounting the challenges facing the sector.
“Alumni help their alma mater by alleviating its financial burdens through donations. In Nigeria, where the government will continue to find it increasingly difficult to meet up with its responsibilities, alumni associations should play a vital role in providing assistance to these institutions.
“Alumni’s perspective is important on the board of school management because an alumni manager has a good understanding of and a sense of belonging to the school. Alumni are in a good position to offer advice on the relevance of the curriculum to the demand of the professional workplace.
“In addressing the decay in our education system, we should draw resources from alumni associations. The way things stand in our country today, the support of alumni associations is critical to the conceptualisation, as well as effective implementation of education reforms.”
The President, of Baptist Academy Old Boys association (BAOSA), Akin Fatunke, said a laboratory, ICT centre, and modern library had been enhanced alongside a multipurpose sports hall currently being built.
He noted that awards were given to teachers and deserving old students to compensate for their hard work and every year, graduates of previous years both home and abroad, were awarded scholarships to support indigent students and parents.
He said: “We provided some medical cleaning facilities and taught students the importance of hygiene. We have tried to inculcate values of integrity and chivalry into the children. Also, we support the old and retired among us.”
The Principal of Baptist Academy, Lagos State, Bosede Ladoba, who spoke at a reunion dinner of the 1976/81 set, on the platform of the Baptist Academy Old Students Association (BAOSA), also called on old students to rise to the challenge of transforming their alma mater.
Ladoba said old students must not lose touch with their alma mater but should look for ways to give back to their schools.
He said: “Sometimes, when old students come around, they say to us, this is not our school. Our school used to be very beautiful. It was as if we were overseas but because of the transition from government to mission and to government, there tends to be a change in things. They must not forget their alma mater, the source of their success.”
The Guardian gathered that alumni associations also play an advocacy role. Sylvester Ekwenuya, president of Adaigbo Secondary School, Ogwashi-Uku (formerly St Michael’s College), Delta State, said it has not been easy ensuring that the school returned to its former glory.
Ekwenuya said: “The truth is, the government has, over time shown continuous lip service to the development of our school, we shall keep reaching out to them until their hearts are touched, someday. Giving up is never an option here.”
Speaking with The Guardian, he noted that the areas where assistance is needed include, “Abandoned NDDC project – Block of 20 classrooms; provision of a standard gate for our school; renovation of our dilapidated science block; no laboratory in the school and no computer room or technology department.
“Words might betray me in expressing my profound gratitude to some of our members in Diaspora that have decided that our alma mater will not be in the dust bin of history.”
He listed some of the areas that the association had intervened to include, including solar-powered lights in the school, 24 hours of security, beautifully renovated classrooms with chairs and tables and the gatehouse, which is coming soon.
“These are modest achievements. We can build on these, hence, the call to each and every member to come and assist.”
He noted that the school used to have a mini stadium. There was an opportunity for the students to excel in track and field events such as, shot put, javelin, high jump and pole vault, as well as having a hockey pitch, lawn tennis court and a table tennis hall.
The school’s dizzying height in sports saw it produce the first silver medalist in the Olympic Games for Nigeria in Los Angeles, United States of America, in Peter Konyegwachie (Peter K).
Also, the school produced Nigeria’s first silver medalist at the World Indoor Athletics Championship in Sevilla, Spain, in Paul Emordi.
The St. Anthony’s College, Ubulu-Uku Old boys Association (SACOBA) in Delta State, once appealed to the state government to come to the aid of the college, specifically asking the authorities to renovate dilapidated buildings and provide potable water.
The Chairman of the association, Dr Phil Nonyeh Ofulue, noted the years of neglect the school had suffered at the hands of the government. The school founded by the Roman Catholic Church in 1956 has no befitting structure.
In view of this, the Asaba Branch chairman of the association, Anthony Ifeanyi Uzogo, said: “Consequently, our association has resolved to set as our signature project the provision of a borehole, reticulation plant and a 30KVA power capacity generating set for the school.”
On her part, Anne-Funmi Fatusin said alumni associations now engage in ‘Give Back’ to their alma maters, by donating teaching and learning tools, while others practise the ‘Old Boys network’ as they help one another’s children to secure gainful employment.
She noted that they have come to stay and should be recognised as partners in the development of education in Nigeria.
FORMER Chairman of Conference of Old Students and Alumni Associations of Western Nigeria, Prof. Delana Adelekan, stressed that old students have “to be non-partisan and operate with a high level of transparency.”
On his part, Chairman of United Nigeria Airlines, Obiora Okonkwo, at the convention of Archbishop Heerey Secondary College, Ogidi, Old Boys Association, Obiora Okonkwo, said they should also look beyond the provision of infrastructural facilities and focus on the restoration of ethical values.
He said: “Today, our society is faced with a myriad of problems that are directly associated with failed ethical values than they are with lack of education infrastructure. This is where I think, and believe, alumni associations should also turn their attention. 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.
“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. A key part of this by way of alumni support is more hands-on mentoring. Alumni 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,” Okonkwo said.
The Publicity Secretary, University of Lagos Alumni, Lagos State chapter, Mr Adekunle Onikoyi, said the major focus is to propagate the image of the schools, support members and any course, project, or programme of their universities, which needed funding not provided by the government.
ONLY, recently, alumni of the University of Jos (UNIJOS), Rivers State chapter, reunited with one of their own, Mr Minabelem Hilary, who had been mentally unstable for over 20 years.
They met him in the streets of Bakana in the state and took him to a psychiatric hospital in Rumuigbo, Port Harcourt.
The South-South Zonal Coordinator, UNIJOS Alumni Association, Tonye Dagogo, said members visited Hilary in the psychiatric home to present a cheque of N1 million to him for his rehabilitation.
Dagogo noted that the association had also invested in human and infrastructural development by giving back to their alma mater.
According to Dagogo, contributions have also been made to the ongoing alumni centre project in the university, adding that they mediated when there were issues, such as the Jos crisis.
Dagogo further added that entrepreneurship programmes were organised for young graduates and unemployed members for skill acquisition in paint making, confectionaries, decoration, aquaculture and information and communications technology, with the distribution of starter packs.
Onikoyi said the alumni association of UNILAG had provided scholarships for brilliant indigent students and attracted funds for the building projects of laboratories and hostels.
“We carried out free medical surgery recently for staff, students and members of UNILAG alumni. Over 100 surgeries were conducted with over 500 eyeglasses distributed amid other health packages.”
On his part, Tony Edwards, an alumnus of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) said they had supported projects, awarded scholarships to undergraduates and provided internship opportunities.
He noted that there are mentorship programmes for students, which have not been held for some time now due to the ongoing strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
His words: “Graduate and undergraduate internship programmes are promoted by the alumni and members who own businesses or are in top positions in corporate organisations are encouraged to take in graduate members and undergraduates who need industrial experience.”
He added that projects such as the rebuilding of the university gate, staff lodge, books donation to the library and an alumni scholarship programme with a cash incentive of N100, 000 to the best students were equally executed.
The Oyo State government also recently handed over management, operation, and development of 93-year-old Government College Ibadan to its old boys’ association. This followed the previous investments of over N2 billion in 2017 and a partnership with the state government to rebuild the school.
The school had witnessed the inauguration of multimillion-naira projects executed by three sets, which included the rehabilitation of physics and chemistry laboratories and a block of classrooms.
Besides, 12 pupils got scholarships through Dereck John Bullock Foundation and the association, in addition, established an N250 million-intervention fund to help the school.
National president, Eko Boys High School Old Students Association (EKOBA), Kayode Eliot, said unless old students and alumni associations are part of the revamping of the education sector, restoring the glory of Nigeria’s academic excellence will remain a mirage.
“I am convinced the surest way to restore the glory and pre-eminence of our education sector is to effectively harness the massive size and passion of our old student associations. A true alumnus is always a proud ambassador of his alma mater and shoulders the responsibility of promoting and advancing the cause of his old school.”
Mr Adeyemi Adefulu, at the 40th Founder’s day of St John’s Anglican High School, Abeokuta, said schools should make it a matter of priority to build high-performance alumni associations that would go beyond stereotype social celebration and focus more on the development of professionalism, intellectualism entrepreneurship, capacity building and personnel development.
To secure the future, Amusan said old students must not relent in giving back to society.
He reminded us that alumni associations are critical stakeholders and must partner with the government to ensure sustainable change in the system.
Successful alumni can be very influential role models to current students of their alma mater because of the bond they share as former students, and having gone through similar challenges that current students may be facing. Years of knowledge and life experiences that alumni have gained professionally and personally shared with students could make a pivotal difference in their lives. Alumni could, therefore, be a vital source of career and character guidance, and also help to transmit the essence of school spirit, culture and beliefs from one generation of students to the next.