News Update

Public Schools, Still the Best

By Jude Atupulazi

Recently we all read how a group of Anambra students took part in an international debate competition in Malaysia and emerged victorious. It was yet another proof of the sterling stuff students from Anambra are made of which also justifies the quality of education in the state which was boosted by the handing over of public schools to the mission to restore discipline and morality.

The Anambra students, under the name, Team Nigeria, emerged champions of the 2023 Nigeria-Malaysia International Debate Championship.

Team Nigeria defeated the Hin Hua High School Debate Team in the finals of the Championship, determined at the school hall. Team Nigeria beat their Malaysian counterparts 2-1, after earlier defeating Team Malaysia 1 represented by Pin Hwa High School by 3-0 unanimous decision at same Championship.

Promise Mbachu of St. Michael’s Model Comprehensive Secondary School,Nimo, Anambra State, emerged the Best Speaker of the Debate Round.

The victorious students are products of what we call public schools (now mission schools). It is different from private schools which are owned and run by private individuals. Before 2002/2003, private schools were not popular as public schools held sway. But after the almost one year of industrial action by the state’s teachers owing to non-payment of their salaries, some parents began to look the way of private schools which had remained in session all that while. Very soon, the allure of private schools grew in leaps and bounds and became something of the status symbol it has become today.

Thus, many parents began to see having their kids in public schools as a mark of poverty and low class. One may not wholly blame them. If you went to many public schools then, they were nothing to write home about by way of infrastructure and general packaging. Lessons were also generally taught in the local vernacular.But in contrast, their private school counterparts packaged themselves better.

Many of the schools had good structures and buses which conveyed pupils and students to and from home. They wore sharp looking uniforms and lessons were taught in the English Language and the pupils and students of such schools intimidated their public school counterparts with their spoken English. It did not matter if they mixed their tenses.

But then, beyond the façade of their spoken English today, public schools still boast of far more qualified and trained teachers. This is no slight to private schools but that’s the truth. In most private schools, beyond the proprietor or proprietress, the head teacher or principal, you can only get a sprinkling of trained teachers who are mostly retirees.

The rest are those who got into teaching because they needed a job or youth corps members who are not trained teachers. (Mind you, youth corps members also teach in public schools but usually under the supervision of experienced teachers).

But even in the days when public schools were owned and run by government, they were still of superior quality. Today, that quality is even higher with the return of public schools to the mission. It is therefore not surprising that most of the brightest students excelling at the various competitions today are of public/mission schools, with the latest batch of students who excelled in Malaysia as a case study.

As I noted, I’m not writing this piece to undermine private schools. There are quite a few good private schools but those are usually very expensive because of the fact that they hire the services of experienced teachers that are paid higher than those not experienced.

Indeed, this piece should rather be seen as a challenge to proprietors of private schools to up their game; not just by hiking their fees, but by increasing their quality in order to compete favourably with their public/mission school counterparts. I have always maintained that the ability of students to speak the English Language does not translate to brilliance. A student may speak good English but can’t write it; just as many who speak their mother tongue may not be able to write well in it.

So, the challenge to private schools is to first of all hire qualified teachers all through, just like their other counterparts, and pay them what their grades are paid. If after that, they decide to increase their tuition, being that they don’t get government subventions, no one will complain; after all, parents have a choice of whether to enroll their kids in private or public/mission schools. It is not by force but by choice and the weight of the pockets of such parents.

But I want to use this piece to dispel the notion that public/mission schools are inferior. It is this notion that has put many parents in soup today because they prefer to enroll their kids in private schools, largely as a matter of showing their class and not being perceived as the poorest. There are good private schools as there are good public/mission schools but I feel I owe parents some elucidation on both schools to guide them in making their choices in these days of harsh economy.

Indeed, what will it profit a parent to spend hard earned resources in training their child in a school that costs more than their income just because they want to be seen to belong?No one needs being told now of the need to cut their cloth according to their size. All the successful people today are products of yesteryears public schools. In those days, even professors spoke what we call ”Igbotic accent”; yet they knew their onions and were perfect in their vocation. Contrast this with what we have now that many speak in foreign accents without being grounded in their vocation.

The times are hard and parents should call a spade by its name and ensure they keep their kids and wards in schools they can easily afford. There is nothing wrong with that primary or secondary school in your community. The environment may not be modern but those teaching there are very well trained. After all, the hood does not make the monk, or does it?

But I have this advice for private school proprietors: ensure you give no half measures. There is no short cut to success. Go all out to employ quality teachers all through; even if it means filling your schools with retired teachers. Nothing is a substitution for quality. I’m very sure that if parents realize that private schools are packed to the rooftops with quality teachers, they won’t hesitate to send their kids there if they have the means. But a situation where some private schools employ low quality teachers for the sake of convenience and still charge exorbitant tuition fees is not to be taken lightly.

The impression one gets is that some private school proprietors are more after money than quality and to this end, I suggest that the government should really set up a good monitoring machinery to ensure that private schools live up to expectations. They should be monitored the same way private schools are monitored. We should not keep our eyes off what happens in private schools because the students who graduate from there will still be part of our future leaders. We should care.

All said and done, I’ll prefer my good old public, now mission, school any day until things change drastically. I say this because there is a difference between a school where there is a central authority and where the government still has a say on what goes on, and a school where decisions are left to the whims and caprices of one person.

The way things happen in Nigeria has made many to be wary of most things. Any potential proprietor who is not ready to adequately fund their private school should look for another business, rather than experiment with the futures of our children. Such private schools should not be run with the intention of making money for the owners but with the genuine intention of giving children quality education.

Any proprietor who has a different motive is not fit to run a school. Running a school is serious business. It is something that can determine the future of any society. Private school proprietors should run their schools in such a way that at the end of the day they will beat their chest and say, ‘Yes, I have produced someone who can be certified as having excelled in my school in both character and learning’.