By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
Memories of GSS Ganye
Some events are greater than their times. They consolidate in our brain, as memories, to form experiences which we would recall to avert a mistake or solve new problems. Our secondary school experience is one that we cannot dispense with easily. We must inevitably apply it either as education administrators or universally as parents of our teenage children. For me, the memories of my stay at Government Secondary School Ganye (now in Adamawa State) have been a key asset that is benefitting not only my children but also thousands of others in my state. I have narrated the personal account of that stay in 2003 when I visited the school for the first time in twenty-four years to collect my WAEC result! (The two articles Harry Visits His Alma Mater can be downloaded from the archives of www.gamji.com). I have decided to avoid repeating that account here; instead, I have preferred to outline the special debt I owe the school.
My training in education did not go beyond my first year in the university when in 1979 I offered it as a subsidiary course at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. However, by destiny, education has become part of me since 1982. In 2000 I was invited by Bauchi State Government to help in founding some model secondary school, along the line of Kano Science Schools that were established in the 1970s, which will, as a temporary measure, give an instant improve the poor standard of education in the state. I chaired a taskforce that was formed for this purpose under the governor’s office, which was later transformed into a management board. There was no blueprint on the project, so we were left to formulate policies and initiate projects that would make the dream of the government a reality.
I did not copy Kano. Instead, three things, all products of my experience, helped me in achieving exactly what the government wanted. I believe that education means so much to society, seeing how it uplifted me from the status of a boy that was rearing cattle in 1973 to wherever I found myself today. So it must be pursued with all honesty, rigour and support. I was therefore ready to fight any battle to ensure that the children that would enrol in those schools had a chance similar, if not better than, the one I had thirty years earlier. And many battles were fought against agents of mediocrity, as expected, including government officials, parents and students. However, with our firmness and the support of Governor Mu’azu, the battles were won.
The second is my training as a scientist. It gave me the wisdom of pragmatic approach to issues such that they could be solved instantly without reference to the bogus theories harboured by experts on education. I likened the students to my crops on the field, which for good harvest would required good seeds, timely planting, instant weeding, correct manuring, and, finally, prompt harvest and storage. Or like a chemical process, quality education can only be achieved when all factors contributing to its delivery are kept as optimal as possible. Or as a patient, the poor state of education can only be redeemed by applying appropriate prescriptions that many times could be unavoidably painful and bitter.
The third, and the most important in my view, was my experience at Government Secondary School Ganye. I still remember how the idea to replicate my secondary school experience saved me hours of thought and answered dozens of questions. Without attending any course in education management, I recaptured the old process of running such schools in the former Northeastern State, from admission of students to their writing GCE examinations, which they now dub as ‘NECO’ and ‘WAEC’, including issues regarding student’s welfare, infrastructure, etc. For seven years we stayed on course without wavering. And given the high rate of success that made other neighbouring states solicit for our advice, I can now, without hesitation, confirm that experience is the best teacher.
What we did was simple. The most important thing was the thorough, and often brutal, application of merit as the universal yardstick for everything in the course of our assignment as it was applied to education in the former Northeast. Students were admitted strictly on basis of merit. Many of my nephews could not be admitted to JSS I, though their parents have contributed a lot to my own education. It was harsh. Many brothers and sisters of the Governor himself could not pass the entrance examination and we did not blink our eye in turning them away. The same thing applied to children of officials of the Ministry of Education and other ministries. It was painful even to me but it was the pill I direly needed to solve the problem. At the end, it paid well. Through simple tests we were able to admit the best children in the state, including the children of parents from remote villages and low cadres of society. A child to education is like a seed to a farmer. If you sow a bad seed, no amount of rain or fertilizer would give you a good yield. There is not a better way of guaranteeing the failure of children in education like running a system that is merit-free, as is currently the practice in most public schools in the country. We avoided this mistake.
Teachers were also recruited or retained on basis of merit. Teachers whom we found lukewarm or incompetent were instantly redeployed to the ministry of education and replaced by better ones. It was not sufficient to submit your NCE or degree certificate for a teaching job in a primary or secondary school under the Board. You are sent to the Director of Examinations, Hajiya Asma’u Pate, who would ask you to sit for a national common entrance examination paper (if your are applying to teach in a primary school) or a JAMB paper in English and in your subject of specialty if your are applying to teach in secondary school. We saw graduates of mathematics that could not pass national common entrance mathematic paper! Chineke. When you pass the examination, then you are invited for an interview. This system made away with incompetent teachers.
Then came the issue of measurement. No technology succeeds without applying the technique of measurement to the last micron if possible. That is why it is the first chapter in any physics textbook. To achieve the same standard in all the schools, the teachers held sessions where they ‘harmonised’ the syllabus of every subject such that it was uniformly covered. They were also assigned to measure the progress of the children through compulsory weekly assignment and monthly tests, which serve as continuous assessments. Then at the end of each term students in the various schools sit for the same examination set and marked by the board, not by the teachers. The results are returned to the schools at the beginning of the following term. Denying the teachers the measurement of their students at the end of each term put a lot pressure on them to ensure that they cover the syllabus are targeted for the term and do so diligently. A query or reward awaits every teacher: the diligent receives a bonus of a motorcycle or cash at the end of the academic year, while the indolent receives a query at the end of the term, with a warning of a possible sack or redeployment if the poor performance in his subject or class is repeated. During the term, the schools are inspected monthly to ensure compliance with standards.
Regarding welfare of students, we made sure that government provides sufficient food of three meals with just N50.00 per child per day, which was later reviewed upward in 2005 to N65.00! Textbooks, exercise books, past question papers of WAEC and JAMB, beds, mattresses, washing soap, toiletries, mosquito net, blankets, etc, were all given to every child, free of charge, throughout his period of stay in the school. These were the same facilities provided us in our secondary school days in the early 1970s. This democratized the system by removing the barrier of poverty that often blocks a hardworking child from a successful career in education. Governor Mu’azu was undoubtedly generous in conceding to these demands then. Towards the end, though, due to political reasons and shortage of funds, by 2005 parent were requested to pay up to N10,000.00 maintenance levy per annum, on ‘pay-as-able’ basis with some permitted to pay as low as N100.00 only, to complement effort of government. As disbursement from government shrank, we found the maintenance levy very important in smoothening the management of the schools. Purchases for the schools were made on cash and carry basis, allowing us to remain debt-free throughout my tenure.
There were strict rules regarding student conduct in the schools. Every child must report to the school on the resumption date except when sick. There was zero tolerance for absence from classes or abscondment from school. There were strict rules against bullying, theft and other teenage behaviours, though, of course, they could not be wiped out completely.
The result was unimaginable success. Students of the schools had no difficulty making their credits in WAEC and NECO with percentages as high as 95. When the WAEC result of the first set came out in 2003, the governor called to congratulate me. We debated on phone over who should carry the credit. I was conceding it to him, and he was throwing it back to me. Finally, we agreed to share it! JAMB result was a problem for the first set because it was not our focus initially since it was outside our mandate. However, it too was successfully tackled after the first outing. The patronage from parents was unprecedentedly high after the initial pessimism about the continuity of the system. There was a scramble for admission that continued to make us dependent on the principle of merit.
From the above, I have learnt that it takes two things to revive the standard of education in Nigeria: moderate resources and sufficient of courage to apply merit and lead transparently. It is sad, however, to note that with the coming of a new administration in 2007, some of these policies were thrown to the winds, proving the parents right. While we enrolled students only on basis of merit and capacity of the schools, thus limiting the number of children per class to between 25 and 40, the present administration last year opened the gates of the schools to all kinds of admissions. As a result, it is not uncommon to find students as many as 70 or 80 in a newly enrolled class. In a bid to capture popular support, the new administration in the state scrapped the token maintenance levy and the Board was promised sufficient funds, which are not forthcoming especially with the current economic meltdown. Though the board is receiving almost double the amount we used to receive, complaints abound regarding students and teachers’ welfare issues. As a result, despite the hard work of teachers and the zeal of the management staff at the board to maintain standards, politics have crippled the schools and the downturn is showing in the results. It pains to see how easily opportunities could be squandered and how structures that were painstakingly built could be brought down so deliberately.
Yet, the effort we put was appreciated by the beneficiaries, parents and students alike, and we hope it would be rewarded by God, the Most High. I used to tell the students especially that they should one day remember to make the same sacrifice when they are in government, as was done to them, for that is exactly what we did. We could not have done if not for the sacrifice of our school principals, like the late Sule Ningi and Anthony Youngo. And as we recalled our experience in secondary schools of those days to manage their education, they should also recall theirs to manage their offices in government. I wish their memories will last long enough to enable them fulfil the promises they made. We thank God that ours have been long and fulfilling.
Friday 16 April 2010
This article was written in response to a request by Ganye Old Boys Association. As I said, the personal account of my experience at Ganye as well as my numerous other articles can be downloaded from the Internet. For copies of my future artilces, please send your email address to firstname.lastname@example.org.