Free Education is not free Certificate!!!

Sir Andrew Ajaero, a retired director principal,

face to faceWhether teachers are born or made depends on which teacher you meet. But Sir Andrew Ajaero is every inch a teacher only he’s from the old school.

Mbaise-born and a principal for 20 years, Sir Andrew would not negotiate discipline with any school board neither would he spare the rod and spoil the child. Any offence will get the desired punishment – flogging included.

Sir Andrew Ajaero, a retired director principal,
Sir Andrew Ajaero, a retired director principal,

But the veteran educator knows times have changed. Having gone to school before the war and started teaching after, he knows that tremendous changes have occurred both in and out of the classroom.  The man who made his debut in 1973 and exited the school system in 2004 identifies two sets of tutors and students – one he calls the “old school” and the other he labeled, “expo products”.

“There is no comparison because we belong to the old school – those of us who were educated in a conservative fashion by the reverend missionaries.  Order was order; there was no democracy. We took instructions and learnt to obey. The people who were teaching us knew what we wanted and gave it to us. There was a lot of discipline consequent upon correct orders being followed,” he said, shaking his head, sadly, as he considered the anomalies in the   schools system.

“When I was teaching as a classroom teacher at Bishop Shanahan, I have cause to believe that things were better because we had people from the old school – not the expo products that came after 1970. We had teachers trained before the war. As time changed, teachers changed also and so did society. That was when the idea of students wanting to go to a new class without taking exams came and this was because of the interest of parents and government. Mass promotion was encouraged. So I can tell you the type of school I attended and the one I taught in were quite different. The way we were handled then, there is no way you could apply it successfully now because of the changing times and environment,” he noted.

Although the head master maintained that things started to deteriorate after the war, he said, however, that the standard of education has not fallen.

“What has fallen is the standard of performance. When we were at the university, none of us saw the TV but now it’s everywhere. We had no calculators, no handsets…   initiative has been lost as a result of these exposures. Children are not prepared to use their initiative any longer; children are spoilt. Things are made so easy for them. Exam is now objectives – when we were in school we were writing one word assays. We were exposed to doing some thinking within a short period and producing some good results. There is no deep knowledge. During exams, handsets are being banned now because some use it to receive answers and within five minutes they have finished. That hasn’t done us any good. Technology has improved the standard of education but the application is wrong,” he added.

Also wrong is the fact that there was no attempt to clean up society’s ethics after the wicked war.

“There was no moral re-armament.  Then it was hard work but now there is no more reading culture, learning is simplified. People who cannot read and write possess certificates. Why then do we wonder why our certificate has no value?” He demanded, further pointing an accusing finger on the lack of discipline nationwide.

You can no longer punish a child effectively, he added.

“The board started presiding over issues between teachers and students – they set up a panel… The influence of the teacher is being eroded by those who should be given them support. There are cases where teachers are attacked by organized bandits. As a result, teachers simply withdrew to their shells:  ‘to your tents O’ Israel!’ ” He said, quoting scriptures.

The principal who retired from the Urban Development School at New Owerri also took a serious look at Governor Okorocha’s free education giving it a strong support. However, the ardent teacher didn’t buy the idea of giving money to young school children, monthly, even if it’s called a “stipend”.

“Free education benefits the parents who pay fees. The burden of fees has been removed from parents but the children don’t know what it is. They have not imbibed the true meaning of free education. Free education will not amount to free certificate – they must work for the certificate,“ he said.

“That is the main intention of those who introduced the free education – buy lockers, books and uniforms which the parents should have provided. But the idea of giving the child monthly allowances called stipend is for all intends and purposes wrong.  If intended to make them come to school and learn that’s good but I don’t think its solving that problem.”

The former biology tutor, a Chief examiner for NECO and WAEC also took a snipe at the proliferation of examining bodies as well as universities.

“It’s rigmarole. They are offering more chances to candidates who are not good enough to own certificates.  As for the universities, it’s a disgrace to education in Nigeria. Every nook and cranny has got a university. It’s not about giving more students a chance – some of those studying there qualified through exams taking for them by impersonators,” he noted, with disillusionment.

“You see a trader in the market parading a degree certificate – lots of them use others to do the exams. The universities are looking for those whom they will give certificates but not for those who are going to learn.”

Asked if he would return to the classroom if given a chance, the 68-year-old said, clearly, that the zeal was no longer there.  But the tutor who would have been an agricultural officer now channels his energy into farming, writing and reading. A guest writer for several local publications, the energetic knight of St John also co-edits the St John’s journal.

“I write on contemporary issues – where I have to bare my mind, make a suggestion what I think should be the appropriate thing – not minding who is involved.  I have a lot of publications in the Leader.  I wrote for the Nigerian Tide Newspaper, Mercury newspaper defunct and the new Concord newspaper.  I have about 17 news talks for the Radio. I am a voracious reader even anything written on your clothes I will read. I have an irresistible interest in writing. This is the way I pass my time,” he said, proudly.

The father of eight is also a gifted farmer, planting yams and recently establishing a snail farm.

“I’m very close to nature,” he declared, picking up a grandchild who ran into the living room in search of grand dad.

The toddler quickly grabbed his mobile phone and had to do some wrestling with grand dad before she put it down. Grand dad won the fight and, with a knowing smile, turned his attention to those he left behind in the classroom: his fellow teachers!

“Be prepared,” he told them, leading the reluctant child, still trying to get the cell phone, away.

“From nursery school they are watching TV and using cell phone. Be abreast. Don’t take the kids for granted. If you’re going to the classroom, prepare well. Move with the times, don’t be archaic; be a master of what the kids know already.”

Pausing, he adjusted his grey hat and continued:

“That’s why I recommend things like in-service training, seminars in line with the current trends, not seminars aimed at providing snacks or recreational avenues for teachers – real seminar aimed at moving teachers higher than those they teach.”



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