By Josephine Agbonkhese
She taught across the length and breadth of Nigeria. In fact, Mrs. Mariam Babangida and Mrs. Victoria Gowon, both former first ladies in Nigeria, were her form one students when she was in Kaduna.
Mrs Maureen Bakare, who holds a degree in English Language & History from the University of Ibadan and a Postgraduate Diploma in Education from the University of Leeds in the UK, later joined the newly-created Lagos State civil service and rose in her career to become the first Director of Education ever appointed in the state.
She was thereafter appointed Director-General of the state’s Commission for Women in 1989. Although it’s 28 years since she retired from the civil service, her commitment to the promotion of sound education wouldn’t let her turn a blind eye to the rots that have befallen the education sector.
A former Chairman of the University of Lagos’ Parents Forum; pioneer board member of Christ the Redeemers College and a former Chairman of the Board of Governors of Redeemers High School, amongst others, post retirement, she still earned appointments to serve the Lagos State government in various capacities.
In this interview, Bakare, formerly a Chief but now a Pastor, identifies the root causes of education collapse in Nigeria and reels out solutions as she turns 80 this February.
This is a milestone birthday, how do you plan to mark it?
I am moving every ceremony to March because of the ongoing fasting and prayer in the Redeemed Christian Church of God. On March 4, I’m organizing a health and lifestyle seminar and notable TV host, Pastor Tony Akinyemi, who teaches about health, will be the Guest Lecturer at the event.
But why health?
I have noticed that the lifestyle people live contributes so much to ill-health. It is the reason a lot of people die before old age. For example, you find women coming to church on Sunday and buying puff (snacks) on the way. They eat and also give to their children; but that is not the time to eat such a thing. That is the time to take water and fruits before breakfast so that the intestine can be helped to do its work.
On March 17,will be the birthday celebration proper. There will be a church service at the Redeemed Christian Church of God headquarters and thereafter, a reception. I will also be going to Ladi-lak Primary School at Yaba in Lagos to commission a library which I built, equipped and donated to the school.
You don’t reside there; why that school?
When I celebrated my 70th birthday, I built a library and a computer centre, both of which I donated to Sanya Grammar School here in Lagos. Thereafter, I started a library trust fund to enable me put up new libraries in more schools. I also set up a library on Spencer Street in Yaba some years ago.
People hardly read these days, so why set up libraries when you know they won’t be utilized?
I am deliberately doing this to promote the reading culture both amongst students and teachers. I have realized that even teachers do not read and if one doesn’t read, it becomes impossible to develop. This is dangerous to education and even the society.
The poor English Language usage by Nigerians today is due to the neglect of the library period in schools. In the former British curriculum, there was ‘Reading for Pleasure” period on time-table in the primary schools. Where there was no library, the teacher created a Reading Corner in the classroom. The Pupils brought storybooks which were shared among them to read at home for discussion during the next period.
This improved the written and spoken English of the pupils and enlarged their vocabulary for a good command and confidence in the use of the language. It is urgently necessary to revamp the library period in the secondary schools and the Reading for Pleasure period in the primary schools, to destroy the cankerworm of poor English usage.
By the way, you do not look 80 in any way…
The secret is in the fact that I embraced Christ very early. My parents too were staunch Anglicans. There is a lot to gain from being saved; especially when you understand the different types of love. All challenges will just look very insignificant in your eyes. Over the years, I have learned that frivolities of life can bring one down at anytime. So, I have resolved to always be temperate.
What health practices have you also imbibed?
The health practices I have imbibed are not outside the word of God. When you read the Bible carefully, you will see that God has put in place everything we need to survive. If we eat according to what God has given us and we do so properly, our health will be sound. There are portions in the Bible that advise us to take fruits because they help keep the intestines healthy; to run away from eating or drinking unhealthy things, etc.
So, the word of God directed me to live right. The Bible is complete. It also taught me how to manage the challenges of life without fretting and how to manage stress without allowing problems to overwhelm me in anyway. Now, more people are becoming diabetic and hypertensive and the Bible has the answers to all of these if only we could follow its guidelines. Let me give you an example.
This house in which I live got burnt in 2014 December. We were all away because it was a Sunday. I was called and by the time I returned, I called people to join me in a prayer of thanksgiving because I was grateful nobody died. On that day, two women gave their lives to Christ because they were surprise. Shortly after my husband, an engineer, started the repair of the house, he fell ill and eventually died in 2016. That was enough to break anyone but I knew God was in control. God was with my family throughout and did not allow me break down.
You were an education administrator for decades, what’s your take on education in the country presently and what changes would you root for?
Each day I think about what is happening to our children in schools and universities, I get so sad. I compare the lives that I lived, the schools I attended and what I enjoyed to what we have today, and I would tell you everything is completely down.
During my days as a student at the University of Ibadan, every student there had a scholarship; either from Federal, state or private organizations. The Lord will continue to bless Chief Awolowo, Sardauna and Nnamdi Azikiwe. They knew that without sound education, there could be no progress for Nigeria. So they tried to ensure we had the best.
Dearth of inspectorate
What is wrong now with education in Nigeria is the fact that government refused to play its part. Teachers cannot be better than what government has provided. At the time I was teaching, there was a virile inspectorate on ground. I started teaching at Abeokuta Girls Grammar School. Inspectors will come from Ibadan, the state capital, watch us teach and advise us. By the time they leave, you would have been able to grade yourself.
But gradually, no more inspectors coming to schools. I was the first Director of Education ever appointed in Lagos State, and I set up and also headed the Inspectorate. Before giving approval to any school for establishment, I would go with my team and if the school is good, we approve on the spot and if it’s not good, we tell them to make amends.
Gradually, government refused to provide all those things necessary for the proper functioning of the inspectorate; transport, equipment, etc. Our late former governor, Gbolahan Mudashiru, understood the importance of the inspectorate and he backed us up to be able to do as much. But gradually, government refused to give even transport to inspectors and today, inspectors who are supposed to resume with schools at 7.30am will arrive 10am and cannot do anything reasonable.
The next thing is that he will collaborate with the school to write a good report and then he is given an envelope with money inside it. The wrath in the system started gradually like that and so, the teachers in the classrooms started this uncaring attitude we now see today. Nonchalance! They won’t even be there at all; will drop their bags in school in the morning, go out to do private business and then return to pick them in the evening.
Her Majesty’s Inspectors
This gradual neglect of the inspectorate, a yardstick that is still in use in Britain today, led us to where we are now. In Britain, these inspectors are called Her Majesty’s Inspectors. The inspectors still go to schools till date to ensure they grade the schools and any school not up to standard is graded down until it improves. They actually teach and help such schools to improve and these were also the things that made Nigerian education system what it was. But gradually, nobody seemed to care; no supervision.
Secondly, little attention is paid to teachers’ education. The teachers who taught me in the lower classes at St Theresa’s College were Grade II teachers but well baked. Is it English? The English those teachers spoke and wrote can never come out of our graduates of today. We had good teacher training colleges. Government had teacher training colleges, Muslim Missionaries had and Christian Missionaries also had. They were all very good and produced well-baked teachers. The European Reverend Sisters taught the upper classes while indigenous teachers taught the lower classes.
Now we have Colleges of Education where students will not go for teaching practice. The teachers’ training schools we had in the past had demonstration schools where people went to practice. The six weeks teaching practice they say they do in institutions these days is grossly inadequate because in the teachers’ training college, the classroom practice is the core while others are just theories. A teacher in training must go to the classroom to teach not less than six months in a year. That is when you see your mistakes and are able to improve on them.
The six weeks they are talking about now is even not practiced by most students. They go to schools where they are posted, bribe the operators and go their way without coming to do teaching practice. They just want to get the certificate and go on to do nonsense. A teacher today will be speaking bad English and will not even know at all. Look at Federal Government Colleges. Can you imagine what is going on there? It is because of this lack of proper inspectorate system.
Chief Rex Akpofure
When Federal Government Colleges were built, we still had a good system. We had Chief Rex Akpofure as the Head/Director-in-charge of Inspectorate throughout the country. He would even take us from Lagos State to go for conferences other states and during the conference, he would take us round to see what was going on in schools. We would supervise and teach the teachers the right things to do.
That is no more now; it practically died with Rex Akpofure. And then Federal Government Colleges now turned to the property of their principals and staff. Even admission into Kings College and Queens College now requires money; you must bribe someone. The results are what we see today; wanton deaths. Queens College was a school of integrity and I will still say what it has become today is the fault of government.
From the minister down, nobody is thinking about what can truly be done to put things right. Lagos State is trying now with the establishment of the Quality Assurance Department which replaced the name Inspectorate, and a woman who seems to know her onion oversees it currently. But I don’t think she has the wherewithal to do that work. I say this because unless government decides to make provisions for the Quality Assurance Department to go to schools and genuinely help the teachers, things will still continue to go bad. Look at what happened in Kaduna.
Are you in support of that?
Yes, I am. People are talking about families of the affected teachers that will go hungry but what about thousands of children’s lives that have been rendered useless by their incompetence? Lives that have been rendered rotten! Must we continue to allow them destroy the lives young Nigerians? Governor El-Rufai did not just dismiss them; he gave them alternatives and I am quite in support of what he did. I actually followed that story daily. Imagine teachers who cannot even solve simple mathematics!
Things were not like these before independence and if we do not do something about education in Nigeria, we will be heading for doom. Teacher training must be reviewed and the inspectorate or quality assurance must be well-equipped with reputable, experienced teachers. Unless we do these, we will continue to grope in the dark.