By Dennis C. U. Okoro
An article that appeared in a daily newspaper, The Guardian of Thursday, 9 July 2015, with an intriguing headline, “Fading allure of Unity Colleges’’ caught my attention. The reason was not far –fetched. Federal Ministry of Education was my constituency for more than three decades.
The contents of that article and the analysis therein were not disputable. The arguments of the author, Eno-Abasi Sunday, and his analysis of the situation today in these schools were sound and worthy of attention of the proprietor of the institutions.
In summary, what is being highlighted is the parlous state of these once famous institutions of first choice for Nigerian parents due to poor funding, lack of maintenance and supervision.
A number of questions are propping up and discussions on the justification of the continued existence of the Unity schools. First, on the current state of the schools, has the Federal Government the capacity both financial and managerial to sustain them at the level that made them schools of first choice for Nigerian parents at the secondary level of education?
Second, the philosophy that underpinned the establishment of federal unity schools, though still relevant, is their continued existence justifiable based on the socio-economic challenges in the nation at present?
The reason for the creation of the Federal Government Colleges, among others, is to guarantee national integration and national building among Nigerian children if given the opportunity at a very tender age to live, learn and play together in ideal education environment as provided ab initio by the Federal Unity School established in the 1970s and 1980s.
The solidarity and espirit d’corps exhibited by the alumni and alumnae of King’s and Queen’s colleges nationally were the triggers that formed the birth of Federal Government Colleges which are today referred to as Federal Unity Schools with a common motto; ‘’Pro Unitatae’’.
The first set of Federal Government Colleges were three in number established in 1964 over 51 years ago. There were located as follows: one in the Eastern Region, at Okposi; the other in the Mid-Western Region at Warri and the third in Sokoto in the Northern Region.
These colleges and many others established later were lavished with resources, properly maintained and staffed with the best teachers available at the time. They were meant to be models to be copied by the various state governments. They produced men and women with broad-mindset from various backgrounds and culture with a common bond of unity – the school tie – that transcends tribalism and ethnicity. In fact, the unintended outcome is increased inter-ethnic marriages among their past students.
Today, the Federal Unity Colleges have become victims of rot and neglect; the Federal Government appears to have abandoned its responsibility; parent-teachers associations hire and fire teachers for Federal Government Colleges!!; the nation is so often treated with unpalatable stories involving the headships of Federal Government Colleges and Chairpersons of Parent-teachers Associations of their schools ( Guardian, 9, July, 2015).
However, although, the reasons for establishing the Federal Unity Schools are still valid today, but should the Federal Government lose sight of the current social, economic, and political realties at this time just to retain them? For example, insecurity that pervades the nation coupled with terrorism, displacement of people as well as human trafficking and kidnapping would not encourage any parent to send a child of 11 – 12 year old far from home to attend unity school outside his environment. Furthermore, the proliferation of private secondary schools, some of which are better equipped than the Federal unity schools, have provided parents alternatives choices.
In the light of the above, should the Federal Ministry of Education/ Federal Government not consider exit strategies for the discontinuation of the unity schools as they stand today? They not only consume a lot of national resources in their upkeep vis-à-vis other areas of Education, they have not been true to the goals of the founding fathers if judged by their current performances in the national public examinations.
The purpose of this memorandum is to share my thoughts on the exit strategy for the discontinuation of Federal Unity Schools if the government is thinking in this direction. The current reality is that unity schools although still desirable, are no longer sustainable on the long-run and for this and other reasons, I humbly make the following suggestions:
1. Choose any twelve of the most viable Federal Unity Schools in existence that is, two from each geopolitical zone and convert them into Federal Senior Secondary Schools of Science. The core curriculum will emphasise, Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology and Information, Communication and Technology (ICT).
2. Admission is by either national or state-wide common entrance examination at the end of the Junior Secondary Education.
3. To man the schools and to ensure staff of desired quality with relevant subjects, all the extant teachers in the unity schools need to be interviewed and re- assessed. The successful ones deployed to the new science secondary schools.
4. The rest that are not science oriented can be deployed to where they are needed in the ministry of education. Any surpluses can be offered the option of early retirement.
5. The exit strategy should be thought through thoroughly. There should be gradual phase-out of the student population and a time frame for further intake into year one of the federal unity schools.
6. King’s and Queen’s colleges should remain. They are part of our colonial history. They predate the federal government colleges.
In conclusion, it is my prayer that any decision by the Federal Government in respect of the continued existence of the Federal Unity Schools should be based on the current social and economic realities. Many things in life are desirable, they can also be affordable at times in short-run, but if they cannot be sustained in the long-run should the nation not re-assess its position?
Mr Okoro, member of the Board of Directors of the MTN Foundation, retired as a Director at the Federal Ministry of Education. he can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org