In Pix Above: “Otunba Dele Olapeju teaching a senior class at King’s College during this year’s World Teachers’ Day anniversary.”
King’s College, Lagos is arguably the most famous public secondary school in Nigeria. Many of the country’s first generation leaders attended this first federal government owned post primary institution, and even today, it is still the most sought after among all the 104 Federal Government Colleges in the country.
For many years, the school, like all others of is kind, suffered neglect, leading to tremendous decay in infrastructure. Critics have since been suggesting to the federal government to hand all the unity colleges over to private operators for “proper management.”
However, when Otunba Dele Olapeju was appointed Principal of King’s College (PKC) in 2010, the story changed. Things that were long thought could not be done became possible. Although, he met with several challenges and even accusations, but Olapeju today has a sweet story to tell.
As he steps into retirement, having clocked 60 years, he shares his success story with ROTIMI LAWRENCE OYEKANMI in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
Let us begin with your resumption as principal of King’s College, Lagos. What was the situation on ground at that time?
I was appointed on January 18, 2010 but I took over on the 31st. By the time I got to the college, what I found was a college existing only in name. It was like a construction site. The level of hygiene and sanitation was not good. I invited a video man, so I have a video recording of what the college was when I took over. The morale of teachers was also very low. It was just shortly after the battle to resist the sale of unity colleges to their old boys.
I had one big challenge to surmount: that of integrating the old boys with the teachers. The college was actually like a divided house. I had to arrange a seminar in conjunction with Alhaji Femi Okunu and Dr Sonny Kuku. We invited some old boys and teachers and we tried to bridge the communication gap. And you know, where the stakeholders are divided, there can’t be any progress. So, there was stunted growth and divided loyalty. That was the first challenge I faced.
I met a college operating its permanent campus for temporary students, and its annex for graduating students. I also found that there were more day than boarding students and I had to investigate. Why would parents prefer their children to be day students, in spite of the transportation challenges around Victoria Island and so on? That was quite strange to me.
What did you set out to do after your findings?
First, coming from the background as a member of the Federal Ministry of Education’s Roadmap Committee, that was saddled with the responsibility of charting a new course for the country’s education sector, I had some experience on how to fix such problems.
When I resumed, I had a meeting with the staff and members of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), and told them that I have just two things on my agenda: Restoration and Transformation.
Restoration efforts were aimed at restoring the college back to its heritage position. Of course, the school prides itself as the first federally established public school nationwide. So, we wanted a restoration, in terms of academic performance, in terms of all the domains – the psychomotor, the affective and behavioural pattern of the children, which must reflect the dreams of the founding fathers.
The other leg of the agenda was to transform the college because it is not enough for you to meet the target of restoring the school, you must also add value and move it beyond what you met. You have to add something to the brand.
So, we carved out the idea of a stakeholders’ forum, to chart a Roadmap for the college for the next 25 years. That was an agenda I sold to the ministry (Federal Ministry of Education), the old boys, the school management committee and they all bought the idea.
But did the school have adequate number of teachers per subject when you took over?
This is one of the areas where we have issues. We didn’t have adequacy of teachers in terms of quantity and quality. This was against the background that new subjects were being introduced, in technical areas and the trade subjects. And there were not enough teachers. Even the conventional subjects did not have enough teachers.
So, I had to run to the PTA and told them that in order to restore and transform the college, we would need teachers’ support. That year, we had to recruit 32 graduates on part time basis, although that, to me, was a misnomer, because when somebody is on part time, he or she has more than one job. As at today, the number (part time teachers) is 24.
What about the population of students. There is this belief out there that unity schools are over-populated. How did you manage this particular issue?
I don’t believe that belief is correct. Rather, if you look at it, one of the agitations against the unity colleges is that they were underserving the nation in spite of the resources put into them. As at the time I came in, the college was only running the senior secondary segment, so the population was a bit lower than 2000. Yet, we had facilities for two unity colleges. The main campus was like a unity college, and the annex, which used to be the Federal School of Art and Science, was another campus. So, we had the space of two colleges and for an expanded access to education, but what we lacked was physical infrastructure.
What would you describe as your major achievements?
I think you’re being unfair to me, because it is not right for me to be assessing myself.
However, with a sense of modesty, between what I met and what I am leaving now, there is a lot of difference. I met a college with challenges in physical infrastructure. The existing buildings had no addition, yet, the population was expanding.
King’s College in those days of Sanusi Lamido (former governor of Central Bank), Bukola Saraki (Senate President), had just about 300 students. But today, there are about 3,700. Yet, the facilities are just the same facilities that were used by that small population.
At the stakeholders’ forum we had in 2011, we identified five focal areas. But two of those focal areas needed urgent intervention. The first one was to address the shortages in physical infrastructure in terms of dormitories, classrooms and so on. I met about 20 staff members offering pastoral care to the entire students on the two campuses. Adult presence was almost non-existent to students who were boarders.
I had to look into this in order to avoid the Chibok kind of scenario, where some people can just come into the boarding house, where there is no house master, principal or security personnel and then kill the students.
If there is one area where I did my best, it is in the area of infrastructure. I invested massively in fixing it, and most of the time, not through government’s funds. About 20 per cent of what I used in fixing the infrastructure was from the government. What I did was to take advantage of the urban nature of King’s College and look for partnerships.
And the very first thing I did was I called a management meeting and said, ‘King’s College has been a brand, churning out students that are in walks of life. How do we tap from them?
I wrote letters to corporate bodies like Total Plc, Mobil Producing, Central Bank of Nigeria, Julius Berger and so on and I did a follow-up. Luckily, one of them, Total Plc, showed interest. I wrote them a letter in 2010 and in 2011 they started showing interest. They renovated our twin lecture theatre among others. They not only renovated it, they also upgraded it to a world class lecture theater, comparable to any of its kind in higher institutions of learning worldwide. State-of-the-art facilities were provided at a cost of up to about N200 million.
I got some partnership deal with Guaranty Trust Bank, Churchgate, AIICO Insurance and some other bodies, who assisted us by making use of some of our facilities on ground and in exchange, developed those facilities and made some payments.
From all these resources, we were able to raise about N100 million.
I am aware that about 50 members of staff live in the school quarters, contributing to pastoral care, from the houses we built for the teachers. I also looked at the psychomotor because we want to develop things at the grassroots. But we didn’t have sporting facilities. We had to build a sports complex in the annex – basketball field, volley ball and lawn tennis courts, all from the funds we got from partners.
I also went further to promote vocational education. We established a bakery on campus and we engaged the students to take part in aspects of baking. Since 2011, we have been baking bread for our students. We don’t buy bread outside. We even sell to consumers. And we have the best modern bakery in the whole of Victoria Island.
The second focal point was teacher education development. I knew that we could not have good academic performance if our teachers don’t have good training and facilities. Within one year, I came up with a programme on ICT development and integrated it into our teaching and learning process. That was how I opened the college’s website in February, 2010. Since then, among the unity colleges, and even among secondary schools in Nigeria, our website is the most visited.
Integrating ICT into our teaching and learning process took me to partners like SchoolNet, Intel and computer vendors. I also embarked on a project called 100 teachers, 100 laptops, within 100 days. And I succeeded. Within my first 100 days, 100 teachers had bought their laptops on terms they agreed to with the vendors through negotiation. And the advantage was that, all of them were given internet modems with the laptops.
Besides, with the STEP B project, we acquired interactive voice to assist in modern approaches to teaching, so that we no longer teach using the analogue approach but the digital superhighway.
But in doing all of these, we also added staff motivation and welfare. You can not just talk of productivity without motivating staff. And that is why, since 2010, we have been observing the World Teachers’ Day on October 5 at the college, when we have the opportunity of encouraging and rewarding hardworking teachers, so that others can imbibe the spirit of hard-work.
The other area is value education. We believe that two areas – good performance in external examinations and behavioural component of our students – are the basis for assessing the college. We have focused on these two aspects and I am happy to report that in 2013, the college was adjudged by the Federal Ministry of Education as number one in National Examination Council’s (NECO’s) examination among all the unity colleges.
We also won the National Schools’ Debate that was to lead us to the international debate in Thailand. The Principal (of King’s College) was also adjudged as the most outstanding in 2013. With all that in place, the restoration aspect became successful. We also made the school a SecondarySchoolPlus
This issue of funding, we looked at it and said it is not even a major issue. The real issue is how well you apply the limited funds at your disposal. For now, government funding is inadequate. One of the things we did was to reduce the leakages and look inward at how we can also add to government funding.
One of the things we did was to appeal to the conscience of parents, that Education for All is the responsibility of all and that the school should not just be seen as a public school and left for the federal government alone to fund. Parents should also contribute. And to a very large extent, our parents have been very wonderful.
For instance, I wrote to them in 2012, that there was no plan by the federal government to build additional hostels, and we need additional hostels because we were expanding. And today, the main campus is hosting a five-storey, state-of-the-art hostel, built by the PTA. Already, three of the floors have been occupied by the students, and so, we have less problem on accommodation for our students.
Since the federal government allocation is inadequate, what we do is to look for money to augment what government gives us, even in terms of capital allocation. For instance, in the hostel, there is no provision for tiles, yet we tiled the floors in order to make the hostel look like home away from home. Even in terms of feeding, we provide our students with good meals. We give them chicken, eggs, in better quality and sizes too. We regard all the students as our own children. Today, out of the population of about 3,400, less than 200 are day students
What has been the trend of the WASSCE results from the time you assumed office?
What we are looking at is not getting 75 or 70 percent per subject. No. We are looking beyond that. For the past six years, I’ve had to monitor six examinations. There was a particular challenge in one year, the year that there was massive failure and the average pass rate was about 23 per cent. But our college had a pass rate of 68 per cent. This year, we had over 84 percent, that is those who had five credits, including Mathematics and English. Out of 452 students that sat for the WASSCE, about 440 of them attained the credit level. We had a total pass rate of 98 percent in English. For mathematics, we had 83 percent. Only one student had F9. Also in English, only one student had F9. In one of the new subjects we introduced, about 12 students scored A1.
What role did the old boys play?
In fairness to them, I met the college under the attention of the old boys, who because of the centenary celebrations of 2009, carried out a massive renovation of facilities. Sakari donated money for the construction of the Administration Building; Alison Ayida also donated some money. Sanusi Lamido as governor of the CBN also assisted the college. But they can still do better. Look for instance at what the old boys are doing at Government College, Ibadan and CMS Grammar School.
How did you cope with the tremendous pressure that accompanies every admission period, with many influential Nigerians trying to get spaces for themselves and other people?
Yes, I think this is one of the things I will now be free from. I have developed more grey hair than I should have, because of admission pressure.
Now, a lot of parents want their children in King’s College. Despite the fact that I tell them that, A1 in King’s College is equivalent to A1 in other schools, they are not convinced. Their belief is that, if it is not King’s College, it cannot be any other school.
Another thing is that, if you listen to any parent, except you have a heart of stone, Nigerians have ingenious ways of creating a pathetic picture. And when you look at it, you’re assisting to meet some demand. The demand for good secondary education in Nigerian is a birth right. You should not beg for it. But unfortunately, most of the state governments have not lived up to expectations with regard to public education. Whereas, the arrangement is that the federal government only needs to make an intervention.
A school of thought believes that the federal government has no business in secondary education, but little did they know that before you can talk of an experiment, you must have a control experiment, and that is what we have with the unity colleges, which are like a benchmark that the federal government is setting for the state governments and the private bodies to emulate. That is why the unity colleges still remain the flagship for the provision of secondary education in Nigeria in terms of standard.
What exists in some of the private institutions does not augur well for total education. You cannot talk of total education when all they do is within the four walls of a classroom. They have their computers, but there is no field to play, they cannot do psychomotor, they don’t participate in other things like affective domain. All they bother about is cognitive, and that’s not total education.
Total education is to assist the mind to be totally liberated in terms of learning, in terms of practical things, and in terms of behavioural pattern.
So, you don’t agree with those saying that the federal government should scrap the unity colleges since it cannot provide enough funds to run them anyway?
I find it laughable when people say, because the government does not provide enough funds, then the unity schools should be scrapped. Then, since Nigerian cannot provide enough funds and resources for its citizens, let’s scrap Nigeria!
Decapitation has never been a solution to a headache. We all have to come to the reality that government alone cannot fund education at all levels. Tell me of any developed country in this world that developed from free education. Most of the developed countries of the world have partnerships – government, parents and so on. The only thing the government can do is to create an enabling environment, attractive infrastructure and so on, to allow parents to partner.
In this part of the world, I am sure that an average Nigerian loves education and Nigerians are ready to put in everything if government creates the enabling environment.
As far back as 2003, when we had the conference on tertiary education, parents and stakeholders had actually agreed that government should charge tuition, but government did not have the political will because of the fear of losing election. That’s why we are where we are. Parents, corporate bodies must invest more in public education.
Finally sir, as you retire, looking back, do you have any regrets? Were there some things that you planned to do but couldn’t accomplish?
Yes, I have some regrets. When I was to be posted to King’s College and I was given the information, and was asked whether I wanted it, my answer was ‘no.’ The Permanent Secretary asked why. I said, the Federal Ministry of Education was undergoing some unsolicited restructuring by some of us that felt concerned. The ministry needed some impetus in order to drive the education sector.
The level of professionalism at the ministry today is nothing to write home about, and regrettable so. We have a situation where the professionals don’t have a say any longer in that place. There are more pool officers, pulling out the resources than the professionals. The professionals are supposed be the technical personnel, then the service departments like Human Resources, ICT, Legal, Finance – these are not the core departments. But in a situation today where we have the core departments in trickles, and the non core, or the service departments are more, then we have a problem. So, this is one regret that I am leaving the service (FME) that is worse then I met it.
Then, the morale of the federal teacher when I came in was higher than now. Never was there any time when teachers will be promoted without getting their arrears on time. But we cannot say the same thing now. So many of my teachers, I just mobilise them and give them some encouragement and motivation out of the resources we make, in order to for them to remain committed.
But what is coming from the headquarters, that is the federal government, does not support the take home of the teachers. So, we have the challenge of how to get the teacher to deliver quality service with un-matching remuneration.
My second regret is that I am leaving at a time when so many of my colleagues I’m leaving behind have challenges about promotion, their future, about whether the schools will still be with the federal government or whether they will be sold out to the ravaging locusts, who want to eat up the unity colleges for their selfish interests.
Thirdly, I am leaving the college at a time, when the unity nature of the federal unity colleges is being compromised. Most of the colleges, except the ones we have in Lagos, are almost becoming local secondary schools, attracting students from their local environment. The unity nature is being challenged because of the challenge to peace in the northeast, in respect of schools in the northern states.
In fact, all the schools in the north don’t have the population of what we have in Lagos. Whereas in those days, a child would move out of here and go to Potiskum, Sokoto, Maiduguri without any threat to his or her life. But this is no longer the case, especially with the Boko Haram, which has added its own blow.
So, there is now urban migration. There is high demand for the schools in Lagos because of its relative peace.