By Wuraola Ajanlekoko
One of the greatest challenges facing King’s College, Lagos at the moment, is the overwhelming demand for admission slots from various quarters, but which the school is incapable of accommodating, its principal, Otunba Dele Olapeju has said.
However, he noted that while deliberate attempts are being stepped up to widen access, dwindling resources from the school’s proprietor, the federal government, has been slowing things down.
But Olapeju, who spoke at a meeting of the Association of Principals of Federal Unity Colleges (Southwest Zone) held recently in Lagos, insisted that despite individual challenges facing the federal government colleges, they “still remain the only sectoral body where true nationalism, patriotism and unity of our multi-ethnic and multi-tribal nation can be nurtured and sustained.”
The unity colleges, he affirmed, “also remain the frontline public institutions, where Nigerian children can have access to quality and affordable secondary education.”
Olapeju’s remark is coming against the background of harsh criticisms unleashed regularly by stakeholders, over the present state of the unity schools. For instance, a former Federal Ministry of Education’s Director, Mr. Dennis Okoro, in a recent article titled: Federal Unity Colleges: Yesterday and today; published in The Intellectual’s September edition, advised the federal government to hands off the colleges since, according to him, it could no longer maintain them.
He had argued: ‘First, on the current state of the schools, has the federal government the capacity, both financially and managerial, to sustain them (Unity Schools) 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?”
He continued: “Today, the Federal Unity Colleges have become victims of rot and neglect. The Federal Government appears to have abandoned its responsibility. Parent-Teacher Associations hire and fire teachers for Federal Government Colleges. The nation is often treated with unpalatable stories involving the headships of Federal Government Colleges and chairpersons of Parent-Teacher Associations of their schools.”
Okoro then offered six suggestions, which he believed could solve the problems. First, he advised the federal government to choose any 12 “most viable” unity schools, two per geo-political zone, and convert them to Federal Senior Secondary Schools of Science.
Second, admission should be either through national or state-wide Common Entrance examination at the end of the junior secondary school. Third, all teachers in the unity schools must be interviewed and re-assessed, to ensure quality of those to man the new schools of science.
Fourth, Okoro further argued that teachers who are not science-oriented “can be deployed to where they are needed in the Ministry of Education (and) any surpluses can be offered the option of early retirement.” Fifth, he urged caution on the exit strategy, insisting that a gradual phase-out of the student population and a time frame for further intake into year one of the unity schools should be put in place.
In his final submission, Okoro said both King’s and Queen’s colleges should remain. “They are part of our colonial history,” he averred. “They predate the federal government colleges.”
But while Olapeju acknowledged that there were often myriads of problems that could deter progress in any organization, including the unity schools, he was of the opinion that astute leaders were capable of converting such challenges to a springboard for laudable outcomes.
Founded on September 9, 1909, King’s College is the oldest of the 102 Federal Government Colleges spread across the country. With a long, impressive history, the school is reputed to have trained the first set of Nigeria’s intellectuals. Its impressive performance inspired the establishment of Queen’s College in 1927 at Yaba, also in Lagos.
The school’s current student population across the six classes stands at 3,358. It has a total of 138 permanent staff and 77 temporary teachers, including 25 National Youth Corps members.
Despite its challenges, some achievements have been recorded since 2010. For instance, there has been an integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into the teaching and learning process in collaboration with Schoolnet, while a website was launched in February 2010.
Laundry services were also reintroduced, with the engagement of wardens and matrons for pastoral care. An annual cultural day was put in place and is observed every March, while a ceremony is held every October to celebrate the World Teachers’ Day.
The school also introduced scrabble and chess games as a compulsory vocation for all students. The annual acculturation programmes has been reinvigorated for SS2 students, as a field trip for educational tourism.
Besides, to promote practical entrepreneurship, the school established an ultra – modern bakery at the Annex Campus, while an arrangement was made with Coscharis for the bottling of King’s College water, in addition to the establishment of a fish pond.
A 350 KVA generator worth N11 million was also procured at no cost to the Federal Government. Staff members have also been benefiting from a compulsory capacity building programme.
Olapeju is due for retirement in November.