January 26, 2021

REFORMING DECADENCE IN THE NIGERIAN EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM: THE EMERGING ROLES OF ALUMNI ASSOCIATIONS

(BEING FULL TEXT OF ADDRESS BY PRINCE ADEYEMI ADEFULU AT 40TH FOUNDER’S DAY OF ST JOHN’S ANGLICAN HIGH SCHOOL, ABEOKUTA)

Being the text of a lecture presented by Prince Adeyemi Adefulu, MFR on occasion of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the St. John’s High School, Kuto, Abeokuta on Saturday 12th December, 2020

Background of the educational situationtI is now generally recognized that human development is most crucial to the overall development of an economy or society. Human development itself is the product of the educational system.

There is hardly a player or a watcher of the Nigerian educational industry that can deny that the system is comatose and in a very worrying state. The problems facing education in Nigeria are many and diverse. Some may have arrived at the conclusion, unfortunately, that these problems are insurmountable because there is no convincing converted effort being made to tackle the problems headlong. Alternatively, where there is response from the government, whatever the government has done and is doing is not going anywhere in acknowledging and addressing the challenges facing the sector.

From the bottom of educational system and up to the top, the challenges are the same and the solutions are not anywhere near. The rot in the educational system did not happen in one day. It took time and degenerated because the signs and warnings were ignored. Agencies that were charged with regulating the standards in the system were failing but the system turned a deaf ear and continued (and still continue) to churn out graduates who are neither competent not compatible with the needs of the society. So many different factors came together and reduced our educational environment to the mockery that it is today. The well-to-do in a society and the elite ruling class have avoided dealing with the problem and  the challenge by sending the children and wards to better institutions outside the country or very expensive equivalent within our shores. Nigerian students are to be found everywhere as far as Australia and Azerbaijan. They have been the mainstay of institutions in Benin, Togo, Ghana, Gambia, Sudan etc.

Till this moment the schools continue to scavenge for funds, budgetary allocation to education remains grossly inadequate  and strikes continue to ravage what is left and deprived the students of learning time as well as reduce the value of their achievement and waste their time. Our universities have been closed for eight months due to ASUU strike which has wasted the time of students and teachers and further eroded confidence in a shaky system.

So many education policies have been introduced in Nigeria but hardly to any meaningful effect. Educational system after another have been adopted either wholesale or adapted to fit, but the desired result have not been achieved. What is staring us in the face are repeated policy somersault or poor implementation before discarding and mismanagement of both funds and personnel. Successive  administrations, especially at state levels continue to use educational for experimentation their versions of  radical education policies, realizing only late that they have made no difference. Some have changed the landscape in so doing. For instance, Osun State merged schools creating a furore; a decision that has now been rescinded by the current administration.  In Ogun State, schools were handed back to the original missionary owners only to be taken back, thus creating parallel institutions under separate managements within the same premises

Elected governments bring new policies that will subsist for only the period that they are in power only to be changed, sometimes totally, by a succeeding administration. This lack of consistency has punished the system so badly that sometimes what obtains in government owned schools are quite different from what is operated in privately owned institutions.

In summary, it can be said that some of the challenges bedeviling the educational sector in Nigeria include

  1. Inadequate funding
  2. Lack of appropriate infrastructure
  3. Lack of qualified manpower
  4. Poor working conditions
  5. High cost of education
  6. Cheap and purposeless education.
  7. Apathy towards educational  achievement and scholarship.
  8. Examination malpractices

Apparently, the problems confronting education in Nigeria is hydra-headed. Any meaningful effort at redeeming education from decadence must be multi-dimensional. The involvement of alumni associations is only one of many options to explore.

Introducing the Alumni Association

Alumni association is an organisation whose members  shared education experience and who, bound together by the love of their alma mater, can  consequently share the same mission and  vision as well as  set goals for not only their association but for the school from which they graduated.

The members share the same spirit of oneness having come from the same root and are inspired by the contribution the institution made in their lives. They have high potentials to build as one and foster the pride of the institution their Alma mater. They gather to celebrate themselves, to encourage each other and most significantly to ensure the wellbeing of the school from which they all graduated and which forms the foundation of their success.

The alumni association of any educational institution is a very special gathering of people who are particularly special because beyond teachers, governments and policy makers they may be considered to be the actual owners of the institution. They have far more at stake, knowing the institution better than any other stakeholder in education. It will therefore be expected that they will have the interest of the institution closer to heart than any other group of persons and consequently contribute more positively. They are also special because they come from various segments of the industry even outside education and are often well-positioned to make positive changes. They have the capability to draw from their diverse fields to ensure that desired changes come to pass. Some of them are wealthy enough to contribute financially to close the gap of needs in their institutions and yet others may have acquaintances who are well positioned in society to render help as may be required.

In some institutions they are referred to as Old Students (or Boys/Girls) Associations and they are powerful enough to insist that only members of their association can head their schools as head teachers, principals, rectors and even vice-chancellors where they can muster the strength. Their insistence is driven by the thinking that former students will serve their institutions better and with much more dedication than “foreigners.” Principals, for instance, who are not alumni are sometimes referred to as “Colonial Masters” while the alumni are seen as sons and daughters of the soil.

The alumni association is seen as being significantly different from the Parent-Teacher Association because one is a member of the PTA for as long as one has a child or ward studying in the institution. Membership terminates upon graduation of a child or the ward. Membership of the alumni association is lifelong.

Benefits of Alumni associations

  1. They are a source of inspiration for the students of the school
  2. In the face of dwindling government funding the alumni association is a potential source of financial support. 
  3. They often pool resources to ensure the acquisition of new facilities and upgrade of existing facilities
  4. Their ranks swell every year with a new set of graduates ensuring a sustained flow of support for the institution. 
  5. They are always available  being the past of the institution, being involved in the present and being available to build the future.
  6. The alumni is a very strong lobby arm for the institution
  7. Alumni associations pursue institutional goals almost better than any other group within our educational structure

The decadence in our education today leaves schools grappling for survival. Despite not being the solution to all challenges and despite not having all the answers, they remain a veritable starting point. The following are some of the ways to positively deploy the associations.

Policy Drive

Alumni associations exist at every level of Nigeria’s education system. By implication, one individual may belong to as many alumni associations as the one attended school. This implies that they are networked in a manner that may be seen as being interwoven. From this perspective, one can believe that these associations have far-reaching and widespread arms, which also means that they can wield enormous power when it comes to driving policy. 

Policy changes remain one of the major approaches to solving the problem of decadence in education in Nigeria. This is especially because our major challenge has been formulating the right and appropriate policy and then consistently growing and improving same to achieve our set objectives. If alumni associations are able to network themselves, they can form a very strong pressure group that will push very strongly for changes in policy. They can force the hands of governments to permit policy shifts which will eventually trickle down to very important changes in schools. There will be further advantage if  alumni associations are able to monitor and enforce implementation, which is the bane the Nigerian government.

Volunteering

Schools that have strong alumni associations and are blessed with gifted individuals who are passionate of their willing to contribute personally to any areas of school life requiring such intervention. For instance alumni associations of very old schools will have serving and retired educationists who may be willing to run in-service training for teachers and career counselling sessions for students. There may be volunteers for a wide range of areas including medical, sports and vocational. Without disrupting the government approved order of events in schools, volunteering can be accommodated to the benefits of the institutions and their students.

Scholarships, grants and endowments

Alumni associations may be willing and able to set up scholarships, grants and endowments that will be beneficial to would-be alumni who are presently students. These interventions do not have to be earth-shaking. If supported and encouraged, even the smallest of such efforts have potential of encouraging commitment among students and teachers while taking care of the indigent students in the schools. The alumni associations, usually having a stronger name and presence in the industry than the schools themselves, can leverage on their pedigree to source such scholarships, grants and other opportunities for the students in their schools.   

Mentoring, internship and employment

Schools who have vibrant alumni associations have the advantage of creating room for members of the alumni association with the necessary skills and experience to mentor young students and even teachers. They can offer them support as students and as young graduates through mentorship, internship and employment opportunities. Whereas some of this may happen outside the school framework, it helps to create a new kind of hope and incentive to excel. Such an arrangement can even grow as far as research opportunities, development collaborations and international consultancies and fellowships.

Regular interventions

These are what the alumni associations are well known for already. They have been known to build infrastructure in their alma mater and in some cases employ teachers to make up for shortfalls in what the government is able to provide. These interventions must continue and possibly increase. 

Conclusion

To achieve any of these, schools should make it a matter of priority to build high-performance alumni associations that will go beyond stereotype social celebration, and focus more on development of professionalism, intellectualism entrepreneurship, capacity building and personnel development. It is important to note that these ideas of development will not just happen on their own. They only have potentials to happen where there is a deliberate effort to culture the alumni associations in the directions that will be of greater benefit to the school. In other words, it is important to establish purposeful leadership as well as round up goal-driven individuals who will be in the right positions to drive the dreams of alumni achievement. 

Thus the need for a conscious and painstaking effort to round up, acknowledge and honour alumni who have so far participated in the development of the school. There is also the need to reach out to those who are yet to be involved or who remain sceptical about importance and activities of the association. It will not be out of place for a school to create a directorate for their alumni that will collate the data of their alumni and ensure that there is a steady communication flow between the school and members. This will be aimed at not only information dissemination but with a conscious agenda to draw everyone into one useful action or the other. It will be the job of the directorate to immediately respond to enquiries as to the needs of the school.

It is important to note that whereas there is one alumni association for the entire institution, there are alumni who prefer to also retain smaller identities. This kind of identity may cover short periods for instance the six years that a particular set of alumni spent in the school. In addition to being members of the parent alumni, they may choose to execute interventions retaining such smaller identities. This is why we find facilities boldly carrying the names of some sets of graduates even though they remain members of the parent alumni. The school must recognise them and respond to them accordingly. Officers of the parent alumni must make it a point of duty to attend launchings, commissioning and such public functions of these smaller units as it helps to create cohesion and a sense of identity for the benefit of all. The same should apply when a wealthy alumnus chooses to execute a project in his own name or in the memory of a loved one. 

It will also be crucial to also bear in mind that the individuals who are alumni may also be businessman who have their own interests. In such situations, the relationship is expected to be reciprocal and of mutual benefits where possible. It should not be out of place for the school to patronize services rendered by members of the alumni association but cautiously to avoid creating rivalry, bitterness or allegations of favouritism. Whenever possible, alumni business interests could be the first port of call when services are required. This creates a sense of belonging and gives incentive for more participation.

From the foregoing, it is very clear that the alumni association of any institution has a strong role to play in the national space, but particularly in the immediate school to drive back the pangs of decadence in our education delivery system.