Retired Navy Commodore Sunny Olamilokun, is the Chairman Governing Board of Goldscholars Model School (GMS), Ijegun, Lagos which was established on October 4, 2011, with eight pupils. The population has grown to over 100 students while a secondary section was added two years ago.
The Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) has barred non-registered teachers from practicing. What is your view?
TRCN is perfect because teachers are the builders of the future. It is good that teachers just like doctors should be registered by a council. So, I think the TRCN is doing a good job and it is fine.
Will TRCN improve teachers’ welfare?
One should expect that the council will be interested in that. But we should not forget that in Lagos State, for instance, there are more private schools than public schools. When you say that teachers should be well remunerated, except the government comes in to assist the schools, it will not work. Abroad they have subvention even for private schools, except the government begins to do that, it will not work. Here what the government does is to ask for taxes, schools pay taxes to the government. TRCN should be able to leverage with the state and federal government so that there would be a minimum benchmark on which every teacher should be started and then from there grow. Teachers deserve to be happy to teach well.
All levels of education have a commission, except the secondary schools, do you support the calls for the establishment of a Secondary School Commission?
Personally, I don’t think it is necessary. What is the job of Commissioners for Education? Every commissioner for education or even the Minister of Education should be able to see how the primary and secondary schools are run. If as a commissioner for education, you are doing your job, you will not limit yourself to just primary schools. A commissioner for education should be able to look into what is happening in every aspect of education in his or her state, including tertiary institutions and special education. So, I don’t think there is a need to carve out a secondary education commission.
What is responsible for the poor performance of some students in English and Mathematics in public exams?
I am happy you said some students because we also have students who are doing well in those subjects. It is unfortunate that some students are not doing well in those subjects. I feel strongly about Mathematics, but English? This brings me to another conversation whether we are encouraging these students to learn our own local languages. English is not our local language. I started learning in the Yoruba language. Maybe these students are not doing well in English because it is not their mother tongue. The government must make plans to encourage these students in English Language by commissioning people to write programmes and other learning aides they will watch in visual and audio formats. Children who learn using these instruments do better in English. As for Mathematics, I think we should encourage children to start learning Mathematics from their nursery schools, it is not when a student gets to secondary school that you start introducing them to Mathematics. Many students pass through primary school without knowing the basis of Mathematics, in that case, what will they learn when they get to secondary school? These students have problems because of the wrong foundation, it is not because of our education policy. I have seen the syllabus of both primary and secondary schools and they are fantastic.
About three years ago, the government introduced about 37 trade subjects into the syllabus of secondary schools, but there are no teachers for them. Do you support the calls for reduction?
Sometimes, you have to improvise. If you ask somebody who read Mathematics to teach Computer Science, he may be able to do so; if you ask someone who read Social Studies to teach Economics or Political Science, he may be able to do so. Because all those subjects are not taught in universities as courses. The only way you can have teachers for them is to improvise by using those on the ground.
Do you think the use of the internet and smartphones are distractions to students?
They have positive and negative effects. In our schools, we don’t allow them to bring in phones during school hours. But I have also told the teachers that if they see something good on their subject on the internet that they can share it with their students. Knowledge is dynamic and keeps upgrading on a daily basis. What you knew five years ago has changed and it is the duty of the teacher to keep updating himself of herself and to keep informing the students as well. Phones and the internet are good because they will lift the quality of our education and standards. However, the negative aspect is that when you give some students the phone, he or she will look for the games there, and when they are playing these games, they loss quality time they should have used to study.
What is the relationship between teacher to student ratio on quality of education?
If you have a school, you will be talking about the economics of managing a school. Every good school will want to make a profit and in other to make a profit you will keep the teacher to student ratio in a way that it will make you get something in return. I don’t think any teacher needs more than 20 students. In our primary school section, we have over 25 teachers with less than 100 pupils, so you can see the ratio. But if you want standard it should be one teacher to 20 students. This is, however, my opinion and not a policy.
What is your take on the rising out-of-school children in Nigeria?
The girl-child receives higher education than the boy, some people may think that more boys are in school, it is not so, more girls are in school. The ratio maybe 60 to 40. In fact, in the East, it is worse.
What is your message to teachers?
My message to teachers is, in this school, for instance, you must be diligent, you must be disciplined, you must pursue excellence and you must have integrity. If you don’t have these qualities and students see you, they will know. A teacher who has these qualities will do well in the profession. We must focus on our teachers, pay them well, and give their reward from heaven on earth.
What should be the minimum requirement for establishing a school?
That is a bit difficult, schools should not be established in a residential building, but you also have to look at the prevailing situation. In this area, how many government schools do we have? How will the children in the area learn? The government has to monitor and advise on the situation.