Jikwoyi— a plea for public schools

EDUCATION-textI had a most exhilarating experience recently, at Government Secondary School, Jikwoyi, Federal Capital Territory (FCT)—where I was Guest Speaker, during Science Week celebrations.

My two talks went well. But it was the mental stimulus of Questions and Answers that made the trip worthwhile: And reminded me, once again, of the urgent need to revive public education.

Nigeria’s future, as a proud and competitive country, lies in a vibrant public school system—as opposed to private businesses and foreign-backed conditioning centres that use “education” as bait.

A vision of rejuvenated public schools—with Astronomy and Space Science as core curricula—is the lure that led me to Jikwoyi.

The school was unable to cover my travel costs. But that didn’t matter. Astronomy is hardly a commercial venture, for me. It is a passion, an emotional and intellectual odyssey. By these criteria, the yield from my investment was abundant.

Much of day one was ceremonial, since two distinguished visitors from the FCT Secondary Education Board—D.O. Kemnele (Deputy Director) and Walter Uko—were present.

The Board Members offered encouragement and cogent counsel, especially to the pupils who prepared fascinating science exhibits.

The next day, we really got down to business. Junior Secondary School pupils grilled me for two hours, with pointed and probing questions: Questions you wouldn’t expect, from minds nurtured in Nigeria’s woefully neglected education system.

The pupils were from the JETS and ICT/Cyber Clubs, which Arogun Olayinka and Josephine Udonsi coordinate. Their queries cut a wide topical swathe through Astronomy and the Space Sciences—from “satellites,” “meteorites” and the “ozone layer” to “global warming,” “stars” and “planet nine”.

Not every aspect of the programme was thumbs-up, though. I discreetly absented myself, while the students were put through “opening prayer”—a widespread practice, not only within the education system but also at many Government venues.

“Opening prayer,” especially in schools, ought to be outlawed. It is actually a marketing gimmick for the most avaricious denominations within the Christian faith. The “prayers” are really teaser-sermons; and the children who stand with closed eyes and clasped palms today, will be tithe-payers tomorrow.

Nevertheless, Jikwoyi has etched itself indelibly into my psyche; and I hope to work closely with them in the future. My hat goes off to the principle, Musa Zakir Abdullahi, who is moving things forward under less than ideal conditions. (The school has been sharing a facility. But its permanent site is almost ready.)

I am equally enamoured of his administrative team. I mentioned Chukwuemeka Ekeleme, Head of Science, in a previous column. But the attentiveness of Mrs. Yakubu Jammyiah Abubakar, Vice Principle for Administration, is also much appreciated, as is the cordiality of Academic VP, Kehinde B. Adewale.

Praise-singing is quite out of character for this column. But I have been promoting Astronomy since 1998; and I could probably count the public schools, on one hand, that have opened up to me (whereas lots of churches have).

So I will give every possibly encouragement to Jikwoyi—and not just because I want to advance Astronomy. My belief, is that the resuscitation of public education is not the responsibility of
Government alone. All of us need to roll up our sleeves and join in.

Policymakers, on their part, should quickly curtail the proliferation of private educational institutions and close most existing ones—particularly those funded and/or operated by foreigners.

Asinine enterprises, such as Ministries of Women Affairs, ought also to be abolished and their budgets re-allocated to the Education and Steel sectors.

J.K. Obatala

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