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Author Topic: Mission Schools Before and Now  (Read 374 times)

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Mission Schools Before and Now
« on: Feb 13, 2014 »

Dear All,

This article may strike your fancy .......


Aare MacFally

Mission schools before and now - - By Luke Onyekakeyah

The exorbitant fees charged by “mission” schools as against what the original mission schools stood for, makes one conclude that what is called “mission” schools today is completely different from the mission schools of yesteryear. The original mission schools that were built and operated by the Irish missionaries with funds raised from abroad were out to offer free or low cost education to as many youths as possible.

This is different from today’s profit-oriented church schools that simply add mission to their name because they were originally established by the Irish missionaries. The truth is that those schools are no longer mission schools in the strict sense of the word. They are better called church schools since they are run by the churches that inherited them from the missionaries. They simply add mission to the schools in order to attract public support and funding but are not mission schools. The idea of a mission school is a free school.

The missionaries came to see to the spiritual and intellectual well being of their new converts. That was why they provided everything free. They were on a mission to accomplish set goals and objectives, which they achieved. The churches that inherited those schools have different agenda. They are out to make profit.

There is need to appreciate the fact that a few true mission schools exist in Nigeria today. The schools being returned by the various state governments to the churches are no longer mission schools. They are private schools run by the churches that inherited them, whose goal is not missionary work but profiteering through the schools. That way, the goal of education-for-all cannot be achieved.

If government is sincere in its bid to educate Nigerians at affordable price, that objective cannot be achieved through the church schools that charge exorbitant fees and thereby discourage people from going to school. It is perplexing why children in government public school pay little or nothing while those in the so-called mission schools pay through their nose. Are the church schools out to help or frustrate the effort of government towards education?

Since 2001, when the Lagos State government returned hundreds of schools to their owners with the hope of seeing improved quality education, other states have joined the bandwagon. Ogun, Imo, Delta and Plateau states have handed many schools back to the churches. Anambra State joined in 2011, when Governor Peter Obi, accompanied by the Anglican Archbishop of the Province of the Niger, the Most Rev. Christian Efobi, and the Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha, the Most Rev. Valerian Okeke, announced at a press conference in Awka the handing over of some 1,040 primary schools to the “original church” owners.

Other states, particularly in southern Nigeria, are expressing eagerness to hand some schools back to the churches with the erroneous impression that it is a step forward in improving the falling standard of education. But that is not the case. Parents whose children are in those returned schools are complaining about the exorbitant fees charged. The education standard in those schools is not different from what you have in other public schools neither is the moral and spiritual upbringing better. What is being experienced in those schools is high-handedness and undue strictness that give false impression of discipline.

When it is considered that the original owners of mission schools in Nigeria were foreign missionaries, it becomes a misnomer to say that schools were being returned to their original owners. The original owners of the schools have gone leaving the schools to their successor Nigerian institutions. The Nigerian successors, who did not contribute in building the schools merely, inherited them, and as far as they are concerned, the philosophy behind the mission schools cannot be sustained.

The philosophy of offering free or low-cost qualitative education to every child was there till the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970, when the schools were seized and nationalized by the government. With the government take-over, everything about the mission schools changed for the worse. The standard and quality of education fell. Fees were introduced and hiked, which kicked millions of children out of school. School infrastructures deteriorated. Libraries and laboratories disappeared in the schools. The welfare of teachers was ignored, etc. Strikes became the order of the day.

It is pertinent to ask if there has been any observable improvement in the abject condition of most of the schools since they were returned to their owners. Which primary or secondary school has been renovated to show that the rightful owners of the schools have taken over? Which school is reputed for its excellent library or laboratory as it used to be? Which of the schools has transformed from poor performance in public examinations? Mission schools of old used to be models and their products extraordinary; which of today’s mission schools is maintaining that enviable standard?

There is reason to believe that some state governments decided to hand over the schools by compulsion rather than reason. Over the years, mounting pressure by interest groups on the states to return the schools to their owners led to this turn of events. Besides, the failure of government to adequately fund education and improve the condition of the schools created burden.

Apparently, the state governments, which appeared over-burdened, found the demand for handover of schools a ready escape route from the statutory responsibility of catering for the schools. Thus, by handing over hundreds of schools to the churches, they have lesser burden to carry on the education front. They thought this would be a solution but it has created new problems.

Take the case of Imo State as an example. Governor Rochas Okorocha introduced free education that applies only to government schools but excludes the so-called mission schools. In Imo State, there are a few government schools. Most of the primary and secondary schools there were established by the missionaries. Since there are a few non-missionary schools, parents have no choice than to put their children in the mission schools where they must pay fees. What this means is that the free education policy of the state applies to only to a small number of Imo children. The majority is still paying fees in the mission schools. How does this advance the noble objective of giving education to all children?

It would be recalled that at the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970, government seized and nationalised all schools that were hitherto owned by the missions “in an attempt to defuse tribalism”. Since 1800, mission schools have been there as the purveyor of Western education that was offered free in most cases. Many of today’s Nigerian leaders benefitted from the free education offered by the missionaries. The sudden takeover of the schools by the government brought about the collapse of education in schools that were hitherto reputed for high standards. Morality and character building also collapsed.

Rather than recording improvement, the schools went into decadence to the present level where they are a mere shadow of what they used to be. Bad governance and corruption compounded the problem, as money meant for the schools were embezzled leaving the institutions in squalid condition. It is this state of affairs that fired the clamour for the return of the schools to their owners but the new owners are no longer foreigners but Nigerians who are part and parcel of the ills of this society. There is no longer funding from abroad. As such, the schools do not qualify to be called mission schools anymore; instead, they are better called church schools since they were inherited by different churches.

Considering the effort of the government towards universal education where there is little or no fee, returning schools to institutions that charge exorbitant fees and thereby discouraging people from going to school is counter-productive. Why should children in church schools be paying exorbitant fees when their mates in government schools are paying nothing and at the same time receiving free books, uniforms and other materials under the Universal Free Education policy? The outrageous fees being charged by church-owned universities when federal and state universities are comparatively free, illustrates the harm church schools are doing to the country’s education.

The purveyors of mission schools have established funding arrangement that is unshaken. They knew that the schools have to be free or highly subsidised. In that case, it is not the beneficiaries that pay. Ironically, in Nigeria, where church members contribute to establish schools, they are excluded because they can’t afford to pay the high cost of such schools. Government should streamline its education policy to require church schools to operate within the framework of government schools. Otherwise, the schools not be called mission schools.

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