Dr. Mrs Cordelia Ogbumuo is an Assistant Director, Federal Ministry of Education, Lagos Office. An educationist to the core, Ogbumuo is armed with the Grade 2 Teachers Certificate, an NCE and a degree from the University of Lagos. She also holds a Masters and a Phd from the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State. She had worked as a classroom teacher before she was deployed to the quality assurance department of the Federal Ministry of Education. She speaks about her experience in the education industry in this interview with Wilson Adekumola. Excerpt:
Where and when did you start your career as a civil servant?
To start with, I have been working as teacher all my life. My first experience was in St. Joseph Primary School in Anambra State as a Grade 2 teacher. Then after my NCE, I got employed with the Federal Ministry of Education and my first posting was Federal Government College, Shagamu, Ogun State, where I taught Igbo Language. As at then there was shortage of English Language teacher, so I doubled as Igbo and English Language teacher. I was there for a long time before I went for my degree. After my first degree I was posted to Kings College, Lagos in 2006 to 2013. In 2014, I was deployed to Quality Assurance department in Federal Ministry of Education, Lagos office.
What are your duties as a Quality Assurance executive?
My job is all about inspecting school to ensure they adhere to strict morals and meet up with the standard of education as set down by the government. We check the quality of the teachers, their regularity, and activities. It is the duty of Quality Assurance to control and ensure quality education. Our duty is not limited to government schools alone. We also visit private Schools. The truth is that government cannot handle the education sector alone considering the tremendous population we have now. The private schools are actually helping government.
In the course of discharging your duty, have you been seeing schools that are below standard?
Of course, I saw some of them. When we see something like that we call them to order. We advise them. It is not our duty to close down schools. Ours is to make our findings known to government.
What about schools that are not registered?
Of course, they too are helping in a way. Those children may not be able to go to school if these ones are not available. Government school may be far away and probably their parents cannot afford their transport fare to and fro. When they see any school around they go there. Some of them pay as low as N3000 per term. In the case of pre-school, some pay N50 per day. And any day they cannot afford it they stay at home. You see, the children would have been useless without the help of these people. Government should intervene by helping them in terms of finance and the rich people around them should give them a helping hand instead of taking our money abroad for investment. This is the area that is making me sad. I know of a school where I live, some of them have four children but they can’t pay for all of them. Some are widows and all that. The school has to consider them. They have to help them.
From your experience, can we compare the standard of education now with what was obtainable in those days?
We cannot say categorically that the quality and standard of education is falling. I won’t say that because if they go to WAEC office to check the performances of the students you find out that the standard is still encouraging. There was a particular year, I did a research and I tried to look at the performances of the children I discovered that it is not as bad as is being talked about. But the truth of the matter is that population is actually increasing. Based on this fact, teachers are not able to oversee the performances of the children as it should be. When we go out for inspection at Badagry for instance we discovered that the population of the student in such area is enormous for the teachers. Imagine a school where you have one English Language teacher to cover SS1, SS2 and SS3. In a situation where you have many classes, the teacher will try to combine them. There is no way such teacher can oversee the performances of the students.
For instances, marking their assignment will be a herculean task for the teacher. So it is when you go to area where manpower is in need that you talk about falling standard of education. But when you come to city of Lagos, with quality assurance experience I have, you will notice that the children are doing extremely well because the number of teachers they have to cover the schemes are many. They were able to take up their duties and oversee the performances of the students.
From my own perspective, it is not the standard of education that is falling but it is that government is not paying attention to education. The teachers are not properly trained and there are few teachers to handle large classes. If you say the standard is falling generally it will look as if the teachers are not performing. But having good number of teachers will improve the standard especially where the principal and his vice are doing their work. Like government schools, qualified teachers are being employed administratively. Government should ensure the teachers are trained and retrained. If you go to private sector you see that the children are performing better because of the training they give their teachers.
We observed that some of the rich in the society are products of public school, yet they prefer to send their children to private school. Is that not an indication that our education has declined?
I will not agree with that. One of the reasons people send their children to private schools is to showcase their money. Even in the western world where everything is said to be working, the rich still send their children to private schools and they pay a lot of money for it, yet in their public school things are in order. They have qualified teachers and they are working very well. But because they have the money they go to private schools. In the public school as well, if government can train and retrain their teachers it will encourage them. If you go to government colleges you will discover that both the children of the poor and rich are there doing very well because there is good administration and their principals are putting in their best.
There is a popular notion that students don’t fail in private school because their parents have paid exorbitantly, from your experience, how will you react to this?
I will not totally believe that. Partly, it could be true. You know in private school unlike government school, it is a one man business. Some belong to churches or corporate organization. Actually, a parent may not want to pay twice for a child in the same class and if you compel him he may decide to take that child to another school. One of the things we are talking about in private school in this nation, people don’t take transfer to private school and it is very wrong. Because if there this policy of using transfers certificate and if the government insist, it will change the situation. Why it is difficult in the private school is that they have different bodies. There is Association of Affordable Education (AFED), National Association Of Private Schools Proprietors (NAPPS) and so on. If these associations could come together as one it will make it easy. There is no particular body governing all of them and if you belong to one the other one may not recognize you. Some parents will bring their child telling you that my child is in primary 3 and I want him to be in primary 5. If the school owner does not accept this they may take that child to another school. However, they have to accept it for business purpose. At least, salary is to be paid. They would want to upgrade and maintain the school facilities.
Don’t you think there should be a regulatory body that oversees this?
There is a regulatory body in the ministry. The ministry of education has different departments. There is a department for primary education, secondary education and there is quality assurance department that goes about to inspect schools in order to ensure the standard of education given to the children comply with what government has set down. That is, we ensure that they use government scheme of work. I told you I work in quality assurance of Federal Ministry of Education, we collaborate with Lagos State quality assurance to go out. We ensure they give the students required standard.
Would you say government policies are in favour of education?
I will not like to talk about that. You can see what is in the budget.
Ma, you are a civil servant in education sector, definitely you have a broad knowledge. What can you tell us?
I will say the government is trying but they need to try more. They need to pump more money in education sector and look into where things are lacking. The Lagos State government is trying. Because moving around where I work I can tell you categorically that they have done exceedingly well. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has leveraged on the foundation Mr Babatunde Fashola (the former Lagos State governor) laid.
As an Assistant Director, which area in education sector do you think Governor Ambode has not done enough?
If I happen to meet Governor Ambode today I will tell him to employ more teachers and improve the local area because they feel they are inferior. We need more hands in the education sector. The ones there are ageing. You know in Lagos State the directors still teach in class rooms. They should employ more young and energetic qualified teachers who are equal to the task. Like I told you before, when I was young I covered classes. I can no longer do that because I am growing no younger and you can’t cheat nature. Teaching is not just talking, it involves action. So my advice for the government is to employ young people, train and retrain to encourage them. The encouragement I mean is not in terms of salary because the salary structure is the same everywhere in Lagos.
Now that you will soon retire, what will you do at retirement?
Good question. Definitely, I will invest in education. I will want people to fetch from my well of experience. Why I know a little bit of what is happening around private schools is because some of my friends are school owners and they invite me for workshop. They don’t invite me for free but I don’t take a dime from them because I have passion for education. I have trained them for free so that they can also encourage their teachers. Like this philosophy I have, if you are a trained teacher you have to impact same to people around you. If I have school today and have teachers working with me won’t I train them? I will train them to bring out the best in them just that you can only say they are not certified because no certificate to show for it.