A former principal of the defunct Government Teachers College, GTC Mkar, Mrs Rebecca Terundu Agbo recently, granted an interview to The Voice reporter, TERESE TSE where she not only speak on her life after retirement from active service and career as an educationists, she also pointed out the reward that she has received for her service to humanity, how she is disillusioned with the system of education today, and many other issues. Excerpts:
When did you begin your elementary education?
I began my elementary education at the NKST primary school, Mkar Central in 1950 and completed in 1957. Upon completion, I proceeded to Gindiri Girls’ High School now in Plateau State, from 1958 to 1962. The school was founded in 1958 by the Sudan United Mission (SUM) and we were the first set to graduate from the school. On graduation, I proceeded for my Higher School Certificate HSC at the Queen Elizabeth College, Ilorin in the present day Kwara State, and was admitted at the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, to read Geography. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography in 1968, I went further to read a post graduate diploma in education in 1969 and became a qualified teacher.
What informed your decision to take to teaching, as a career?
After my HSC in Ilorin, I taught for about nine months at the St Faith’s College, Kaduna and because I was fascinated with the idea of teaching and since I had always wanted to have an opportunity where I would be impacting knowledge in others, I then saw teaching as the opportunity therefore, I took it as my priority.
During our time, if you were not in the teaching line, then the alternative was the administrative jobs. But for me, I preferred the teaching job because I derived joy from it more than anything else.
Can you recall some of your teachers that you considered as your mentors?
Of course I can. During my elementary school, one Mr Jeke Chi was one man that made learning very interesting for us, we also had Mr Wachim Gavar. Mr Gavar was a man that had a lot of enthusiasm in whatever that he was doing. Apart from the normal ditching of instructions in the classroom, he was also our choir master. Although, choir was not in the school’s curriculum, he took it very seriously with all his might as if his whole life depended on singing and this motivated a lot of us and I want to believe that was one of the reasons why I developed a strong love for singing up to this day.
Did you retire because of age or years of service?
I did not retire because of any of these. You will recall that in 1998, when Brigadier General Dominic Oneya was the military administrator of Benue state, he issued an order that all civil servants who have clocked fifty five years of age, should bow out of civil service, and it was that reason that called for my abrupt retirement in active service in 1998 when I was fifty years of age and thirty one in service. So you can now see that none of the above suggests my retirement.
For how long did you occupy the position of a principal?
Out of my thirty one years of service as a classroom teacher in the secondary school, I occupied the position of a principal for twenty five years.
Teachers put in more years in service before they are made principals of schools, why was your case different?
During my time, only a few females were qualified as teachers, and in my time as principal at the Government Girls Secondary School, Oavande, we were only about four to five in number.
Where did you begin your teaching career?
I began my teaching career at my alma mater, the Girls’ High School, Gindiri, where I taught briefly and then transferred my services to W.M Bristow Secondary School in Gboko, between 1970 and 1971 after which I got married to Mr Faôron Agbo of blessed memory, in 1972 and then I was transferred to Government Girls Oavande as the Vice Principal, with Mrs Nancy Chapel as the principal who was a missionary. When she left in 1973, I was appointed to head the school after they saw that I was duly qualified for the position, given my academic credibility and marital status.
I did eight years in Oavande and then moved to Teaching Service zonal office in Gboko, in 1980 and at the same time was the principal of Tofi Memorial Grammar School, Gboko.
How were you able to cope with two jobs at the same time?
It was not a puzzle to me because I shared my day into two by going to the school as early as between 7:00 to 7:30 am to conduct the assembly, and after a briefing with the teachers, I then return to the zonal office at about 10:00 to 10:30 am and stay for the rest of the day. I was mobile so I didn’t find it stressful. I was always on standby while in the zonal office to comply with the urgency of any request that would arise from the school that demands my attention.
I kept to this until I was transferred to Government Teachers College (GTC) Mkar,(defunct) between 1981 and 1982. Before the end of 1982, I was again appointed as part of a five member committee of the Teaching Service Commission constituted and referred to as Commissioners II, and our responsibility was to take charge of Secondary Schools at that time. I served in that capacity until 1983 when the military regime took over the mantle of leadership and scraped the body.
Where did you go after the scrapping of the commission?
As a committed member of the NKST family and being diligent in whatever I did, I moved to NKST Secondary School, Adikpo to head the school in the early part of 1984 where I worked until the twilight of the year when I was again redeployed to G.T.C Mkar and spent fourteen years as the principal, from 1984 to 1998 until I was retired from active service.
What would you say are the qualities of a successful teacher?
The teacher must possess positive virtues like hard work, patience and honesty etc. They should treat the students equally fairly, and without any iota of neither sentiment nor discrimination. Be kind and polite in your interaction with the students and treat them like human beings. Consider them as your own biological children, do not be bias. If you must punish, do it with love and letting them know why they deserve that kind of punishment, so they will not hold any grudge against you. If you are being honest in your dealings with them, they may not appreciate you at that moment but when they grow up, they will obviously acknowledge you and appreciate the truth.
How would you compare the teachers of today to those in your time?
The difference is clear. In our time, they were rules and regulations guiding our operations which were known as the General Order (G.O). It has so many restrictions and we were mandated to operate within its ambit. For instance, then as a professional teacher and practising, you were not permitted to own a school, you were not allowed to serve two schools at the same time and you were to be apolitical. If you must play partisan politics, either you resign voluntarily from service else you will be dismissed. Teachers then had requisite training and were ready to do their jobs. Plan their lesson notes and time books were frequently checked. Teachers were made to give account of their activities on weekly basis and this was a matter of law that every teacher must comply with. But today, the story has changed. Many teachers are not properly trained to teach and do not even take delight in what they do. These lapses have given birth to the impunity of examination malpractice. The time that would have been used for teaching is wasted on trivial issues and when exams are at the corner, students are tasked to pay illegal levies known as understanding fee. It is only in very few schools that you can find teachers who are honest to students today. This is a disturbing and worrisome trend. The Ministry of Education that should condemn this unethical development is the one encouraging in some ways. Considering all these, I become disillusioned with the education system of today.
How would you react to the FG unveiling of robust policy to boost teaching profession in Nigeria. For instance, welfare package and extension of service years?
Well, making a pronouncement is one thing and implementation is another thing entirely. Nevertheless, if the government is able to implement all these beautiful packages, the impact will be felt on not just the teachers and students but the society at large. The welfare of the moulder of character in the four walls of the class, has been relegated to the background over time and the living conditions are terrible. The salary is poor and the challenges are enormous so implementing all of these will rekindle the hope of teachers a great deal. Teachers should also be made to enjoy the benefits of their labour here on earth because they too have needs and biological children to take care of which God is going to hold them accountable if they fail in their responsibilities. The old notion that teachers’ reward is in heaven is not completely true. Teachers have been denied a lot of entitlements and suffered non- payment for far too long. I always remember that during my years in service in 1985 at Mkar, we were not paid for nine months so it will be nice if meaningful readjustments are made in favour of teachers. But the review of retirement age in my view should depend on the individual strength and ability. Cognizance should be taken about the health status of individual teachers. Some teachers are not in good health condition and this cannot permit them to stay in the class teaching beyond sixty years while others can do it without complaining of any challenges. I personally could have taught for up to that sixty five years without any qualms but not every teacher can live up to this task.
What in your view are the major challenges faced in teaching and learning in Nigeria?
The educational system is generally greeted with enormous challenges particularly in the present day. One major challenge is the absence of boarding facilities in many schools and staff quarters for teachers. This has hindered academic growth in a great proportion and denied many the opportunity to engage in extra activities like sports and choir rehearsals. Though it makes education less expensive and more economical on the part of parents but on the general note, it has caused more harm than good. Students living in the boarding houses have more time to interact with themselves and their teachers and this interaction is also part of education. As a teacher, when you interact with a student on a personal level, it helps you to identify the strengths and weaknesses better and by this, you can help bring out the potentialities in them. Another challenge is buying of textbooks separately for each and every student. Before now, parents could buy textbooks for their elderly children who will use and pass them unto their younger ones and this could save a lot of costs but today, the situation is such that every session comes with the introduction of new textbooks, making the process cumbersome and money consuming. Another challenge of teaching and learning is the computer based education. Computer is a good thing, and it will be rewarding and interesting that if every Nigerian child is acquainted with the computer knowledge but if the truth must be told, how many students have access to such education here? Some disadvantaged students do not even have the privilege of touching a computer machine in their lives let alone operating it.
The truth remains that Nigeria as country has not reached a stage of conducting its exams on computer. Insistence on the use computer would only pave the way for more examination malpractice.
Have you since after retirement, received any gift from your former students in appreciation of you at all?
In fact, I had received series of gifts from my students over time, both in groups and at individual levels but let me just point out one of my very brilliant students who came a humble background. He offered me a car which I now drive. This is a boy that schooled under poor circumstances but because of my personal interaction with him, I discovered his talents and so I allowed him to pursue his studies with a long outstanding tuition before he later came back to offset it.
What areas would you want the government to address, particularly in the education sector?
The educational system should be standardized and given a careful attention in all facets. The trend of trading education for money should be discarded in our system. Government should only accredit schools that meet the standard and requirements. Quality education should never be compromised and schools licensed without due process should have their license withdrawn. Teachers without requisite qualifications should be subjected to training and retraining. Education is the backbone of every society, it is the only critical tool for achieving national aspirations so it should be giving the proper attention that it deserves. We will get almost every other thing right if our education system is fixed.
What is your advice for teachers and students of today?
Teachers should endeavour to go for refresher courses that will enable them cope with the modem trend of teaching and learning. They should take delight in moulding students into being responsible citizens of tomorrow. On the part of students, they should be honest, dedicated and committed to their duty post. They should be productive, innovative and open to learning as there is no legacy that is greater than education. They should play when they have to play, work when they have to work and sleep when they have to sleep.