Most Reverend Jude Ayodeji Arogundade is the Bishop of Ondo Diocese of the Catholic Church which is one of the agitators for the reversal of ownership of Missionary schools back to their original owners.
In this interview with Sunmola Olowookere, he bared his mind on how stakeholders; the church, the government and parents could collectively improve educational standards of the missionary schools.
The Ondo State government recently announced its decision to revert ownership of missionary schools back to their original owners as long as certain conditions were met, how do you feel about the pronouncement?
It is an announcement that we have been expecting for a long time. We embrace it as we are happy to hear that the government of Ondo State is listening to us that there is no government anywhere in the world that can solely educate the people.
Education is a collective issue and stakeholders must be allowed to participate completely in educating the citizens. I am happy that the governor finally conceded, after a lot of pressure, from me in particular that some of the missionary schools that had been taken away a long time ago have become a shadow. We feel that if they allow us to take over some of these schools, we can do a little better because those facilities that we have and were not taken over are some of the best today.
For example in Lagos State when Tinubu was governor, he returned some of those schools. and the remaining ones were returned by Fasola. Look at those schools today, you will be shocked to see how beautiful, effective and up to date they have become. I have visited those schools and I was amazed.
The mission may not have the money to turn them around in one day but gradually, they will be much more better than what we have today. We want to work with the government and the people of Ondo State to bring back the lost glory of the schools and make it the best it can be.
Let’s talk about the conditions brought forward by the state government, are you privy to those conditions?
I am not. But generally, the discussions have always been there. We talked about the idea of school fees. Definitely, the pupils and the students have to pay school fees. They have to make the commitment to the school. The government too cannot just hands off it completely. The students that will attend the school are children of the government and the state so the government has to make commitments.
The church don’t have much but with the help of the government, we will be able to get the schools back on their feet.
Some of the conditions is about the teachers, some of them may not want to work with the mission and we cannot force them. Those who want to work with us have to meet our conditions too. There is a lot of give and take.
Many states have handed over schools in the past such as Anambra, Delta, Lagos and some of the states in the south east.
Some of the teachers decided to withdraw, some who had few years left decided to retire and then take up an appointment with the mission. While some just wanted to work with the mission and they were absorbed into the mission.
So you are saying that you still have to come to a round table to discuss with the government about those conditions?
Yes, probably the government has more conditions more than those that I have mentioned. The government, the church and the people are very sensitive especially on the issue of school fees. People have always had the false hope that education could be free. Education is not free anywhere, not even in America.
So you have to make some commitments. We are of the view that we can bring down the level because we are a church and we are always sensitive to the needs of the poor. We are not trying to build a school for the upper class or the very rich.
However, we need to charge some money in order to be able to pay the teachers, develop and organize the school. That has to be discussed, whether we are taking over the school, the government has to set a standard. We know that the standard we have in our schools now is higher than many of the government schools. The best WAEC results we got this year was from our minor seminary. They practically had distinctions in all the papers and there is no student that graduated from there that is not qualified to enter into any university in Nigeria.
We feel that we can bring some of these schools back to that level again as Ondo State had a high educational standard then. Our schools were highly rated.
The record of Aquinas college in those days was great. It was one of the best schools in Nigeria. People came from all over Nigeria to attend the school.
The school has three of its products that has won National Merit Award.
Then you are saying that governments have not been performing up to expectations and this gave rise to agitations to have the ownership of those schools reverted back to churches?
Well, government may not accept this but the resources of government is not enough to cater to this responsibility. We cannot allow them to continue like this. Even the government will own up that they don’t have enough resources to bring these schools to where it should be and at a level they would be proud of, it’s very obvious.
If we begin to handle it and do the things that are necessary, things will turn around.
So how would you allay fears of the people that drastic changes that might not augur well for the parents and staffs will not occur?
Well, in our own case, because I cannot speak for other churches
Could you comment regarding yours?
we have the records, we still have some of the schools that belonged to us. We have children from different churches and religions in the school. There is no discrimination. Even Muslims come to our school. We don’t convert them. We have some of them working with us. We allow them. We have the record all over the world. We are of a different world view and value system.