Dr Lorenzo Manuel David, Jr. is a filipino who has been living in Nigeria for over 30 years. From 1988 to 1998, he taught Geophysics in the University of Benin. Presently, he is the principal of White Sand School, Lekki. In this interview, he spoke of his personal commitment to education and the way forward for education sector in Nigeria. Excerpts.
HOW would you assess our education sector in Nigeria?
The education sector is improving. I do not see Nigeria in its glorious days. I said this, because in 1982 when I came to Nigeria, the sector was in low ebb. During that time, if you mention private school, it will look as if you are talking heresies. At that time, government had taken over the schools. History has proved that government cannot sustain education, because all over the world, education ran by the government never work. But right now, government has realised it and given licences to private individuals to run the schools.
Government cannot do everything, except if it is rich enough to do so like in Finland. There, schools are built by the government and given to individuals to run. Government should realise the role of NGOs and civil society groups who can help in certain things. They will run it better because there will be commitment. Good education is when you have the flourishing of many private schools simply because the government cannot do everything unless the government is rich like in England or Singapore or Hong Kong.
This is part of the reasons why just about 13 per cent of students pass their WAEC examinations. But in our school, you not only make 100 per cent credit but 80 per cent of them get distinction in five subjects including English and Mathematics. If you go to some of these schools, you will find students always playing without teachers teaching them.
Why is there no teaching going on? It's simply because the teachers are not around. Why are the teachers not there? Probably because they have not been paid salary, probably because they have been paid but busy doing other businesses. I could not see that in the private schools. Because it is small, it has less bureaucracy. It is not like that in the public school. I am not at all looking down on the government, but what I am trying to say is even as we see it now, government should increase her budget allocation to education.
Why should government hand over schools to missions?
Government should hand over schools to missions so that the government can concentrate on what it does better. They should concentrate on governance, provide basic amenities and infrastructure to the people and make laws. If after they have done all these and they still have the finance, then they can think of building schools.
Education is first and foremost the duty of the parent and when I talk of education, I'm talking of all those activities that you have to do that is important to move ahead . We all need education. Education is not getting WAEC certificate, not getting a first degree. Because you can have a first degree and then join 419.
The real education that I am talking about are activities that parents have to do in shaping the child to be a better man. During our graduation, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babatunde Fashola emphasised the importance of character building which he said will help our children. However, by what we are seeing now, it is better than what it was in 1982.
Could you please highlight the difference between Nigeria's education and that of the the Philippines?
The first difference is that, there is no effort of Philippine Government to monopolise the sector. Secondly, the difference is 633. It is done well and that is why we have many Nigerians going abroad for studies. The problem is that when its not done well, then its a disaster.
How would you access the Nigerian students compare to that of western world?
The Nigeria student are brilliant. For me to have stay here for 30years in Nigeria, it means that I appreciate the black race and I think you have a fantastic family and very very resourceful. Nigerian are talented people and resourceful people. I can mention some few that I know that are very good resourceful, diligent and wise. If you have somebody who has a very good talent, it is a good opportunity to get good education.
For example, we have some parents and families who cannot afford a school that is well equipped and then we have teachers that are dedicated, if I have the opportunity as other people who have good talents, they take advantage of all. Meanwhile, we have the handful of people who happen to have good families and they themselves are very talented and also get the advantage of it. Here in White Sand, we have already produced Harvard student full scholarship and I don't think they have problem. We have another one in Oxford.
If you find yourself as Minister of Education, how best would you improve education sector?
To tell you the truth, I have not imagined it. We have not arrived yet, there are still a lot of things to be done. Given the economic situation of Nigeria now, Nigeria is probably in the state of economic development, you have to bring the private sector to run side by side a healthy competition which will boost the sector. I will ensure that teachers are given the right conducive atmosphere to practice their profession. Teachers should be motivated by pay them well so they can concentrate on their core job.
If you put the whole budget of Nigeria into education, it will still not be enough for the sector. However, it doesn't mean that you cannot have a good education. You can, but then there has to be more diligence on the people doing it. In this school, our teachers do not resign their appointment to get another job because they are well paid. I mean, They don't resign from my school to go to another school, because they are happy here. Because they are happy, they are able to dedicate themselves to give their time and brain to run the school. That is very important.
How much those it cost us? That shows that the school is not solely for profit making. Our money is not embezzle by the school trustee to build mansion in London. Again, there is a big difference between public school and all other school. As I go around, I still discovered that the private schools are still better than what I saw in the public school in the olden days.