The GCI Story, Rethinking The Development Paradigm

The GCI Story, Rethinking The Development Paradigm

The GCI Story, Rethinking the Development Paradigm: A concept note to the national body, Government College, Ibadan Old Boys Association by Folarin Gbadebo-Smith (1966)

In Greek mythology, “a phoenix” is a long lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn. Often an emblem of reborn idealism’.
Phoenix arising.

One need not comment on the state of disrepair of GCI. I believe we all have fairly vivid images of what the school looks like today. Even at the best of times, the physical infrastructure of the school was less than adequate. The pride we felt in the school derived not from the superior infrastructure but from the excellent education we received under what we know today to be trying conditions.

I do not remember with any sense of nostalgia, the unhygienic and chronically inadequate water supply (a visit to the water tank was a study in aquatic ecosystems) to the school. The pit toilets, accessible only through snake infested walkways that caused one to lose the urge except under extreme pressure. Frankly, it is a miracle that we survived the experience, but survive, did we, in this pre-medieval environment and experience?

30 odd years have passed since I left and still the nightmares persist. Today, GCI reflects the state of all institutions owned and operated by the government in Nigeria. “Decrepit " is the term that comes to mind. Having said this, the spirit of old school burns strong amongst most of the old boys. Each time I read about a class set initiating a programme ‘to raise funds for a library or some such facility in the school’, I experience a mixture of pride and sadness. Pride in the willingness to give back and sadness in the futility of it all.

The outcomes of these noble, but misguided contributions are predictable. Even in the unlikely event that enough resources are deployed to initiate a facility/programme, what becomes of it in the long run? In other words, who deals with the maintenance and upkeep ten years hence? Picture an ultra modern sports facility, dormitory or library against the backdrop of squalour and decay in the rest of the school or for that matter an “ayo” state Governor annexing the land for multiple schools after our “goodwill investments” have gone in.

Such is the fog surrounding the thinking of the civil service establishment that any programme, however well intentioned, is at the risk of failure
even before it starts. The situation as it stands can be likened to an attempt to collect water using a cane basket. If the substructure or the foundation is flawed the superstructure (in this case our contributions in cash or kind from old boys) will always be unstable and/or unsustainable. However, we can all agree on one thing; that is GCI has the pedigree and potential to once again become the premiere institution in the southwest and indeed the nation.

All that is required and critical to the success of the vision of restoring GCI’s pride of place is the right strategic approach. The goodwill and
resources are taken as given. We know what needs be done the question is how to go about it.

GCI was originally conceived as what in today’s terms is a leadership academy. An institution whose mandate was to develop and prepare young boys to hold positions of responsibility in the professions, academia and the civil service; role models for society. GCI has in fact done an admirable job of fulfilling this dream of the colonial establishment. She has over the years produced many eminent citizens, outstanding scholars and civil servants who have reached the pinnacle of public service and occasionally the odd businessmen of note. That is a story many old boys can readily relate to. It was a vision that had merit till the 1980s. Thereafter a new picture emerged.

The downturn in the fortunes of GCI coincided with the decline of the Nigerian state, the decline of virtually every educational institution and standard any Nigerian over the age of 40 grew up with. This depressing picture is of course not unique to GCI.

Virtually all government colleges whether federal, state or formerly mission owned, have suffered the same fate, but for different reasons.
Some ascribe the problems to state take over of schools (mission schools). Some see the problem as arising from politicisation of the schools (state schools) while others believe the quota system is responsible (federal schools) for the overall decline of academic and living standards. I argue that the same fundamental problems are common to all, and that for a policy maker in the 60s and early 70s the outcomes were largely predictable.

Under-investment in infrastructure, failures of staff recruitment and training policy, failure to modernise the school curriculums, corruption in the Ministries of Education, over-extension of the capacity of the school, and sheer management incompetence on the part of principals are some of the factors on which the collapse of the schools can be blamed. The same can be said for virtually all institutions of the state in Nigeria, be it hospitals, airlines or even the road infrastructure.

Most of these schools, Government College, Ibadan, Government College, Umuahia, Kings College, Lagos were developed in colonial times
and were modelled after English ‘public, schools (private schools in our own parlance). They were meant to be the Eaton’s, Winchester and Harrows of Nigeria. The model however was flawed. It assumed that there would always be competent, purposeful government and management of the school system, that quality of teaching would remain high, that the education would be adequately funded and that the politics of the country would essentially remain stable.

The reality has, of course, been very different. The population and consequently demand for education has exploded, the pernicious effect of
military rule has borne full fruit and the politics of state creation, federal character and corruption at all levels of government is what the whole country now grapples with. In other words the model was not sustainable.

Beyond Nostalgia
GCI old boys, especially the older old boys, look back at their time in school as a golden age. Efforts and restoration initiatives reflect a wish to recreate the “good old days”. Singsongs, inter-house sports which lead to places in national teams, highflying results in public exams, and the school plays of the DJ Bullock era. These sentiments may well be the drivers of the goodwill that stirs us all to action, but they do not in themselves constitute a solution to what is obviously a complex management problem.

Seen through a medical lens, the problem looks like a patient with a disease where complications worse than the original disease have set in.
The question is: is the condition terminal? One thing is patently obvious. Neither wishing away the original problem nor addressing the
symptoms of the complications will solve the problem or “cure the patient”. The time is now to apply modern management solutions to the contemporary problems that bedevil the old school.

In the UK, the schools along whose lines GCI and government colleges in Nigeria were modelled have evolved and moved on. The state i.e. the
government of Great Britain came to accept that state funding and management of schools was not a viable approach to the problem of providing high quality education for a large and growing population. It developed policies that created in effect, a public private partnership model for
funding and managing its schools.

Two former state governors in Nigeria, Governor Fashola of Lagos and Liyel Imoke of Cross River State, both speaking at an event in Kings
College, independently offered a public private partnership model as the solution to the secondary education problem in Nigeria. The offerings of both governors differed in detail, but the principle was the same. Both agreed that a PPP model was the only solution.

The Kings’ College old boys have initiated a process, which they hope will lead to a full take over and management of the school using a hybrid
structure between the government and the old boys. USOSA the umbrella body for the federal government colleges in Nigeria is in the process of proposing a PPP management model to the federal government for the running of all federal government owned schools in Nigeria.

St. Gregory’s College is a model worth looking at for sustainable management of schools. It is a school that has enjoyed a virtual renaissance after the Lagos State government returned it to its original owners, the Catholic Church. Under the management of its old students association, the St. Gregory’s College is now the epitome of a well-run modern secondary school, able to hold its own with the best of private schools in Lagos.

Various associations of old students have gone through the stage where they (Old boys and class sets) contributed monies to sponsor projects in their different schools. The projects range from infrastructure refurbishments, Library restorations, building and renovating hostels, toilets etc. to initiatives to hire and train teachers. The associations have all independently come to the conclusion that these schemes cannot solve the problems and more importantly are not sustainable.

GCI old boys have demonstrated uncommon commitment and a willingness to make huge sacrifices in an effort to see the restoration of the
school to its past glory and place it on a path of sustainable management and growth. Julius Nyerere - a revered African statesman once said,
“sincerity of purpose is not enough, in government one must get not just the objective but the method right.”

The GCI situation is a management conundrum compounded by a poor governance structure. Any and all investments made on this weak foundation is bound to fail in the long run. The old boys association has examined and rejected the formation of a new (ROCK) school but continues to tinker at the edges of the problem. It has engaged in laudable range of activities such as renovating classrooms, laboratories and paying for the salaries of some teaching staff.

I believe that the timing is auspicious for the old boys to attack the problem at its root cause. Governance. To accept the challenge of defining a new governance structure based on the PPP model, engaging a new management approach while borrowing from global best practices in its
efforts to reposition the school as a forward-looking leadership academy for boys, able to cope with the challenges of a new century.

Ours is the challenge of building on a great heritage while not getting lost in its past. This journey will require fresh thinking, serious planning
and the courage to embrace change in an uncertain future.

Permit me the liberty to propose certain essential elements of any plans the association might contemplate. Any strategy must take into account
the following:

Governance structure of the school.
The governance structure of the school must be in the control of the old boys. Several devices are possible through which this objective can be realised all of which ought to be acceptable to the owners of the school i.e. the Oyo State government.

Establish a board of governors, (BOG)
made up of old boys, representatives of the government, parents teachers association and eminent citizens of the state. The BOG will obtain a legally-binding agreement from the state government handing over management of the school to the BOG. This board will have powers to make
policy for student admissions, set academic standards for the school, hire and fire a principal and other academic staff, propose and review annual budgets for the school. Design and adopt an academic curriculum for the school in compliance with state government policy.

The BOG amongst other functions will be responsible for external relations, for instance, act as the liaison between the management of the school and the state government.

Establish a board of trustees who will work with the BOG and the old boys association in resolving problems between the BOG and
the school management. This body will act as custodians to any funds or endowments that the old boys may bequeath to the school.
It will be made up exclusively of GCI old boys.

The GCI old boys association will act in a support role to the BOG in maintaining the traditions and values of the school.

Create a management structure for the day-to-day running of the school made up of Principal, teaching and administrative staff of the school.

Accommodate a parents teachers associationwhose purpose will be to support social life and welfare in the school.

The school, as with all charter schools in the UK, will receive an annual grant from the state government. The amount and structure of such a grant will be agreed upon with the state government after a detailed strategy would have been developed for the purpose.

Grants and endowments from old boys.

Fees paid by students


Funds sourced from international aid agencies and charitable bodies.

Education bonds, soft loans and other long- term financial instruments.

Gifts and grants from corporate bodies.

It must be understood that these proposals only constitute the skeleton of a plan and are not in itself a strategy document or road map towards the future of GCI. A detailed feasibility study must be conducted by competent professional consultants and subsequently a business model developed for the future school. This plan/model will take into account various elements including infrastructure and other facilities development, restoration of historical aspects of life in the school, training for teachers and academic support staff, curriculum development and maintenance, sports development and extracurricular activities among others.

Given the foregoing narrative, certain issues will unavoidably arise.

1. There will be a reluctance of traditional authorities to hand over control of one of their “prized” assets.

2. There will be a fear of loss of control by a political class not made up in the main of GCI old boys.

3. Perceptions that if run by old students school fees will rise and therefore the school will become unaffordable for the poor and other
marginalised groups within the state.

4. Suspicions of elitism. Any strategy that is finally adopted must take into account sensitivities and priorities of the state government. It must offer assurances that the fears of different stakeholders will not be realised. It must be inclusive (see structure of the BOG). The school must remain accessible, affordable to indigenes of the state while accommodating diversity. It must not be seen, as promoting an elitist culture. At the same time it must clearly offer a world-class education to prospective GCI students.

If the strategy is properly designed, it will accommodate most of these concerns.

It must also be understood that we are on the vanguard of a new and bold initiative. The challenges ahead will be many, and the risks high, but the fear of failure cannot be allowed to drive our collective thinking. Some might think that this is all too ambitious. It is important to bear in mind that the concept and proposition is based on tried and tested models. We in the GCI Old Boys Association will be required to appropriately contextualise what has been done in other countries and other schools, and adapt the other management models to suit our peculiar circumstances.

The government of the day is receptive, the mood of the nation and state is conducive and funding constraints compel the government to entertain new initiatives. Whatever the challenges, whatever the risks, we must seize the moment.

I wish you all well in your deliberations on the future of GCI.

The author is also Chairman, Kings College Old Boys’ Association, PPP Committee.

Culled from ''GCIOBA-1966 Set Golden Anniversary Publication, Looking Back and Looking Forward"




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