Tuesday, December 9, 2008

James Welch Grammar School


(James Welch Grammar School Emevor)

by Ogaga Onwighose

The opening on 16th February 1957 of James Welch Grammar School, Emevor represented the ultimate realization of the education programme embarked upon in Isoko land by the late Dr. James William Welch. The history portrays the leading role played by the Christian Missionaries in the development of education in the Isoko Country. However, it should be emphasized from the onset that the school would not have seen the light of day but for the personal and heroic sacrifice of teachers in Isoko land.

Moves to establish the first Grammar School in Isoko were devoid of crisis. But, in retrospect, it was a fortunate crisis as it led to the founding in one year of two instead of one Grammar Schools namely: James Welch Grammar School, Emevor and Notre Dame College Ozoro.

It is necessary in this write-up to dwell briefly on the life and work of Dr. James William Welch to appreciate why the School was named after him. The late Dr. Welch was born and bred in Sunderland, England. He was from the same parish of St.Gabriel as the Rt. Rev. Lasbray, a former Bishop on the Niger. At the age of 18 he joined the Honorable Artillery Company at the close of World War 1 (1914 – 1918). On leaving the Army, he attended Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge where he obtained his first degree. He subsequently received his theological training at Westcott House, Cambridge. In June 1924, he submitted a Diploma thesis entitled “West African Education” to Durham University. In October of the same year, he arrived in the Isoko country to put into practice what he had written four months earlier. In addition to his own ideas, he was to work within the framework of the New Education Ordinance and code introduced on 26th May 1926 which limited the educational work of Christian missionaries to the establishment of primary schools.

By 1929, only two primary schools (one at Ozoro and the other at Uwherun) had been effectively established and only one teacher, the late Rev. Samuel Efeturi, had the Grade 11 Teachers certificate.

The greatest problems that confronted Dr. Welch were those of teachers to man the Schools, money to establish schools and the language to be used as the medium of instruction. He tackled the manpower problem by beginning to run in 1930, a 10weeeks teacher training courses at Oleh. His intention was to deploy the products of the course, the forerunner of our present day teacher training crash programmes, to man the schools he was to open the following year at Ozoro, Aviara, Uzere, Ikpidiama, Iluelogbo, Edhecie, Ivrogbo, Emevor, Oleh, Irri, Bethel, Olomoro, Ellu, Emede, Orie, Igbuku and Igbide.
He got the natives involved by asking them to donate land for the school buildings as well as encouraging them to put up the buildings through communal effort. He set up committees comprising the natives and the teachers (Parent / Teacher Associations) to discuss and find solutions to the problems of the various Schools. His commitment was such that when the Uwherun School, for instance, no passes were being recorded in the Standard Six Leaving Certificate Examinations, Dr. Welch assumed the post of Headmaster and taught the pupils who then recorded a hundred percent pass in the examination.

We had in Dr. James William Welch the first Christian missionary in Isoko Land whose interest in education was matched by the results he produced. It is in the acknowledgement of his contribution to the growth of education in Isoko Land that the Anglican Mission decided to name the School after him.

In the early fifties, the need to have a Secondary School in Isoko land had begun to be
felt. Besides the fact that the work of Dr. Welch at the primary school level had ensure
the provision of Secondary School materials in sufficient number, the establishment a
few years before, of Urhobo College Effurun, by the Urhobo Progressive Union impelled
the Isoko into working towards the establishment of a Secondary School in their own locality. Thus in 1953 a general meeting of all Isoko was called at Oleh to deliberate on the issue of establishing a Secondary Scholl. The proprietor of the school was to be a Native Authority based at Oleh but it was agreed that CMS should manage the proposed school on behalf of the native Authority. Two committees, one on Finance and the other on Land Acquisition, were constituted. An annual education levy of four shillings per taxable adult was later approved to be collected over the ten year period 1954 – 1964. The committee on Land acquisition recommended Ozoro, Oleh, Ofagbe or Ada with the proviso that the land must be given out free of charge.

In order to make progress in the matter of establishing the school, a Board of Governors was appointed under the chairmanship of the Native Authority. For an Understanding of subsequent developments, it is necessary to mention here that Ovie Egware was the traditional ruler of Ozoro, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Mission in Isoko. Thus at a meeting of the Native Authority Council on 17th April 1956, an earlier proposal that the C.M.S should manage the proposed School was set aside in favour of the R.C.M. that offered the sum of £2,200 as their contribution towards the establishment of the Grammar School, Ozoro was accepted as the site for the school. The R.C.M in their capacity as managers of the school would provide the principal and two-third of the teachers while the C.M.S was to provide one-third of the teaching staff.

These decisions angered the CMS who rejected them on the grounds that they had better credentials to run the school since they had a preponderance of schools and trained teachers compared with the RCM. A meeting of the CMS was thus called for 5th May 1956 at Bethel . At the meeting, the CMS decided to build their own school and to this end a levy was to be imposed on all Christians of Anglican persuasion in Isoko. A planning committee was set up for this purpose. At the same time a Building Committee with Rev. W.C. Mcbay as chairman was set up.

Application forms for the establishment of a new school were collected from Ibadan by Mr. M.A. Marioghae who together with Rev. Canon F.M.E. Vese signed the completed forms on behalf of the C.M.S to establish community in Isoko. In August 1956 approval was given for CMS to establish a Secondary to be located at Emevor. At the time this approval was given, the CMS had not collected any reasonable money towards the buildings for the school. Mr. M. Marioghae, who was the supervisor in charge of teacher’s salaries, noted that the teachers monthly salary came up to £4,000 and that was the amount of money required for the school to off. He therefore summoned a meeting of all CMS headmasters and pleaded with them to give up their salary for September 1956 to enable the school to take off. It was this singular act of sacrifice on the part of the teachers that paved the way for the establishment of James Welch Grammar School.. Thereafter, the teachers contributed 50% of one month’s salary in 1957 and 1958. The stage was set and church members, charity organizations, teachers in Ndokwa and Urhobo areas as well as Isoko State Unions in major cities were mobilized to donate towards the school. Archdeacon G.P. Bernard made a personal donation of £1,000.

The pace at which the CMS moved naturally embarrassed the pro- R.C.M group. The R.C.M with the concurrence of Ovie Egware,11, formally applied for the original Isoko Grammar School and later in 1956 approval was given for the establishment of the school named Notre Dame College, Ozoro.

James Welch Grammar School was to take off in 1957. The man who was appointed Principal, one Mr. Ogbalu, was apparently not encouraged during his maiden visit by the near virgin state of the school site. He did not take up the appointment and so Mr. M.A. Marioghae was left alone to combine the work of Principal and teacher for the first eight weeks. The position of Principal was later taken up by the very Rev. A.W Bovi who until then was the Principal of St Michael’s College Oleh.

When the first set of students reported at school in January 1957, the building had not been completed. The result of this was that a block of the Emevor Primary School, some 2 kilometres away from the School site served as the hostel for the first few weeks. At the School site the immediate task was that of creating a living space – a task that involved daily intensive manual labour on the part of the students with their teacher, Mr. Marioghae, always in the lead.

In academics, the school had a good start with a crop of very dedicated teachers. The Very Rev. Bovi and Mr. Marioghae between them taught all the subjects in a normal school curriculum. Special mention must be made of their determination to teach Science even when all that could pass for a science labouratory were a few test tubes and beakers in a carton. The effort paid off, a beginning however modest was made and although the pioneer students were only able to offer General Science at School Certificate in 1961 they have among them today a medical doctor.

The Foundation laid by the pair of Bovi and Marioghae was consolidated by Mr. J.Q.S Phillips who took over the headship of the School in 1958. His seven year principalship could rightly be described as the Golden Age of James Welch Grammar. His wife Dr. Anne Phillips, a medical doctor, established within the school premises a clinic which catered not only for students but for the entire Isoko Community.
The School Motto is NISI DOMINUS (Except the Lord), an apt choice in many ways not least of which is the miraculous way God piloted the ship of the C.M.S Mission after the shock decision of the council in 1956.

I wish to express my profound gratitude to Chief J.E Uyeri, for all the information collected from his M.A Thesis titled “The Development of Education in Isoko Division 1910 – 1960”. To Rev. Canon F.M.E Vese for making available, files relating to the establishment of James Welch Grammar School. To Mr. M.A Marioghae, for granting me an invaluable interview. And to Mr.J.A.Odhegba the first Senior Prefect for reading the original draft and to a host of others I cannot mention.

James Welch Grammar School Emevor was built on a strong Christian foundation. The idea was conceived by the Isoko people of Delta State Nigeria, but the take off was activated by the C.M.S and the actualization was the handiwork of teachers and all Christians of goodwill in Isoko and parts of Urhoboland who took over the challenge.

The result is the production of several distinguished young men of high integrity who have made their mark in all works of life amongst who are captains of industries, generals in the armed forces, top brass in the clergy, politics and the civil service in different parts of the world. To God be the glory.