Principal of Whitesands School, Lekki, Dr. Lorenzo David, who recently marked his 30 years of stay in Nigeria, told Funmi Ogundare why parents should not consider the option of sending their children to boarding schools and why sex education should be taught at home, among other issues
Tell us about the school and your achievements since inception?
Whitesands School is a project of Ikota Educational Foundation (IEF), established in October 2000. It is quite unlike any other school that you find having one proprietor. It is a foundation that is non-government and not for profit, which means we collect fees quite alright to be able to run the school, but then any surplus that we generate is not pocketed by the trustees who constitute the foundation.
Our educational model is based on the set of principles that ensures an adequate training to each student, both at school and in the family. At the request of IEF, the Prelature of Opus Dei, an institution of the Catholic Church, provides spiritual and doctrinal formation to the students, staff and parents of the school without assuming its legal or moral responsibilities.
The foundation has a constitution covered by the Nigerian laws. Its aim is to promote education, social welfare and character formation and the school is the first project of the foundation. I have been principal of the school for only two years, but I have been here from the beginning 12 years ago as a founding director.
In a world of moral decadence and erosion of family values, what is the role of your school in re-inventing the essence of family values?
Whitesands school is a family school because we promote family values of the Opus Dei where love, freedom, responsibility should be preached. In the last two years, I have been talking to the fathers one-on-one about the adolescent issues that their children are facing.
I tell them the importance of getting close to the boys and talking about sex. In this school, we do not teach sex education because it is a very sticky topic that cannot be taught in the classroom. It is wrong as far as we are concerned. We teach Biology. Sex education should be taught at home by parents.
The school curriculum may have it, but it is very bad. What is sex education about? Using condoms? From the beginning you have already condemned the children by teaching them such in schools. It is wrong. It is part of human activities. It is sacred. You do not play it the way the World Health Organisation (WHO) assumes because it is for man and woman who are married and want to have children. We teach them Biology and invite the fathers one-on-one and tell them to teach their children that.
These days many parents send their children to boarding schools, what is your view about this?
Boarding destroys the family fabric; it does violence to the child. There is no reason for removing the child from the family as far as I am concerned.
That is why Whitesands is a day school set on family values. Parents who send their children to boarding schools at the adolescent stage of the child are actually gambling their future in the sense that the character formation of the child has to come from home.
In boarding schools, the child grows up under the care of house masters. It is antiquated. Boarding schools used to be good for the country in the 60s and 70s when schools were few and far between. When you look around how many secondary school students in Germany are in boarding schools? How many in the US, Brazil, China and Japan? You don’t find boarding schools there. You only find boarding schools in Ghana, Nigeria and UK, it is an invention of the British. The first phase of a child is from age 0 to 18 years when his character has crystallised, which is what I use to tell parents and once you have a crystal, you cannot change it.
The only way to change it is to break it. Unfortunately, this is what happens to children whose character was formed badly and then you see delinquency. Children should grow up at home, close to the parents and under their watchful eyes. So here the boys go from home every day.
We tell the parents that it is important that they see their children every day. You are the person who loves your child the most, nobody can claim that. Even if the principal says I love your child as much as you love him, it cannot happen. The only thing we can do is to be effective professionals by playing our roles.
How has it been living in Nigeria for 30 years and what have you inject into the school as its principal?
I like Nigeria and that is why I am here. I have always been involved in education projects. As a member of the Opus Dei, I got interested in their projects and volunteered to come to Nigeria. I came as a student of University of Ibadan. I did my PhD here and was also involved in the promotion of Irawo Education Centre in Ibadan. Here in Whitesands, the challenge is to run the school well and implement our educational philosophy. It is the unique part of our school and getting the best teachers. What makes our school different from others is our philosophy. The challenges here are basically regulation and regulators cannot cope with our pace. Another thing is changing policies in the sector.
How often does the school train its teachers?
Whitesands trains its teachers very often such that every break-time, we have series of seminars and workshops. We train and re-train them and send them abroad for courses. We recently sent two teachers to Spain for a nine-month master’s programme and also at the Lagos Business School (LBS) for courses. We have substantial amount in our budget dedicated for staff training.
What is your view about the recent review of the basic education curriculum by the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC)?
There is need for schools to reduce the content overload. In the last management meeting, we identified about six or seven subjects. So even if the council implemented it, it is already in line with the law. In our school, the students don’t have problems with academics, even if they do; we have been able to push them ahead. What is so unique about
Whitesands is that we are able to lift even the average students to above average level and to achieve excellence. We move our students from 50 and 75 to 80 per cent, which I think is a lot of merit on our part. The average student at the end of the day, end up in universities abroad.
How can we improve the standard of education in Nigeria?
The standard is dependent on three things; funding and material resources, as well as philosophy of the school. With the funding, you will have the material resources, but these alone do not make a good school.
Here we have a strong philosophy that we keep on repeating to the teachers. We talk to them and they talk differently because they understand the philosophy, we are driven by it. For all our operations and procedures here, rules and regulations are about the philosophy of the school. What makes the school what it is, is about material and human resources.
The human resources plug into our educational philosophy. The few schools that have the material resources do not paint the pictures well. Other schools try to copy Whitesands, but the difficult thing is the educational philosophy that we have is something we learnt from the spirit of Opus Dei. In Nigeria you find 419ers who have degrees. Having a degree does not mean you are educated.
Having a degree is just to have a piece of paper. Having education as they say is what you have left when you have lost everything. What is left or what stands out is your character, which will determine whether you are educated or not.