The school's main entrance

With a reputation as one of the finest institutions in the country offering primary and secondary education, Mayflower School at 60 has found a way to retain the core values and principles entrenched by its founders, writes Solomon Elusoji

From the front gate, a road stretches upward, opening up the vast grounds. The grounds are idyllic, a lot of the structures have seen better years and they exude the carbon dioxide of history. There are students, dressed in blue and red check uniforms, huddled in scattered groups, engaging in one activity or the other. It’s a Saturday, well past breakfast time, and this is Mayflower School, nestled in the haven of Ikenne, Ogun State.

Our destination, however, is Mayflower Private School. In 1976, the year Ogun State was founded, the government took over the administration of several private schools, including Mayflower, and turned them to public schools. In 2009, a process was begun to return the schools to their private owners. However, the Mayflower transition is yet to be completed. For now, the school is split into two: one run privately by Corin Solarin, and the other by the government.

A snaky, long path through the expansive Mayflower Public School leads us to the gates of the private section. Here, there is an abundance of trees, security checks, and more students milling around, engaging in Saturday play. The students are courteous and helpful, as they graphically provide instructions on locating the proprietor’s abode.
The path to the proprietor’s abode is furnished with the sights and sounds of nature. The dusty track is flanked by tamed greens; birds chirp in the distance and the world is at peace.

The daughter of maverick educator and activist, late Dr. Tai Solarin, Corin Solarin is an impressive woman in her sixties. She is direct and gracious when she finds us at her courtyard, and during the short interview in her office, she offers beautiful insights into Mayflower’s enviable history, the joy of being 60 and goals for the future, among other things.

Mayflower School was founded by Dr. Tai Solarin in January 27, 1956. It was named after the historical Mayflower ship that brought the first batch of pilgrims to the United States. Over the years, the school has garnered an enviable reputation as one of the finest institutions in the country offering primary and secondary education. This is due, largely, to Dr. Solarin’s insistence on an educational philosophy grounded in self-reliance, self-sacrifice, public service and physical toughness. Recently, Mayflower clocked 60.

“It’s a big celebration for us because, as at date, we have graduated about 25,000 students and our Ex-Mays (School’s alumni) are among the elites in the country; they’ve achieved very well, most especially in the fields of medicine, science and engineering.,” Corin tells us. “We have a bent towards producing academicians, technocrats. We haven’t produced that many politicians. We are less a political school but we have produced our own fair share of lawyers as well.”

On what has not changed over the course of 60 years, Corin says the school’s core values have remained intact.
“I would say that the driving force of Mayflower has not changed,” she says. “And that driving force is excellence in education, independence and discipline among students. We are not a school with marble halls or golden buildings; we are a school that has inculcated sound academic values and sound moral values in our students, right from the beginning.”

But what has changed for Corin, who is the last remaining member of the Solarin family who was alive when the school was founded in 1956, is the chasm between the school’s administration. Having lived in the United States for most of her life, she came back to the country in 2009 to oversee the transition of Mayflower from public to private ownership. But that transition is yet to be completed. Completing that transition, however, is Corin’s most urgent goal for the school.

“People have always said when will there be a Mayflower University,” she tells us, “but I think that’s a little premature. What I would like to see is a complete transition into private ownership, so that the government can face the many schools that are government-owned. Of course, in the future we don’t rule out having a Mayflower University. It may not necessarily be on the same ground as this school, but definitely we can look into providing education in the tertiary sector. But I think, for now, we just have to focus on ensuring that the school returns to private ownership, is under one management and can really begin to progress in the way that the governor would love us to progress.

“I am sure that when the Governor and the Ministry of Education are ready to cede the rest of the school to private ownership, they will. The governor is a man of action; he’s a man of his words and of principles, and I have no doubts that he will do so in the near future.”

After assuming leadership of the private section of the school in 2009, Corin’s biggest challenge has been how to manage the school’s limited resources.

“Traditionally, Mayflower is not a school that charges a lot of school fees,” she says. “My parents, Dr. Tai Solarin and Mrs. Sheila Solarin always wanted the school to be a school that was affordable to the working class and the middle class. So we are not a school for the elite. We’ve always depended heavily on donors, both from abroad and within Nigeria, to sustain scholarships for children and to assist with the maintenance of infrastructure. Just this week, we received a very generous donation from the 1997 set of Ex-Mays. They are working on a complete dormitory.

That’s just one class. And we get a lot of requests, both from individuals and organisations. If we were to charge parents a very large amount then we would not be able to offer this educational service to the working class or the middle class. And as it is, Mayflower continues the tradition of offering many scholarships; we sponsor many children, right from nursery and primary section, all the way through SS3, and in fact we continue to sponsor many of them until they finish their university.”

Mayflower is credited with producing the first national female Chemical Engineer, Mrs. Modupe Kazeem, and Corin tells us that the school is not relenting on its efforts to leverage on modern technology to produce more Modupes.
“No school can turn its back on technology; you have to remain current, you have to educate your students, so that they can find jobs in the real world,” she tells us. “And the real world is experiencing rapidly increasing changes due to technology, so your students have to be able to deal with that reality, no matter what field they’re going into. So, we have computers on ground, we have computer trainings; we are doing our best to ensure that when our students go on to tertiary institutions, they are able to deal with the real world. And this is along with the long tradition of providing Mayflower students with sound training in non-academic areas, such as agriculture, electrical science, which in fact are now things that are incorporated into the academic curriculum, from the Ministry.”

However, she thinks that the standard of Nigerian education is falling because the government is not allocating enough resources towards the sector. The United Nations Education and Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) suggest that countries ought to channel at least 26 per cent of their national budgets to education. That hasn’t happened in Nigeria.

“We need to spend money on education because the most important asset that Nigeria has is not oil but human capital,” Corine says. “And if we neglect human capital and we don’t educate our populace, we will fall behind in the world market. I would like to see the government spend more on education. They are doing well, but we still need to spend more on education, because nothing is more important than education.”

Corin’s philosophy of education, obviously, was largely influenced by her parents. When she talked about her life with them, it is done with extra gusto.

“Living with papa and mama was a wonderful experience, especially as a female,” she says. “Many women who went to Mayflower School have recounted to me, and I feel the same way, that female Ex-Mays are very independent. We were trained by a very independent man and woman, so anywhere we go in the world, it’s almost like you can recognise another Ex-May, based on the way we are.

“My father was a very unusual man. He was a man who championed people selling ogogoro. This is somebody who does not drink. He never touched alcohol in his life. But he became sort of the patron saint of the ogogoro sellers because he said ‘why are we importing Johnny Walker from London and people are making the same thing in Nigeria’. So, he had many friends in the ogogoro industry. I remember that as a small child I would follow him to the bush, to go to where they were making the ogogoro. And he was received very well there, because he took their matter to court. And even though he didn’t drink ogogoro, he defended their rights to produce it.

“He was a very interesting and hard-working man to live with. This was somebody who literally trained thousands of people. So many people used to live with him. Although he only had two biological children, he had thousands of people who claim him as their father. But he was a very strict disciplinarian.”

Corin shows us a picture of Dr. Tai Solarin in his trademark khaki and tells us the story behind the outfit.
He had gone to China and met free education through secondary school. When he came back to Nigeria, he said until there is free education for both primary and secondary levels, he’s going to dress in a particular khaki.
“And, believe me or not, they buried him wearing that khaki,” Corin says. “I was very blessed to have been raised and trained by him.”