In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, the Director of Meadow Hall Group, Mrs. Kehinde Nwani, stressed that the 500,000 teachers to be employed by the federal government must be exposed to good quality, effective training on 21st century best practices and modern approaches to teaching, among other issues. Excerpts:
When was Meadow Hall established and why?
Meadow Hall started in July 2002 as a summer school in Lekki Phase One with 24 children. By September of the same year, the first academic session commenced with 60 children, six well-experienced teachers and six teaching assistants. In January 2007, the school moved to its permanent site at Lekki-Epe Expressway. We also have another site in Ikoyi.
I have a passion for children and education; I love to learn and teach people. My passion for education was the driving force for starting the school. By the grace of God, the school has grown over the years and evolved into an educational group with five subsidiaries: Meadow Hall Education, Spring Meadow Edutainment, Meadow Hall Consult, Meadow Hall Branchise and Meadow Hall Foundation.
Our focus is to groom children who will fulfil their highest potential in life by exposing them to 21st century best practices, and challenging them to be critical thinkers.
How often do you train your teachers?
Our teachers are trained regularly and in various ways. We have weekly inset meetings where training takes place, they also meet in collaborative sets periodically to discuss and find solutions to real time challenges they are facing through learning and reflection.
In addition, teachers also take part in our robust mentoring and coaching programme. When I started the school about 15 years ago, I realised that a lot of teachers did not fully appreciate the importance of continuous professional development. Many were satisfied with their initial teacher training and failed to understand the importance of updating their knowledge and keeping abreast of 21st century best practice. They did not realise that the 21st century definition of a professional is not ‘an expert’ but ‘a learner’ – someone ready to learn, unlearn and relearn. The process of learning is without any foreseeable end. It is ongoing and lifelong.
In order to bridge this gap we started our education consulting firm- Meadow Hall Consult which caters to the training needs of heads of schools, teachers and administrators. We also have a finishing school for Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs).
What has been the impact of the training on the school and the education sector?
Meadow Hall is a learning organisation where everyone is constantly learning and improving their practice. For instance, we have action learning sets, a form of ‘problem-based learning’ which helps teachers collaborate and develop strategies to solve various work challenges they encounter. This encourages teaching practitioners find tailor-made solutions to the issues relating to their practice. In effect their leadership skills are being developed and they take charge of situations instead of sitting back, waiting to be told what to do.
Most of our teachers also facilitate courses at our consult, which has a positive impact on their practice. Most of our teachers have become seasoned trainers through this avenue. When you know something and you teach it, you become better at it. Indeed by training teachers across the nation, we are better positioned to positively influence the education system. We are also guaranteed to reach out to more children with every teacher trained through our consult.
Are you of the view that public school teachers are better than those in private schools?
I do not believe that is correct and indeed there is no competition. Whether in the public or private sector, the important thing is that teachers must continually update their knowledge and engage in continuous professional development.
What programmes do you have in your school to inspire creativity in the children?
At Meadow Hall, creativity is one of our core values and we recognise that children are intelligent in different ways. The truth is that not all children are going to be mathematicians and physicists. Some of them have been blessed with skills in football, athletics, music, art etc.
We realised that two or three days of extra-curricular activities were not sufficient in honing the skills of the children. This inspired the establishment of Spring Meadow Edutainment (SME) which focuses on non-academic areas such as music, arts, sports and technology. SME is an edutainment company designed to inspire and nurture creativity in children as well as create avenues where they can have fun, while still learning. Children develop lifelong skills in their various areas of interest (talents) as well as build social and interpersonal skills.
There are nine centres under Spring Meadow Edutainment; music academy, language school where they can learn Nigerian languages, as well as French and Mandarin. We also have a book cafe which helps create reading culture in the children and encourage them to be authors. The learning centre and dance school, arts centre, special education needs centre which is for children who have learning or medical challenges such as autism, Down’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) etc.
We also have a skills acquisition centre where skills such as gardening, cooking, sewing etc are taught. In addition, we organise fairs, camps excursions, trips and tours for students. All these have far-reaching effects on the children that go beyond the knowledge of core subjects. (Maths, English and Science).
What efforts have you made to ensure that the children imbibe Nigerian culture?
I am very passionate about Nigeria and I believe that our children should be encouraged to share in that passion. If they go abroad to further their education, they should be encouraged to come back home and contribute their quota to the development of this country. In any case if our educational standard is high and the children have access to 21st century best practices, they wouldn’t have to go abroad.
Culture is very important to me. At Meadow Hall we are raising ‘glocal’ children, children who know who they are, are proud of the culture and reflect the culture (are respectful and have values). These children should be able to go anywhere in the world and hold their own, be innovative and creative without losing the essence of who they are. This is something we are very particular about.
How does the school give back to the society?
We run various CSR initiatives through our foundation. A lot of our children at Meadow Hall are privileged and are being prepared for leadership in Nigeria through the quality of education they are receiving in our school, such as our unequivocal focus on developing leadership, entrepreneurship and technology skills. But the question is what happens to the children in public schools who do not have these opportunities?
We must remember that the children from our public schools are equally future leaders. The irony is that the children of the elite who travel abroad to school often don’t want to come back home. So then you will find that the children in our public schools who have not been properly educated are the ones that will grow up and become the president or senators in this country.
That was why we set up the foundation. We cater for the education needs of less-privileged children and teachers too in the public schools. We have a school adoption programme which is focused on partnering the government to upgrade public schools; teaching them 21st century best practices, providing teaching aids and resources and other necessary infrastructure. In 2014 we adopted Ilasan Primary School and have been able to contribute significantly to the development of the school. For example, we constructed a perimeter fence and gate because they were always harassed by street urchins who would come in and vandalise the school’s facilities.
Even more importantly we have been able to provide additional support for the teaching and learning at Ilasan, ensuring that it aligns with international best practices and adequately prepares the children for the 21st century market place.
What challenges do you encounter as a school?
Getting new staff to understand and run with the vision is usually a challenge, though it can be overcome by constantly sharing and casting the vision. However, it is something that anyone who wants to set-up a school is likely to encounter. Quality of graduates would be another challenge but again training and re-training can fix that to a very large extent. Managing people (we have 350 members of staff) can also be daunting though I choose to see it as a blessing as in some way I am doing something to help the nation I love so much. I deeply appreciate my staff because they play a pivotal role in the fulfilment of the vision.
An individual is called but you cannot do the work alone. So it is important to maintain a healthy and pleasant work environment and appreciate your workers. Other challenges include multiple taxes and high interest rate on loans.
What is your outlook for education in 2016?
I must commend the federal government, I can see a government that is passionate about education and understands the significant role it plays in societal development. The initiative to employ 500,000 teachers is laudable in addition to a larger budgetary allocation being given to education compared to previous budgets.
However, we must implement the idea of employing 500,000 teachers with great care. I am of the opinion that the teachers should enroll for postgraduate courses in education (for the non-education graduates). In addition, there must be a plan for ‘effective’ continuous professional development and mentoring programme for all of them. They should be exposed to a series of good quality, effective training on 21st century best practices and modern approaches to teaching before they are allowed into the classroom. This must then be followed up with continuous professional development and mentoring programmes.
The security of the children in the public schools to which these teachers will be deployed must also be considered carefully. It is of utmost importance. In developed countries, there is what is called Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), you must get a clearance from them before you can work with children, but we don’t have that in Nigeria. So if we employ 500,000 graduates, how do we ensure the safety of our children? It goes beyond just increasing the workforce, what kind of checks will the government put in place? How are they going to sieve out the bad eggs? There are paedophiles and people who molest children in every society. The safety of the children must be paramount. Another point to be considered is how we get the best brains to work in the education sector. We must remember that these teachers are grooming the future leaders of the nation. Are we employing 500,000 people who are merely using education as a stop gap? Are they intelligent enough to be teachers? Teachers are highly intelligent people. We need first class brains in the education sector.
We are already off to a good start but we need to implement this initiative properly to ensure that the end will justify the means.