In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, the Chairman, Pace Setters Group of Schools, Kenneth Imasuangbon said rather than focus on the oil and gas industry, the university system in the country must be well taken care of, teachers properly remunerated and emphasis must be placed on merit so as to lift education out of the doldrums
Since the establishment of this school, how have you been surviving with the stiff competition among schools in Abuja?
We have been setting the pace for others to follow, like our name, we live our name and set the pace, we set the lead and we are ahead of others both in academics and others copy what we do, in and outside the country and they learn from us. We are guided by that, even our children must show good example. You must do good always so that others can follow. That is why I challenge our leaders that they must lead well because good character counts.
In Pacesetters, you must have good character which counts in academics, social activities, religion, self esteem, confidence and in totality. In terms of standards, it is second to none. We have our laboratories , children have access to facilities, computers and Internet services. We have six schools located in four major areas in Abuja; Gwarimpa, Wuse, Wuye and Gusape extension. So if you are in Abuja metropolis, when you talk about education in Abuja , it is Pacesetters. What the school is doing to reshape and redefine academic landscape in Abuja. I must say in those days, 10 to 15 years down the line, Lagos used to lead, but today I can say that Abuja schools are the first among equals in Nigeria and by extension focused and disciplined.
As an educationist, what do you think is the problem with Nigerian educational system and the way out?
I would say that our products from Nigerian universities these days are half-baked, and you canâ€™t give what you donâ€™t have. Why are they half-baked? We need to go back to the roots and take care of our university system. Firstly, teachers should be well remunerated, we need to equip our laboratories and we need to emphasise on merit and not on who you know so that the students within the academic system, will study hard. To source for good teachers is very hard these days because most of the people that are out there are half-baked.
So we need to go back to the tertiary institution and emphasise on hardwork rather than who you know to get a job. It helps because when the students find themselves outside, they will be able to perform well when they have been equipped by the system. The way forward for the country is not bombs, oil or stolen money, but the education we are able to give. If we have a country whose people are well educated, everybody will know his rights. There will not be hate, bias or suspicion, what we need is love, rule of law, fear of God and development of the country. Education must take the highest budget and health . I donâ€™t believe that the military should have the highest budget, we should educate our children rather than using the money to buy bombs. Education must be a priority.
As a researcher, are you into a new discovery and what are you working on at the moment?
I am working on changing the lifestyle of Africans especially Nigerians. We lack knowledge on health issues and challenges. A lot of people slump and die not because they were terribly sick but because of negligence by common things like the food they have been eating, the lack of appropriate exercise and absence of locally available things they should have eaten to detoxify their body. For instance, lemon and water detoxify and people donâ€™t know.
Do you incorporate this into your school curriculum?
Yes we do. Even in the boarding school for the secondary school, there is no meal without adding vegetable or fruit. Even though our children find it difficult to eat it because they werenâ€™t brought up with it, we emphasise it and also orientate them on the importance of balanced diet to their body system.
As a successful entrepreneur, what influenced your decision to establish Pacesetter group of schools?
It is basically because of the love for the country Nigeria and I was also born into it. In most schools you find only one partner involved but in the case of Pacesetter schools, it has been my wife and I all the way. The school started about 20 years ago with the aims and objectives of giving back to the society. It started with Pacesetter Academy at Wuse. We later floated another arm in Gwarinpa, then Pacesetter College in Wuye and another Pacesetter Academy in Gwarinpa all in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
There seems to be more emphasis on certification rather than entreprenueral skills, what is your view on this?
The two are needed, you canâ€™t suppress one for the other. The academic ability should be able to inspire and spread the creative ability. The creative ability in action is what people need to be able to put food on the table ultimately . For instance, if you are doctor, you must know Mathematics, Algebra and Calculus. You must know Pythagoras Theorem, if you know these, it is not enough. The real creativity is in trying to dissect what the issues are medically. So the two can go pari parsu .
What were your challenges over the years and how were you able to surmount them?
In the past, we had challenges of trying to acquire land, finance and banks giving us loans without the necessary collateral. But education is not actually profit making venture. It is basically for societal benefits. If the country must grow, we must have a dream for ourselves and generation. We need education as the foundation, as the pillar. Even America, Russian, China and Japan, are still emphasising on education. Education is the bedrock and the key , the total thing needed for the society to grow. God has always helped us with challenges . Our determination to surmount those challenges has been our top focus. We are determined, the teachers and parents are the best. The problems that come, we are able to surmount them that is what makes us.
There seems to be a disparity between the education of the rich and that of the poor, how do you think we can bridge the gap?
The gap between the rich and the poor in a society like ours, is like the ocean; the Pacific and the Atlantic, but even between them, there is a meeting point and that is what we are doing. As a test case in Pacesetters, we charge fees but 45 to 50 percent of the children are on scholarship . For instance, if you are in the military, you are entitled to 20 to 50 percent discount to encourage the service men for a job well done for the country. Whether you are in the police, navy, or army it does not matter.
If you lose either a father or mother when you are in pacesetters, you are entitled to scholarship . If you are coming in to the school and you are exceptionally good , the admission committee will look at it and they will give you admission , you get a scholarship and tuition is free . For pacesetters, money is not our primary motive , most times we make losses rather than profit. But at the end of the day, both the poor and the rich have succor in pacesetters and they are treated equally. If you are from poor home but brilliant, you have a role to play in the school.
How are you able to balance it?
It is difficult , it is the mercy of God. The principal and my wife share in the vision. It is collective thing .
How have you been able to oversee six schools at the same time and still keep the standard?
Honestly, I thank God for divine wisdom, direction and strength, but I also thank God for the passion and energy as well as ideas that are working for us. I make one contribution here and there which I consider the icing on the cake. I have been very versatile, I do education and also do politics very well. At the very first day we had 32 students and over the past decades we have had over 1,000 students.
What do you think makes Pacesetters tick?
It is the combination of the total child academically, socially and morally. Because we donâ€™t want to produce robots that all they do is only reading but donâ€™t know how to express themselves. If you see a typical Pacesetters, that child is very confident, has a strong self esteem and is academically very enlightened. We emphasise that they can’t be less, they have to set the pace in these three spheres; academically, socially and morally. We make sure that we are above standard in everything we do. When you walk into any Pacesetters classroom you will be excited and perceive may be you are abroad.
I have had opportunity to teach in classrooms in the US, Pacesetters classrooms are better. We used a lot of teaching aids, learning charts. If you enter into any classrooms you are already educated. The teachers are also encouraged to walk closely with students. We are into all kinds of sports such as football, basket ball, volley ball. Like I said, exercise is next to health. We also get involved in childrenâ€™s match past and we donâ€™t go beyond third position. So students have it inside of them that they can’t be less than Pacesetters, stepping in the leads and that helps the work to be easier and the children want to key into that name. We have several of our students all over the world excelling. We have them in the UK, US and in Nigeria. We have them in all the best and top schools all over the world.
How would you rate your studentsâ€™ performance?
To start with, the name pacesetters is a very strong name and it means stepping in the lead for others to follow which is all encompassing; academically, socially and morally. That has been our greatest strength. We draw our strength from the name of the school. We work on that. academically, we must excel. So we do research to excel academically and God has been helping us. Most of the competitions and awards our students go for in the FCT, our students come back with prizes. They went for a Mathematics competition that involved over 80 Schools in FCT, and Pacesetter missed it by one point and came second in the overall. Also, they went for an MTN essay competition and came third overall in the North and the school won a bus. We are doing a great job at Pacesetters. We try to balance a child not only in academics but socially and morally.
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â€˜Amendment of the TETfund Act â€™ll Allow Private Varsities to Benefitâ€™
A Professor of Law at Kogi State University, Anyigba, Allswell Osini Muzan explained to Funmi Ogundare why there has to be a statutory amendment of the Act that sets up The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) so that private universities in the country can be included in the list of beneficiaries.
The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) was established by an Act of the National Assembly in June 2011. The Act replaced the Education Tax Fund Act Cap. E4 laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and Education Tax Fund (Amendment) Act No 17, 2003.
The Fund was set up to administer and disburse education tax collections to the Federal and State tertiary educational institutions in Nigeria. However, private universities in Nigeria are being denied access to the much-needed fund, as a Professor of Law at Kogi State University, Anyigba, Allswell Osini Muzan said there is a need for statutory amendment of the Act that sets up the fund so as to allow private universities in the country to benefit.
According to him, â€œthose private tertiary institutions in Nigeria which are not geared solely, mainly or substantially for the making of profit should be allowed to benefit from TET Fund, but, the condition of a not-for-profit status should be absolute and non-negotiable.
â€œAs it stands now, private institutions are not within the contemplation of the TET Fund Act. There are, indeed, a handful of private tertiary institutions which are committed to high standards and quality education without regard to the profit motif. I think these category of institutions should be encouraged to provide the quality human resources that a great nation can be built upon.â€
On his assessment of the performance of the Fund so far, the founding Dean of the Faculty of Law of the university said, â€œfrom my observation of the TETfund interventions, I think it is a success story. Incidentally, you would recall that TETfund is the brain-child of ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities in Nigeria). It is a brilliant idea and I hope the management of the fund will continue to maintain the strides and successes that have been recorded so far. I have never met any of the previous or present chief executives of the fund and so, my opinion is based on my observation of the projects â€˜interventionsâ€™ in my university and in those that I have visited.
â€œI must commend the management of the TETfund to remain consistent with their policy and practice of requiring the recipient institution to conspicuously and properly label the projects as TETfund funded or supported. That way the discerning public can see the achievements of the Fund and the beneficiary institution will have no recourse or justification to divert it to other uses- no matter how pressing or urgent. Indeed, TETfund is a success story and it is worthy of emulation by other laudable government program, executors, and implementers.â€
Rating Kogi State University, Muzan said, â€œKogi State University is one of the best state owned universities in Nigeria. All the courses (better programmes) in the several departments and faculties of the university are accredited by the Nigeria Universities Commission (NUC) and the relevant professional bodies. The Faculty of Law is one of the best in the nation. During my deanship of the Faculty of Law, we were rated the best in Nigeria. That was in 2007 and we were the first state owned faculty of Law to be so rated in the history of Nigeria. It has maintained that rating to date.â€