Adegbola: Education Policies, Teachers must be Practical in Approach

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Mrs. Funsho Adegbola is the Director, The Vale College, Ibadan. She explained to Funmi Ogundare why the country must have a more practical approach to policies on education through inputs from people that are actually running the system and that teachers must be above board to be recognised, among other issues. Excerpts

The Vale College recently moved to its permanent site since its establishment 23 years ago, how has it been managing the college?
The college is the result of a dream given by God to raise men and women who will be knowledgeable and of service to their community. When I came back to Nigeria after my university education abroad in 1986 for my Law school, I volunteered to teach in a school in Molete, Ibadan and a lot of people were complaining about the standard of education. I knew I had a passion for young people especially teenagers. In 1986-87, God gave me the vision to start the college. But then I wasn’t so sure about it, but because I grew up within a family that invests a lot in education. When I was growing up, I believed I was going to succeed, my parents believed in me and education.

They believe that if you give your child the best education, he will be able to look after him/herself. I thank God that they really invested in me. In 1994, I founded The Vale College. Now 23 years on, when I look back, I always thank God. It has not been an easy road but all along the path, God has been there all the way. I will say that I am a beneficiary of God’s grace. I started the school as a 33-year-old; I didn’t start with a nursery school. I didn’t start it because of my children who were still young then, but God sent dream helpers all along the path of my life. The first person I shared my dreams with was my late brother; Babatunde Ige who passed on in his sleep in 1993, he never saw the physical manifestation of the college, he had died before we started and that is why I do a scholarship in his memory every year. After God, the greatest benefactors to me were my parents.

My father gave me the seed capital to start the school, while my mother gave me her own building to start. That was a huge sacrifice, for a child who is coming out to do law to starting a school. They had faith in me and they believed it was going to succeed and supported me all the way. God has also used my staff to bless me; there are not many school owners who have the crop of dedicated teachers I have in my school who also ran with the vision. I have staff that have been with me for between 16 and 20. The average is for eight years, so I am blessed.

I also thank God for the parents, for you to entrust someone else with your child is a wholesome responsibility. We don’t take it for granted at all. I started my school with 14 students and 10 teachers and though with the first 13 students, it was a real work of faith as I didn’t have a track record but they just believed in me. That is the foundation which the college was founded and that is what we have built on. The vision of the school is that our relationship with the parents and students will be life-long. I had students who have started giving scholarships.

One of my former students is 27 years old is already giving N400,000 scholarship to a current student and he is going to be giving it every year. That for me is one of the best things that could happen. Another student also got an award from the Queen of England, she was one of the best engineers in UK. She was head girl while in school. I had a number of students who got first class degrees in Pharmacy, Law, Accounting. This year, I have students who got seven distinctions in the subjects. In the tutorial where we have A levels, I introduced a scholarship scheme in my mother’s memory which is worth N2 million. The boy who got the scholarship last year, got three distinctions in Physics, Chemistry and Biology. So when I look back, I was able to build my hostel in 2007 with my money but it took me this long to be able to grow this permanent site.

What other features make the college standout?
We treat our students as human beings and not as statistics, we know every student’s weakness, strength and their parents; and we are able to identify if any child is not doing well, we note that very early and help that child. The vison of the school is 300 students; two arms of 25 students. In a class of 16 or 18, we can meet the front runners and the weaklings. That for me is what is unique about the school. Every child is an individual, we know you. The vision of the college is not a place to dump your child, it is a place where the school, parents and the child work together. We have that synergy and it has really prospered us in the last 23 years.

Your school once had a partnership with the Bayelsa State government, what was the outcome?
A few years ago I had 24 students from Bayelsa State, it was when former President Goodluck Jonathan was Governor of the state, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) came to the school and said they want to do a scholarship scheme and when they were doing their retreat, they said instead of building schools in the south-south, it was best to send the children out of the region so that they can go and affect other children and mix with then so that they can have a clearer picture of what Nigeria is. I was very touched, they came to me and I gave them the template, they wanted to send 50 children but I told them I couldn’t take 50 because I told them I take 50 students per year.

So I gave them 24 slots so that the ones coming in will still be more. I told them that I don’t mind if they are indigents but that the ones coming must be able to compete academically. They sat for the same exam which the students are doing to come in and the government paid for everything to make them comfortable such that they will not lack. They were here for six years and I thank God, they have all finished from the university. By the time they finished form the college, Jonathan had become president and he decided that he was going to sponsor them. That is why he respected me so much and even invited me to Aso Rock, Abuja to bring the students. When he was campaigning, he actually came to my school. Those are the things that made the 23-year journey worthwhile.

What innovative activities are you embarking on to impact your immediate community?
A few years ago, I started the Bola and Atinuke Ige scholarship for pupils in public schools. The Bola Ige scholarship is for children in public primary schools in Oyo and Osun States. Every year we give a scholarship for the best boy and best girl, they do an exam and they get a scholarship for six years. It is worth N12 million for the six years. I also do the Atinuke Ige scholarship for students in public secondary schools, with the same features for the Bola Ige scholarship but will come for their A levels at the tutorial college for a period of one year, the value of that is N2 million and we have been doing that for the past five years.

How have the students fared?
They have fared very well. The foundation students are studying medicine in University of Ibadan. When I started the foundation, one of my friends told me it is a fantastic initiative and said she would like to partner with me by giving a third scholarship, that touched me because that was when I started my school. So we had to trace the girl who emerged third position to her house, by the time we got there, she had gone to sell bread and her mother had to go and look for her on the route where she sells. It is a scholarship that was given by a third person. It is not in the number of houses or buildings but about making impact. A former student who is in medical school had already started her NGO, she organises extra lessons for children in poor areas that she grew up. She and other undergraduates teach students tutorials in Maths and English in secondary schools so that they will be able to do well.

Despite global recognition, it is believed that teachers are too often undervalued and under-empowered; do you share in this view?

I think it is a personal thing. Generally I would say they are undervalued but I value teachers very much because I am a professional myself, so you have to respect them. There will be no lawyers if there are no teachers, no doctors and right from when I started the college, I knew I will never be the principal, if am not qualified to be. I have a principal and I got my team right from day one. I wasn’t cutting corners; neither was I having one teacher teach five subjects. You teach your specialist subjects. I started with 10 teachers and 14 students. That is a lot and I was so focused, I had the best teachers. First my students had to do an exam to come into the school; my teachers also do an exam to come into the school. You must start off in a professional way and have a passion for it, you also have to be clever, computer literate and be above board. The students must be able to look up to you and not look down at you. You must not be someone who must be begging someone for money. That has been my vision and it has worked for me so much so that I had to share my vision with my teachers. I had teachers from villages that I have never heard before, but the fact that they come from such places, I valued them.

What effort is the college making to achieve the new global education goal (SDG4)?

My students do leadership courses at the Africa Leadership Academy (ALA) in South Africa and two of them have gone for the Yale summer school. One took place in Ghana, and the one of this year held in Rwanda on a scholarship and I am a recipient of Alliance Francaise, I am the president, I have been to Harvard Business School. I have presented my staff to Cambridge for training. We do a lot of international exposure and my students have gone on excursions. 50 per cent of them go to universities abroad.

How do you think government can improve on education policy?

In terms of policy, I think a lot of people who take policy decisions on education are mainly people who are theorists. We should have more practical approach, there should be more inputs from people who are actually running the system so we can tell them what our leads are and where we need more emphasis.

What are some of your father’s legacy as an advocate of education?
My father has always believed in equal access to education. He believes that all Nigerian children must have quality education and he believes in raising the next generation. I also got the legacy of hard work from my dad, my mother was the nerve centre of the family so I grew up under that kind of environment. I was the first child and I realised that I have a whole lot of responsibilities and God has been with me even in the last 14 years that they passed on. If we invest in the youths, Nigeria will be a better place.

Where do you see the college in the next five to 10 years?
This is just the beginning, God has greater plans for the college and the tutorial college, we believe that we will continue to expand. We already have a succession plan. I am looking forward to when my alumni will begin to send their children to the college. I am also looking forward to when my children will take the college to the next level.