Abuja’s Oasis of Academic Excellence

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Olawale Ajimotokan and Omotayo Olaleye report on the philosophy of the British Oasis Academy, Abuja, after sharing some insights with the school’s principal

The British Oasis Academy (BOA) is different in all consideration from its contemporaries in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Unlike secondary schools in its category that are mainly concentrated in Maitama and Wuse, the British Oasis Academy is a full boarding school for boys and girls located in an expansive and serene environment in Peyi, Bwari, to the north of the city centre.

Given its location with excellent transport links, the school is just a drive of about 20-30 minutes from the city and is within the same vicinity as the Nigerian Law School, Abuja Campus.

It was established in September 2013 to teach a combination of Nigerian and British curriculum in broader subjects and to prepare the students for the National Examinations Council (NECO), the West African School Certificate (WASC) and International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE).

Although it sought accreditation from the British Council for IGCSE and has gotten the visitation by the Department of Quality Assurance (DQA) for senior school accreditation, BOA had the second best result in Abuja for the JSS, WAEC examination in 2016 and also excelled last year.

The school’s principal, Mr. Olurotimi Jiboku, said from the template already laid, he expects nothing than an excellent result from the foundational class now in SS2, in NECO, WAEC and IGCSE exams scheduled for next year.

The school currently has 77 students. It is the only secondary school in Abuja that is affiliated to Trinity College London for graded music examination. Some of the students that undertook the bar certificate passed the examination in Music Theory at different levels.

Nandi Hirse, a student of British Oasis Academy, was awarded with a distinction in Grade I Theory of Music in the examination held in 2016.

Aside from Trinity College of London certification, students who enroll for the examination will gain Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) points towards higher education in UK universities or other institutions worldwide.

Jiboku admitted that the music content is optional and available only for parents that are interested. He said unique performing skills are part of their grooming for leadership in the future.

“So, we do not focus on just academic work alone, because at the end of the day, a typical examiner or a registrar of a university will ask the question, even with brilliant result, ‘what else can you do?’ They will ask them, ‘were you in your school relay team?’ ‘Did you play basketball?’ ‘Did you swim?’ ‘Were you in the Literary and Debate Club?’ Did you do anything else for your school’? They will ask them the questions. So they must be able to at least defend that they are total children. Not just in academics, not just in theory, but we want our student to be able to defend that he/she is a total child. They should be rounded individuals and that’s what we project,’’ Jiboku said.

He stressed that one of the school’s unique selling propositions is that practical agriculture is mandatory for its students, while Agricultural Science is a common subject for all the students from JSS 1 and 3.

According to the principal, the school has a farm within its compound and the students all go there when it is time to do practical agriculture.

“When they are at home, they don’t have this experience of going to plant and to do other things like that. Last year, for instance, we planted groundnut. Right from the time when it started to grow, they were able to nurture it and they harvested it. Those groundnuts were taken to the kitchen and they cooked for them and they gave them and they had that as snacks.

“Apart from that they also planted maize. When it was time for harvest they went there and harvested. I was with them, they removed the maize, the entire process and took them to the kitchen. Right there in the kitchen, they were able to transform it into pap for them, which they had for their breakfast on a Saturday morning. They don’t have the privilege of doing that at home. Most of them will not have Agriculture as their career, whatever, but at least let them see and appreciate the process. If they now decide they want to do this, then yes, fine,’’ he said.

Jiboku, who boasts of over three decades as an educational practitioner, brings to the running of the school, a wealth of experience in British and Nigerian curricula. Having risen through the ranks to become the Vice Principal at Corona School, Lagos, he worked at Green Springs School also in Lagos, before he joined British Oasis Academy in August 2016. He was named the principal after the expatriate principal, Mr. Johnson, who started the school, left.

Through his meetings with the student representative council, new co-curricula activities such as a ballet club, photography, cinematography, plus Ark and Rainbow Movement, where the students can embark on charity work by reaching out to those from the underprivileged homes, like the prisons and hospitals were introduced, in addition to the traditional clubs like, JETS, Literary and Debating Society and book club.

British Oasis Academy is one of the few schools in Abuja that do not run the dormitory system in the hostels. Beyond the typical example where 20-30 students are crammed in a hall with bunks, the maximum is four students in a room just like in the tertiary institution.

The rooms have two bunk beds each and are fitted with air conditioners. Every room is also ensuite with its toilet, only for those four students who are in that room. The arrangement has reduced the incident of bullying. Those in a room are of the equal ages while their house parents live within the building themselves.

BOA also has sports facilities for basketball, volleyball, lawn tennis and football. There is a plan for a swimming pool in the second phase.

The school has two academic blocks, each of the two blocks has three floors. Provision is made for a comprehensive academic library and laboratories for Home Economics, Science and Intro Tech, all manned by qualified teachers.

For every class, there are not more than 20 students, to enable the teachers have a one-on-one supervision with them. The school also has a clinic by the reception area. A resident nurse, who got her qualification in Ukraine, attends to the students. The school has also registered with Gwarimpa District Hospital so that it can quickly act in case of a referral.

“What most of our parents do is that anytime we have an issue and they need clarification, they will let us know and they will arrange to take the child to their own hospital, if there is anything they need to address. If there is nothing like that, we treat it in school and we just let them know that it’s being addressed, that’s all. Our nurse got her nursing qualification from Ukraine. When she came here, she registered with the district hospital. We have everything in place enough for first hand treatment,” Jiboku stressed.

Premium is put on the hiring of qualified staff in addition to retraining them to develop optimum quality of the children’s education. The staff were trained a month ago with the British Council for the IGCSE exam. Also three members of the management staff went to University of Leicester in July last year for leadership training, fully sponsored by the school. As a policy all the staff must be university degree holders and be registered with the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN).

It is also compulsory for the students to participate in sports every day. They have a roaster for that and they are involved in either tennis, basketball or football and by the time they graduate they know which one is their specialty.

Jiboku, who is a member of Abuja Schools Association, considered the school fees of British Oasis Academy to be reasonable in terms of the range of facilities provided for a full boarding school. He said the school fees had not been reviewed since the school was established in 2013.

“I will give you the copy of our school fees schedule because we don’t hide it. Ever since this school started, there has not been any major review in the school fees that we have. The only thing that has changed will be the cost of books because of the inflationary rate that may cause something to happen. But all our fees for a junior secondary school is not more than N1.6 million annually to cover boarding fees, books and the rest and they are payable every term. It’s not compulsory they pay annually. We also consider civil servants who prepare a financial plan with the school. As far as we know, education is not cheap generally, the fees are not what an ordinary Nigerian cannot afford. By the time, we look at what a day people will pay and look at what we do here in a boarding school. The students eat five times a day. Apart from their breakfast, lunch and dinner, they have two other times where they have in-between meals. They start the day by 8a.m. and by 10.20a.m., they go for their refreshments, after that they return to their classes. By 12.20p.m. they go for lunch. Once they finish in class they go to their room for siesta, after which they go for sport, thereafter, they refresh and go for dinner. Then, they have their night prep, after which they go for their night cap (another refreshment) before they go to bed.”

Excursion is also an integral part of the students’ training and development and the school organises such activities regularly.

They have visited the Nike Art Gallery in Abuja. Prior to that time, they had also gone to the U.S. National Space Centre and then to Coca Cola factory in Atlanta. So it is not in Abuja alone, anytime, they go out to see the outside world, they add to their learning experience.

Last year, they went to the UK for the New Balance International Football Tournament in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, where five of the students got medals. They have also embarked on a training tour of Manchester United Football Club.

The principal said the school abhors the use of corporal punishment as it does not believe in flogging in the enforcement of moral standards.

He said the school has put in place structures that require a student to come with a parent for the interview at the point when the child has passed the exam to enable the school introduce its policy to parents.

“So, if there are questions that the parents will raise, if there are concerns they may have, they will raise them at the interview panel. So when we admit, we will now send all the documents to them, including the school room agreement, where they look at our policy and behavioural manual and they will sign. Once that is done, it means there is an agreement. When they come in we orientate them based on our policy, like when there is light out, you sleep. We do not accept provisions in the hostels because they encourage bullying, they encourage theft and other things.”

The principal said the school has put in place filling of incident report that makes erring students realise that they cannot get away with what they do. When they fill the incident report, it goes into their file and will be recalled when there is a need for it.

In BOA, exerting punishment will mean doing communal labour, which includes washing of dishes, tidying of room or going to the farm to work.