Driven by a passion to impact positively on the education sector, Onyeka Jaivbo-Ojigbo, the administrator of Nemvas Schools and other like-minded fellows founded an advocacy platform, International Educational Management Network. In this interview with Mary Ekah, she reveals exactly the ills bedevilling the Nigerian educational system while outlining her personal motivation and objectives, as well as the thrust of her change-seeking educational organisation
What exactly do you do?
I am an educational consultant. I was raised by my parents who were teachers and I am very passionate about education. At some point in my life, I knew I love knowledge and I want to impact the lives of people. So, I decided to set up a school, a nursery and primary school, because I believe that is the foundation of education. That was how I came to running a school. In the process, I discovered a lot of issues in the sector. Governments, too, are not regulating. They are not clear on what they want. We decided to have a platform, International Educational Management Network where we would get educators together people offering any kind of services in the education sector. We got together at a roundtable to ask ourselves what is going on and what can we do to save the situation. Obviously, the issues are beyond government. Everyone is a link in the chain teachers, students, parents. We talk about issues and we offer our own little solution, hopeful that we will be able to get to the decision-makers someday. We were able to get together professors from different universities, school owners, trained teachers as well as other educational consultants. Everybody volunteers his or her service. We publish our magazines. Every year, we organise Education and Skills (EduSkill) Fair. We are currently working on getting a database of all the schools in each state, to know what their standards are and what is lacking.
Who is an educational consultant?
When you say you are a consultant in any sense, it means you have the expertise to look at problems in different dimensions. Sometimes, we have simple things, compelling things, complicated things and chaotic things. A consultant should be able to differentiate all of them. When things are simple, the solutions are there and everybody will get it; when things are complex, the solution may be there and nobody is seeing it; when they are complicated, there are so many solutions but you want to look for the best. To say you are an educational consultant, you must have that experience, you must have seen things in that sector. I cannot claim to be an educational consultant if I have not run a school before. I have run both primary and secondary schools. I have seen things. I have had experience. I have also had the training. So I can counsel. I can advise on what school to go. I can look at a child and tell the learning problem the child is having. You have to have those kinds of talents, then you are on your way to getting there.
There are a number of education fairs in the country. What makes yours unique?
Most education fairs are merely advertisements of schools. Ours is different because we are not telling you to go to any school, we are asking you to come and see that there is a vocation in education. There are a lot of manufacturing people involved in our EduSkills Fair. We do not just bring schools, we bring people with vocation they can add to education, such that when they come out of school, they don’t have to wait on the government for employment.
The first one we had last year was a resounding success. People came and were willing to offer their services. We had people from the fashion industry a massive industry now coming up and currently is employing a lot of Nigerians. We had people from catering, tourism and arts and culture. We teach people new skills.
You find that the way certain things are taught in this country is not proper. Children complain that Mathematics is too tough. This is because it is not taught in a practical way. Therefore, we are in alliance with a school in India, and as the country representatives, we have brought the AMA Abacus Academy here. We showcased that in our last fair, teaching children that Mathematics is fun. There are several exciting ways of using the Abacus tools in ways that can be faster than the calculator. Things like that distinguish our EduSkill Fair. We have another one coming up in April.
How do you differentiate between someone that opened a school for business and someone who is passionate about education?
When you are doing something for business, you want to do so much at once to get your return on the investment. When you are doing something out of passion, money is not your driving force, but the result and where you are going. It is funny when I come to some schools found they are doing six different curriculums. They tell you they are doing LES, American curriculum and British curriculum. You cannot be master of all and be using the same teachers to teach those different curriculums. They can’t possibly be having those three sets of teachers. Or did they really train them all? Those pieces of training are not cheap and you don’t get most of them in this country. These are little things you look for when you go school-hunting.
Who is an Edupreneur?
An edupreneur emphasises more on creativity. As one, you begin to look at solutions. You see yourself as acquiring knowledge because there is a problem out there the knowledge will help solve. You find out that even simple repairs children are not able to do nowadays. Children on holidays spend the whole time at the movies.
A child out of school on holiday should ideally go and learn computer, learn how to fix something. In my school, this is what we preach. We also encourage other members of the network who are school owners to make their students think differently. Let them think like entrepreneurs. People think that entrepreneurship is about owning a business. That you are an entrepreneur does not necessarily mean that you must have a business; you can be working somewhere and be adding values and be creating more opportunities in that place that is being entrepreneurial-minded. Every child has got a skill, something he or she is good at without education. What education should do is to enhance that skill and make it productive. What we do instead is to neglect that and focus on education and white-collar jobs. The result is children cram to pass exams, and in the end, everybody is jobless.
In our last EduFair, we featured someone who makes shoes and people found it hard believing a Nigerian Engineering graduate made those shoes. He spent some time to perfect his skills while schooling and now other people are learning from him. We are 180 million people. We need more of him to put shoes on our feet. That is what it means to have an edupreneur mind. You are educated and you have found out how to translate the education to a venture that will benefit everyone.
As a professional, what are those professional ethics lacking in today’s teacher?
Teaching, as they say, is a no-thanks job. If you don’t have the mind of giving and just being dedicated, you are going to get frustrated when your salary is not paid. You are going to get frustrated when a child is not learning well. You must have that commitment. When I interview teachers, I always asked, why are you looking for this job? I frequently hear this statement: I just want to find something doing. That is wrong. My friends sometimes call me to say: My child has just finished national youth service. Can you employ him pending the time she would find something better? I don’t tell them my reason for saying no (You won’t want to offend your friend). I simply tell them: I don’t have an opening now. You can’t come to a school with such mindset! It doesn’t go well with education at all. As a teacher, you need your total devotion. Children are attached to their teachers than anyone else and they even look unto them as their role models. So, the commitment first, followed by proper training. That someone is a graduate doesn’t necessarily make him or her a teacher. If you employ such persons, you will need to spend money on training them.
What do we need to do about it?
We keep sensitising the public like we are doing in the network. If we have everybody in every school, buying into what we are advocating, they will, at least, know what is right and what is expected of them. We are planning Teachers Awards for the end of the year. Schools would want their teachers to be part of the Best Teachers in Lagos State. Therefore, they would have no choice other than to train them. If they keep hearing about a school that wins the Best Teacher Award, the public would want to take their children there. This is one of the strategies we are planning.
As for schools that are not keyed in yet, when they see that those best teachers are not coming from them, they would want to look at it what is it they are doing wrong.
What is your advice for teachers?
Teachers that are committed should just go on being committed. There is always a reward. It may not come in the form of money. Sometimes, the students you have taught could do very big things for you. For example, my mother was a teacher, and at some point had taught a lot of people who became influential. One of her pupils became a military administrator of a state and made her a board member of that states university. There is always a reward for committed teachers, even from the government. At some points, Babatunde Fashola, during his time as Lagos State governor, rewarded teachers with cars. You don’t really know when your reward will come.
In the overall educational structure in Nigeria, where does your concern lie?
I have greater concern for the primary school – from early childhood education 0 to 8 years. The child’s brain is like a sponge. Beyond 8, from 10 upward to 15, it is a bit of a struggle to put a value system in a child. Primary school is the foundation.