Wholesome Support for Education Sector   

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Peace Obi writes that the Total School Support Seminar and Exhibition, an annual educational event that kicked off some 10 years ago to address problems in Nigeria’s education sector, has grown in leaps and bounds

For marketing communications expert, Yinka Ogunde, the effective liberating tool for building a better and brighter future for Nigeria and most importantly blaze a path for upcoming generations to follow, can only be education. According to her, education is a liberating tool when rightly applied to build up the mind and bring about the development of the society.

Ogunde strongly believes that through education, hidden talents are discovered, nurtured and prepared for the future, adding that with access to quality education, the children of the lower class can be dusted, transformed and packaged into being a sought-after resource, occupying key positions in the society. 

Birth of TOSSE

Interestingly, the pursuit of the vision to provide a wholesome support to the nation’s education sector signalled the birth of an annual educational event tagged, Total School Support Seminar and Exhibition (TOSSE). Succinctly, part of what TOSSE was set to achieve, was to address some problems in the nation’s education sector, provide a platform that will bring all key stakeholders in the education community to chart the way forward. 

Ten years down the line, the annual educational event that kicked off on a very modest scale at Sheraton Hotel, Lagos with less than 30 exhibitors and about 300 guests has metamorphosed into an international conference, attracting participants from different parts of the world. Today, the once national event has become a global educational conference with regular exhibitors from UK, Togo, Kenya, South Africa; leading school owners and key officials from associations like Association of Private Educators in Nigeria (APEN), Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), World Organisation for Early Childhood Education and Care (OMEP), among others.

Testimony

Described as an educational Mecca for stakeholders in the education space, the Principal Consultant, Ogunde said that the impact of TOSSE on the nation’s education sector as well as in other climes has been awesome. According to her, the deluge of participant’s testimonies speaks for itself. Continuing, Ogunde said the assessment of TOSSE impact is better portrayed by the participants’ testimonies. 

She said, “You need to read the testimonials, how people said if not for TOSSE. Some said that when they wanted to start their school, it was TOSSE they came in to and that it opened their eyes to so many things. There are some schools, you will see them arriving on buses even at TOSSE because they are unable to train their staff and TOSSE offers free seminars.”

For students of the Alvan Ikokwu University of Education, Owerri, the quality of speakers at TOSSE and the serenity of the conference arena were things that kept participants enthralled. 

Sharing her experience, Treasure Uto Ochojila said, “At the beginning of each year, when I write down seminars for personal development, TOSSE is one of the seminars that top my list. I have attended for the past seven years and each year, Mrs. Yinka Ogunde and her team raise the bar. TOSSE has shaped my thinking in ways I cannot explain and I look forward to attending this year’s edition.”

Another participant, Rotimi Eyitayo said beyond what TOSSE represents within the landmark of education, its 10th edition was super packed with sessions delivered by education’s finest. According to him, “I consider this event as a time out to explore and expose yourself, organisation and team to the best from sessions to products and services, etc. The networking opportunities are something to look forward to and also the free coffee. 

“You would get dazzled by the amazing coordination of the Edumark team. New books, CDs, technologies, brands, the list is endless. Speakers like Taiwo Akinlami, Rhoda Odigboh, Adedoyin Adesina, Helen Essien, Babatunde Kolade, Nike Adegoke, Funmi Tella, Bunmi Lawson and others would definitely place icing on the cake of the event. For music lovers, the closing ceremony is one you must not miss.”

For Wapic Insurance Plc, it’s was an eye-opener and ‘an avenue to meet and interact with different people and sell my organisation’s products to people who have never heard of same’.

Value of stakeholders 

At TOSSE, Ogunde underscores the importance of stakeholders. She said, “I remember the year we ran 26 seminars and we were running from pillar to post, even to pay seminar speakers. It was that value that kept people coming, and some will say ‘even if I don’t attend any other seminar in a year, I must attend TOSSE’.

“At least if I get there, I will learn something new that I need to know about in the education sector so that my school is not left behind. And even if I am unable to afford it, at least I will be able to say, I saw this, I saw that. So, TOSSE has become a Mecca of a sort.”

Noting that TOSSE has continued to grow by leaps and bounds, Ogunde said that a new addition to its numerous foreign exhibitors came from Finland – a Nordic country that is renowned for its quality of education. She hinted that about three educational companies attended even as the Ambassador of Finland to Nigeria delivered the keynote address. She added, “Because we have been circulating so many things about Finland education, let’s hear from Finland.

She further hinted that because TOSSE is all about education, it considers all key stakeholders in the sector very important, adding that while the focus has been on the policymakers, school owners, principals/administrators and the teachers,  another key segment is the parents and the students.

“In order for us to get it right in the education sector, parents and students will play a key part, because if the parents are not available to compliment school’s effort, there will be a disconnect and we are not going to have a good outcome. There is a need to engage all stakeholders, even the students and TOSSE has the provision for that,” she noted. 

Heroes Past 

According to Ogunde, the 2018 edition will be looking at the area of Nigeria’s history. “We are looking at creating a spot whereby we feature a particular part of our history or personality in our history. This year, we are focusing on Obafemi Awolowo and we have also given Obafemi Awolowo a free exhibition stand so that any child or school that wants to learn about Awolowo can go there. 

“Next year, we may go to Nnamdi Azikiwe, another year we may go to Tafawa Balewa. So, we are featuring that personality like ‘know your history or fall in love with your heroes, the labours of our heroes past’ or something like that. So, we are having a planetarium people will be watching throughout TOSSE,” she posited. 

Building Capacity   

For greater impact, Ogunde is optimistic that with government’s support, will and commitment, a lot can be done and achieved in the nation’s education space. “That is why I said that public education is an area we need to revisit,” she said. “If you take Lagos State, for example, I was grieved in my spirit when somebody put the figure of new schools built in the state within the last 20 years to about eight.

“That is frightening because it does not show planning, it does not show vision, it does not show that we are actually looking at how we can reform this sector. I am sure that if you go to other states, the story may not be entirely different. The governments are not building new schools. So, where are we going to put our children? They have to go into private schools where the good ones are not affordable and the not so good ones are doing whatsoever they like. 

“And then, where does the child of a common man go? The child of a common man has to settle with whatever that is available or else we trust organisations like the Bridge Foundation and other international organisations to come and rescue us.”

Multidimensional Solution

While acknowledging the fact that the nation’s education sector is bedevilled by myriad of problems, Ogunde said the multidimensional approach will go a long way in fixing them. According to her, the solution should go beyond building classrooms or the donation of classrooms by corporate organisations. 

She said, “If you build the classrooms and do not train the teachers, we are not going to get anywhere. So, it is the whole educational system that I believe that we actually need to look at and think of how to plot our way out of this situation. And what is the place of technology in all of these things we are saying? 

“You can monitor what is going on in your classrooms, you can improvise even in villages; you can bring the world to our villages, but it will require us having to sit down and plan these things as well as having the will to take it beyond just discussion and policy to make it work.

“That is why at TOSSE, we train people who can make things to happen. We actually need that in the education sector because if you don’t have people who have that commitment to make it work, we can see that we are sitting on a keg of gunpowder. We are going to have problems. 

“So, a lot of people are passionate about having the nation’s education repositioned for the proper training and efficient manpower development. TOSSE is one of such platforms, WATFON is another and many other countless passionate Nigerians that are doing things every day.”

Community Acceptance

Attributing the successes recorded so far to the acceptance of the TOSSE project within the education community, she noted that there are people who for the past 10 years have not missed any edition. “They embraced TOSSE and they made it their own. So, the acceptance by the education community has been key to the success of TOSSE. And, of course, the acceptance of our exhibitors, because they saw it as something that is adding value to their businesses. We in return always look at what value we can add for all these school owners, school administrators, educators to be coming in every year,” she noted. 

Stating that the TOSSE team has remained dynamic in its offerings, she said the 10th edition offers hope, tenacity, determination, and focus, adding that when you are 10, it speaks of a history of consistency, which she said is lacking in Nigeria.

According to her, “It is lacking in the world of government. It is lacking in the sense that if a governor begins a programme or project and there is a change of baton, what happens to such projects is well to you and me. In this 10th edition, we are showcasing that with consistency you can grow as a people. We are showcasing that despite all the challenges, once you have the will, you can always achieve your dreams.”

Charge  

In her charge to government, she said, “We should stop toying with the future of our children. We should stop toying with the future of Nigeria. We have played so many games and education is a dangerous one to play with. We have played the game of religion, tribe. 

“We shouldn’t play the game of education. We should be serious about it; we should see education as a way to rescue the human capital in this country. We should see it as a way to transform Nigeria; we should see it as a unique chance to build the kind of Nigeria that we want.”