What the late Oba Oladele Olashore conceived as a temporary initiative to solve a personal challenge, has been taken to greater pedestals by his son, Bimbo Olashore , now catering to the educational needs of multitudes in Nigeria and outside the shore. In this interview with Ayo Arowolo, Olashore, an accomplished banker and investment guru shares insights on the state of education in Nigeria, the role private school owners can play in proving solution and his vision for Olashore International School. Excerpts:
Was there a particular story that gave birth to Olashore International School by your late father, Oba Oladele Olasore. What was the vision and would you say it is being fulfilled?
Kabeyesi’s investment in secondary school was borne out of his experience in getting good quality schools form my brothers. He struggled to find the right balance of world class education while fostering Nigerian morals and cultural values. Realizing that there was a gap in the education sector for Nigerians in and outside of Nigeria for a school at encapsulates these offerings, Oba Olashore took it upon himself to solve this problem for himself and many other Nigerians that sought quality international standard education for their children without compromising on instilling Nigerian cultural values and morals in their children.
Olashore International School was conceived to cater to three classes of Nigerians, Nigerians resident here and in diaspora as well expatriates in Nigeria. A core part of the vision is to develop leaders for Nigeria, Africa and the global community. Over the years, we have had students that have been recognized locally and internationally for their academic and nonacademic achievements. Two of our recently graduating students received awards from the British Council. Ginika Kalu for a perfect score in Design and Technology in the Cambridge IGCSE 2017 and Bolaji Olalere received the award for “Top in country” in Cambridge IGCSE 2017 First Language English (Oral Endorsement). These are just a few of the milestones to fulfilling the Founder’s long term vision.
What would you consider as the significant accomplishment of the school in the past 25 years?
Olahsore International School has maintained a culture of providing world class learning opportunities for our students to develop academically and to learn beyond the class room in order to gain exposure and experiences that will serve them on a global scale. This is clearly reflected in the quality of our global alumni group. The alumni body and their achievements till date show the firm foundation built during their formative years at Olashore. Our focus has never been solely on academic performance and certification but also imbibing life skills that will be of significant benefit beyond their time at Olashore International School. In 2018, two of our students, Chidera Olalereand and Taslim Salaudeen, received the 2018 Council of British International School (COBIS) Student Achievement Awards for ‘Sustained, high-level contribution to the wider life of the School’ and ‘A Single Act of Bravery’ respectively. Taslim Salaudeen took initiated and executed a fundraising campaign to help meet some of the needs of internally displaced persons due to Boko Haram terrorist activities living in the Sesôr camp in Lagos. Over the past 25 years we have had graduates of the school become international pop stars with the likes of Folarin Falana who was also named alongside Obinna Okwondo in Forbes Africa 30 under 30 list of most promising young entrepreneurs in Africa. We’ve also had a member of our pioneer set, Bode Olasnipekun become the youngest Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Mrs. Kikelemo Banjo also a member of the pioneer set is the first female operations manager of Maersk line in Nigeria and these are just a few of the success stories of students that have gone on to be captains of industries, business owners and problem solvers across the world.
You organized a mental health seminar sometime last year; could you restate the reason for the seminar and would you say it has created any impact?
Olashore International School does not only focus on academic excellence but believes in the all-round development of its students. This belief has led to numerous initiatives that contribute to the development of a total child, some of which are a bespoke leadership programme based on the social change model of leadership, the focus of the 25th anniversary lecture and #OISMWIT – Olashore International School Mental Wellness Initiative.
#OISMWIT was conceived to demystify issues and concerns surrounding the mental health of Nigerians, especially children. In 2018, the school along with Lagos Business School and other key partners hosted the first #OISMWIT programme to promote conversations about mental health as a result of the notable increase in mental health issues among teenagers in Nigeria. We intend to continue to emphasis the need for this conversation on an annual base to create awareness. This year, #OISMWIT will hold on the 10th of October, 2019 on the World Mental Health Day at the Lagos Business School main auditorium.
How would you describe the state of education in the country and your thoughts on how identified challenges can be tackled?
The state of education in the country is not encouraging; the education sector in Nigeria suffers from a lack of investment or underinvestment. This puts significant pressure on the private schools to accommodate the demands of Nigerian parents that have developed a bias against public schools which has resulted in its collapse. This means a lot of private schools have turned up to fill in the gap created out of the inadequacies of public school education. For the private sector the major challenge is maintaining the standards of education delivered across board. This begs the questions; do we have the capacity to inspect all this private schools in Nigeria to ensure that proprietors are conforming? Nigerian employers place a lot of emphasis on certificates, which is driving Nigerians to forego vocational studies and purse certification which does not guaranty success in life. With the continues increase of university applicants and university graduates year on year, Nigerian’s need to strongly consider developing vocational skills in order to be able to create jobs for themselves by offering value instead of competing with a large number of unemployed youth for a limited number of jobs. The Nigerian government needs to invest in vocational schools so that young Nigerians have the option of choosing between skill development or acquisition and professional certification.
Gradually public schools are fast becoming no-go areas for parents essentially because of the unfortunate states of those schools. How deep do you think the problems are? Do these shortcomings bring any advantage to the private school?
The government’s underinvestment in education has led to the decline in the quality of education delivered in public schools as well as dilapidated infrastructure. Poor welfare for teachers is also a primary factor because teachers are forced to seek various means to augment their monthly income and this cause a distraction from their primary duty which is educating young Nigerians. With the steady increase in population growth year on year, one would assume that this would be to the benefits of private schools as they would have more learners enrolling. Unfortunately because of the low spending power of the majority of Nigerians, the lack of investment on the government’s part to subsidize education for indigent Nigerians, schools like Olashore International School have had to step in to ensure that not only privilege members of our community have access to quality education. Through the Olashore International School Association Foundation, we raise funds for indigent students annually to create an opportunity for them to get international standard education in a school like ours and not only that, we are working closely with some universities in and outside Nigeria to give scholarship to these students so that their journey of seeking a better life for themselves is not cut short. The association is sponsoring 11 students at Olashore International School so far.
The gap between the skills impacted by the tertiary institutions and the ones needed by the market /employers is widening by the day. Most universities teach skills that have no relevance to what the industry need. What are your thoughts on how to resolve this dilemma?
Vocational education and technical institutions should receive significant funding and push to the forefront of skill acquisition and empowerment with less emphasis on academic degrees. Societal attitude must change to encourage big corporations invest in university research to the extent that the outcomes of the researches will be applied to real life problems to reach a lasting solution. These researches should be industry relevant and in line with current trends. It is in the interest of public and private sector to invest in shaping the curriculum by funding specific programs. An example is the Dangote donating to fund the development of a business school at the University of Ibadan. There should be less emphasis on theory based teaching and more on experiential learning by technocrats with practical experience of the industry sharing their experiences directly with students. This will expose students to possible real life scenarios helping them to become grounded in the industry relevant to their choice of study.
What informed the choice of the theme for the 25th anniversary lecture?
The social change model of leadership provides a framework to develop leadership competencies that will allow individuals impact positively on their immediate communities. It defines leadership not as a position as we see it in Nigeria and Africa as a whole but as a purposeful, collaborative, value-driven process. All of this forms the bases of the bespoke leadership programme at Olashore International School designed to ensure that each child at Olashore International School has the opportunity to harness their leadership skills.
In Africa, there is a leadership deficiency with little or no investment in developing leaders. The focus appears to be more on tackling the results of years of poor leadership in Africa instead of developing entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders that will provide lasting solutions to the root cause of Africa’s problems.
This is why everyone involved in this lecture is passionate about good governance, effective leadership and has or currently fosters leadership development in and across Africa. Speaking at this event will be Mr. Fred Swaniker, founder of the African Leadership Academy and African Leadership University. He will be delivering a lecture on “Leadership and social change: Developing 21st Century Leaders for Africa”. Professor Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe is the Guest Speaker will be sharing comments on the “Role of Education in Philanthropy and Community Development”. Professor Ibidapo-Obe has served as deputy vice-chancellor and vice-chancellor of the prestigious University of Lagos. The occasion will be chaired by Dr. Christopher Kolade (CON), the former Nigerian High Commissioner to The United Kingdom.
You were known to have spent most of your years in the financial services industry; but you seem to be playing more roles in the education sector; how were you able to switch?
The question is not about switching, in your life after you spend time in the private sector and you reach the top, you start to ask in what way I can pay back. For most people the pay back is by going to the public sector, playing a role in reforming by bring their private sector experience to reform it. Some cases you do charitable works as part of contributing to one’s quota. In Nigeria there is a problem with education and ethics and bringing up people correctly I am passionate about contributing to that. Part of the ethos of the school is to create leadership opportunities for the students and not just focusing on academics alone. Since the school is preaching the social change model of leadership, you will notice that the students carry out a lot of community impact projects with the support and supervision of the school. It’s all about giving back to your community; it is all a continuum as one comes to the tail end of one’s career another opportunity or challenge turns up allowing most people to have more than one career in their lifetime.
We are witnessing more incidents of students committing suicide; what would say is responsible for the upsurge? What roles can the proprietors of private schools play?
I would say some of the contributing factors to this menace is societal pressures and the need to succeed at all cost over the shortest period of time. Most of the older generation would be family with the saying “It takes a village to bring up a child” and its practicality. In the old days, neighbors and everyone around you were involved directly or indirectly in the life of children in the community but now most people tend not to be concerned about their neighbors. People seem to want to be left alone which adds pressure to them when they face challenges or feel depressed. There is a breakdown of the nuclear and extended family structure with many families becoming smaller in size. The busy lifestyle of parents is also a contributing factor leading to a fracture in parent-child relationships. Most children nowadays hardly have anyone to relate with and share some of your concerns. In some case, in order to keep their children occupied, parents expose them to the internet where these children then to seek validation and approval. In most cases they do not find it and then become depressed.
Society is also putting pressure on people to succeed which is amplified by the belief of parents that academic excellence is paramount. The proprietors’ biggest role in this is to be able to provide a safety net for children by train the teachers and support staff to recognize signs of depression in children. It is also important to have trained counselors in schools for cases that may be beyond the scope of the teachers and support staff. Heads of schools and proprietors should maintain a strong relationship with parents and encourage parent involvement in their children’s school activities while creating an enabling environment for the child to speak up and share some of their concerns with school authority. Children should also be educated to recognize signs and symptoms of depression.
What has been your experience running an education institution within the context of the infrastructural problems amongst others in the country?
Infrastructural deficit has made fees very high, higher than they should be. The government does not give any tax breaks to appreciate the role the private sector plays in education. When they created the education trust funds it was for all schools and private sector still do not have access to it even as all sectors contributed towards the fund. It would go a long way if private schools could also access the funds to help infrastructure, this will relief pressure on fees. Another problem is the unquenchable thirst for certification by parents who will do almost anything to get results for their wards even if it means going to quack schools to get the “good results”. We don’t have much faith in examination results because of the level of corruption in the education sector. The educational system is broken, teachers are compromised and there are challenges with the administration of examinations across the nation, devaluing the system and educational qualifications in Nigeria. It is difficult to determine if the holder of the result actually merits it.
Some are of the opinion that there should be public/private partnership in the funding of the tertiary school system; do you share this view
I certainly do, funding of universities in other countries is really more of a partnership. Large corporations tend to invest in and support university research as the results are industry relevant and used to solve real life problems. It is in the interest of public and private sector to be involved in shaping the curriculum so that the output is more relevant to the industry and the only way it can work is to fund specific programs. For example the University of Ibadan Vice- Chancellor, Professor Isaac Folorunso Adewole who led a delegation to a meeting with the foremost industrialist in Lagos Alhaji Dangote to propose the establishment of a formidable Business School that would train individuals for industrial development and business growth and would need to partner with other notable companies and organizations in the country to be able to achieve this.
You have travelled widely; which country would you say models the kind of the education system Nigeria should have?
I would say a cross between the German education system with emphasis on vocational studies and no pressure to go to university where most youths are trained to work in industries and Finland’s educational system which is similar to that of the Germans
Where do you see OIS in the next 25 years?
I would like to see a well-established alumni group that will be involved in the running of the school and giving back to the school. Running the school is about maintaining the legacy and the culture in the school, something you have to visit the school to experience. With time, society will recognize the impact of the members of the Olashore International School alumni group. My hope is that Olashore International School can take a leaf out of the pages of a school like Eton College. As at 2016, 19 of the 54 Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom were educated at Eton College. This is the type of legacy and impact I would like to see members of the alumni have over time.
Tell us about the leadership programme at Olashore International School.
The Olashore International School leadership programme is based on the Social change model of leadership which began development in 1994 with research at the Higher Education research Institute at UCLA which provides students the framework to develop leadership competencies that will them focus on positively impacting their societies. The programme allows for enhance student learning and development while them make a positive impact on their community. As part of the review of the school’s mission statement,
You will note the emphasis on the need to “develop leaders for the 21st century” and “nature each child to their full potential”. The social change model is the arc linking these two statements. As they progress on their leadership journey at Olashore International School, students explore group processes and shared values as they begin to discover their leadership talents. Students then study and implement most, if not all of the 7Cs of the social change model of leadership with focus on; collaboration, common purpose and controversy with civility. In a research carried out by the World Economic Forum, collaboration with others and people management place amongst the top five skills that employers will be for in the 21st century.
Students at Olashore have started to positively impact their immediate societies through fundraising for the less privileged in 2017 by washing cars and a bake sales. The funds raised where used to provide basic educational materials and food items for the Gripe of Salvation Army home for the less privileged in Ilesa. In 2019, year 9 students at Olashore collaborated with students of Austin Friars School in the UK after identifying the need for potable water by the people of Iloko-Ijesa. Following their annual visit to the local community and meeting with the elders of Iloko community, Year 9 students took the initiative to raise funds with the collaboration of students from Austin Frairs School, Carlisle to repair the boreholes for the people of Iloko. The fundraising was done through a Go-Fund-Me account and reaching out to members of the Olashore alumni group, friends of Olashore and parents. This was motivated by the Sustainable Development Goal 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation. These community impact projects fosters numerous soft skills required in developing a total child such as collaboration, creativity and public speaking, all these are attributes of a typical Olashore International School student.
When you look back on the past 25 years, are you pleased with the progress of the school? What would you single out as the school’s greatest achievement?
I am very pleased with the growth the school has gone through in that past 25 years. This is why we have taken time to develop a 25th anniversary coffee table book to showcase the infrastructural development the school has undergone as well as raising the standards in academic achievements year on year at the school.
The one thing that brings me joy when I look back and reflect on the past 25 years is how young children just over the age of 10 years walk through the school gates and into their new learning community and six years down the line they have grown in to young, confident men and women who then go on to be captains of industries, business owners and experts in various fields across the world. We have seen members of alumni become Senior Advocates of Nigeria, international popstars, data engineers, medical practitioners and so much more. These alumni members are spread across the world so when I travel and a young confident man or woman comes up to me on a flight or in a foreign country and say to me “I was a student of Olashore International School”, it gladdens my heart. So this is one of the school’s numerous achievements that I can single out as the greatest.