In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, the Chairman Board of Governors, Olashore International School, Iloko-Ijesha, Osun State, Prince Abimbola Olashore explained why parents must work with the school to monitor their children who in turn must confide in them on issues bothering them. The move, he said will guard against mental illness and the rising cases of suicide. Excerpts:
Olashore International School recently commemorated its silver jubilee, what has been the its biggest challenge?
A school like ours was established to make a contribution to education; the first area is that people see private education as money making venture. They believe that it is for profit, but we believe that it’s for philanthropic endeavour and from that perspective, you get very little support. I am subject to land taxes and because of that perception that private school tuition is relatively high compared to public schools, it is for profit. So we get very little support. The other side is that for people that invest in very little education, you would have thought that they will give some tax relief to the investor so as to encourage people to invest even more, but we don’t see that there. If I look at my own school in particular, the location is a challenge.
It is far away from highbrow cities; over 90 per cent of our parents are from outside the state, so they travel all the way. Perception of security, road and distance are some of the challenges. However, the location was an advantage to us because it is serene and very safe. In the last 25 years, so many private schools have sprung up so that put a strain on the capacity of personnel. So we had to keep on investing on the teachers. I know I must attract teachers from Lagos and other places that means I must invest in infrastructure and make it attractive for them to come there. Another issue is the fact that since it is a very competitive industry, we consider the cost of training and making sure that you have the best personnel. But we thank God that in the last 25 years, we have been able to weather the storm and we are able to contribute meaningfully to the development of the country.
How were you able to galvanise support from stakeholders?
Our first stakeholder is our community, we are located in a village in Iloko, so what that means is that the success of the school is highly dependent on how the villagers themselves accept the school. So we are quite pleased that we have massive support from the community. To us, it is a partnership between the school and the community. Just as the school is supporting the community, the community is also doing the same. We have so many community outreach programmes. We invest in the Local Authority Primary School and also support Iloko Model College in terms of scholarship and investment in the healthcare facilities. This will obviously bring employment opportunities for people living in the area. Just as we are giving back to the community, they are making us extremely safe. They understand that this is a highbrow school that brings in lots of visitors so they ensure that people are welcome.
Our parents are part of our stakeholders, we give them value for their money and we ensure that when they come, their comfort is very paramount. Based on that, we invested in a four star hotel to accommodate them so that they can enjoy the serenity of Iloko. We have a very active Parent Teacher Association (PTA) that allows for very strong interaction between the parents and the school. The parents too are represented on the board of governors, which allows for very strong interaction between us. The government is another stakeholder. We are quite happy that they are very supportive, anytime we have major events they turn up and show their support, they see it as major business in the state. In terms of security, the Nigerian police and government support us. This is to send a strong signal that Iloko is a very safe place to come to.
What should be the main focus of school managers on the challenges confronting today’s youths?
What we saw when we started the school was that we felt aside academics, skills and awareness is also very important, as well as having patriotic citizens. From day one, the school has been very big on leadership, we identified that we must try and build the leadership qualities of our students it is not about political leadership, but leadership in every spheres that you are in. So we have a very robust leadership programme that enables us to develop the skills inherent in all our students. Bear in mind that with the way the world is going, it is not about the academic performance, but also about skills acquisition. So we ensure that as a school, we come up with programmes that will identify the skills that the students will use to develop themselves.
At the end of the day, it is such skills that you can apply that will be more meaningful aside your academic qualification. We have a very robust vocational training programme that emphasises skills. In other to bring out their leadership qualities, we now have a diversified programme in the area of drama. For instance, we have a drama troupe that showcases the Nigerian culture and brings out issue on leadership and sometimes we do take the students round the country to be exposed to it. As a matter of fact, our drama has won quite a number of awards. We also have a very big sports facilities, the school is on a hundred acres of land, so it gives you an idea of how extensive it is. We believe that sports, aside making you to be mentally alert, make you fit. We have a very robust sports programme and we believe that everybody must participate.
We also have an Olympic size swimming pool; we believe that swimming is a life skill so any student that comes in must learn how to swim. We are also an active member of the Association of International School Educators in Nigeria (AISEN) and we have an interaction with other schools so we can develop programmes for the school community where we also share trainings and other issues. We believe Olashore education is not just about academics, but you will get academic performance that is commensurate with your ability. It is more broad-base when you leave us, you can actually face the challenges of the society.
There is a growing trend of suicide among youths in the country, what could be the cause and possible solution?
We have a mental wellness programme which made us see the growing mental index that we must be aware of. So we took it up as a school to try and demystify the issue because both of them go side by side with the issue of drugs which seems to be prevalent among youths. Societal pressure and coping with depression are also some of those things that make the youths to commit suicide. Among youths, there is a pressure to succeed from parents and the environment. These days, there seems to be huge emphasis on academic qualification, this puts a lot of pressure on the youths and if you don’t watch it, it will make them do things they don’t want to do.
So every year, we organise a conference where we bring in seasoned experts, parents and educators so that we can talk about it and create awareness about the fact that there is a lot of pressure from the society. How do we watch up for the signs of mental wellbeing? If you know the signs, then you can start tackling it from a very early age to guard against suicide among young people. This does not just happen overnight. There must have been signs earlier on. As a school, how do you recognise those signs? How do we put in support for them? We have a medical team comprising two doctors and five nurses, we also have on our payroll people who can help with mental wellness, they advise students to work with parents such that if they see any signs, they will quickly deal with it. So when you see our students, apart from working with parents, there are other staff that they can go to, to discuss their problems. For the youths, it is about getting people they can talk to and confide in before they start bottling up all kinds of frustration. We have a second lecture coming up on October 10, which is the World Mental Wellness Day. Our plan is that every year, we have this lecture to continue to build the awareness. Sometimes people don’t want to talk about it, society still stigmatises mental illness. Instead of talking about it, they hide it.
What effort is the board making to ensure that the old students give back to their alma mater?
The alumni body is a major stakeholder, we have over 2,000 of them and just this year, the alumni executive was inaugurated to interface with the alumni. We have always had a very strong database and we have a magazine which we produce twice a year that keeps them in touch. What we have now realised is that they need to have their own executive body to take care of their activities. So we are quite pleased that has taken off this year. Mr. Bode Olanipekun is the Chairman of the alumni body. Our own view is that there will be continuous interaction with the alumni body. I always tell people that the school belongs to the alumni. I wish that one day in the near future, the chairman and principal of the school will be from the alumni body. So what we have done within the board of governors is to create space for the alumni to be on the board such that as years go by, they will have the mind-set that it is their school and they can begin to play a more active role.
Aside this, members of the alumni have been attending the school’s valedictory programme and speech day. Before, we used to have guest speakers that come to address the students, but in the last 15 years, it has been the alumni that have been coming and it has been very successful. There is nothing as good as when the students sit in the hall and an alumnus comes to speak to them. The first thing we must do as a school is to keep the relationship alive and well. It is up to us also to keep them well informed regarding what the school is up to. We have been doing that over the years so they know what is going on. As a matter of fact, we are now getting to an age where they have more free time and even more resources to put back into the school. But especially, we don’t look at it from the point of view of them coming to build things, it is more about their own children coming into the school, so if you are proud of your school, you would want your child to go there. As alumni, they see the school’s needs and they will be proud to contribute as a group, they can also contribute as a year set so that is the way it works.
How would you describe the school’s relationship with the immediate community, and what key social responsibility activities exist that impact on the development of the community?
Our CSR activities cover a number of areas: our year-10 students work with the community every year with a view to proffering solutions to their pressing needs. Last year, we realised that the boreholes in the village were no longer functioning. The students had to set up a fund-raising to fix the boreholes. I was quite pleased when I went to commission the five boreholes in April this year. Sometime ago, there was a heavy rain which affected the palace wall, the students also thought of how to raise the money to fix the wall. It is part of their leadership training. They also built the wall around the town hall and painted it. That is one aspect of community CSR, another aspect is the local authority community school, the students go there to teach the primary school pupils and do other joint projects with them. In the community health centre, they had an outreach programme on ‘roll back malaria’. These are some of the extensive programmes that we do every year. There is no way we can be in a community and not interact; the community and the school are one. We must look for how we can improve and they have been very appreciative of our efforts.
How have you been able to sustain the relationship with the parents to ensure that their children make good progress in school?
In training a child, there is a role for parents and there is a role for the school. It is not for the parents to abdicate their roles to the school, but they have an active interest. We will always be giving you regular information about the progress of your child. The biggest one is disciplinary issues. When it comes to that aspect, we have always told our parents that they must support and work with us. We have a rule book which spells out the ‘dos and don’ts’ and also tells them the punishments such as suspension and expulsion for wrongdoings. For suspension, when we tell parents that their child is to go home for a week, they cannot tell us that they are not available to pick up such a child. It has been happening and our parents are extremely cooperative.
When we expel as well, we explain the situation without disclosing the confidentiality of expulsion to other people. Though it is not a very nice thing to do to expel a child, but it is the last resort. On discipline, we have a very strong record. What that means is that at the beginning of the year, we appeal to parents that their children must not break our rules. When we are applying our discipline, we don’t look at the personality behind it. Most of the time when the child who has been suspended comes back to school, he is reformed and changed. The culture of our rules is that a lot of people conform to it. If we have to discipline, we also carry the PTA along. We have a strong mechanism that allows parents to appeal when they feel that the punishment is excessive. We have a committee on the board that has the PTA chairman that will review it.
What strategic plan do you have in place for the next 25 years?
Hopefully the chairman of the board should be an alumnus. A lot of issues will be alumni-driven. As I have said, we are big on leadership and within the next 25 years, there should be a proper manifestation of the leadership training from our students to be more visible in the society. When our students go into the universities, they do very well. If they go abroad, they get massive scholarship from the universities as former students of Olashore. We are seeing that and that is because they put a lot of value on our school. In the workplace, we are also seeing the difference and over the next 25 years, we will start seeing more of that manifesting.
In Forbes African promising under 30 list released last year, two of our students were on it. We are quite proud of that; it is the manifestation of the kind of training that they had. The vision is still to maintain the leadership role as one of the foremost schools in the country, we are quite proud of that. When you are 50 years, you don’t look at how beautiful your campus is anymore, but you are concerned about how people perceive your products and their impact in the society.