Nigerian-British education expert, Chika Okafor Aneke is passionate about impacting lives with her unique ways of teaching, called, Mindful Learning”. As the Chief Executive Officer of Learnomic, an education consultancy company that helps train school personnel, and establishes sustainable systems that encourage better learning, she tells MARY NNAH how she has constantly recognised and creatively empowered and nurtured talents
What was your childhood like?
My childhood was happy and busy. I didn’t have a traditional upbringing. I come from a large mixed family. In total I have four sisters, three brothers, two step mums, and a lot of uncles, aunties and cousins from the UK and Nigeria. My father was also a traditional ruler so many a holidays was spent in Nigeria in the village. My parents were amazing mindful role models and I am blessed that get my creativity, work ethic and the important ability to work hard and play harder (work-life balance) from them.
How did your passion for teaching start?
Well my parents would tell you that as a little girl I always played, ‘schools.’ Family members were the students and I was the principal! I always tell parents to watch their children when they play, as often, it shows their life passion and God given talents. After university, I saw an advert for Science teachers of which there was a shortage in UK at that time, and I applied. We also got paid,
as the training was a revolutionary method of teacher training, it was called school centred initial teachers training (SCITT).
It was like a teaching apprenticeship. We worked beside teachers, but as we know, teachers are over stretched so we often were given tasks and were expected to be
accountable, just like any other teacher, not as a trainee.
It certainly was not for the faint hearted. I know myself and many of my graduating class have been extremely successful teachers and leaders thanks to this solid beginning.
Take us through your journey into education and work experience till date
I started teacher training after university while working in London and seeing Princess Diana daily. One day she told me I’d make a wonderful teacher and coincidentally, I had actually just seen an article for Science teachers. I saw it as fate and signed up. The rest is history. I worked in London for 10 years at an acclaimed award winning inner city school, Fulham Cross School.
A year after my father’s death I was asked to help set up a grassroots international standard boarding school in Nigeria, Brookstone School Secondary School. This project was an AMSCO initiative with the United Nations Development Project (UNDP), the IFC, World Bank, Stichling Foundation and African Development Bank were also involved. I had a diplomatic status and we won AMSCO project of 2006.
It was then time for me to get married and have my children, so a career break was taken. I then worked for Pinefield’s School and College, The learning Place, Ikoyi Nursery and consulted for popular International Schools.
In my many years of experience working as a teacher with children, families and adults; in addition to my leadership experience in the education sector, and my health experience with the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, I have seen many common trends.
I discovered that mental health is no different from our physical health. Just like we strive to prevent the physical health from deteriorating, it is also helpful to prevent mental illness and injury. For example: Stress affects all, regardless of age or status human beings need strategies to cope. Being proactive with our mental health at a young age is a powerful life-long tool.
So with this realisation in mind, while in the UK, I desired to find ways to teach children how to take care of their mental health. I understood that in order to ensure children’s success in life, a mix of both academics in school, out of school learning (talents and passions), and mental health wellness training would ensure that we are raising intellectually sound, mentally balanced children. I also realised that the parents and families that these children grow up with also need their mental wellness, in order to have the capacity to bring up the kids in a mindful, well-rounded way.
I practice mindfulness and have been on a mindful journey for many years. As a result, I signed up for classes that trained me on how to teach mindful learning. The rest, as they say, is history. At Learnomic, my education consultancy platform, we are the only UK-trained providers of mindful learning in Nigeria. We work with children, families, schools, and organisations.
What exactly is Mindful Learning?
The idea of mindful learning is based on the premise that learning is not about memorising. Learning is about mindfully and consciously understanding
the “why” and having an unbiased awareness to take conscious actions based on that understanding. You see, human beings are often in autopilot mode. All our lives, we have been socialised to do things in certain ways simply because for generations, that’s how it’s been done. So we memorise systems of “being” without understanding why, and what those implications have for our individual lives.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to doing things. This is why often times, people suffer depression, agitation, and poor self-image which ultimately affects their capacity to learn – because we’re constantly forcing ourselves to see or do things from that universal standard when in reality, we are all unique individuals with unique circumstances, who need unique approaches to learning and doing things. Our
human condition of needing to be liked, popular and perfect at all we do have hijacked our attention.
Mindful learning is a learning strategy that encourages paying attention in the present moment on purpose, and without judgement of the past or assumptions about the future.
When we mindfully pay attention to the situation at hand in the present, free of judgement, this is when true learning occurs. Benefits of mindful learning include: Improving cognitive ability, lowering anxiety and stress, improving attention and concentration, creating leadership skills and strengthening self-control & improving self-esteem.
The idea of mindful learning isn’t common in Nigeria. Why do you think it is needed in this part of the world?
My mission is to exponentially raise awareness about mindful learning in Nigeria. Although at Learnomic, we are currently the only trained providers of mindful learning services in Nigeria, I am working hard to make sure this idea becomes
widespread, which will inspire more people to adopt this practice.
Mindful learning is definitely needed in Nigeria, everywhere you look people are being controlled by their emotions and ‘amygdala’, especially during these uncertain times. We are all learning to adjust to the “new normal” due to the pandemic. The way the country operates will never be the same, even after the pandemic is over – whenever that will be.
We are in a phase of re-learning how to do things. The best way for us to cope with this transition, is through mindful learning: In our homes, schools, government, organisations, businesses,
What are some memorable moments in your life and career?
There have been so many memorable moments that have shaped my life and career. I will mention a few. There was a time in my career I was asked, ‘why do you have so many roles and why do you earn X amount?’ This was the moment I knew I was not valued in a current job and that it was time to move on after many
years. You see, this question was asked because a certain person in authority at the establishment where I worked, had the opinion that I “earned too much
money” at the time. This is a notion that was laughable, seeing as I had so many roles which I took on simultaneously, which justified how much I was paid.
I worked very hard for every penny I made. Nothing was ever handed to me without effort. I put my blood, sweat, and tears into my work. I have always
known my value and will never undersell myself.
Another memorable moment was about 13 years ago, during a trying period in my life – after the death of my father. I went to Cuba for some ‘me’ time. I was headhunted to work with a couple that was setting up a school in Port Harcourt. The project was part of United Nations (UNDP) and AMSCO initiative and I was selected to be a Diplomatic Technical
Educational Expert at the school. Due to the innovative ideas and practices I
helped institute during this period, it was said that my two years of service
was like 20 years of school leadership experience and knowledge.
In fact, a country’s government is speculated to have used one of such experiences as a reference to help inform school education policy. This AMSCO project was recognised by the African Training and Management Services (ATMS) Project, a joint project of the United Nations Development Project ( UNDP), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Stichting Foundation and African Development Bank (AfDB) as a project of the
Attending my NPQH – Institute of Education London (IOE) post graduate graduation and giving birth to my daughter, in same year! This was also a very memorable time for me. I have a picture of me holding her at my graduation. Priceless!
Getting married and having my children is an unforgettable part of my life. At a point
I thought this was not part of my destiny. I do know that if you don’t make a
change yourself, change will not happen.
Learning to be okay with not having everything all at once and being happy and grateful with the NOW is so key in life. And I encourage every woman to embrace this.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered and how have you overcome them?
Over the years, I have become highly intuitive and been able to key into my inner wisdom. This is a skill we all have but often times; we don’t listen to our
I have had many challenges, but I always see challenges as opportunities for growth. God
does not give you more than you can handle, and no snowflake ever falls in the wrong place. Rather than dwell on the challenges encountered, I would rather choose to share lessons learned from these challenges.
One important lesson I’ve learned is that how you react to challenges is in your
hands. You and only you can learn and turns things around. The state of
suffering is a human condition we can’t avoid it. But it is impermanent and we
must all learn to be kind and compassionate.
I like intentions or affirmations but with action being taken: My family and I regularly envision something we would like or area of personal growth to achieve. This ensures that we do not forget that if we can see it, feel it, believe it, we can hold
I also have the belief that goals should be unrealistic, as they are visions that challenge
and should never be easy to attain. That way if we are 50 per cent successful we have probably completed 100 per cent and above a realistic goal. You mindset and attitude are everything.
What are some changes you would like to see in the education sector?
Education is big business when really it is a right of all. Schools that are run as
businesses are very different from schools run for children’s education. Priorities are different. Children regardless of ‘wealth’ should be able to
access an education at private school quality. Believe me everyone struggles with the fees here in Nigeria, physically or morally.
More respect. Teachers must respect themselves and their professionalism and the work we do. Teaching must be seen as a career not a back up option. Schools and
teachers are a special place full of hardworking professionals. We are not
extensions of domestic staff. We all should be more mindful.
With the current pandemic and lockdown, what services are you currently rendering to families?
Learnomic was a service to help support learning even before the lockdown. During lockdown it has been an important part of family life for those who are walking the walk of consciously and intentionally parenting, not just talking the talk.
We have special offers for mindful learning packages for individuals and groups available. A free 45 minutes free consultation to find out all information and mini lesson trial is on offer from now through the summer period.
We have group and individual mindful learning packages for ages 10+, Tweens and
Teens and adults. It really is a learning game changer. The focus is on the foundation of Mindful Learning.
Those who are most successful in life all have one thing in common: Self-control. The ability to focus, pay attention and regulate emotions. Resilience and growth mindset become embedded as a result. The Learnomic Mindful Learning programme as a regular part of learning, provides this learning with practical skills.
Learnomic is also trained to teach a ‘mindfulness in schools programme’ which is currently in use in schools all over the UK.
These programmes teach practical skills that will be used life-long to improve learning, health and well-being. It’s like training the brain muscle as it grows. Rather than rebuilding when things fall apart. Best of all, it’s scientifically proven to work. Not anyone can teach this.
It’s not a worksheet or posters put up around schools. It is a skill that has to be taught by those who also practice themselves. We have been practicing for over 24 years.
This is why Learnomic and the Mindful learning journeys we have are so unique.
Learnomic hopes that all schools in Nigeria will invest in a Learnomic Mindful Learning Journey and that parents also see the value. Learnomic will be training educators and setting up mindful schools in the future, so watch this space.
As a busy entrepreneur, how are you able to balance home and work life?
I believe in the practice of Single Tasking. That is, attending to one task at a time at
any given time. This is quite contrary to the common worldview that “multi-tasking” is the best way to be efficient.
I’m able to find balance through single-tasking. My work hours are strictly work hours, even while working from home. Family time is strictly family time – I try not scheduling any work-related tasks during this timeframe. Self-care time is strictly ‘me time’! I spend time doing things I love even if it’s just reading a book or
taking a nap.
What advice would you give parents about taking care of their mental health during these uncertain times?
Be kind and compassionate to yourself. There is no instruction manual for parenting in a pandemic. We are all just learning as we go along. Don’t give yourself a hard time over anything. Be open-minded. Embrace change. Be patient with your children. They are doing their best to understand why they’ve been stuck at home, and dealing with the unusual situation we are all in. Please keep this in mind if your children suddenly become unruly. Their whole world has changed abruptly and they are trying to understand this new reality. Patiently sit and talk with them about their feelings and emotions. Do the same with your husband or wife.
Moms and Dads should also allocate some time for self-care and self-reflection. Pause. Sit with your feelings. Acknowledge them and let them go. This is the key to mindfully navigating our new normal. Start hardwiring yourself to be truly mindfully happy. @learnomic is our sharing space!