Mrs. Modupe Adeyinka-Oni has been involved with teaching youngsters for 38 years. She was a teacher at the Corona Schools before establishing Standard Bearers School, Lekki some 24 years ago. She is very passionate about matters that have to do with the application of technology in the school system,bridging the gap between different categories of schools in the country, education for all and the continued development of the teacher. Here are excerpts from an interview with her:
Standard Bearers School is 24 years old and you have raised children across this span of time. Now you see your products out there, children you have raised, and who have gone on to play roles in society. How do you connect with this as an educationist?
It is very simple. I was working with Corona School and I had a very fantastic career, I enjoyed my job but my first child was slightly introverted and I came to realize that the big school didn’t really work for him. Corona school delivered their service in that the children did very well. But sometimes it goes beyond doing well in school. It is also about having the freedom to choose and having been taught in a different way myself, I could connect with the need for a bit more engagement. And I felt that my son would probably benefit from a smaller school.
As an educationist also, I could reflect on the positive and the negative sides of his school vis-à-vis his personality. I say this because before my son started with Corona, he had been in a very small nursery school. Now at Corona, for literally one and a half term, my son would go out at break time, stand on one spot, watch the other children play, and not play with anyone.
As a young mother, I was anxious. And because I was also a popular teacher in the school, everybody wanted to also play with him. I kept on talking about it at home, and then one day he decided to play with them, but he still didn’t go out there to make a lot of friends.
Different schools work for different children. And so, I needed a school where my children would not just go but will thrive. I did not go on and pull him out of Corona school at this time though because I didn’t even understand it the way I understand it now. He however left to come to my school much later and that was because I discovered a learning gap and that gap was in reading. My son is extremely brilliant and he has the ability to memorize anything.
But then I discovered that though he was coming up in unit position in class, he couldn’t read. We went through a series of questions and answers with him, and finally he revealed to us that his teacher had called him ode because when he came to the school, he was using phonics to pronounce words. And she said: ‘why are you reading like an ode, read properly.’ He didn’t know what ode was, but other children laughed. And he made up his mind that he was never going to read in class again because he didn’t want to be called ode.
When they call him to read, he would just stand there. ‘Okay you don’t want to read, go and sit down.’ And I didn’t get to know about this until the summer of his fourth year, and when he was going to Grade 5.
And so he came over to our school and in six months he was reading. And he tells the story with pride anytime; ‘I learnt to read in primary 5, I learnt it and imbibed it, and not only did I then want to read but I also wanted to write.’ He is indeed very good when it comes to reading and writing skills.
So, in talking about my children here in the school, and what I think is most notable about them, I will say it is their confidence. We don’t tell them what they cannot do, rather we tell them that if you can dream it, you can do it. We are a small school, a family school, and we believe that children should be able to express themselves in their natural environment. Because if there is anything to correct, it is through their expression that we can see it. We make it a way of life for them, so, they are forever performing.
We dance. It is a skill that I came to understand, like speaking and listening, is also a language of communication and the children actually ascribe high value to it.
Dance for us is mandatory. I tell them when you get to secondary school and they call on you to dance, please step out and dance. Because that is one singular thing that will define where people place you. You don’t know it but I know it as an educator.
Where the children will place you in terms of the seniors and where the staff will place you. They will say you are forward, but indeed if they see you as forward, they will continue to engage you in that way. So, it is mandatory for us. We got them a very good dance teacher who takes them through what we call creative development. Creative development is about dance, spoken word, drama, and music. And in this way, we have improvised a curriculum that is still fashioned along the line of the Nigerian and British curriculum but it is uniquely different in the sense that we have put the creative side of learning into everything. So, with every opportunity, we can turn any lesson into a movie production. If you came in here earlier today (International Cultural Diversity Day), every class had picked a country to focus on. The children in that class dressed themselves in the attire of, and learned about the country, and had to talk about what they learned. And every child has to say something; that is another thing that we do here.
And so what happens when they leave? With the amount of confidence we have instilled in them and that ability to do, to innovate and think outside the box, we have had children who have gone into the entertainment world, some of them have gone to the banking sector, etc.
Recently I bumped into a parent who I had not seen since the children left the school and he was so excited because he said his three children have done fantastically well because of the foundation we gave them.
Confidence is a most important thing for children. For a lot of children, their voices are being drowned out under that old philosophy of children only being permitted to listen and not be heard.
I believe so much in this soro soke generation; let them have their say and help them to shine the right values behind what they are saying. We are a school that has imbibed the very notable ‘7 habits of highly effective people’ which we communicate through a programme called ‘the leader in me.’ So, our children understand the same thing. Right down to nursery, they know it.
When we start putting those kinds of values in them, we believe that our children are born to be leaders, they have already learned the foundation. So, we have five pillars that we focus on: creativity, innovation, leadership, entrepreneurship, and technology. Outside of the core academics, they must absolutely embrace these five. We believe it is a combination of that and the academics that go on to set them apart. A lot of them have gone on to Ivy League universities, are working in Wall Street, Silicon Valley, etc. I have children that started in finance, and because of the knowledge of the fact that they can evolve, have also gone on to demonstrate interest in technology, Bitcoin, and stuff like that.
How do your children with such high competencies, high expectations eventually connect with the many other Nigerians who do not have the skill set we are talking about? Is there enough being done to ensure that this does not become a problem going forward?
First of all, I want to go back to the question of those children you say we are raising. Yes, some of them are going abroad and some of them are attending universities here. Now I have mentioned the ‘soro-soke’ generation. Do you know what I think about them? Because of their education, their ability to conduct research, inquire to know more, and seek knowledge for knowledge sake, they have come to understand that the way Nigeria is being governed today is absolutely wrong. Our children are not tribal, they are not religious, indeed they respect everybody’s religion. Even on issues of sexual orientation, they are not as shocked as we are.
What I find that is unique about these children is that they are ready to work hard, and they understand that Nigeria will change when everybody is given a fair chance. And that is why those of my generation – people who went to school between 1955 and 1985 – must concede that we haven’t done a good job. It is our fault.
And I connect this to several factors, including the fact that we did not want to be in government ourselves and we thought that we were making a good decision for ourselves and our families, but the reality today is that though there are families that have benefited but Nigeria overall has suffered.
Someone said to me yesterday that when we call ourselves the giants of Africa, it is a lie. We are in truth, one of the poorest nations in Africa. In which other country do they treat their human resource the way Nigerian leaders do? When China began to educate their people, they amassed so much wealth and power that even America now feels threatened.
But what have we done? We have crippled our nation by our own selfishness and our own greed. I count myself as part of the problem because I am asking myself why do we have the private and public schools? Why is it that the private school is thriving and the public school is seemingly deteriorating? For someone who went to a public unity school, it does not make sense. I went to school with children from all types of backgrounds. I don’t have an elitist mindset but somehow when we graduated and insisted on staying in our own personal spaces, we have now woken up to find out that 35% of our youth are illiterates.
Then you also ask yourself; we have had 20 years of an elected government, and in these twenty years of democracy, the politicians, the leaders, the whole system, has practically failed the people.
Now back to the children, the millennials, Generation Y, Generation Z; no matter how bad or corrupt they are, they will never be like our generation. This is because many of the children who came out for the #EndSARS protests are children of the elite who are questioning the decisions of their parents.
Indeed, I think the first thing elite Nigerians need to do is to tell ourselves the truth because it is only through this that we can find solutions.
Look at the kidnapping, I was asking the other day why is it so bad? Somebody said because people are hungry. And yes, they are hungry.
Some people came to Nigeria to do a documentary of Nigeria and as they were getting ready to go back, we had a chat. From it, I found out that so many African countries no longer see us as the continental giant.
I was told that it is not as if there is no corruption elsewhere in Africa, but nobody in Kenya will take a contract and not do the contract. They are so concerned about their image, especially in their communities. They want to be able to point to a project and say I did that for my community. But in Nigeria, the politicians think they can get away with it, so they just rob the nation.
You made some point about the use of technology in the educational space. That brings me to the Technovation Challenge. Thinking about it, I am asking myself how much technology can children grasp at this stage? How is it designed and how important is technology at this time?
Prior to 2019, I had started to look more critically at the role of technology beyond the subject as ICT but I couldn’t feel it in the mind because I am not very skilled in technology myself. In January of 2019, the coding instructor in school approached me and said there is a competition, and the period of time they had to take part in this competition was the period where they had finished their exams and I was myself trying to get my mind around how to engage the children as they had finished their exams. Exams that used to start after Easter in the country with common entrance, individual schools now set their date and time, and we start those exams now as early as October of the preceding year. So I called the children, about 5 of them, and told them that there is this competition, would they like to do it. They said yes, Mrs Oni. I said look this competition is going to require that you put in a lot of work. They said it was okay. I said it is going to require five to six hours a day, meaning you will come in and learn this thing. They said yes. Again, not everybody can get to that level of discipline at the age they were which is between 10 and 11. The whole techno-vation challenge is teaching not just the tech side of things but the business side also. So, they came in as project managers and they all had departments, learned the marketing side of things, and everybody found their own niche and together they built this app which got them into the finals. And when I got to hear that they were in the finals, the first thing that struck me was that we were in a competition with children from around the world, and most of the time without speaking their languages, the organisers were able to use technology to communicate with everybody, such that they will actually get them to collaborate on projects yet they could not speak each other’s languages. I saw here there that there was something that had taken place that we had missed.
The second thing that caught my attention was that we visited Uber and we were talking to their top management and most of these people were under 30. There was only one Indian lady that was maybe like 33. And then I said to myself that something has happened here that Nigeria has refused to also allow to happen back at home. These are the people driving Uber in their jeans, khakis, and shorts. This is the environment where we are, the workforce of the future, and back in Nigeria we are still at the bottom. I had just encountered a shift and I came back with a stronger determination to ensure that we bridge the gap in our own teaching and learning.
Now this is a very difficult thing to do because I had to come back and try to transmit that to my teaching staff and for a lot of us, when we look at the philosophies of education that inform our different practice in the classroom, the reality is that most teachers in Nigeria are oriented towards pouring both the wealth and limits of their knowledge into their children. So, the children are the receptors and they call it banking education.
From my days in school, to what I saw in America, and coming back, I understood that there was a challenge. It is not easy to get people to change their teaching style, especially people who have become established. Because that pyramid shift is the toughest part of the change process. This requires having a different mindset to say the way I teach is wrong, I need to let go. It has therefore been a lot of push and pull. I model it, I talk about it, I wield the big stick if it is necessary, but at the end of the day the staff understand that my desire is to get them to be better in their teaching and to make the teaching and learning in the school more interesting.
It is the same process we have to go through nationally but our leaders don’t understand it. These youths are trying to do things, trying to make a difference out there, giving online solutions to the back office of the school, to help with the collection of data, there are so many offerings, they need to be understood.
I belong to a group where we have actually taken on board the assignment to actually help schools whose pupils are paying between N20-25, 000 and below as fees to help to train their teachers. And it is just a voluntary thing that we are doing.
Just recently we had our first online version of the project and we were able to reach more people than we could have at a physical event. We had people from Port Harcourt and other places participating. It showed us that the teachers are actually looking for the help it is just that nobody really remembers them. We are committed to working with them. Next month, we are having another. What we do is that we partner with a few NGOs who bring us schools and they use their centres, and have representatives from various schools attending. But we also share the Zoom link for those that can go online from their private homes to join in as well. The feedback has been tremendous and we are all encouraged to keep at it.
There are so many other things. I am involved in projects working with IDP camps, we are trying to find educational and even online solutions to solving the problem of the lack of education among the IDPs. One of the pledges I made to God when I celebrated my 60th birthday was that I will dedicate time to the teaching of his children to ensure that they get better instruction. Because we are all creations of God and there is nobody that God created that he didn’t give a talent to. It is the same with everybody, we are all on this line, everyone’s talent is there, everyone has their place and their usefulness. For my team and for all those that have partnered with us, it is important that we correct the mistake and everybody makes a little bit of effort to support. And it is not a handout. You cannot continue to give money because it is said that it is better to teach a person to fish than to give them fish. And that is where I am.
Covid happened and affected the world. You are talking about online interactions; I am not too sure a lot of that was going on before Covid?
No, it wasn’t. For the education sector, Covid disrupted us into a much better place. It helped us see ourselves not just as Nigerians. One thing about Nigerians is that we compare ourselves and status by what is going on in Nigeria. But Covid pushed us to compare ourselves on a global stage, and so having exposed us to the world and exposed the world to us, there is no going back.
In education, we were teaching classes online on account of the COVID restrictions. Now, though we are back in physical school, every child is with their laptop. Assignments are done on the laptop. I tell parents when they complain about their children staying on the computer, that the key thing they have to learn from that computer is their typing speed because tomorrow that is how they are going to take their notes. Nobody writes long notes anymore and this is a good reality check for Nigerians.
Now having said that, there is the expense of pivoting into digital learning and there is even a greater expense that has to be made and that is in upskilling.
On The Platform, they asked me at the end of my speech, ‘we don’t have computers, projectors, how will we do this online learning.’ I said to them even my school has not yet attained to where it is supposed to be in digital learning. But the first thing beyond learning how to use the computer or projector is to identify what courses you are going to teach online. Because the teachers who are going to teach these subjects have to be taught. And many of them don’t know how to put on the computer. So, it is an investment.
Now during the World Economic Forum in 2019, there was this session on the future of work. And I recall a speaker saying that in sub-Saharan Africa there is going to be a loss of 55,000 jobs, but that the good news is that there will be replaced by 104,000 new jobs.
The question is how are we going to upskill the people to enter into these new jobs, because they are technology-related. We have the population, but the people that have the technology do not have the numbers. Africa has the population and does not have the knowledge. So, the world understands that they have to focus on Africa.
In fact, it is being said that in the next decade, Africa will be home to the headquarters of many global organizations. Now if that is going to happen, we have to have the local skills to take those jobs. So that got me thinking about this upscaling and upskilling. The cost of doing that is the problem. Africa/Nigeria does not have the resources for it now. The cost of building and equipping a school and training the teachers for just one school is massive. If we look at the budget of education in our country, basically what it does right now is that it pays salaries; there is no money for resources, maintenance, even sending teachers for programmes to improve themselves. And because of that, many teachers don’t even know that they have inadequacies in their learning.
When we are talking of the digital era, if we don’t solve the human resource part of it then the other problem will not even go away. One of the things we are focusing on is the redevelopment of teachers, and it is only after we have gotten the trainers to our own side that we can now say let us start training the children. It is a somewhat long process but the truth is that it cannot be denied anymore; the Nigerian educational system is broken.
On the issue of the gulf in the sector and how we are to bridge it, our first note is that it wasn’t always this wide. That said, we have to fix the trainers and fix the gap between the private and the public. One of the things we see now is that for beneficiaries of high-end private school education, many of them go away for more schooling and then stay abroad. Back at home, you have those who endure a lot of our broken systems which give very little value and it is these same children that some people are now calling hoodlums. I don’t call them hoodlums, because at the end of the day if we failed to do something and we see the result of our own work, we should not now say that because we failed, they failed too. No, we must try educating them properly.
Why do we have so many hackers in Nigeria? Because they have gone to the dark side of the internet. Why not give them amnesty and say that this your skill, let us put you in a programme, take a job. They are brilliant, the fact that they can do the things they do shows that they are intelligent. But though many of them can do these things but they are not really able to read and write to pass and go on to the university because they were never really properly taught. But because they are smart, they are watching someone do it, and modelling the things they need to do and they do trial and error and they get it. So, they learnt on the job.
It is the same problem somewhat with Boko Haram. Half of those who are doing these things don’t know that Saudi Arabia is like the city of gold where everything is so clean and fine, and Western education is thriving there. But here they are being conditioned to believe that western education is bad because they do not want their eyes opened. At the end of the day it is a lack of knowledge.
If you have to design something like an adjustment in our educational sector, take the Ministry of Education and tell us three to five things we have to turn around. What should we do, because if we don’t fix education, we can’t fix the country?
If I was in government and looking at what is going on, I think anybody will know that illiteracy is the problem. Whichever way we can do it, let us go back to the basics. When the white man came to Nigeria and brought education, how did they teach us their language that became our lingua franca. They taught it, they encouraged us to speak it. We saw it as something that was new, novel, and there were incentives for coming to school.
We need to look at some of the things that they did. Yes, some of the things that they did got to influence us but the truth of the matter is that Nigeria is influencing the whole world now because they are dancing to Burna Boy now, they are giving him a Grammy award. We have things that we are exporting that are good.
Look at Nigerians abroad, how many of them are in Biden’s administration. We are doing good things, but must our children have that mindset that except they escape from Nigeria, they cannot be better? Many of these people who are now in the oppressive state of mind went abroad and got western education themselves. Literacy is what is going to set the minds of each person free. Nigeria is in this state because we have too many illiterates who cannot think for themselves and all they do is listen to that mob voice, ‘they say we should do this and we will do it.’ They cannot stop to reason if that is good or not.
Maslow’s hierarchy of need places food and shelter at the base of the pyramid. Most of Nigeria is still wallowing in that place. If we don’t do things about food and shelter by giving them the opportunity to earn, give incentives to people to learn to read and speak properly, and then empower them, we would still have issues.
Did you see a recent video of ewedu being sold in Walmart? If we don’t start farming it for exports, the Chinese and Malaysians will overtake us. Just like the way Malaysia took our oil palm. We need to go into mechanized farming, we need to upscale everything. So, farmers own everything, but we should have arrangements where farmers harvest their crops, you do quality control, and everybody knows that from your farm, whatever you harvest this company is buying it. It is a fixed price.
What does this do for them? They can look after their children, they can improve their lives, they can send their children to school and at the same time they are working to ensure that the products get better and better, and they have a market and that market begins to export. We have to make them equitable people of society by giving them a better life.
Can you see how many people are homeless in Lagos? We have to make them understand that people need to stop coming to Lagos, there is nothing in Lagos. Let them stay in their villages. There was a time when the community will find one smart child, put money together, and send that child to school. We need to go back to that. Communities need to get involved in the process of education. Leaders of the community are encouraging all the children to go to school, and in going to school they are putting incentives in front of them to keep going.
How much is our politics the problem?
It is a problem because we elected the wrong leader and we keep getting them there because they come every election year with their garri and their 500 naira and hungry people think this is our time to take from the purse. Immediately they get that mandate, they are gone for four years, and in that period, they don’t see a need to do anything.
Parties are too expensive on the front end, and it is too expensive on the back end when they get into office because they feel that they have come to recoup the money that they spent in the process. So, it is winner takes all kind of mentality. That is not politics.
What will be the shape of the school of the future. What are you seeing?
I believe that because we now have digital meetings and can look at what the trends in the world are pointing to, schools will no longer exist as we have them today. I believe that children will have a greater choice and parents will allow them to make that choice. We have seen it with the Covid where some children have stayed home for a whole year and have not missed out on any activity. When they grow up, what is it that someone will say to them about keeping their children in online schools that will sound strange? They have experienced it even if it is for a month.
I think that the evolution of schools is for us to think beyond the indoor. Recently, we had an event, an election, and the head boy candidate had to present his manifesto, and in his manifesto, he said I promise that I will work with the management to ensure that all of our classes are filled with engagements. What the children want is that they don’t want you to talk to or at them, they want you to engage them.
Learning in the future is going to be about doing. It is what we should have been doing, because in doing so many things happen. If you are having an engaging class, as a teacher you can direct the dialogue, you can listen and really understand if the children have learned what you are teaching because it would be demonstrated in the kind of conversations they have. You can also take advantage of that that kind of conversation to find out more about what they want.
We are all lifelong learners. The greatest lifelong learner is the teacher not the child. Your job is to bring together the collaboration of everyone, their efforts, their research into a position paper on that topic. So when before now, you will write notes and come and tell them that these are your notes, now that is becoming the wrong course to follow. The world is changing so fast and if you are not connected to the internet, you will miss out on a lot of information. What we do here is that we have partnered with a lot of organizations, and we are using their tools, we are opening up our schools to a more robust teaching and learning engagement environment.
Our teachers have to go outside to teach. There is just so much that is new, existing, that is happening in the classroom. We all know that there are videos online that we can use to teach and also we are now getting our children to make videos. So instead of submitting plagiarised works, they understand research and copyright, they cannot just copy and paste. Summarize it in your own words. So, we now tell them instead of submitting a PowerPoint presentation, do a video.
What this whole process is teaching us is that education is constantly changing. Children in primary school today we are teaching them for jobs that don’t exist. If the jobs don’t exist, why are we teaching them? Only the skills and competences of the 21st century are what we are focused on.
We seem to be caught between the old and the new. Your school has done a lot in managing the tension by being dynamic, but what about the bigger picture?
Change happens in one community at a time. It takes one person to start it. That is not to say I am calling myself a change maker but who knows. I feel that a lot more people are aware, I feel that the soro soke generation are more demanding, especially of what they want for their children. I feel like this whole process cannot be stopped, and the fact that the government refused to acknowledge it but history has recorded it was actually the catalyst. From that we have seen a lot of things happening in the nation.
Finally, CSR. You are engaged in a number of projects, helping with the training of teachers. How long have you been doing it and going forward what next should we expect?
Over 10 years. We were doing it in physical schools. We started in Ijesha, we took about 30 schools in Ijesha and we had a five-day conference and we worked with them about how to teach English, classroom management, classroom discipline, and everything that had to do with teaching. We also talked about their personal development. We had people from HR, we had educators and we had this five-day programme with them. Again, it is voluntary work so we actually contributed the money ourselves.
The next one we took it to Ogudu and we had a bigger event with about 200 plus people in attendance. Then there was a third one. And then we now started having smaller ones because donor fatigue set in. We picked it up again during Covid and I think this time we have better chances.
Another thing that we tried to do was that they had the option of if we wanted, they could come to our school and shadow my teachers. That particular school in Ijesha did that and when I called the proprietress, she said it has totally transformed her school.
What we are planning to do now is to take the initiative online. This is how we can bridge the gap.
Finally, one of the benefits of the Covid-19 era for me is that the problem with the children on the street has become my problem. I know that I have made a pact with God that if he empowers me with the resources, this is going to be my legacy project. It is about impacting the children. Because we cannot multiply the teachers that quickly and in such mass through physical outreach, that is why we need an online solution.