WHAT WE NEED TO REVAMP NIGERIA’S EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM BY MRS KEHINDE NWANI, CEO/FOUNDER, MEADOW HALL GROUP
COULD YOU SHARE A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR INTEREST IN THE EDUCATION SECTOR?
My name is Kehinde Nwani and I wear many hats. I’m God’s daughter, a wife, mother, educationist and a nation builder (in that order of priority, by the way). A lawyer by training, I was called to the Nigerian Bar over 30 years ago and practised for a good number of years; however, I found little fulfillment in law practice. Something was definitely lacking – PASSION; and because there was no passion, I did not have any sense of fulfillment, nor interest in pursuing that career path. Instead, 18 years ago, I decided to change career and follow my true passion, which is teaching; so I proceeded to get my qualifications in education to make me a full-fledged teacher. As a lifelong learner, I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. programme at the University of Leicester in the UK.
I am passionate about teachers and their professional development. This is the aspect I love most about education and believe it to be my calling to be a teacher’s teacher (as opposed to teaching children, that is). I thoroughly enjoy training, mentoring, coaching and leading teachers. I have this huge burden for teachers, which is quite rare, as a lot of people are mostly interested in the children. Whilst I agree that the learner should be the focus of the educational system, how can we say we care about them while paying little attention to those who teach and care for them? Teachers play an important role in shaping the minds of our children and often act ‘in loco parentis’, yet they are very often taken for granted. Sadly, teachers are neglected by government, ignored by parents and school leaders do not always appreciate them; yet we hope all will be well with the education sector? Teachers’ role is so important that even the development of a nation depends on it, therefore I think it is misplaced priorities to overlook them, in terms of their professional development and welfare.
I urge every citizen to call at least one teacher today and let him or her know how well appreciated they are as part of the celebration for the Word Teachers’ Day 2018.
WHAT, IN YOUR OPINION, ARE THE REASONS FOR THE DECLINING STANDARD OF EDUCATION IN NIGERIA?
The issues responsible for the decline of our educational standard are ‘legion’. There are issues of lack of funding, lack of resources, lack of infrastructure and so on, but as I mentioned earlier, the neglect of teachers as far as I’m concerned is the most important factor. If infrastructure and resources were to be provided but teachers still not empowered, it will yield very little result. Research has it that teachers are the most important factor (not the only factor but most important) affecting students’ learning and are responsible for their academic achievement to a very large degree, therefore, issues concerning teachers need to be the starting point in understanding the reasons for the decline in our standards. First, is the quality of the initial teacher training prospective teachers receive in our colleges of education and universities – is it fit for purpose? Can it adequately prepare those student teachers for the 21st Century School and classroom? Of course, there is also the quality of people who become teachers, most of who probably could not get into any other course therefore chose education due to the low cut-off mark. So for these weaker students, education is merely a last resort, a course for which they have very little interest. This is in direct contrast with other countries that choose their brightest and best to become teachers (such as Finland).
Secondly, beyond the initial teacher training is the lack of on-the-job training for teachers. Unlike some other professions, teachers are not mandated to attend continuous professional development programmes and conferences. You will find that because such trainings and conferences are not mandatory and do not add up to re-certification, some teachers see it as optional. Some have not attended any training in 20-30 years. Who will take their baby to a doctor who has not trained in 30 years? Yet, there are children presently being taught by such teachers? This is extremely disconcerting. Teachers need to keep updating, not only their subject knowledge but pedagogical skills as well.
Another important factor is lack of quality leadership in our schools. The American author, Pastor and leadership expert John Maxwell says everything rises and falls on leadership. Teachers with experience are simply promoted to become heads with no thorough preparation for the position. In the UK, for instance, a prospective head must have the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) or such relevant qualification. Technical skills cannot be equated with leadership skills. For example, the inability of a leader, to lead his or her team properly and get the best out of them can definitely lead to decline in standards.
Finally, there is the unrealistic focus of government and school owners on the performance of teachers measured strictly by their students’ exam result. This is matched by society’s focus on paper qualification rather than actual learning. This problem of ‘performativity’ is very serious because; since performance is regarded as the only measure of productivity, teachers simply ‘teach to the test’ thereby producing good exam results. While this will make the government, parents, schools and even the children happy, the question remains: Did learning really take place? And can the children apply what they learnt in the real world or were they just taught to memorize so as to pass exams? Performativity inhibits the creativity of teachers and refuses to acknowledge their other strengths by merely focusing on pupils’ results looking good. This surely undermines standards, as education that is focused just on passing exams rather than deep learning is useless both to the student and society as a whole.
WHAT RECOMMENDATIONS CAN YOU GIVE THE GOVERNMENT TO HELP IMPROVE THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM IN NIGERIA?
Again, I will start by looking at teachers. I would like to recommend that more specialized (education) universities be established. Teachers will benefit much more from these specialized universities as the pedagogical focus in these universities is stronger than in the regular universities which seem to focus more on content knowledge. The Graduates (newly qualified teachers) from such specialized establishments should then go through an Induction year during which time they also receive a lot of mentoring from senior teachers as is done in professions like law and medicine. This will expose them to practical day-to-day challenges and the joys of teaching. I also recommend in addition that all teachers should be mandated to sit and pass professional skill tests in numeracy, literacy and ICT, leading to an award of a Qualified Teacher Status. This status can be conferred by the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) and will help standardize and ensure a minimum level standard.
After going through all the above mentioned stages, we can safely assume that these teachers are fully trained and ‘classroom-ready’ specialists. They should, however, as they continue to practise their profession, remain up to date by attending trainings and conferences which should be mandatory, and which should count towards their re-certification by TRCN. I personally find it in bad taste for teachers to be asked to sit for exams designed for children in order to assess their knowledge; a practice adopted by some state governments. How often are lawyers and accountants asked to sit for similar exams as proof of their knowledge? Teachers are no less professionals than lawyers and doctors, and this act is tantamount to de-professionalization.
YOU HAVE ADDRESSED THE ISSUE OF QUALITY; HOW ABOUT THE ISSUE OF EQUITY BASED ON THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL?
I believe it is very important to create equal opportunities for all the children in our nation, and the 10.5 million plus school-aged children who are presently out of school should not be ignored. However, due to limited funds, I realize that it might be wishful thinking to hope that the government will build more schools. My suggestion, as a fast track measure, is to establish what I call ‘CORE CENTRES’ where core subjects – English, Mathematics and ICT – can be taught. Soft skills such as leadership and entrepreneurship and civic education can also be taught in these centres for even deeper impact. Structures such as churches, mosques and other buildings which are largely underutilized can be made use of during the day as core centres. Therefore, through such means, we can reach the hinterland and get the children in those remote areas to become literate, making it easier for them to make a decent living and not be a burden on the nation. This idea is very easy to run with and can take off immediately at little cost. Meadow Hall Foundation, the non-profit arm of Meadow Hall Group is starting a core centre in Ikorodu, and looks forward to other NGOs and interested organizations embracing this solution and running with it. Teachers for these centres (and for the public schools with teacher shortage) can be recruited from the responsible, smart members of society who are either unemployed or who want to serve their nation. Such motivated and passionate individuals can be taken through a rigorous fast track training and deployed to these centres. Also, youth corpers can be trained and co-opted into this programme. Corpers should be posted to schools in their area (rather than making them criss cross around the country) however, greater incentives can be used as a motivating factor for those who choose to go into the villages. Also, the services of retired teachers can be engaged and mass recruitment conducted to on-board more teachers. In order to provide more opportunities for out-of-school children, the government can also partner with existing programmes such as our Teach for Nigeria and the Bridge Schools. The Khan Academy programme is also a great one we can learn from.
SINCE THE GOVERNMENT CANNOT DO IT ALONE, IN WHAT AREAS CAN THE GOVERNMENT PARTNER WITH PRIVATE ENTREPRENEURS TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF EDUCATION IN NIGERIA?
Firstly, I feel the government should encourage private citizens who wish to start their own universities to focus on setting up education universities, rather than approving more ‘regular’ universities.
Secondly, government should get more involved in public private partnership (PPP) in the education sector. For example, in the UK, there are what they call Academies, an idea we can modify to suit our own society; government can partner with school owners and heads, who have a track record of successfully running their own schools, to oversee a small number of public schools in their local government, in areas close to their schools. The school owners should see it as giving back to the nation. However, for it to be a true partnership, some kind of incentive (other than monetary) can be given, such as tax exemptions, national honours and so on. I do not recommend monetary incentives, as the whole idea is to find alternatives due to lack of funds.
Lastly, due to lack of funds as mentioned earlier, government-owned tertiary institutions can have an internal business arrangement with their co-operative societies to fund some capital projects, e.g. building hostels. They can leverage on the huge co-operative societies and the funds available to them to build infrastructures, which the co-operative society would own and run for a number of years, for a profit, before handing over the infrastructure to the university. These are some alternative solutions I believe can work in the absence of adequate funding, though the ultimate solution remains for the government to increase its budgetary allocation for education to 26% as recommended by UNESCO.
RAISING THE STANDARD OF TEACHERS IS ESSENTIAL FOR QUALITY EDUCATION. DOES MEADOW HALL HAVE INITIATIVES OR PROGRAMMES TO ADDRESS THIS?
Yes, we have initiatives in place to help raise the standard of teachers in the education sector in Nigeria. I believe that in order to provide good quality education for our children, the standard of teachers cannot be compromised, thus teachers need more exposure to new practices because things change rapidly in education. There are a number of initiatives and programmes we run, specifically under our Meadow Hall Foundation and Meadow Hall Consult, our educational training, consulting and advisory subsidiary.
- Graduate Teacher Training Programme (GTTP): This is a three-month teacher training and development programme aimed at preparing young and passionate graduates for the classroom. The programme is at no cost to the graduate trainees. Through the programme, graduates are trained with the best teaching practice tools. The programme creates a platform for self-development, exposure to modern educational settings and technology, while they also have the opportunity to become educators partaking in modeling future generations. There is job placement for graduates who are exceptional during the training.
- School Adoption Programme (SAP): This is an initiative which focuses on improving the standard of education in public schools.Our pilot school is Ilasan Primary School, located within Ilasan community, Jakande area of Lagos State.Majority of the children in this community are poor and thus cannot afford qualitative education. It is within this community that Meadow Hall has adopted its first school, and we have implemented various developmental activities in an effort to improve students’ educational outcome. These activities have not only improved the quality of teaching in the school, but it has also provided students with better access to educational opportunities.
- Free Teachers’ Professional Development Training: This training is a free opportunity for teachers (both in the public and private sectors) to get updated with the latest evidence-based strategies in education. We recently organized a free training for teachers in Kaduna State.
- Meadow Hall Foundation Education Convention: The convention is a platform that provides an opportunity for teachers, school leaders, school owners, parents, community members and leaders as well as government and policy makers to gain fresh perspective on pertinent educational issues.
- Inspirational Educators’ Awards (INSEA): This is an annual award aimed at honouring teachers dedicated to imparting lifelong learning in their students. With this initiative, we also aim at elevating the teaching profession and motivating school teachers and head teachers to continue to strive for excellence in their profession.
- Educamp: This is an annual training programme targeted at all members of the educational sector within and beyond Nigeria. It is a learning platform that brings together teachers, school owners and various educational stakeholders.
SOME TEACHERS OF MEADOW HALL HAVE BEEN WITH THE SCHOOL SINCE INCEPTION; WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGY FOR TEACHER RETENTION?
Thanks. I feel blessed that indeed we are able to retain a large number of our teachers who often stay for upward of 5 years (some have been with us for the past 10 – 16+ years). We try our best to treat our teachers well and look into their welfare. Our remuneration is competitive and we offer a number of benefits and bonuses that reflect our appreciation for their hard work. We put our money where our mouth is, as we cannot be talking of elevating the teaching profession while treating staff shabbily. Indeed, Meadow Hall was recently voted by Jobberman as one of the best 100 places to work in Nigeria. That should tell you something!
WHAT MAKES MEADOW HALL UNIQUE FOR LEARNING?
I can say, undoubtedly, that it is our focus on formative assessment, also known as assessment for learning (AFL) – a type of assessment that has as its priority promoting and improving students’ learning, rather than merely measuring students’ attainment at the end of a period of learning. I mentioned before our obsession in Nigeria with exam results which often leads teachers to concentrate all their efforts on “drilling” children to pass exams as opposed to ensuring that students have a deep understanding of what is being taught. AFL is an approach to teaching and learning that creates an opportunity for feedback both for the TEACHER and STUDENT which is then used to improve students’ performance. What happens is, students are more involved in the learning process (rather than being passive) and because of this active involvement, they gain confidence, understanding, independence which ultimately boosts their performance. So you find that AFL strategies will still produce the excellent results all schools, parents and government want, only that it is just more effective and authentic. We can personally testify to the effectiveness of this strategy over the years. This year was no different, as the excellent results of our primary school children in their primary checkpoint exams, and the 100% A*-C pass rate the college students achieved in their 2017/18 IGCSE reveal; to God be the glory! If our schools focus on raising students’ achievement through this means, it will certainly bring about a better quality of life for the individual as well as economic growth for the society.
AFL is a very important tool used in ensuring that our children become lifelong learners – a necessity in the 21st century. It is also useful in bringing change to teachers’ classroom practice; remember I mentioned that there can be no rebranding until there is visible and significant change in teachers’ practice? AFL will help achieve this, which is our uniqueness.
WHAT IS YOUR GENERAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS, SCHOOL OWNERS AND GOVERNMENT?
Let us all join hands to elevate the teaching profession. I will like to see teachers treated with more respect and appreciation. Teachers make a lot of sacrifices but they are hardly acknowledged. Teachers’ welfare and benefits should be looked into immediately. This is the only way we can begin to attract the young ones into the profession. There is a shortage of teachers even right now, and so I shudder to think of what the future holds if we do not start elevating the profession and making it more attractive. To the teacher, I say be a thorough-bred professional and then hold your head high. Be proud to be a teacher. You are a Very Important Person (VIP), and we applaud all you do.