She has put in over 30 years into teaching within Nigeria and in Europe. She is an educationist, school proprietress and a seasoned administrator. She spoke about reasons for the slow trends in education and the effect of the neglect of the education sector in Nigeria. Meet the Proprietress of I – Tree International Academy, Ilorin, Mrs Evelyn Omolade Balogun, who spoke with our correspondent; Excerpts:
Can we meet you?
My name is Mrs Evelyn Omolade Balogun, Proprietress of I –Tree International school, an educationist to the core. I have put in over thirty years of teaching both in Primary and Secondary school. I taught in Ilorin, Lagos and later in the United Kingdom. I taught in one of the very big schools in England, Oakington Manor Primary school in Brent and also London Borough of Lambert. I was an active participant in the National Union of teachers in England. I was also a Teacher Trainer supporting Newly Qualified Teachers before I came home in 2007 to establish I – Tree International school.
As an Educationist, what did you observe as lacking in education in Nigeria?
The primary problem of education in Nigeria is the abolishing of teacher’s training colleges and the ones that were left behind are not properly funded. These are those who believe if I cannot get admission to the University I will manage teaching or if I cannot get office jobs I will manage teaching. I started from the teacher’s training college, from there to the college of education but now all that is no more and the quality of what is coming out of there is not good. This has caused a kind of scarcity of good teachers’ for example I had to interview about thirty applicants before I am able to employ two of them as teacher-materials, and after that, I take them through systematic class support under an experienced teacher for more than 2 academic terms. Some of them that are prepared to learn will stay others leave. A lot of them cannot communicate effectively and they are not also ready to be responsible for their own personal development.
So what is the solution to this challenge in education?
The Ministry of education should establish a professional development centre for continuous support for serving teachers as the classroom environment has changed and teaching and learning have taken a new dimension. If the quality assurance department cannot handle it can be partnered with successful private schools for support. Most teachers out there, their spoken and written English is bad, their mathematics is bad and even class management is nothing to write home about. That is why I am hammering on training and retraining of teachers, it is a continuous thing.
In some quarters, it is believed that teaching in mother tongue is better than purely English, what is your view?
I think the mother tongue is very important as well, both should be taken along. When children are still very young, they can take four languages. For us as a nation, if we are to move forward as a country we must encourage the teaching of our children in our four major languages, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba and then English they should start from primary school. In our school, our learners are free to speak any of the three languages on Fridays and we enhance the teaching of these languages through Friday Clubs. We also conduct our morning assemblies and recite the National Anthem in Yoruba Language.
What makes your school stand out among others?
The truth is I am a born teacher. I Taught in Nigeria, went to Europe to teach and now back in Nigeria. I have been teaching since 1997 . In our school, we support learners to learn and we look at Individual Education Plan for children that are gifted and for the ones that need help. We groom our children to be independent Learners and they are confident Learners. They can challenge their teachers without being rude and they have values. We ensure that our children are 3 years old before starting Nursery 1 which does not happen in most schools. We wait until they are ready. My presence and participation make our school unique. Though we teach British curriculum, we merge it with Nigerian curriculum and it doesn’t end there, we do a broader curriculum. We take our children out of Ilorin and even out of Nigeria. That is why our school is referred to as leading school, others are following. We are good in all categories. Five years ago, in Abuja, we were awarded the most outstanding school in Kwara. Everywhere our children go to, they perform very well. Three of our children are in there in Gifted and Talented Government School in Suleija
What is your view on the need to regulate the establishment of schools by businessmen who are not teachers by background?
There is nothing bad if rich people invest in schools but the government should do more of monitoring. You can have your money and set up a school but the government should ensure that standards are not compromised. The school owners must ensure that though they are not always present in the school but they should ensure that qualified handlers are put in charge. Education is beyond being a venture to make more, giving out a quality product is more important than profiteering. So the government should also ensure that these proprietors and proprietress are monitored to ensure that they train the teachers that are employed in their school. The simple truth is that government alone cannot provide what the nation needs in the education sector, the private sector has a significant role to play. That is why quality control is the primary role of government. The government should see private schools as partners that they should support not as a way of making money.
Some school proprietors think more of profiteering than having quality teacher, what do you advise on this?
We have different callings and we set out our business for different purposes. Private schools are set up to make money like any other business. The government does not support private schools. We lack an enabling environment to run the business. Private schools can do with free borehole, pencils, photocopiers and unnecessary tasks. The government should be looking at ways of making things a little bit easier for school owners if the government believes that Education is the only way that can curb unemployment, cultism, insecurity, teenage pregnancy and reduce poverty. I think that the government should have a way of compensating schools that are doing well so that their sacrifice will not be a waste. Many of the schools like ours are run on petrol and diesel, there is no electricity, and even the link road is not very good. Aside from that, they also chase us about with neck-breaking tax. If our goal is to provide quality education for upcoming generations, the government should on their part encourage us because aside from teaching the future generations, we are also employers of labour no matter how little the percentage is. They chase us about with all manner of levies that need not be, so what support are they giving?
Do you think the budget of government for education is appropriate or what advise?
I think there is a need for the government to prioritize education. In the UK, education is free. They provide free amenities like Pencils and giving children food as encouragement for them to come to school that is why their pupils are doing well. All these social menaces that bedevil our country like Boko Haram, Cultism, Kidnapping etc, education can help to solve these problems. An enlightened mind will not involve in issues that can tarnish family name and reputation. Education is what made countries like China, Japan, America stand at the forefront, without an appropriate budget for education we are going nowhere. Also, there is a need to standardize school age. Some schools have two-year-old kiddies in Nursery one or two, which should not be. Children should be at least four years old before they are enrolled for nursery one. The playgroup is important in the life of these children. At that elementary stage, what they need much is a playgroup. At that stage of their life what they need is playing not about writing. They should be able to apply what they are learning. That is why children in primary two or three cannot read because their foundation was not properly built. Most of these schools take in pupils from age three into primary one and force their hands to write, that is very wrong, that is not education. The government can start with Daycare centres in workplaces so that mothers can spend more time or give postnatal support. I encourage my staff to take 6 months maternity leave with pay so that they can spend more time with their newborn.
The early stage of child development is very crucial. This is when learning should be fun with their friends and the adult teacher especially for social, physical, emotional, listening, speaking and communication skills. Their mathematical development starts with estimation and guessing. They would be able to know how many spoons of water will fill up a bottle, how many cups of sand will fill a bowl, such playtime will develop their sense of estimation, mathematical and calculation skills.
Government school are fast losing standards when compared to private schools any advise on this?
I don’t accept that private schools are better than government-owned schools. On the contrary, government schools have very brilliant and better teachers, but the problem is monitoring, the government does not monitor the schools well. Government schools are a lot better because they have graduate teachers with good experience. Go to some private secondary schools, you will see secondary school teachers teaching in there, so what do you expect from the products of such schools? If government schools are equipped with standard laboratories, good toilet facilities, electricity, ICT and a very conducive learning environment that motivates learning, the students would do better than in private schools and they would turn out better products than those from private schools. Go to Rwanda, public schools are better patronized because they provide better facilities than any private school cannot provide. I wish that the people in government, the Permanent Secretaries and commissioners are asked to put their children in public schools maybe that will force them to do what is right with education in Nigeria.
But you are running a private school, will you not lose patronage if all these are done right?
No, never, we have our standard. Despite the quality of what is being provided in the United Kingdom, there are private schools and they have their customers. A parent that prefers private school for his child will have to do so as a matter of choice, not because of better facilities.
The cost of education is very high, some people are of the opinion that it is too costly, what do you say to this?
Education cannot be too costly, if you go by the cost of putting the right facilities in place, with a conducive and attractive learning environment for children, you will realize that education is not expensive. If you put in the best, you will also get the best out of it. And let me state this, it is not how much you pay as school fees that make the school standard, it has to do with what is put into the children, but unfortunately most parents get attracted by fanciful buildings and a lot of structures and they are carried away. A good school must have a place where children can play well and interact with themselves; Children must be able to learn from an environment that contrasts with where they are used to. Without Recreational facilities like Football and related sports, even to make learning interactive you need to put in resources and you will need resources like adding internet facilities to enhance learning. These resources are not free. The government should make the internet available and affordable because only by that will research be easy. Introducing good subsidy into education and educational materials will make things easier. Education does not end in the classroom, going out is also part of education, when there is subsidy schools will be able to buy into these ideas, install E-Library, and all that makes learning easy, then education will be a lot easier. All these make education expensive because to acquire them cost much and they are a must for education to be imparted. In some cases when schools struggle to have computer system but no steady electricity. If electricity is made available along with the internet, a teacher can even Google topics and walk into the classroom and teach.
Discipline in the olden days differs from what obtains now, what is the way out?
Disciplining a child starts from the home. Education starts from home. Parents have a lot to do with their children. If you do not discipline your children and do not have a structure how do you want the school to help your child? Once the has a structure then we build on it. A child that is well mentored from home will most likely not have behavioural problems and with the right school with good values and ethos that type of child in that environment will definitely succeed. We don’t support corporal punishment Nowadays we use the denial method. A child that does not do his homework will lose his playtime opportunity. Children are not animals, why should we beat them, harass them and make them inhuman? Here in my school, you lose your playtime. Parents and teachers should be models that teach the children but when parents are busy with I-pads, Handsets browsing and doing WhatsApp, chatting, then where is the chance to play with their children and be their model?
Is there a correlation between how a pupil is taught and passing the examination?
Yes, teaching and learning is a process, When you teach a child, you assess then you discover where there is a gap and then you fill the gap, re-assess again until you are satisfied that the pupil has understood what is being taught. A good teacher that is in a good school will assess the students upon what is being taught, looks for the gaps, analyses the results to know why and where the students failed a particular topic, returns to the classroom to teach them and re-assess them. When a good teacher does that, there is no way a pupil will not pass the examination. Assessment and analysis take place every six weeks, you don’t wait till the end of the term to do that. No child wants to be a failure, so teaching and learning is a continuous process. As a teacher, you must ask yourself why your pupils are not passing and endeavour to change either your method or add to your skill.
Are you saying there is no dull student?
There is never a dull student but a dull teacher. If you realize a student is not doing well, change the Teacher and see that such a student will do better so I don’t believe a child cannot make progress in learning. Every child has a way they learn and the teacher must study to know this, Some learn by torching, feeling and with the picture. A good teacher will use the kinesthetic approach, do less of talking, allow children to do independent learning. You pair them and allow them to find out things by themselves. When a student makes research and discover things by themselves and come to meet you later for final support, they don’t forget. In this country, the teacher do more of talking and teaching has moved away from that level. Modern-day learning is about enquiring, you allow children to enquire about things independently.
How do you identify gifted children among their peers?
Some children have photographic brain, as you teach them, they immediately grab it, while some students upon discovering their weaknesses, study hard ahead of their peers, they don’t wait until the teacher gives them the assignment to do, they work ahead, and know how to make a research by themselves. When a student pays more attention to learning it pays off. Also aside from the school environment, there are forms of learning outside the school.
So what role are parents expected to play in such students?
Parents should give more attention to their children, funny enough some parents don’t know when their children go to bed, when they sleep, what they eat, they don’t monitor their children. As a parent, you should know the friend your children keep. As a parent, you should be close to your children so that when they have challenges, they could fall back and discuss with you. The parent should be there for their children always.