Features School Owners Desk

If You Start a School to Make Money, You are in the Wrong Business – Bimbo Olashore

Written by Elvis Boniface
As I made effort to locate his office address in Ajose Adeogun, Victoria Island, Lagos, few minutes to 12noon, the scheduled time for this interview, the school Director of External Affairs, kept reminding me the chairman keeps to time strictly. It was the first sign of ‘serious business only here”. Then I was finally ushered to his expansive office, replete various awards and appreciation plaques, for various philanthropic endeavors. It was one of the most beautiful sight to behold; an attestation of impact, hard work, service to humanity, corporate success, and yet a humble man whose beguiling smile, with fixed attention to his computer will ask me to sit. He’ll join you in two minutes – he kept to the time.

Then came the man, Prince Abimbola Olashore, the Chairman, Board of Governors of Olashore International School to a cozy corner of the office. Beyond education that is merely an intervention and philanthropy for him, he is a consummate professional and one of Nigeria’s corporate successes. This excerpt of our chat on Edugist School Owners Desk would be a nugget for all our readers. Lets get into it.”

Elvis Boniface of EdugistCan we meet you sir?

Abimbola Olashore: My name is Bimbo Olashore. I am the Chairman, Board of Governors of the Olashore Int’l School.

Edugist Dig: Mr. Olashore is an Engineering graduate of the University of Hull, U.K. and a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and holds M.B.A (I.E.S.E). A seasoned investment banker, over the years has acquired in-dept knowledge and vast experience in the capital markets and as well as financial advisory services in the public and private sectors. Mr. Olashore joined the Leadbank Group in 1991 and became the Managing Director in 1997.
As Managing Director of Lead Bank, he established the bank as one of Nigeria’s top Investment banks. The bank won repeatedly the Reuters/SBA award as the leading Nigerian Issuing House for three consecutive years. He went on to join the Board of Ecobank Nigeria Plc as Executive Director where he helped set up their Investment banking arm before returning to LeadCapital. He is currently on the board of UNICO PFA Limited.

EBCould you please describe your motive for establishing this school?

AO: The school is 25 years old. We just celebrated our 25th anniversary this year. The school is located in Osun state. There are two aspects to it; first of all, as a family, my mum was a teacher and her first business venture was in education. It was called Dupe start right ventures, which was really to start a kindergarten and nursery school and all. And that is to say as if education was lurking around the background in the family. But for us, the key upgrading into it started with the experience we had. I went to St. Gregory’s College in Obalende here in Lagos and I think most of our contemporaries here all went to schools like that, started by the church. Until government took over the schools in the 70s and the quality of schools started nosediving. So, while we got the benefit of those kind of schools, semi-public schools, we now saw that people that came after us did not have the benefits. The schools we went to, they could not go to and I think for us, the experience we had with my youngest siblings. They kept going from schools to schools and could not find a school that was most appropriate for them.

So, even the highbrows schools, some had issues with discipline, some with what I call full-round education because private schools had started then. And such schools were probably on one acre of land. And in that acre, if they say they want to do sport at that time, you just realize that if they are in Lagos, they will all go to University of Lagos to go use the sporting facilities. Does that mean there is no school around that can offer the kind of education we had? The kind of schools we went to that were on large piece of land, boarding house, playing fields and so, that birth our decision to invest in Education. And it’s been quite good. The vision of the school was really to offer first class education and full round education. Not just academics but also other things that we believe are important for the well-being of human being and their development. Therefore, sport is key, drama is key, music is key. Also, to ensure there is an environment that is conducive to learning. So, we didn’t want to be in a big city but an environment that you know that when you are there, it is a learning environment.

So, that was probably what informed the location of the school and the ethos of the school. From day 1, we were very clear that it was a school that must contribute meaningfully to the educational sector. So, we spared no expense in ensuring that the kind of infrastructure was built that will deliver that. We love to think 25 years on, that we’ve been true to the promises. The school have established itself as one of Nigeria’s leading schools, not just from an academic performance perspective. Also, in trying to produce people, or students or alumni that will contribute meaningfully to the development of the country. So, the motivation speaks all about where we are going.

I always tell, go anywhere in the world; universities, schools like ours, they are permanently raising money, they are permanently fundraising. They open a whole department purely for fundraising.

EBUsing Olashore International School as a case study, what are the challenges faced in a school business?

AO: Oh, clearly. At the end of the day, there is no business without challenges. If I look back, the challenges come in different phases. At the beginning of the school, the first challenge was building the infrastructure of the school and the cost of it. Remember that when you invest in education, there are no tax breaks. We were even looking at it that time, is there anything you give to people that invest in education? Either by reducing their taxes because they are filling a gap but they were trying to tell us that this is purely private sector endeavor. And I said education is not just purely private sector, you are trying to develop people and you must try and keep the cost as low as possible. So, what are the incentives, first of all for those who are investing to encourage them to invest? Up till now, there is still nothing in it. So, it’s still purely as a philanthropic venture.

So, the cost of construction was. But then the biggest challenge at that time, was man power. School is not about buildings, after you put up the buildings and you have students, what of those that will teach? So, we now had the issue of very stretched man-power that the teaching profession itself, not enough investment had gone into producing teachers. The profession itself had not kept up with highbrow teachers. Like I said, my mum was a teacher. Then, in most families, everybody was in education in one way or the other because it was a very fulfilling career option. But then, teachers became a big challenge. For us, we were very clear in our mind what we wanted to do. So, we had to start investing in teacher training that was not a ready pull. Yeah, we took from other people but we had to spend a lot on that. That is one of the things you take on board.

And as you move on, for us an allocation, challenges of where we are now turned up. We are not near a city center, so getting there, that challenges now become much more obvious now. Giving the security situation in the country that people don’t like to travel. Even if we were in Nigeria some 10, 20 years ago, people were quite adventurous. We never thought about it, that I live in Lagos, let my children go to school in Sokoto or let them go anywhere. People never really addressed their mind to it. But now, people are very conscious, they want their kids to be closer. So, accessibility and proximity to market is there too. We had to work a little bit harder, to justify why people must make that effort in going out there for that.

Now, the biggest problem which cuts across to everybody now is the economic environment. We are a private school; therefore, it is from school fees that we must cover the cost of running the school. And like I said, there are no subsidies anywhere and the cost of running a school has now become high. What that means is that you must pass on the cost-low and large to the parents. Now when you have an economic environment where income, the purchasing power is dwindling, incomes are not going up, obviously that becomes very stretched. So, what that means again is that you are now trying to justify value for money. When people are paying school fees, we have to really justify. While you believe that there is value for money, the person paying will say ‘‘maybe I can cut cost’’. ‘‘Or perhaps, at the end of the day, let me take my child to a much more cheaper school, what the school is not offering, I can substitute on my own.’’

So, we can put all that on almost three different parts. One, the economic environment that we operate in make it challenging for people to pay, lack of infrastructure in the country itself; route to get to the school is also a major challenge that is there. And again, think about it, because of the collapse that is there in public schools, private schools now turned up. So, there are private schools in almost every corner, offering different curricula so parents have choices. It all depends on their pockets. I would have loved it if there were no choices but we are competing in a market where there are plenty of choices for parents. While that is good for parents, as a business owner, you have to be on top of your game and always having to show value for people. That is how I can put the challenges.

Prince Abimbola Olashore, Chairman, Board of Governors, Olashore International School

EBHow are the risks managed effectively?

AO: Like I said, you keep on trying. For us, if you talk about mitigation of risk, you try and make it worthwhile. We’ve had to invest in things that normally a school should not bother about. Before, when we first started the school, people could do day return from Lagos, people never bothered about it. Now, I have had to go and invest in a hotel where parents can stay since day returning becomes very difficult. Ideally, why should a school be in the business of building such a big infrastructure like a hotel to house parents? That itself is an issue. If I look at now that with security problems, the school is having to invest in security apparatus, to be escorting students wherever they go. These are costs that you want to think about. When you say lack of infrastructure, you are investing in generating power, investing in water and you know, these are all costs that at the end of the day, government is not elevating.

Then again, people see private schools are highbrows. So, you’re the almost the first point of call when they’re trying to raise taxes or they are looking for money. So, the environment itself is not making it very conducive but you have to live with it. It is not peculiar to the business of education alone, I am sure most businesses will complain about almost the same thing. That is the environment we are operating in, it’s a very challenging environment but you just have to make a success of it.

EBSchool business is often perceived as one of the most lucrative business by majority, how authentic is this assertion?

AO: Until they get into it, they realize its different. You see the thing about school business is that, school is meant to be a philanthropic endeavor. If you have put school in a perspective of, I want to make money from it, then you are in the wrong business because you will simply realize that it is not so. While at the beginning, you might think towards that. But like I always say, a school is a business that seize cash because at the end of the day, there is no money in your bank account. The cash you collect will go towards running the school. Then, also remember that technology has its own impact on the school. The way you build a classroom today is different from the way you built a classroom some 25 years ago. The way you built a boarding house or accommodation some 25 years ago is different from what to expect now. Technology is playing a big role. You just don’t use chalk and black board like we did decades ago. You are now using tablets. These are all costs that are very expensive.

Then more especially, infrastructural renewal. I always tell people; a school is about continuously innovating. If you put up a building today, especially a boarding, remember that after about 10 years, you must re-invest in maintaining those buildings. And if you don’t have a sinking funds and you don’t plan for it, when people come around- like you said, it is a business that has free entry and free exit, new schools are turning up. So, you must make sure that if they come to your school, the first impression that they see must meet that of someone that has just started a brand-new school. And what does that mean? It is massive investment in innovation and facilities and I can assure you no school fees will cover running of the school and at the same time pay for the capital expenditure needed to make sure that the school is still alive 10, 20 to 25 years down the road.

So, you want to avoid a situation whereby schools turn up today, everybody knows about them. When you now hear about them in 10 years’ time, what has happened, they have disappeared because they have not reinvested and that is what usually happen. We are quite lucky, after 25 years we are still there, still on of the top schools but it has not been easy. So, don’t assume that there is money in it. I always tell, go anywhere in the world; universities, schools like ours, they are permanently raising money, they are permanently fundraising. They open a whole department purely for fundraising. Then, because a school must surely have an impact in the environment, not everyone that comes to school pay school fees. You must have endowment, you must have programs that bring in gifted kids. There are students who are gifted but they cannot afford to pay, therefore you must have programs that must bring in such kind of students.

So, what you see sometimes when you hear school fees is this, you should ask how many of the students actually pay that amount? Because a lot of people also come in under different sorts of programs. An education establishment is also about impacts in the locality that you are in. please do not be fooled by such mentality. The more money you are collecting is also the more you are investing. A lot of my time is on fundraising, going about talking and trying to get people to fund a lot of our scholarship programs, a lot of our community outreach programs. These are all things that needs to be done to maintain the reputation.

EBPlease tell us about the academic performance of the Olashore International school which is the core.

We tell people that the school is also to nurture and develop your other latent talents so that when you come out of the school, there are other things that you can do. So, on the academic side, we are an award-winning school. If you come and visit the school, you’ll see all the awards on the floor there. Collecting one awards or the other.

AO: I don’t know what to say about that because it will just seem like I am boasting. We always believe that whichever way you cut the numbers in the country. Any time they come out with list of tops schools, sometimes they put us in top 10, sometimes top 20. We always tell people, whichever way you cut it, we’ll always turn up in the top 40 schools in the country nationwide in terms of academic performance and WAEC. We offer not just WAEC, we also do the foreign exams, we do the IGCSC. Every year, I always go to the British council to collect awards on behalf our students. Last time I was there, we won produced students that won best two subjects nationwide in IGCSC. So, every year we are always there. Like I said, if I am to talk about academics, it will be as if I am boasting. But like we tell people, it is not just about academics, it is the other aspects like the extra-curricula activities which makes the complete person.

Olashore International School is sited in an 100-acres of land in Iloko-Ijesa, Osun State, Nigeria

So, what we tell parents is that we’ll guarantee your child’s academic performance. Their child will live and achieve what is best for the person to their best ability. We don’t go about saying when you come to the school, everybody will get A’s. No, not everybody needs to get A’s but the key is that you have achieved the best for your ability. But more especially, you are able to leave the school and also be a useful person. Therefore, you leave the school and you are able to pursue whatever you want to do. And not everybody wants to be a Professor. Again, we tell people that the school is also to nurture and develop your other latent talents so that when you come out of the school, there are other things that you can do. So, on the academic side, we are an award-winning school. If you come and visit the school, you’ll see all the awards on the floor there. Collecting one awards or the other.

EBWhat are the learning-enhancing facilities you have put in place that facilitate understanding?

AO: He wants me to boast and I wonder why. The reason you’re asking that question is because you haven’t been to the school. We are on over 100 acres of land. So, it is a big school. We love to think we are at the forefront of education in this country, even in terms of education advancement. If you’re to talk about the first, we are the first to bring GL-assessment. GL-assessment is a way which you assess students when they come in. we got to a stage where we tell ourselves that the school is on the academic side high up there, so a lot of people that come to the school are already gifted, high-achievers. So, you start asking yourself as a school: How are we sure that we have actually added to somebody? That means, some people will come to the school, that whatever school they would have gone to, they would still get A’s.

Some people are like that, whichever school, even if you put them in a corner school, they will still get A’s. So, we started asking ourselves that: how are we sure that this person, we have actually added to him or her? So, that was what took us to GL-assessment which we said, when a child comes in, GL-assessment will try and assess the person on their abilities and every year it will be measuring how they’re growing. So, that we can now say that we have added to the person. So, we have gone beyond just academics. When we first bought that tool, I was telling the principal that we are giving parents power o because parents can have use the tool to see as to whether actually we are improving the child. The first time we bought it, it was a very useful tool and within a number of years, about 50/60 schools have also bought it that GL-assessment program and that is also part of improving learning.

If you go and call British council today, I think we are probably the school with the highest number of teachers that have done their online training. I think it’s even getting very embarrassing, in terms of continuous learning and improvement. It’s a culture that we have there. What that means is that all our staffs, are expected to go for online trainings. When people say training, everybody expect that it is until you travel abroad and all but no. There are a lot of resources online that you can use. Even myself, I have not done this year but last year, I was forced myself to also go do an online training because as a governor in the school, I must be current with the latest thing that is happening in there. That is all part of our training. We love to think that in terms of training, exposure, in terms of current methods, we are really high up there.

The other one we don’t even talk about; we are known now almost as the iPad school. We have one-on-one. When you come to the school, we give you a little iPad. A lot of learning is also delivered through the iPad, through technology. We tell people, never look at the iPad as if it’s a computer but look at it as if it is your blackboard and chalk. It’s just another tool to aid learning and now that is being implemented. When we tried it then, it was a bit challenging initially because first of all, one will tell that it’s not just about the students, the teachers themselves first have to be trained in order to use the technology before you even now talk about the students. So, we have gone really far in the learning processes and like I said we try not to have an overemphasis on the academic passing exams. We are now more about how you are growing as a person and how do you also now come out of the school and you can be a big contributor to improving society.

Education that is not delivering skills, is wasting everybody’s time. University degree is one of the most worthless thing. Not that it’s not useful, going to university is fine, you have to get my point. But the truth of the matter, what we require is that, not everybody must be chasing paper qualifications but the bulk of Nigerians should be chasing skill acquisition.

We have other things like our leadership programs which is a bespoke program as well that we have because everybody can be a leader. And leadership is situational, we are expected to develop leadership qualities. If any situation happens, you must be able to come up and volunteer, you must be able to lead people. We have a bespoke leadership program itself that we’ve been doing now for 6-7 years that takes people through a process and we are quite pleased even with the program that you can’t come through a school like ours and not be seen as contributing towards the society. Like we believe that we also have a responsibility to this country, part of our biggest challenges is this lack of leadership. People just don’t take challenges, everybody believes that its made for myself alone. So, there are a number of programs that tries to look at the total person that education is not just about academics-  I have gotten A’s in my WAEC and IGCSC. It is that when you leave the school, how exactly are you going to give back to the society?

One of the School’s hostels

EBWhat skills are required from a teacher before they come into the system?

AO: You are asking the wrong person. I am chairman of the board, I serve policy and not directly involved in the direct recruitment of teachers. But clearly, at the end of the day when you recruit teachers into the school, you first look at the person. One is the technical area which you can get from the CV, that is basic. Another box that must be ticked is your ability to also thrive in our environment. We are a full boarding house, most of the time we also live with the students. We have a teachers’ village so everybody is accommodated. What that means is that the work is 24/7, all year round, apart from the holiday periods when we all go back to our respective environment. Because we are everywhere, a lot of teachers have dual homes, they have a home there, they also have a home in Lagos. so, during the holidays they go home.

With that, it means we also have to watch out for people that will also thrive in that kind of environment. The job does not end at 5, because the students are there, you too you are living there, therefore you too must contribute and be seen that they are part and parcel of that. So, it’s not just the academic side, it’s part of a community. What we are also introducing this year as part of our leadership activity is that, just like we have community programs by students, I also have community programs by teachers. Everybody must be seen to contribute. I have my school farm that I started this year. I have the pictures of the farm now. When you come to the school now, as a year 7 you’re given a patch of land. Since you’re just going to be with us for 6 years, so let us see what you will do. So, you can’t just say you schooled in Nigeria or you went out of Lagos, agricultural country, they now ask you: how does a yam grow? And you’re saying I pluck it on a tree. Is that not a problem? Agric is now a major area. So, all those are part of school now. It’s not just about passing exams, you must be aware of your environment. so, we talk about the community, everybody must contribute in the community. For all the teachers, they are a major factor, major contributor but again, we must see what everybody is doing to ensure the community itself thrives.

EBThere is this erroneous belief that teachers reward is in heaven. What is your thought on this?

AO: Let us put things in the right perspective. There are some professions that at the end of the day, by the nature of that profession, their reward is not in naira and kobo. Let us get that straight. One is teaching, another one is nursing. It’s like going to an owner of hospital and start asking: how are your nurses? So, whoever is in that profession; nursing, teaching, healthcare, those kind of professions, they are also in it not just for money but for humanity sake. The reward of a teacher sometimes is not about the money but the fact that when they their pupils in future. Let’s be honest, that is the absolute joy that you get when you say you want to be in teaching, nursing, healthcare. That is why I did not separate between those kinds of profession. If you are look for money, you are in the wrong profession.

It’s like the first question we started from; if you are a school proprietor who is in because of money, you are in the wrong business. So, if you are a teacher who have said, I want to be in teaching and I want financial reward, then you are in the wrong profession. Now that doesn’t mean you should suffer, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a decent standard of living, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to cater for your family. Those are what I call some basics. I also tell you one thing and it’s a correction that is not just in Nigeria, let’s be honest, it is a global thing. That the teaching profession all of a sudden has fallen down the league of prestigious professions, that it is not attracting the best brains or the best graduates. So, the question is: As society, how do we now re-dig our values to put values on people who are building the nation for which I have just mentioned; people in healthcare, people in teaching? But, it’s a discussion that is societal, don’t talk to the school proprietor.

It is the society that must now go back and start rewarding and valuing people. If they wake up one day and say they released national awards, who are the people they give it to? It is dominated by the politicians. So, society in Nigeria is saying it is the politicians that are building the country? If they do national awards, and you now see 50% of it is defended to people that are into voluntary service, that are in teaching now. People will now say, good! So, I can be recognized by doing this. That is where things have gone totally haywire in Nigeria, we reward civil servants, we reward politicians with national awards. Tell me what they are doing as individuals, as a class we can say need a political class. But the individual that has just been given an award, in Nigeria once you become a senator, they just give you OFR, even if you sleep in the chamber throughout your stay. Once you become vice president, you are given GCFR, even if you rule the country. Once you are a minister, you are given all these awards.

Now, did you get all these jobs by virtue of personal achievements. Sometimes, you are allocated the jobs. Once you are in civil service and get to permanent secretary, they give you NFR. As a country, that is how we have rewarded excellence but that is a question that is for society. If you start rewarding these other people, clearly some people will get it and say no problem. My job may not have money but it has prestige. Some people too have to be priests and pastors now, the same thing. What is their rewards? But there is a role for people in pastoral care, or is there not a role for them? So, that is how I see it. I hope you get the point, you can’t catch me on whether I’m rewarding my teachers or not. But we love to think that if we are not competitive, we won’t be able to attract teachers. Let’s leave it like that.

Serene School Environment

When you come to the school now, as a year 7 you’re given a patch of land. Since you’re just going to be with us for 6 years, so let us see what you will do. So, you can’t just say you schooled in Nigeria or you went out of Lagos, agricultural country, they now ask you: how does a yam grow? And you’re saying I pluck it on a tree. Is that not a problem?

EBI wish the government can listen to this

AO: Who is government? We are all government. I always tell people, if you sack everybody in Abuja and go to the streets of Lagos, and just pick a thousand people and put them in Abuja, they will do exactly the same thing. Everybody in Abuja, chase them away and just go to Tinubu and pick 100 Nigerians randomly and say, you now go to Abuja. They will do exactly the same thing because we have reduced our values. And people in Nigeria now think the same-whether it is the governor or the senate, everybody now think the same. So, we have to start from the ground up. Which is what I am trying to do, which is what I hope people will propagate. When people say they are comparing schools, they are comparing from academics, I just say you have not done your home-work well. what is the core reason why they are there? In those days, when you look at schools, some people will say I am sending my child to a religious school? Why? Because they believe that when they go to the religious schools, there will be morals, there will be disciplines.

But today, I send my child to private school but we cannot differentiate between private school A and private school B. Now, you should be able to differentiate us, what is the ethos? People just don’t do basic investigations, they just use, in that school they produce A’s and B’s. The agriculture project is a phenomenal one and I am trying to use that to make a difference because I am in the village, so that differentiates us. How can you come to my school and say you don’t know how yam grows? Or basic things that we learnt in the 70s when we were in school. Everybody had a little farm in their backyard. We have started it, it is our job to promote it. My major challenge with Nigerians is that, after all is said and done, they come with questions like what is the examination result? As if that is all there is to schools.

Well, if you come to our school, you will get exam results but it is those other things that make a person a successful one in life. There is life after secondary school and there is life after University as well. it is after University that life now starts in fact. But if the foundation is not well founded. Parents have a whole lot to do as well. You see some parents who insist that a child must finish with first class and all that and they do whatever they can to get it.

EBThere are some major trendy crimes that have characterised the education sector. These are examination malpractice, student-teacher amorous relationship, cultism, hooliganism and bullying. Which of these are you faced with and how have you managed it?

AO: At the end of the day, all those issues have to do with the society. I always come back to the society. A lot of these vices are growing the country because of our inabilities to punish wrong doers, inability to be consistent. What we say in our school is that we have our rules and we warn everybody that we shall apply them, consistently to whoever defaults. I also tell parents to read the handbook. Don’t call the chairman to tell chairman that the school wants to do this to my child, please intervene. You will find me a very nasty person because I warn parents about the dos and the don’ts. So, we are aware that we are in a community where a lot of things happen but we tell them, don’t bring them to our school.

We cannot say that we don’t have any issues, but anytime we find out about any issue, we deal with it appropriately. We will expel child in a liberal manner. Liberal in the sense that we don’t think about it, if your child has to leave the school. We suspend in a liberal manner if you break our rules. So, when it starts getting to behaviors that we believe are out of norms, we deal with it. And we love to think that we have now come out with that orientation that everybody falls in line. If you enter the school, the seniors will tell you that over here, if you do this or that, this is what will happen. This other person did it, this is what happens. And this is how people conform. So, it is inability to punish wrong doers that keeps on stretching the boundaries. Youths will always be youths especially when they get to some certain age.

We always tell people that the teacher was once a school boy now. So, there is nothing new. As a young person, even as toddler at the age of two, you are testing your parents. Your parents can now say this is the boundary. That is the school. So, all these issues and all, we love to think we don’t have it but anytime we get a weave of anything that is out of the normal, we deal with it but decisively. Whether it is an adult or not, the same rule applies both to teachers, both to students, to everybody. These are our rules. So, the school was started on very strong moral basis. When you come to the school, we tell you, in this place we are not atheist, you must believe in something. Are you a Christian? Or Muslim? If you say you are catholic, we show you a catholic mass that you must go. If you say you are Muslim, your child must attend the Friday Muslim prayers. If you say you don’t know, we’ll match you to a church that you must attend. So, we give exceptions. We can’t force a Muslim to go to Church and we can’t also force a Christian to attend Muslim prayers. We believe there must be a basis.

And every Sunday, there is a general assembly where we have a general teaching that is not based on a particular religion. We believe all religion whether Hinduism, or any all have a base that is common. All of them believe in sense of humanity, justice, fairness, etc. So, on Sundays, everybody is taught. There are boundaries and if you don’t want your child to operate within that boundaries, don’t bring your child to my school.

Let’s get into the hostel

EBThere usually is a solid relationship between a school and the host community. In what way(s) do people within the community benefit from your school?

AO: I don’t want to boast again. The school itself is a community project. It is a community, so there is no difference between the school and the community. The school depends on the community for a security, the community itself contribute meaningfully to the school. Even like I said, we have all kinds of projects, the school itself gave birth to another private secondary school in the community to cater for lower income earners that live in the community. The Local authority primary school there, we have adopted it, we pay for the teachers, we’ve upgraded it. We are even doing that in about 12 local governments, the health center is almost our health center. Every year as our projects, I think the year 10 students, they go and see the community elders to ask what is important there to do as a project. So, every year they do a project in working with the community. Last year, we renovated all the boreholes, about 5 boreholes, they said the boreholes were down. They went to raise the money, even with a foreign school, did the video, fundraising. I was privileged to go and commission it Easter, this year.

So, you can see it’s fixed on both ends. We need the community for our security, the community must also see that the school is contributing meaningfully to the development of the community. Not to even talk of the fact that we are there, we are a major employer and that itself contributes significantly to the economy of the village. Like I said, that community one, nobody can match us because like I said, we are in a community and not in a city. Nobody can come to a community and just say let me go and help them there. We are helping ourselves, whatever we do in the community is for us. That is to say, the community is the school, the school is the community. There is no ‘‘them and us’’, we are all the same.

EB: What will be your advice to government to improve education in Nigeria? 

AO: You see, education comes in so many types. We spend a lot of time on formal education through the school work. How did Fela put it? That culture itself teaches you, that your culture itself is a form of education. If you don’t go to a formal school and you listen to your elders, just by cultural behavior, you’ll learn. What am I saying? We have to sit down as a country and that is where leadership and vision comes up. Somebody must try and envision a country of 25, 30 years down the road. Which country do I want in 30 years’ time? That’s where vision comes up, not just vision o, we want inspired vision. Which country do I want in 25 years’ time? If that is the country I want, then today who are the people that will get me there? What kind of education must they have? What do I need to put? What kind of values must I put? That’s why I said it is not just the formal education, the cultural norms, all those kinds of things. So, you’ll now marry the formal and the informal to deliver the country of 25 years down the road.

Sometimes when we talk, we talk about today, especially about challenges in school. When I see curricula, I say all these things you’re teaching these children today, by the time they enter the workforce in 10 years’ time, this is rubbish, it’s obsolete. So, you yourself must have a vision of the future to now say what will the workspace be like. Because my own students leave me at 16, they enter the workspace around 22. So, I must say: the workspace they will enter in 8, 9 years’ time, I have a feeling it will look like this and if it’s going to look like this, I better deliver the education so that they can compete at that time. Can you see the difference? Now, when you talk about the government, what country do you see in 25, 30, 40 years’ time? If that’s the country that I see, which kind of people, what kind of education do they require to get there?

I was telling somebody yesterday, if you come to me and say I should sponsor you for university education, I will think more than twice, University? If you come to me and say, I want to go to carpentry school, pay, I will not even think about it. If you come to me and say you want to learn tiling, mechanic, I want to learn vocational thing, I will not think about it. Because immediately that I pay for it, the day you graduate, you are useful. You are useful to yourself, and hopefully to the society because from day 1, you have skills that you can use. If I send you to university today, and you come out with your B.sc first class in classics. You will now still come to me and say Mr. Olashore, I am looking for job, can you find me a job? Because the degree you have collected, you cannot use it to do anything.

The white-collar jobs are just not there, the world is moving towards everybody working for themselves. Entrepreneurial activities, at least if you’ve got to do it, you must have skills. How come the fastest growing area is entertainment where people have innate skills? The man can sing, he’s talented. Do those ones, do they care about university degree? That is for entertainment and music. Why don’t we use the same idea? Look how that industry is thriving with or without government. Did they care about government? Government is not even supporting them, look how they’re thriving. Because it is based on talents and skills.

Now, same thing, as governments if that’s the way the world is going, then I will go by my saying: what kind of education must be put in place? Education that is not delivering skills, is wasting everybody’s time. University degree is one of the most worthless thing. Not that it’s not useful, going to university is fine, you have to get my point. But the truth of the matter, what we require is that, not everybody must be chasing paper qualifications but the bulk of Nigerians should be chasing skill acquisition. All we should be debating now is the kind of skills we should be impacting. So, university itself must be a marriage between academic and what industry requires. You should be setting up universities for technologies, there is Agric universities. So, those kinds of Agric universities, and they are in Lagos?

Agric universities, you should be in farms, the universities itself should be situated in a farm so that your laboratories are just a step out of your dormitories. That’s a laboratory, those are the useful ones. If you say you are going to university of Agric, I’ll say yeah, that’s fantastic, hopefully when you come out at least you can farm. When you now tell me I should pay for your school fees and I say you what do you want to go and study? And you say B.A, English? To do what? To go and teach? Okay o because when you still finish, no job. And you’re turning out about 4 point something million every year, graduates with paper qualification, no job.

Around the School environment

So, we have to recalibrate the educational system itself. That’s it. We inherited this English type of education with the universities. As Nigerians, what kind of people do we need? So that people can immediately as they finish, start work. Won’t it be nice, when you have skills? As you’re coming to my house, as you’re passing, you see somebody’s house is dirty, you yourself come out with paints, Oga, I can even paint your house. Whether Oga like it or not, he too will say that makes sense. Ah, beg, give me money for materials. By the time I finish painting, and he sees it, oh, this guy even painted it with sense. That is the difference with skill acquisition, unlike paper qualification that we are overemphasizing here as a country.

Unfortunately, I have not even seen the conversation changing. Everybody is chasing it, and that is why everybody is cheating to pass WAEC, they cheat to enter university, they cheat in university all because they believe in a paper, in overemphasis of paper that is going absolutely nowhere. And I keep on saying it. But look around you now, the people making money don’t have any paper qualification; the man that is doing IT on the internet, wetin concern am with paper? All the people making money on social media or what do they call themselves, personality or influencers, they get degree? So, I try and tell parents, can’t you see where the world is going? Why are you forcing the child for academics? If anyone tells me I’m about academics, what is the purpose? I am not saying don’t be educated, there is a difference.

Get educated but you don’t go about emphasizing things that are of no use to anybody, making it the only focus. And that’s why you’re seeing the side effects; suicide, mental illness, you’re seeing the drugs. That’s the by-product now, when they cannot cope. You’re forcing them downward the world and when they now see where the world is, you’re forcing them the other way.

About the author

Elvis Boniface

Ordained Evangelist of the Education Ministry. Learning is my lifestyle, credo and religion. On a mission to disrupt and redirect Africa's Education conversation using Technology and Media. We can do it. Open to discuss any Education initiative and idea. #peace

Speedy reach: +2348185787349 & elvis@edugist.org

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