‘Seeing your students becoming successful is one of the most gratifying rewards of teaching’
Mrs. Chinedum Oluwadamilola is the Principal, Corona Secondary School. She is a consummate and dedicated teacher with experience spanning over two decades with Corona Trusts Council. An indigene of Imo State born in Lagos, though stumbled on teaching by providence, Oluwadamilola parades academic qualifications that can make her peers go green with envy. After her first degree in Applied Microbiology from Enugu State University, she later acquired three post- graduate certificates in education, an MA from the University of Nottingham, MBA in Human Resources and currently pursuing a doctorate degree in Education in Walden University. Recently, Corona Secondary School marked its 25th anniversary and also got a nod to teach German Language after signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Goethe Institute, Lagos. She spoke with The Guardian on what makes the school tick
Briefly introduce yourself- education, career and family life?
I am Chinedum Oluwadamilola. My parents are from Imo State but my maternal parents lived in Lagos practically all their lives since 30s. Then, I was born in Lagos. It is almost difficult for me sometimes to say I am Ibo when I have lived most of my life here in Lagos. Incidentally, I went to school mostly in the East because my parents wanted me to know the East. I work for Corona School Trusts Council since 1993. Ironically, I didn’t study education because I had my first degree in Applied Microbiology. But when I left school, I was supposed to go and lecture. After a few years of graduation I embraced teaching. Ironically, I never knew I would be a teacher. I never thought of teaching as a career option. But something just made me think about education and I applied to Corona School in 1993 and I have been working in Corona ever since. I have never considered doing any other thing. Being that I didn’t have initial degree in education, I have gone on to do quite a number of courses in education. Before doing my Masters, I have done three postgraduate courses in education from three different institutions and went on to do a masters and started a doctorate degree which is still in view. For many reasons, I wanted to have an MBA and pursued it as well. Here, I have worked through the ranks. I started out as an Integrated Science teacher in Corona Secondary School before I was transferred to our primary school where I taught General Science. Ten years after, I was moved to the administration as a sectional Head in charge of Lower Primary and Nursery of Corona Schools in Gbagada and Apapa. I also worked in education department in the Central Office. I later became Monitoring and Education Manager reporting directly to the Education Administrator to ensure that standards are met in every Corona School. I got redeployed to the secondary school in 2010. And early this year, I was appointed the Principal of Corona Secondary School.
You are an educationist to the core, going by your credentials. Did you deliberately choose to study education or was it by accident?
Any educationist in your family?
No. I don’t want to use the word accident and I didn’t go into teaching because I didn’t get another job. For me, it was a calling and Divine. I was standing in the balcony of my house and the only official vehicle in Corona Trusts Council then, a Station Wagon 504 passed by the junction and I had this feeling in my spirit that said ‘Go to that school’. Before then I had never thought about teaching. Incidentally, I knew someone who was administrator of Corona School then, Mrs. Williams, a British but married to a Nigerian. I just walked up to her and explained my feelings. It was in August 1993. Fortunately, there was an interview for recruitment of teachers in the next two days. I had a three month-old baby then. But this woman encouraged me. I went to the interview with an application. Mrs. Fowler was on the panel and other Corona Board Members. I didn’t have any related teaching qualification, which Corona was particular about. And she asked me, “Why do you want to teach.” I just said I knew I could teach. I teach in Sunday school and I had done certificate courses in Children Evangelism Ministry during youth service and when I was teaching in my church, Baptist. I was passionate about these courses for my children and the church and never thought it would be useful one day. They asked me, “you studied Microbiology, how would you teach children?” I said Microorganisms are everywhere. I think they were impressed and I got the job.
Why did you study Microbiology?
That was an accident. I wanted to study Medicine and got admission to the then University of Ife. But I had Pass in my Physics and that killed that dream. I was offered another course that I would change later but my father said no and sent me to England to go and do GCE Cambridge ‘O’ Levels. I passed and came back to Nigeria by choice. I went back and started doing ‘A’ Levels and doing JAMB again. Then another long story. Then a relation just told me there is a school looking for students: Anambra State University of Technology then. I went there and they put all the tables in front of me and looked at all the courses and didn’t see anything closely related to what I wanted to do, and I didn’t want to disappoint this relation who cared. I looked at Industrial Microbiology and wrote my name. That was how I ended up studying the course, which in the long served as a basis for teaching science which was helpful when I joined Corona because I could do a bit of welding, carpentry, technical drawing etc.
You’ve come a long way with Corona Schools. Why did you remain loyal to the school where other teachers would have left for greener pastures?
Well, the pasture is greener on the other side if you water it well and when you get there you will see the patches. Corona has given me a lot of opportunities from being an Integrated Science teacher, moving through the ranks to where I am today. I was doing various things at various times and was never bored. For me, commitment to duty, being passionate about what you do, can take you to the pinnacle of your profession.
What’s your impression of the country’s educational system today? Do we have good teachers? What can government do to improve the sector?
Yes. We still have good teachers but a lot of them are de-motivated and when someone is de-motivated, no matter how much skills the person has, he/she would not put in his/her best. I have had opportunities of training teachers in the public sector over the years. And the same question keeps cropping up that, “how do you demonstrate this when you have up to 80 or 100 pupils in one class?” They are de-motivated by the system. Generally, government ought to give a lot of attention to the education sector by building more schools, more classrooms, employing more teachers. Again, government needs to step up on those who own and run a school. You see traders owning a school, a school sharing compound with mechanics, a school where they pay per day.
Corona school is marking its anniversary this year. Tell us a brief history of the school. Why has it come this far when other private schools have gone underground?
Corona Secondary School is the only Secondary School of Corona Trusts Council. And the Council stands for providing ‘World Class Education.’ And being a trust the ownership structure is different and because of this the school does not have a proprietor. So every teacher is a stakeholder and we always bear this in mind that whatever ‘I do, I do it for myself.’ Again because it is a Trust that does not spare any expense in training the workforce, in providing facilities for the schools. There is this culture of continuous improvement. That is the major reason the Secondary Arm and other arms have maintained their record of excellence over the years. As at today, people who have worked here for over 15 years are almost 50 per cent. There is continuity that is remarkable. We have people who started from inception and are still here.
You have been here in the last 24 years. Can you share any memorable moment?
Corona as I said earlier is known for excellence and has recorded many successes. But when students, I mean a group of students, scored ‘A’ star (90 and above) in Seven Subjects in a particular examinations, or having a student get a 100 per cent in Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Chemistry in examinations, it is mind boggling for me.
Your school is introducing German language into the curriculum now? Were the students learning any other foreign languages before? What’s the advantage of learning German language? Does it confer any status on the school?
We have been doing it in the last five years and was made official on Monday November 20, 2017 after the commissioning of Corona Secondary School partnership with Goethe Institut with Goethe-Institut Centre, Nigeria, Mrs. Friederike Moschel; Consul General, German Consulate, Lagos, Mr. Ingo Herbert in attendance. Yes we introduced German Language five years ago because the world is a global village and the truth is that quite a lot of our students go abroad for further studies. Many years ago United Kingdom, United States were destinations of choice and in the past four years, Canada has become attractive. One of the things we do here is that we do not allow parents to start looking for schools. We believe it is our responsibility to help them find schools. In looking for schools, we realise that Germany has high quality education but a big barrier is Language. Five years ago we had a student who grew up in Germany. We looked for a German teacher and he started taking this single student. Of course, she passed the international examinations. Before she left we got other students to join and they started. As a matter of priority we send our teachers to conferences, training wherever it is taking place. That year, we sponsored our German/French teacher to a conference at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and he met with the Goethe Institut. That was when the partnership discussion started. They came to inspect what we have on ground and it was formalised two weeks ago. It has been a wonderful journey as they have ordered all necessary materials needed. It has a lot of benefits such as students going for excursion, exchange programmes etc.
It has been discovered today that most pupils from private schools cannot communicate efficiently in their mother tongues at all, which many people have decried, fearing that our local languages may go extinct. Are the students learning any local languages at all? What is the school doing in this regard?
We are a proudly Nigerian school. Being a Nigerian school, we offer indigenous languages: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. And these are compulsory subjects in Junior Schools. We do it in such a way that even if they can’t communicate fluently they can read and write and also communicate. We are complementing their parents at home. Also on National Day, we ensure that all our students wear traditional attire that depicts where they are from. This is to let them understand that Nigeria is their root. We are trying our best in this regard.
Is your school supporting government public schools?
Yes. In fact, we are overdoing it. We have Book Bank Clubs and various students’ initiatives programmes that are doing various things. At a time we adopted a school and we built toilets, classrooms, laboratory and their students come here to play football. This year, we commissioned four toilets and borehole at Agbara Market done by two clubs. Baptist Day School, Agbara has also benefitted from our benevolent gesture. A student built them a toilet and borehole. He is a full scholarship student who was the best student during his JSS three examinations and one of the telecommunication companies used him for advert and paid him an honorarium. He asked his parents to allow him to use it for humanitarian gesture and he did it for that school. Our students have supported the maternity centre in the community by providing beds, borehole and shades. They generate money through their pocket money and proceeds from products such as plantain, bananas sold during Open Day, car washing, doing movies and buying tickets etc. Our junior students who went on tree planting realised that some of these local communities students don’t have a career goal. Now they are trying to organise a workshop for these local students on career goals, personal hygiene, sex education etc. So every class has a charity such as orphanage, old people’s home and they don’t joke with it.
If you did not study education, what other career would you have pursued?
I don’t know because ever since I came into education I have never considered any other thing. It was a hidden talent discovered by Providence. I don’t really have other option.
Tell us the joy/gains of being an educationist…
It is overwhelming. We had an alumni reunion two weeks ago and they spent the weekend with us as part of the activities. You know when you come out and a grown-up man driving a big car just prostrates flat on the ground, introduces himself and starts crying. The fact that we watched them grow and didn’t give up on them and they’ve turned out to be successful is one of the most gratifying rewards.
By the time you quit the stage, what would you like to be remembered for?
As someone who gave her best, as someone who didn’t give up on anybody: not a child or a teacher.
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