‘We must have functional educational system to be globally competitive’
Educationist, author and proprietor, The Palmers Nursery and Primary School, Joshua Falade, in his assessment of the sector in this interview with IYABO LAWAL, said schools must focus on functional education to produce not only future leaders who must be globally competitive but imbued with requisite skills needed for the 21st Century.
As a seasoned banker, what motivated you to go into education?
In 2011, I wrote a book, The 360 degree youth: 21st Century Approach to Total Youth Development, and the concern was that we have high population of unemployed graduates in the society, which portends a big problem even at the time. We have the problem of unemployment, underemployment and unemployability. It is not that the jobs are not there but the requisite skills are not available. So I wrote the book to address it. In the process, I got some interviews and I was asked that with all these knowledge, what was I planning to do. We are good in Nigeria to identify problems but who would solve it? That was what led me into starting a school. Those issues that were not addressed in the curriculum, in our own little ways we started bringing them up.
We want to help solve at least some fragment of the pending dangers in Nigeria as a result of unemployment because of the saying that “when poor people are awake in the night, the rich people are in trouble.”
How would you assess the nation’s educational system?
We are not there as a nation. We are several years behind the western world, even Ghana in terms of technology, compliance and curriculum, among others. We are far behind because the age we are in is an age that we should be more inclined to functional education; one that will prepare our children for the competitive world. This is a global world, our children are not competing with people from the immediate community, they are exposed to the global world. We are coming up little by little but we still have a lot to do to catch up with even many African countries that cannot pride themselves with the kind of a nation that we have.
In the aspect of curriculum, it is overdue for overhauling. There is an urgent need for the complete overhauling of the curriculum. Let’s move from the age of abstract to functional education. Besides, the sector has not been really attractive to the best minds in terms of manpower. When the companies have picked the best, the rest now go into education and the challenge there is that when there is a little opening elsewhere, the people migrate enmasse, leaving it for people who do not have reasons to be there. As a result, we have average teachers and school owners bringing up average students who will develop an average community and continue to live average life in the future.
In the aspect of technology, most of the private schools that have come to join the public institutions to provide education for the teeming population that the government cannot meet do not have the fund. If we can have an educational bank where we can access funds that would assist school owners to develop some infrastructures and facilities that can really help to groom the kind of children that we want for this age, I think that would go a long way.
How do you think we can make teaching attractive so as to woo the best because without quality teachers, we may not get the desired results in the sector?
We can make the sector attractive by doing the same things that blue chip and telecommunications companies are doing. Government on its part has deregulated the sector, which is commendable. Now the school owners and stakeholders must sit at a round table and forge a plan of where we are going.
School owners need to develop themselves to be able to give the kind of education that this generation needs.
There must be training and retraining of those involved; we must also ensure that competitive packages and welfare are put in place for teachers, when we pay them well, when their take home can take them home and provide some basic necessities for them and we also try to bring into school business some of those things introduced in blue chip companies like health insurance, vacation and many other incentives, we would attract the best minds. It is already happening in some private institutions around and many people would prefer to work there instead of working elsewhere.
There are so many substandard schools around, how do you think government can regulate the sector to give room for only qualitative ones that would produce competitive graduates in future?
Lagos State government is doing something in this regard. Firstly, there is appropriate census of the school handled by the ministry of education and office of quality assurance. Before starting a school in Lagos, you must get your approval; officials from the ministry and office of quality assurance would also come around to evaluate the environment where you are planning to set up your school and the qualification of those people involved in that.
Apart from reorientation and government clamping down on substandard schools that are all out there for business purpose and are not having any positive intention of adding value or developing appropriate manpower for this country, government should appoint eggheads in the sector. Let us look at what other countries excelling in education are doing and try to infuse some of these into our educational system.
There are claims that most private school owners do not employ quality teachers because of salary and you would agree with me that without quality teachers to teach these students, imparting the right knowledge would be a mirage. What is your take on this?
Teachers are poorly paid in many private schools, and as a result, the motivation is not there. But there is an awareness that is going on through many of the associations that most of these school owners belong to. They are doing regular sensitisation on the need to maintain some level of standard in terms of the quality of infrastructure, staff and environment.
So how do we do this? School owners must on their own develop themselves to have what is required to run the kind of school that will contribute to the development of this nation. If they don’t have the right educational qualification, they should go back to school and have what it takes. Apart from that, regular training and retraining of school owners and their staff, is very necessary.
In the area of remuneration, I mentor over 600 school owners on the need to pay their staff well. I let them know that they cannot get the best from these teachers if they are ill- motivated. Apart from that, let there be some loans or incentives for these teachers; in doing this, we are not only helping them but helping ourselves to build formidable structures. School owners should also expose themselves to regular knowledge gathering through seminars, workshops and reading.
What are the challenges of running a school in the present day Nigeria?
Government should look at the area of tax; multiple taxation is taking a toll on schools’ bottom line. Things are not really appropriate and many school owners are cutting corners, not really interested in building the future of our youths.In the area of finance, government should create a bank that should be able to extend loans and facilities to private school owners. Terms of repayment should be friendly. If government can do this and perform its supervisory roles to the best of its ability, it would have done a lot for school owners.
Why are you organising training programmes for school owners?
I have three programmes wrapped in one on August 16. There is a seminar we call “School system reconfigured”, it is designed to educate school owners on how best to run a school. The seminar is to show them based on our own knowledge and the kind of industry we have operated, how to run schools without debt.
There is also going to be a book launch on Secret of running a debt free school, I have run my school for five years and shared a lot of strategies that I have used year in year out to ensure that my school even at a poor location, parents, who are mostly petty traders are still able to pay fees and their children are retained in the school.
There is also going to be a radio programme launch tagged, “School business clinic”. We are looking at how to address some of those problems I’ve enumerated, how school owners can effectively run their schools to contribute maximally to the bottom line for which they have set up the school and how they can contribute to national programmes rather than expecting woes in Nigeria.
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