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Govt support for private educators, a necessity, says Obaze




Emerald School, Lagos, which started with seven pupils in 1995, in a flat, as a nursery and primary school in the Gbagada area of Lagos has paid its dues as an academic institution. Ten years after inception, the school flung open its larger campus in Ogunrun-Ori Village, and started a secondary school, and another nursery and primary school.

Emerald High School, nestled within this complex, is a full boarding institution operating an integrated curriculum- a blend of British and Nigerian curriculum as part of the school’s efforts at “building global citizens.”

“Emerald School is a very long story,” was how the school’s Executive Director, Edna Obaze, summarised the journey thus far. “We started from a flat, and with just seven children. The reason why we started was because my children were in school, and I found that the kind of morals I wanted them to imbibe were absent in most of the schools that I knew. So, I just felt I could bridge that gap, and I could help in uplifting the educational sector by starting a school that’s different from other schools. It was all about making a difference.

“Apart from that, I really love children – that’s my weakest point. I cannot see a child without looking at him/her 10 times. I will not see a child doing the wrong thing, and not speak to the mother or that child. It’s something that runs in me. So, I just felt I could impact on their lives positively, to also make sure that we churn out adults who are going to fit well into the general society. For me, it is beyond making money. Educating children is a passion.”

In its bid to build global citizens, Obaze said, “We don’t just stick to the Nigerian curriculum. We combine the British and the Nigerian curriculum. At the secondary school level, we added the American curriculum, because our children sit for SAT and TOEFL, for them to be able to get into schools abroad.”

The school administrator, who said the school has, “achieved 95 per cent of our goals, because we are in a state of continual improvement,” added that, “From inception, we knew what we were going to do, we knew how we were going to do it, and if I look back, we have no regrets. When you look at our mission and vision, it points to the fact that we want to churn out students who are socially responsible and who are going to be able to hold their own out there, globally. “Apart from that, Emerald really stands for certain values – academic excellence, character building, and discipline. And I’ll say that, so far, we’ve been able to achieve most of what we set out to do from the beginning.

Obaze, who believes that the school has an edge over other schools, stressed, “Our values give us an edge. In our school, we do not do things for our children. We do not have washing machines in the school. Our children do their laundry themselves. And it’s a policy that we don’t ever want to change, because we know that it is very important that the children are able to do things on their own. What are your hands for? That’s the least you can do for yourself. You have to be responsible. Here, we are bringing back the good old values; the values that we have lost.

One may be tempted to think that it has been a jolly ride all through, but Obaze begs to differ, insisting that there have been several hard periods she’s had to contend with.

“For example, we have the challenge of parents who want to run the school for you. There is also the problem of teachers who, most times, will like to jump from one school to the other. It’s a very big challenge, especially in the private sector. But for us, we don’t see that much here anymore. That’s because, after some years, you become stabilised.

“Now, people know us for who we are, and the fact that we have a standard. So, many people, including teachers, come to us because of that standard. And with good salaries, and welfare packages, when they come, they stay. The quest for continual improvement is also a challenge. Because you need money to make sure that improvement is consistent. Matters are not helped by poor government policies.”

Obaze noted because of sound academic programmes, students of the institution excel in numerous competitions. “We have won the Toyota Arts Competition consecutively. We’ve been doing well in GISS competitions, mathematics competitions. Our results in external examinations since we started have been very good. In the last one, we had a 98 per cent success rate. Every of our children passed their mathematics and English language.

The school, through its student community service, also tries to give back to the society. “The service is solely the responsibility of the children,” Obaze explained. “For example, we had a community school where the children sit on the ground for their lessons. But, through the community service programme, our students were able to provide them with chairs and tables. The last thing they did was to put a roof in the school. The new project they are going into is to build toilets for the school.

“Apart from that, we also make the children visit motherless babies homes and disabled homes. Our students frequently visit the Modupe Cole Home in Yaba. The community service experience is for them to understand that they are privileged to be in this kind of environment and come from homes where their parents can afford to send them to school. And it has really yielded results.

“Also, we have a scholarship programme in our school. It is for the indigenes of our host community. We pick the best student in the community school, and they go through our school,” she added.

Obaze, who said the education sector ought to be in a better state than it is, said with spirited efforts from stakeholders, some grounds can still be covered.

She stated, “I’ll say that as a nation, we are trying, but a lot still needs to be done, but the situation is not all negative. The private schools are becoming interested in public schools, so even where the government is not doing much, private schools are trying to help out. It is a gradual process.

“The government needs to take education more seriously, because we are talking about training the leaders of tomorrow. Nothing should be left undone to make sure that children learn what they are supposed to learn. If not, we will continue to breed half-baked graduates.

“The government needs to do a lot to put in place public libraries. This will help students to do their own reading and investigation. The new minister of education should take that seriously. Also, government needs to support schools. A school is as difficult as running a hospital. When you run a school, you are taking care of hospitality and academics and it is a very expensive venture. There’s nothing to suggest that we cannot have soft loans that are specially set aside for schools.

She continued, “I know that many schools have their own water generating plants, electricity plants and road graders. That’s not supposed to be so. A lot of people say private schools are very expensive, but then you have to understand all the things we have to do for ourselves. It is not easy to run a private school. You need passion to sustain you.”

The executive director added that, “The training and re-training of teachers is another aspect government should focus on. When you have good teachers, you will produce good students. That’s an area that cannot be over-emphasised.

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