‘It has been a season of resilience building for our school community’
Dr. Abimbola Banu-Ogundere is an education advocate and education leadership expert whose life’s work is to create a generation of influential and impactful education leaders who identify and solve meaningful education problems at scale, all over the world. A medical doctor and Canadian certified Montessori teacher, she is the C.E.O of Kids’ Court School and boasts a Master’s in Public Health and Applied Educational Leadership and Management respectively, both from the University of London. She also holds a Women in Leadership certificate and a Leading Schools certificate from Harvard Business School. Due to her enthusiasm for improving the quality of education received by the African child, in 2018, she founded the Learning As I Teach (LAIT) Foundation, which seeks to bridge the access barrier to qualitative continuous professional development opportunities for the African teacher by providing opportunities for continuous professional development at minimal cost. A thought leader and sought-after speaker on Education Leadership and the Business of Education, she also founded the Succeeding at Leading a Learning Community Coaching program to help school leaders lead self and their schools to success and sustainability. A published author of books, she is a career, life and relationship mentor for women and an avid supporter of women and children’s rights and empowerment. In this interview, she talks about leaving medicine for education, how schools and parents can navigate through these difficult times and educating children with no access to the Internet.
As a trained medical doctor, what sparked your interest in education? It was no mean feat leaving a budding career in Medicine to start a journey in education but I embraced it along with its challenges because I have always been a teacher. As far back as primary school, I would happily teach my classmates and friends in the neighbourhood. In medical school, I would not pass any opportunity to lead tutorials for my peers. When the opportunity came to pursue education as a career, I took it on wholeheartedly knowing it is truly a calling for me. I haven’t once regretted that decision to the glory of God.
You said your passion for education led you to founding LAIT Foundation, tell us about this?
Having gone through the discipline and work ethics of medical school, I found it alarming how low the standards and expectations were for continuous professional development in a field as crucial as education in Nigeria, after a few years of growing the Kids’ Court School. Looking closer, I realised that teachers are really faced with a number of staggering challenges from low and often delayed remuneration to lack of access to affordable quality continuous professional development. I decided to start the Learning As I Teach (LAIT) foundation to bridge this gap and provide teachers both in the public and private sectors with opportunities for qualitative continuous professional development in the sector and to create a community that any teacher who is willing to improve his/her craft can be a part of at minimal cost. We just concluded the first online Educators’ conference in Nigeria tagged The Teacher Growth Conference which was attended by over 100 teachers from all over the country and focused on improving teachers’ ability to deliver outstanding lessons in their classrooms.
The stay-at-home order due to Covid-19 has somewhat disrupted the educational calendar. How are you navigating this period?
While this is an unfortunate turn of events, it has proven to be a season of resilience building for all members of our Kids’ Court School community. Although, we have been at the forefront of integrating technology into teaching and learning, operating a wholly remote school is a different kettle of fish. I am thankful that we have since launched our online academy and can only get better from here on with continued effective partnership of all stakeholders. We’ve had to adapt quickly to changes, learn new skills and deploy them immediately in a collaborative albeit virtual setting. Parents have also had to bring their A game to supporting children at home.
Children are also adapting to this new approach and their emotional and mental health must also be given attention. We also realise that the feedback of the entire community is and will continue to be instrumental in ensuring the success of this approach. We continue to hope and pray that the calendar disruption is not too severe but putting the safety of all our stakeholders first, we will continue to meet the learning needs of the children, howbeit remotely.
Is homeschooling (which many are adopting) a long-term viable option, seeing as not all parents/guardians can do it?
First of all, this is not homeschooling, at least what most of us are doing right now. What we are doing is operating a formal school albeit remotely. In this case, parents are supported by ensuring that children log on to their online portals and carry out the required learning for the day. Teachers still play a big role in curating the content in line with the curriculum as well as assessing the progress of the children and ensuring they’re achieving the desired learning outcomes to the highest degree possible. Is the level of involvement of parents higher than it would have been under normal circumstances? Of course yes, but we must remember that this is as a result of the crisis that left us with no other option.
Homeschooling on the other hand is a carefully determined arrangement where the parents or caregivers of the child would wholly undertake all roles associated with the child’s teaching and learning. That parent would seek out the right curriculum, determine the pace of learning and assess and grade the child too. Such a parent would have a contingency plan with regards to work and earning an income and as such would have a balanced approach to scheduling their day such that conflicts would not arise or will at most be minimised. To answer your question, it really all depends on the families and the unique needs of their children coupled with their availability to dedicate their time to fully home-school their children. What I know for sure is that the place of schools cannot be quickly thrown aside because of the key role schools play in the socialisation of children.
How can we cater to the set of students who have no access to the internet/TV/laptops?
These needs are real and education stakeholders must find sustainable ways of reaching out to each child in order to avoid total disruption to students’ learning. In the event that children cannot access the Internet, TV or laptops, they can take advantage of educational programs on radio. That can be quite limited in range as the radio show can only attend to one class/subject at a time. Newspapers routes can also be used to circulate weekly learning packets to children in different areas. It is also possible to rely more heavily on textbooks and past notebooks. The way textbooks are written, children can take a step by step approach to understanding concepts, this might be fast or slow depending on the child and obviously a less than ideal situation, but the child can seize the opportunity to build a more disciplined work ethic as we all wait out this pandemic which will surely come to an end.
What does your Succeeding at Leadership Program seek to do and how can it help students and teachers during this period?
This is a program that is very dear to my heart because leadership in many cases signals the rise and fall of a business. In my over 11 years of working through the sector, I can truly say that success cannot be overnight at least not in the educational sector. It is a fine mix of several big and small decisions that rest on the shoulder of the leader to make.
I have found that we as leaders do not also need to reinvent the wheel or make our own mistakes all the time. We can learn from each other, feed off of each other’s success stories, our near misses and our failures. The program provides school leaders with a community of peers and strong network intelligence. Quality of school leadership is the single most important factor that influences the quality of teachers’ impact on students and their learning outcomes. This period also comes with its emotional and psychological effects on school leaders and the SALLC community has served as a good place to lean on others, ask questions, share ideas, vent if necessary and become better energised and equipped to keep leading successfully, especially in this time of crisis.
What would be your advice to students and schools struggling to navigate this period?
I would say, “To thine own self be true.” Identify what you and your stakeholders are capable of doing to make learning possible for the children at this time and do it. The truth is that you have to have a multiple stakeholder approach at this time to accommodate the needs of the children and their parents who are at this time coping with the demands of working remotely in a country where this was largely unpopular and where basic infrastructure do not make it easy and the possibility of dwindling finances due to the unintended global economic crisis that the world is faced with as a result of this pandemic. This is not a time to think of expensive technology if it was not already a part of your methodology at your school.
Rather it is a time to care for and be considerate of your learners and their parents who would be supporting you to make learning possible. It is also a time to work closely with your team as you reflect on ideas you can come up with and creative strategies that will give your school a fitting response to this situation. In one breath I will say focus on what you have in your hands and maximize it as best as you can. To students, this is a time to brace up and become self-directed learners; leading your own learning using the resources available to you online and offline, creating a study time-table and following through with the help of accountability partners at home or online.
How more difficult has this virus and the ensuing problems it created made your job harder?
The crisis if anything has helped our team build resilience to channel their creativity towards achieving the set goal, which is, effective learning must continue for our children. No one can boast of having foreseen such a scenario as we are currently experiencing, but I am thankful that as a school, we had made technology integration a priority even in our nursery school. Over the years, we have also invested heavily in the training and development of our teachers as well as carrying our parents along with the technological trends in education so this has been a season to reap some of the fruit of those decisions and investments. We are also coming out of this season with a lot of lessons learned. Barring the health restrictions and the economic effect on our community, I’d say our jobs have gotten more recognition and admiration from the world and I foresee schools that would continue to place a high priority on technology integration, which is consequently a win for the children who are themselves digital natives.
LASG is employing radio/TV to keep students engaged, can students really learn like this especially those that need extra help?
I think that it is a laudable decision because sustainable development suggests that you meet the people right where they are. Children and parents already have radios/TVs, so infiltrating the mass media with educational content is definitely the right step in the right direction and doing this is by far better than doing nothing.
There are several learning domains; some students learn primarily by visual displays, others learn by auditory stimulation while some others by kinesthetic demonstrations. The beauty of learning is that children can be triggered to activate their desired learning style if the presenter does what he can to engage the children meaningfully. It is a call for parents and guardians to complement the efforts of the government by being involved in the children’s learning until this is all over.
In light of what is happening, how do you get inspiration to keep going?
I stay focused on God and His promises and I am assured that the skills that we have picked up during this period of resilience-building will make us a healthier and stronger world.
Your final words to women reading this?
Keep your hope alive, your world needs you to draw strength from within.