‘We want to inspire a new generation of thinkers, learners’
Amaka Muanya is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Echi Oma Africa Foundation. A woman with a strong passion for social, community and international development, she has been a Leadership Effectiveness Accountability Professionalism (LEAP) Africa Youth Leadership Programme alumna since 2007. Amaka also participated in the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Emerging Leaders Regional Programme (West Africa), a President Obama initiative in 2017. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Nigeria and a Master’s Degree in Public and International Affairs from the University of Lagos. Amaka has worked in the Aviation sector in different roles and has always combined that with her love for social and community development. In this interview with GuardianWoman, Amaka explained how she is inspiring a new generation of thinkers and learners in the country.
You have an NGO? What informed it?
MY personal experiences did inform my decision to start a non-profit organisation. Having taken classes in Development Communication at the university, I immediately knew I had to create an impact on society.
My choice of education is not far fetched. My parents value education. My father had a mini-library in our home. He read very widely. In fact, I will describe him as a voracious reader. Whenever you engage him, he can speak on a wide range of issues. Our parents did expose us early enough to read many books – both African and foreign authors. So from an early age, we were raised to read many books and value the positive power of reading. My mother is an educationist who instilled the same reading value in us. Growing up in such a home instilled the desire to extend our education projects to those who have limited access to such basic rights.
As a child, we always spent Christmas holidays in our hometown. We made friends from among the children who lived at home. They were just as happy and content as we were but there was only one difference. They did not have as much access to books as we did. You know, reading opens the mind and educates you about many cultures around the world while entertaining and informing you. I made it a duty to go back home and reach children like the ones we made friends within my hometown.
That is why our foundation’s very first project is in Ogidi in Idemili North Local Government Area (LGA) of Anambra State.
Do you agree with the assertion that the standard of education is falling?
I will rather say what importance do people attach to quality education. A number of students today school but they do not learn. In all honesty, we are not where we should be so there is room for improvement.
No doubt, Nigeria has produced many stars that are excelling in various endeavours in many parts of the world. I am a proud product of Nigeria’s education system.
Most libraries in the country are becoming obsolete and students rarely visit them. Why? What can be done to restore the place of libraries?
This is back to the reading culture values issue in Nigeria. Then again, are the libraries well furnished and maintained? People are willing to use public amenities so far they work. In the case of our foundation, we are donating libraries to institutions (primary schools) to be precise. In that way, we inculcate a reading culture early in children. We catch them young! The partner (donor) schools support our efforts by creating a space in their school system for children to access library facilities.
The issue of not visiting the library is not only in Nigeria. These days, people have access to the Internet to fulfill their reading needs. But then, who regulates what people and especially children consume on the Internet. Now we still have to go back to our institutions and the family system.
Are libraries still relevant in the 21st century?
Many have attributed the advent of Information Communication Technology (ICT) as a potential threat to eliminate the importance of the library, its resources, personnel, and patronage. However, Lichterman (2011) upholds that the Internet has radically altered the way people interact with information and redefined the library’s place in academia and society.
The issue about the library as a haven for learning, teaching, and research is actually an extended debate, but this argument has met responses from information professionals who argued in the light of the transformational position of the library in this era.
Libraries all over the world serve their parent institutions. Despite the type and where a library is situated, their roles remain the same; to select information resources in both print and electronic formats, acquire, organise, disseminate the resources to the immediate users and beyond and to educate the users on how to use the resources. Until users are satisfied with the resources and of course the manner and means with which it was presented, the library is bound to re-strategise and perhaps change its methods of service delivery to its clients.
A library is a place for knowledge creation and sharing. It is a storehouse for knowledge in different formats (print and electronic). Libraries anywhere in the world are major providers of information services. The staff of the library renders assistance to all kinds of registered library users both the physically challenged people in the society to access information.
What are your mission and vision?
Echi Oma Africa Foundation’s mission for our education initiative- Every Child a Success is to create an inclusive and equal opportunity for public primary school pupils. Our vision is specific: To inspire a new generation of thinkers and learners.
We have other interests in health and the environment. In a nutshell, I will say that Echi Oma Africa Foundation is on a mission to create measurable value and impact in improving the lives of communities in Africa in the areas of education, health, and the environment.
What is your pet project’s blueprint on how to improve the education sector?
Investment. Investment. Investment. The teachers who teach in schools should be adequately trained to educate and inform the next generation. If teachers are not well trained how will they transfer knowledge?
Next, the government should invest in infrastructure. Schools should have adequate classrooms, laboratories, and well-equipped libraries. STEM is the in thing.
STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines- science, technology, engineering, and mathematics- in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. For our young ones to catch up with the world, we should invest in science education.
When I say education, it does not have to be the university. There is a need for skilled workers in Nigeria. Groups, individuals and the government can play a part in establishing technical schools. Today, we have private universities and they are thriving. Everyone cannot go to the university hence, we can establish skilled workers across the county and reduce poverty and unemployment rates.
How can we improve reading culture in Nigeria?
Reading, reading, and more reading. People read but then the question is what do they read? The first channel to transmit good values is from the basic unit of the society, which is the family. The family has a large role to play in instilling a reading culture and moral values among young ones.
There are other institutions such as the school and religious centres. The school has the primary role of transmitting education and culture to society. The government and other groups to create policies that encourage reading among members of the society can back the schools’ effort.
What is the way forward?
Government can make better investments in the education sector. You cannot go wrong with it. First of all the Universal Basic Education should boast of delivering quality education as recommended by the United Nations. Thereby, Quality Education is no longer a reserve for the upper class. Nigeria should be able to boast of quality education in any corner of the country.
If parents choose to enroll their wards in more expensive institutions, that should be at their own cost.
Overall, going to community schools should not be seen as a disadvantage especially when they are ell equipped with facilities and well trained teachers.
We have other pending issues about being the country with the highest out of school rates according to research. That alone is a burden. The government cannot do this alone. That is why there are Non-Governmental Organisations pushing policies and engaging in activities to encourage educational attainment.
We need to use all available avenues to push for better enrollment. For example, girl-child enrollment in some parts of the north should be encouraged. You can imagine the strength of our economy when men and women are earning and contributing to the economy. We have to keep pushing from all corners.