‘How we are redefining Nigeria’s school leadership, syllabuses’
Dr. Nelson Ayodele, the chief executive officer of Standard Mandate International (SMI) has passion for everything education. Between June 20 and 22, he and his team will brainstorm on how schools in Nigeria can attain higher standards in management, teaching and learning during this year’s National Heads of School Summit at the Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abeokuta, Ogun State. He speaks with IYABO LAWAL
Standard International is organising the National Heads of School Summit, what is the programme all about?
Basically, we are about looking into educational leadership in Nigeria and see how we can improve on the quality of leadership that we presently have.
You will find out over the years that there is no institution that prepares people for educational leadership in the country, having obtained your B.Ed. or M.Ed.; you get an appointment to run a school.
There is no leadership school that you will need to go to.
Because of that, people who do not have enough of leadership and management experience just go into it with their rudiment knowledge and as a result, we cannot get the best out of them.
We looked into this gap and try to close it by introducing a summit annually, which we call the national heads of school summit.
This is a summit where we expect leaders from all over the country, institutional and army schools, even missionary and some couple of government schools to send their principals and administrators.
The experience we have had over the years is that people leave the conference with a renewed vigour for excellence in the delivery of education and closing every gap that we might have identified at the conference.
This year, we are of the opinion that the pattern of thinking of our school leaders has to be adjusted, that is why we are looking at transformational thinking as a tool for educational development.
We know that everything that a human being does stems from a thinking pattern, If they would take that thinking mode back to their schools and use it to work on their development and enrolment, as well as things that will make them to be at par with international schools across the globe, we will be better for it.
We cannot compete effectively with the developed countries right now because in such countries like the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, we have institutes.
In the UK for instance, we have what is called the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) where if you don’t go to that school and take all the required courses, you cannot be promoted to become the vice principal not to talk of a principal. We don’t have anything like that in Nigeria.
On a private level, we are also making efforts to see if we can start a similar college in Nigeria, which can serve as a centre for school leadership development.
So we are using the summit as an avenue to launch an appeal to every stakeholder to come together to see to it that we have such an institution that will have a structured programme that would develop people into real educational leaders.
We are also concerned about the communication quality of our school leaders; as a result, we are trying to affiliate our programmes with the Toastmasters Club International.
The club equips leaders for communication and leadership skills, and we will be using the summit to announce that every educator needs to improve on his communication skill, hence the need to subscribe to the communication programmes.
We also believe that leadership and management should not be a once-and-for-all training programme. Beyond being an annual event, our intention is to also initiate a programme that would put parents on a regular interaction with our faculty and there would be an online leadership and management course for those that will subscribe, such that on a quarterly or monthly basis, participants can go online and take different courses in the area of leadership and management.
How would you describe the past events and what are the new things you are bringing in?
Over the last 10 years that the programme began, we started it as advanced leadership seminar and metamorphosed the following year into heads of school summit.
In the previous years, we have always had private schools within Lagos, but by 2009-2010, we started attracting schools from other parts of the country.
By 2012, we changed the programme from just heads of school to national heads of school summit when we started having schools from other states.
Participants had always gone away with valuable lessons from the feedback form that they fill, we found that they have really benefitted a lot and even from their employers, the appraisal that we got after they must have attended the summit have been very encouraging and that is why we have not relented in our efforts to improve on the programme annually.
As a seasoned educationist, how do you think the sector can be strengthened to make it globally competitive and relevant?
It all stems from leadership. It is leadership that will dictate the direction of the sector.
When leaders really know what to do, and you have leaders who are knowledgeable, their tenure will affect development because they will come in from the vantage position of knowing exactly what to do.
For example, if you have never been in educational leadership, you will not know how to properly structure school improvement and development.
If truly there’s a match with the right knowledge, the right training that needs to be given subordinates can only be given by seasoned educational leaders who know the gap in the sector and who would be able to close it through appropriate training programme.
Even in terms of restructuring the curriculum that is a bit too heavy and cumbersome, and it is not even achieving the desired objective.
It takes educational leadership to do an effective review of the curriculum right from the basic to the tertiary level.
So everything borders on leadership and that is why our focus is on the development of leaders that we have within the school system, because the quality of our leaders will determine the quality of our educational development.
How will you assess the quality of teachers in the system?
To a large extent, we can say things are getting better.
There is a form of improvement because even state governments have turned their attention to the quality of teachers though it is still not where it should be.
We believe that development is a continuum. It is not something you just attain and stop.
It is better than it used to be but it can still be better than it is now.
There have been calls for a review of the curriculum. What is your take on this?
The review has been achieving its desired objective. There had been a clamour for practical and vocational education, which has been done.
But we still think there is an aspect that has to be introduced.
Personally, I feel critical thinking should be introduced into our educational curriculum where our children will be taught how to think through every subject being taught them.
When you cannot think through the subject, you may not be able to apply it at the practical point.
We also want the government to put more effort in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education such that the system will be able to produce core science -based students because over the years, a lot of students are deviating from sciences and mathematics and going more into commercial and the impact has not really been felt since we are not really a producing nation.
If we really focus on the sciences and technology, we believe that it can lead the country to become a manufacturing nation that will be able to come out with products that will compete with international standards.
We could begin science and technology education and improve the problem solving skills of our students; those additions will help the curriculum better.
How do you think the government can make teaching attractive to the young generation?
If you look at countries like Germany, Sweden and Finland, teachers are being paid as much as medical doctors, the youths there want to be teachers.
What we need to do is to rebrand our educational system and make it attractive. Give the entry-level teachers a good incentive.
Give them something extra apart from the salary that will interest them; create an opportunity for them to travel and attend seminars and conferences abroad, make it possible for them to be able to attract a loan to settle down as a teacher.
If any government comes in to do all these for teachers, you will see that people will begin to leave their banking job.
This is the only job that provides security because children will always come.
It is up to government to improve on its incentives to teachers so much so that those who are not teachers will be struggling to come on board.
Can you shed more light on your partnership with The Guardian?
Standard Mandate International is a private initiative aimed at improving the quality and standard of education in the country.
And part of the quality we want to improve is the academic performance of our students, right from the basic to tertiary level.
Our focus right now is on the secondary level education because over the years, we found out that students have not been doing very well in the final West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and statistics really show that the rate of failure is really getting higher yearly.
At a point, we had to come in and we went round to do a mini research on why students are really failing and one of the things we discovered is that the students don’t have access to the syllabuses.
When you don’t have a syllabus, there is nothing to guide you and even for those who have the syllabus, they don’t have teachers that will take them through, and many of these students will miss significant part of the content that they are supposed to learn.
We now decided to put a publication together that will have all the things that the students will need ordinarily in a formal school and at that point, we got an invitation from The Guardian and that was when we started the Smart Tutorial, which has really gone national.
There is hardly any state of the federation where students are not having access to those content which they might have missed in the class for one reason or the other or their teacher has not taught them and it has really closed that gap of them not having access to subject content that they meet in examination and we ensure that those who cover these content are well experienced teachers who had a minimum of 10-15 years educational qualification and who had also been examiners at the various external examination levels.
In the last nine months, we have been able to support the first set of students that would write their final examination and are expecting their results soon.
Their results will justify the efforts we put in that publication.