By ESTHER ONYEGBULA
Theresa Okafor is the Director, Quality Assurance and Research Development Agency, Nigeria (QAARDAN), an NGO that provides training for educators, by looking into the quality of teachers, the quality of training and of students’ learning.
This it does by aligning what happens in the Nigerian education sector with educational reforms in other countries. Discovering the huge gap and disparity in education and educational achievement in the country’s educational system, QAARDAN engages private and public schools to improve the quality of teachers, learning experience. A seasoned educationist, Mrs. Okafor obtained her first degree in English Education and Masters in Education Administration from the University of Lagos.
She worked briefly with the Women’s Board before going to the United States where she worked at the Department of Public Information in New York. Upon her return to Nigeria, she worked with Law Union as General Manager. Later, she worked with the British Council as the Education and Centre manager for three years. After that, she started her doctorate degree in Education at University of Nottingham in PHD Research Education.
In this chat, Theresa Okafor sheds more lights on quality assurance in education, lack of educational infrastructures in schools and implications of Nigerians pursuing education outside the country. Enjoy!!
Why did you establish QAARDAN?
When we discovered the huge gap and disparity in education and educational achievement in the system, we approached banks and corporate organizations and institutions. Guaranty Trust Bank responded but ran training for their adopted school which is St. George’s with us facilitating the training. But then we felt this was minimal in achieving the impact that we wanted, so, we decided to approach an international organization, Harambee, and they gave us some funding which
enables us to run the training for teachers in 65 public schools free of charge in Nigeria.
Have you been able to collaborate with the government on any of these training?
Presently, we actually got the government to collaborate with us by getting us schools to work with. For instance, the Lagos State government responded by selecting fifteen schools which we have trained. We have done the first set of training for teachers in these schools and we are going to run subsequent trainings for them.
Apart from that, we are organizing an international training for teachers, where we will be bringing resource persons from outside Nigeria to run training programmes for them. At the moment, we are working with the governments of Lagos, Anambra, Enugu and Rivers states with the education reform team because they are all involved in the Harambee project.
I am also doing something with the Nigerian Open Universities, Common Wealth of Learning in Canada and the Government of Gambia. The government of Gambia is trying to set up a quality assurance framework to validate higher education in their country; so I am facilitating that framework, helping in its design and implementation, so it is all about education.
Has lack of infrastructure contributed to the challenge in our educational system?
What I think is wrong with the Nigerian educational system is not just the lack of infrastructure. The infrastructure is important, the teaching capacity, the human skill in terms of the learners to the educator ratio is also important, because the standard thing will be to have a teacher to at least forty students.Having an environment conducive for learning is important. But what is most important is the quality of teaching, the quality of the student’s experience and learning outcome.
How can this be done?
Teachers can actually maximize the resources they have at their disposal to ensure that at the end of the day learning, takes place. And that requires a lot of professional judgment on the part of the teacher. When the teacher puts a lot of effort in preparing the lesson and in deploying resources in the classroom that can get the students to see the relevance of what is learnt in school and what happens outside school, you can be sure that achievement with improved success would be attained.
That way, when the students have graduated, they are more likely to be self-reliant or get into paid employment because there have been a transition. This means that the school has succeeded in nurturing the talents that they have, or cultivating those talents that probably did not exist. That way, graduates can make a meaningful impact in the society.
With the high rate of mass failures in WAEC, NECO, GCE and UTME would you say our curriculum is faulty or not detailed?
Personally I think a curriculum is meant to be a guide. It is the responsibility of the teacher to give meaning to the curriculum, make it vibrant, dynamic and relevant. The curriculum should be seen as a framework where the teacher falls back while trying to bring in her knowledge of education to make the curriculum relevant.
I do not like this blame game, where people blame the teachers, the government or the students. I believe that all the educational stakeholders, teachers, students, government and parents alike should take on the responsibilities in ensuring that everyone has the responsibility in shaping the future of our children.
What would you say have been your challenges?
The challenge I face is changing mindset, because people tend to think that teachers have to teach and not be developed continuously. So, getting schools to support teachers’ development, or getting government or even donors to support teachers’ development is a huge challenge that I face because people don’t feel that there is a need to invest in teachers’ development. But at the same time, the responses have been good. At least with Harambee, government has been quite supportive to some extent and we are getting there gradually.
What are the implications of Nigerians pursuing education outside the country?
Unfortunately because of the falling and declining educational standard, many Nigerians are pursuing education outside the country in places like Ghana, UK, Canada, South Africa, etc. When many Nigerians pursue education outside the country, funds that should actually be within the country are taken outside the country.
The interesting thing is that the educational budget is much less than the amount of money being invested in students to pursue education outside the country in places like US, Canada, UK, South Africa. Regrettably, this is happening massively because of our failed educational system. It has become glaring that something needs to be done in terms of quality of teachers, quality of teaching and quality of students’ experience.