By Josephine Agbonkhese
Iyiola Olatokunbo Edun sits at the helm of affairs of one of Nigeria’s foremost private citadels of learning, Grace Schools, founded over 50 years ago by her late mother, Grace Bisola Osinowo. Among prominent Nigerians produced by the school is Nollywood Actress Funke Akindele.
An aficionado of excellence in education delivery, Edun, who is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Association of Private Educators in Nigeria, APEN, is a popular advocate of quality, holistic education both in the public and private education sectors.
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She holds a B.A. in History from the University of Kent and a Master’s in Comparative History from the University of Essex, both in the UK, and then a Postgraduate Diploma in Education from the University of Lagos.
Among other awards earned for laudable feats in the education sector in her over 35 years as a school administrator is the British Council’s UK International School award.
What makes Grace Schools stand out?
We make learning fun for our students. We provide education that makes the students fit in anywhere in the world. It is interesting to note that we have included a lot of technology into how students are taught. For instance, our pupils are taught how to operate computer from the nursery level. This is through some visual aid learning. The primary school arm was established in 1968 while the secondary arm commenced in 1994. My late mother, Deaconess Grace Bisola Osinowo, established the schools and I have been part of it all. Today, she is no more but her worthy legacies are being sustained.
The secondary school arm is 25 this year and we have outlined programmes for the anniversary. We are poised to raise the bar of academic attainments in Nigeria and for that, we are constantly improving to upscale educational service delivery. We have been around for a long time and this underscores our commitment to provide qualitative learning for all our students. Our strong focus is to develop good, godly students who will compete favourably across the globe.
What’s your assessment of the state of education in Nigeria?
The state of education in Nigeria has worsened since independence. While growing up, someone with a primary six certificate could teach. But graduates today are half baked as some of them cannot communicate well in English.
The quota system adopted in the country is horrible; it guarantees admission for poorly performed students. Inadequate funding has also affected the standard of education in the country. Infrastructural facilities are not improved upon by the government. That’s why it is important that government does not just provide funding but must monitor and supervise those funds to ensure proper allocation and judicious spending.
For instance, in the last 10 years, Rwanda has overhauled its education sector. 60% of private schools have closed down due to the excessive funding of the public education sector by the government. In Nigeria, however, private schools have taken over the responsibilities of government.
…but what do you think of government’s attitude towards private schools?
Private schools have better facilities than public schools and are actually doing what public schools should be doing. Government is supposed to have a strong partnership with private schools. It should stop harassing and overtaxing us; these have become burden for us. For instance, what is the quality assurance policy about? Private schools boast more of solid facilities than public schools but meanwhile, all sorts of multiple taxes are being forced on private schools.
Our entire infrastructures are provided by us, we get neither water nor electricity from government. Also, we go out of our way to support public schools in the ways we can. For instance, Grace Schools has donated cash and materials towards the upgrade of several schools within Gbagada environs. There was the provision of furniture (tables, chairs, etc.) and books to Gbagada Primary School. This has been a major activity for several years till date. We also powered the school’s borehole with electricity.
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Ajidagan Primary School, Grace School’s next door neighbour, has also been a major beneficiary of our Corporate Social Initiatives. The School which collapsed last year was reconstructed by our school. We’ve also donated play equipment and sponsored sporting events. Some of the schools are Idi Od Primary School, Al Moroof Primary School, Gbagada Primary School, Ogooluwa Primary school, Temidire Primary School, Adaranijo Primary School, and National Primary School as well as Ajidagan Primary school.
My point is that government really needs to be friendlier in its approach to private education stakeholders because there should be more of partnership and collaboration between private educators and government.
Let’s look at the role of parents in effective education delivery. Do you think they are responsive to their responsibilities?
Parents believe once they pay school fees, the school should take over completely. Parents should not abdicate their responsibilities to the school. Parents should try and create more time for their children. Depression is high among children nowadays; children hardly see their parents at home. We have seen cases of drivers asking questions about home works for their bosses’ children. How can a driver suddenly become the one to be monitoring a pupils’ school work? Children blossom more when they are shown love. It is highly expected of parents to do more for their children beyond paying school fees.
You recently entered into a partnership with Canada-based Loyalist College of Arts and Technology; what’s the goal?
The aim of our partnership with Loyalist College of Applied Arts and Technology, Ontario, Canada, is to enable Grace Schools to further provide quality education at an affordable cost for parents who want to improve learning experience for their children. The partnership provides support for students to also accomplish their dreams of schooling in reputable schools overseas.
A mini campus of Loyalist College will be set up in Nigeria for the first year students of the institution. The successful students will undergo their first year programme in Nigeria before proceeding abroad to complete their education.
We chose Loyalist after an invitation to visit 10 Canadian universities because of its state-of-the-art facilities and teaching aids which are the most suitable for the training of the 21st workforce. The collaboration is as part of our strategic focus to reinvent the wheel on a consistent basis to achieve optimum excellence; Grace School was established 25 years ago and has remained a focused and notable educational institution of choice for discerning parents.
Tell us about your yearly scholarship award…
Our annual indigent scholarship award instituted in honour of my late mother is designed to provide succour for the less privileged in the society. It seeks to enable indigent students have access to quality education regardless of their educational background.
The scholarship is worth over N1million per session, covers tuition, books, uniforms, boarding fees and pocket money and even extends to their university education afterwards. Let me say over 40 students have benefitted from the awards since its inception in 2004 while over 100 million naira has been invested in the scheme by the school. The scholarships are from SS-SS3. The scholarship covers the tuition, boarding fees, examination fees, books, uniforms, etc. for the entire duration of the senior secondary years. After that, we also support them when they leave Grace Schools and go to universities. This we do by paying their university fees, accommodation and giving them a monthly stipend for the four or five years at the university. We also encourage them to do the SAT exams, which is also paid for by us.
What are the ways forward for education in Nigeria…?
There should be proper supervision of the education sector. Government should not only release funds but also monitor funds going to the sector. There should be specific projects to promote growth rather than spending so much on diesel while neglecting the core areas that can engender growth and development. Government should also focus on upgrading infrastructural facilities.
The foundation of everything is important; it takes huge efforts to correct fundamental errors. It should be noted that leaving primary education in the hands of local government is not appropriate as the office holders scarcely pay any attention to them.