As Nigeria continues to grapple with challenges in the education sector such as funding, lack of infrastructure, poor standard and what people call unfit curriculum, among others, Dr Dolapo Ogunbawo, an educationist with over 40 years experience, says, until Nigeria addresses the quality of teachers, the challenges would continue. Ogunbawo, who worked with the United Kingdom (UK) government at the Institute of Education, University College, London for many years to find a way to help teachers raise the standard of education in the UK, was the Principal of Greensprings School and the first and only Nigerian Principal, Grange School, Lagos. She speaks, in this interview, on her passion to train and refine Nigerian teachers through her experiences over the years with her self-funded foundation, The Teaching Network Foundation,TTNF. She laments that government’s failure to see education as a priority is why Nigeria is absent from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) Scale, a global assessment system used in ranking schools.
Who is Ogunbawo?
I have worked in the education sector for 40 years. I was the Principal, Greensprings School for ten years. I was the Principal of Grange School for a couple of years before leaving for the UK. And I worked at the Institute of Education, University College, London. And the work we did was to develop teachers in order to raise the standard of education in the UK. My role was developing strategies whereby we can make sure the quality of teaching is high so that performance of the students in schools are improved. I retired in 2013 in the UK. I worked there for 15 years. I felt I had something to offer to Nigeria. But how do I bring those strategies to Nigeria? I came back in 2015 to set up TTNF, a non-for-profit organisation, to provide continuous professional development to teachers. One of the research work that we did in the University College, London found out that it is the quality of teachers that determines the standard of education. That was the reason we worked so hard to improve and raised the quality of teachers in order to raise the standard of education in the UK.
I know that the only way to help our children who are in school now, is not by providing fantastic infrastructures or providing resources; it is by developing the teachers, because the quality of teachers determines the standard of education in any country. I came to set up the foundation and it is a network of teachers working together to find solutions to the challenges they face because importing strategies from abroad does not work. Those strategies might be brilliant, but they do not fit our context. What we need to do was to find home grown solution to our problems. Our solution must be homegrown because any imported strategy will not work because the context is different. One unique feature of TTNF is the application of coaching principle that empowers teachers coach and develop each other by sharing knowledge, ideas and best practices.
How is TTNF run?
These teachers who face the challenges daily know the problems. When they come together and rub minds, they will find solutions to the problems they face everyday. What TTNF does is to bring them together to form a network to look at their challenges, delibrate on ideas and solutions and compare experiences. First the teachers identify what they want to learn and those with the experience and knowledge in the areas pick topics and deliver the workshops. Nigerian teachers are smart and eager to learn and they can find solutions to the problems we are experiencing in the education sector if given a platform on which to do so. As we are prepare for our next training day event, members have sent the topics they want to learn during the training day. We send those topics to members of the Network and those who have the expertise on the topics, go all the way and do the research to lead the workshops. At our quarterly training day events we usually have between 20 and 24 different workshops catering to pre-school to end of secondary school levels. Each teacher will choose and attend two workshops that fit the work he or she does or choose the ones that matches his or her area of interest. That way the teachers share good practice and learn new knowledge thereby improving and developing themselves. By leading the workshops, the teachers also develop and acquire more skills as they have to research current practices and new developments in education in their preparation to teach others.
How teachers join network
I visit schools, private and public, to tell them about TTNF and what we offer. They pay a stipend for membership. We register the teachers as individuals, not schools. I go to the schools, give them fliers and invite them to come for the next training day event. The teachers give us feedback on how they are using the strategies learnt at our training. We have an interactive website where resources are available and a blog for teachers to continue their learning and interactions. One of the things the teachers told TTNF is that they want to understand what quality education looks like. As a result we have been exploring the curriculum, instructional practices and assessment procedures.
Working with government
We want to engage with government in order to scale up what we are doing and I have been trying for two years to get government to engage with us – federal and state, but I have been unsuccessful.
How do we feel impact?
Teachers are gatekeepers. If you want the standard of education for the students to improve, you must first develop the teachers in order for the impact to be sustainable and lasting. I have spent close to 40 years in the education sector and if I count the number of children I have impacted, I will lose count. But if we focus on and work directly with the students in our schools presently, in another four or five years, they have gone. That does not make for sustainability. When we train and develop teachers, they are there to train generations. This is what I learned from my work in the UK which I am transferring and adapting to our own situation and context in Nigeria. To date, TTNF has about 2,000 teachers in our Network in the two years of our existence. But that figure is negligible compared to the teachers we have in Nigeria. To date, I have been doing it alone but think of what is possible if we have government support.
Have you approached government?
Yes, so far there has been no response. But many schools are recognizing the benefits for their teachers that schools are insisting that every teacher must be registered with TTNF because they saw the impact of those who are with us on the students they teach. Some schools have included TTNF as part of their appraisal programme. At the end of the year, they want to know how many TTFN trainings the teachers have attended, how many workshops the teachers have facilitated. If I should wait until I get government’s commitment and recognition, I won’t do anything. Up till the minute I am speaking with you, it is my own money I am spending, nobody is giving me anything . The teachers pay N2,500 for three month’s subscription and training, which is less than N800 for a month. This is because I don’t want the teachers to struggle or find it challenging to pay. Development should not come as hardship or be a painful process.
With your experience in raising the standard of education in the UK, is it the issue of curriculum or standard that is responsible for the challenges in Nigeria educational system?
The result of research that has been done over and over again all over the world found that it is the quality of the teacher that is the number one indicator of education standard. If your teachers are of poor quality, you cannot have a high standard of education . They are the gate keepers. I always use the story of the ancient Chinese to illustrate. They wanted to protect their country so they built a wall, so strong nobody could break through. But they were invaded three times and the invaders did not jump over the wall or crawl under it, they came through the gates by simply bribing the gate men that were not trained. It is the same thing, the quality of teachers is what determines the standard of education. it is not the curriculum or the resources, or the facilities. If you have a quality teacher teaching a child under the mango tree, the child will excel. In 2018, Brampton Manor Academy UK made history with a Nigerian principal – Dr Dayo Olukoshi. He had 100 students from a poor, deprived community of North London. They sat for the A’ level examination, which is a very tough one. Everyone of the hundred students achieved A* and A. There was not a single B in that group. It is a feat that has never been achieved before. The newspaper and all the media reported it. Look at Nigeria today, it is only students who cannot get admitted into any other department in the university that end up in education. Then, who are those teaching them in the universities? All our good teachers have left the country because they have gotten jobs elsewhere in the world. I still believe that we have good quality and trainable teachers. We have teachers who are ready to learn. These teachers do not know how because nobody has shown them the way.
How do we change the narrative?
First of all, our government needs to take education seriously. Up to date, I have not seen a government in Nigeria that considered education a priority. Education is the benchmark of any nation. Even our economic achievement is dependent on how good our education system is. Government must see the importance of education, they must value education and put money into it. What is being given as budget for education is too insignificant.
And will you give an example.
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) Scale, a global assessment system used in ranking schools. Nigeria is not on it, why? Because the budget for education is too insignificant that the world think we are not serious. PISA is a rating scale where they rate a country’s education standards. And every country that has enough budget committed to education is there. You will be amazed that Ghana is there because they prioritize education more than we do. You know the popular saying, if you say education is expensive , try ignorance. That is what Nigeria is doing. You see, overhauling what we have now is a major task for any government. But it is a task that must be done. Government must see education as a priority and commit more fund to it as well as more efforts. The man who did this Brampton miracle is a Nigerian. There are many Nigerian head teachers in UK doing wonders and in other parts of the world as well. Why can’t Nigeria bring them back from abroad to come and replicate what they are doing there here in Nigeria? If l am government, I would have gone to bring the likes of Olukoshi. But will you tell them to leave that good life, good money and come and suffer here?
Advice to government
Be ready to commit more money to education. We have the manpower outside. Those making waves abroad are Nigerians. We cannot throw away our present teachers, but we have to train and develop them When we address the issue of education, when our government commits money and revamps our university, revamps our colleges of education and puts the right people in the right places, they will start producing good products. But even those good products will still need retraining. Think about development in the last five years, it is so rapid. So the retraining of teachers has to continue. So, it is done everywhere; that is why continuous development is a must. Again, education is important. It is vital to our country’s development. We can’t turn our faces away from education. Every individual, wherever you are, if you are a Nigerian, you need to be concerned about the standard of education . Together we all can work together to make it work. Our solution will not come from Japan, Singapore or Germany, it will come from us. It has to be homegrown for sustainability. This is because our country is different from other countries and our situation is also different. We can borrow strategies. But we can not continue to discredit our teachers by undervaluing them. We are doing that to the detriment of the growth and development of our children. These teachers are the gatekeepers, we must inculcate in them what they need to be good citizens of this country, not just good citizens in terms of moral, but also economically, professionally, intellectually as well as morally and spiritually. Nigeria today focusses more on the moral and spiritual, neglecting the other qualities. We need to look at our teachers and give them value, recognize their roles. They are smart and competent people, they only need a little bit of guidance and direction to understand how to do it right and they will achieve greatness. TTNF is continuous professional development. Some teachers pay every time they come for training or every three months, some register for 12 months. We give certification for the workshops each teacher attend. We also give facilitators’ certificates for the workshops each teacher facilitate.
Future of the NGO
Well, I am looking for people of like minds who will help me push forward the cause of retraining and developing teachers in Nigeria. I need governments to come on board, join hands with me and work with me.