In the past couple of decades, Africa has lost many of its brightest talents to Europe and America. Many of its sons and daughters who moved abroad either to study or work, ended up staying back in the foreign countries. In opting to live abroad, many of them, either deliberately or for reasons beyond their control, lost touch with their roots. But Olubusola Kolade is different. Kolade, a Nigerian born Canadian citizen, did not forget her past, which explains why, despite being engaged as an educationist in her adopted country, she maintains strong ties with her motherland. The tie is one borne out of deep love for the land of her birth. As one well familiar with the situation in Nigeria, Kolade, over the years, has had time to reflect on how she could “give back” as it is often said, to Nigeria, and she had little problem coming up with an idea, and the sector to best channel her energy. She zeroed it down to the education sector. For as much as she knew, the state of public schools in Nigeria has been poor. In terms of facilities, many public schools in Nigeria are a poor advertisement of what public schools should be and this has been a source of worry for the Ekiti born woman, who herself is a product of Nigerian public school. She’s an alumna of Queens School, Ibadan, a school that, in the 70s when she was a student there, was not just top notch, but compared to some of the best anywhere in the world. But that’s such a long time now, as public schools in Nigeria had, for as long as many can remember, fallen on bad times, with old buildings, collapsing walls and roofs, broken windows, chairs and tables and horrible toilets as hallmark features, all of which combined, impacts teaching and the quality of the products.  Inversely, the major beneficiaries of the rot in government owned schools are private school owners. No matter how badly equipped private schools are, they have for a long time, in the opinion of many, been the better option for many Nigerian parents and guardians.  It was this situation that led Kolade, a graduate of the University of Ibadan and Reading University, England, who works with the Toronto District School Board, to come up with the idea of Ornaments of Grace and Virtue, OGAV, a not for profit organisation targeted at the girl child, with the hope of  bridging the gap caused by the shortfall in public schools delivery.  As far as she is concerned, the state of facilities and quality of teaching in public schools today does not compare to her days.

 

“I went to secondary school between 1973 and 1977 and the public schools at that time were the best. It took a lot to be admitted to the public schools like Queens School, Ibadan. It required three days residential interviews for you to get in there. It was a thing of pride to belong to them. At that time, parents did not derive joy in registering their kids in private schools,” Kolade recalled. But a visit to her Alma mater many years after, left her sad, as the “same buildings that I left 40 years ago are still there, no improvement. As a matter of fact, the school now has like three other schools inside it.”

It’s not just Queens School,  Ibadan,  that bears the mark of official  neglect, public schools generally across the country are a shadow of their old selves, and it was the desire to help  plug the gap in teaching caused by the malaise that prompted her NGO.”Coming back home, what I saw was not impressive, seeing the gap between the so called private school and the public school. When I schooled here, those of us that went to those legacy schools so to say, we were sure of the education that we had; there weren’t too many private schools but now private schools are everywhere and then you have the public schools in between and the gap between private school and public school is so huge,” she pointed out.

Olubusola Kolade Photo
Olubusola Kolade

OGAV was incorporated in 2013 but took off in 2014. Since then, Kolade has worked in partnership with some public secondary schools in Lagos during holidays to teach and empower girls for free to acquire new skills and make a success of their lives. She sought and secured the approval of the state school district board for that purpose. The pilot schools where OGAV programmes currently run include Itolo Girls Senior High School, Surulere, Ajigbeda Girls Senior High School, Surulere and Gbaja Girls Senior High School, Surulere.

Drawn from SS1 to 3, the students are taught character building, life coaching, leadership and acquisition skills, and the first set has already graduated.

How does this happen? The founder explains:

“In the first year (SS1) the first thing we teach them is academic success. How do you actually learn to succeed in school? Yes the teacher is teaching you but how do you process that information to achieve your aim at school? What kind of a learner are you? Are you an auditory learner, are you a visual learner? How do you actually listen to study? How do you study for an exam, how do you study for a test? If your test doesn’t go right, how do you ameliorate it, how do you make changes so that your next test is much better?” she asked, noting that the aim is to   change the mindset of the girls. “You need to understand who you are, how you learn in order to achieve. Those are the first things we take them through and then we go through the life coaching aspect. At the end of it, a student that comes through will then be able to say, I was not just in this club to learn academics but my life skill is improved, my self esteem, positive attitude, confidence are improved. You build a whole new person that is ready to take the challenge ahead.”

Given the enumerated impact, why just single out the  girls? What about the boys? She smiles and replies that it’s all about preference, but one not unconnected to the fact that the girl child, for ages, has been unfairly treated in many societies, including Nigeria, in matters of education, a bias that tends to relegate many of them to the background.  “It’s not that boys are not important but in the long run, the success of the nation, to a large extent, depends on the woman’s contribution. Yes, we might not be the breadwinner, but we have a lot to do in building the nation. We are passionate about the girls because if we can take them off the poverty line, break the circle of poverty in their family, it will benefit the nation,” explains the mother of two.

Still emphasizing the need for women’s education, Kolade adds.

“I think that the days of being a homemaker without education are now past because it is women that actually support the upbringing of the child and so, if girls are not properly educated, then, even the future of the nation won’t be that rosy because what kind of products are we going to have from the homes? They need to be economically independent irrespective of where they find themselves. It’s important that girls grow up to be leading young women that are economically viable to their communities and to us it’s very important that we have girls that, at the end of the day, are very focused, mature, have good character, positive self image, good self esteem, and   are able to go out and actually fend for themselves because of what they have gained.”

Since OGAV’s flag off, Kolade, who serves as president of the outfit, every summer, looks forward to returning to Nigeria to impart skills  but her wish for the girls this year failed to come through as the Lagos State Government suddenly  banned after school activities in the state. This has left her sad, as she wonders how the situation could have degenerated to the point where government has to take such a decision.

The government directive, she fears, might end up having a negative effect on the lives of young students as temptation could set in. “Summer time is a period students can get into so many mischief. (There are) so many things out there. Pregnancy rate can increase, drug abuse can happen, loitering all over on the streets becomes a little more prevalent than when the schools are in session. The schools have an opportunity to engage the students and so leaving them loose during summer, what does that say? It’s not enhancing the community and students, so why don’t the government look for controlled environment where the students can be nurtured and empowered? That’s my feeling about it,” she expressed, while also urging the state government to take proactive steps to tackle insecurity in the state by, among others, installing CCT cameras in schools.

While Lagos has been the centre point of OGAV’s work, Kolade told the magazine that there are plans to extend its services to other states in the near future if the organisation, which is made up of educationists like herself, is able to get financial support of well meaning individuals and organisations both at home and abroad. In this regard, a gala was organised in Canada which turned out successful but getting more financial assistance to support OGAV’s work, will go a long way in empowering more Nigerian girls and recruiting staff. The outfit, she insists, is a not for profit organisation which primary aim is to improve lives, nothing more. While there have been tales of NGO owners living off funds meant to support their work, Kolade said her interest was not motivated by money.   “OGAV is different in the sense that it’s not our livelihood, we have other jobs. So we are not depending on the funds that we raise. Someone said NGO is a means of livelihood, like in the case of the insurgency in the north east.  We are not here to enrich our pockets, we are here to serve,” she insisted.

 

For one unhappy with the state of education in Nigeria, what is her penecea to fixing the problem? The major way out, she said, is for government and private sector to join hands and tackle the rot. “We need to put funds into our schools. Nothing happens without funds. Everyone has to do something. We cannot leave everything to the government. Government cannot do everything. We need to have strong foundations in our universities to turn things around. We were talking about the resources that are available. We should be able to do research. The resources are not available and if we keep waiting for the government, how long will we wait? If you and I and the big corporations that are out there can move into the universities and start to shape things out, things will be a lot better,” she said, adding that there are different stakeholders in the education sector: teachers, administrators, parents and students whose roles are connected. “If you want to look at school improvement, you need to pull all the stakeholders together and what their different roles are. If one role is lacking, the improvement cannot be as expected. Because if the students are willing and the resources are not there, what are they going to do? I’ve been to some schools and went into their physics lab, there was nothing. And then you go to some private schools, you look at it, it’s state of the art. No matter how brilliant you are, if you don’t have the enabling environment made possible by resources, how are you going to achieve your full potential? So the funding has to be available for schools to improve,” she advised.

Using herself as example, Kolade explained. “No matter how brilliant a teacher is, he or she needs the resources to teach.  I can’t stand in front of a student and all I’m doing is just talk, talk, talk. If I’m talking to a student that’s a visual learner, the student wants to see something concrete in order to retain that knowledge. An auditory learner listening to me can learn the concept of it he or she understands but a visual learner that has nothing to see, how’s the person going to retain? Or the kinesthetic learner that actually needs to do practical in order to understand it, how will that person learn?”

Unquestionably, there’s a link between the state of infrastructure in Nigeria generally and brain drain, which has left Nigeria  poorer. Fixing the education sector and others, will help stem the flow of talents to developed countries. “It’s sad,” said Kolade, while assessing the trend. “There’s no other way you can look at it because the brains that left Nigeria were brought up in Nigeria.” The challenge then should be, what is the country doing to arrest the situation, as, according to Kolade, many of the skilled manpower abroad, would love to return to Nigeria if the conditions are right.“When you leave Nigeria and go abroad, you are contributing to the economy of that nation. But is our nation actually making it conducive for us to stay and share the knowledge and skills that we have made? That’s a big question. Because I always say one thing: people living abroad are not rich. But there’s security and peace(over there). I can tell you that people are rich in Nigeria, even as the majority are poor. But those that are even rich, how secure are they in the midst of want? I will tell you that an average person will take security and peace over money and that’s what encourages brain drain. Maybe the more we look at ensuring safe comfortable environment for people to come back, they will begin to look at the option (seriously). But I can tell you majority of the people I associate with, want to come back and they are organising pockets of give back avenues.” She also wants to come back next year to continue from where she left off.