Mrs. Olufunke Owolana is the Head of Schools, Redeemers International Schools (RIS), Apapa, Lagos. In this interview with ANTHONY AWUNOR, the educationist advises that children should be given a voice in all societies. The renowned teacher also testified that the federal government is now paying more attention to schools across the country. Excerpts:
May 27 is children’s day; do you think schools are doing enough to celebrate it. Apart from this Abacus presentation, what other arrangements do you have for the celebration?
We have just finished the Abacus presentation but you know that the presentation was preceded by many other activities. We only crowned it up with the Abacus presentation. We started with children presenting things on their own way because we understand that children should be given a voice. Gone are the days, you tell them that “you don’t talk when I’m talking.” We need to listen to them as we are only there to guide them. Again, you cannot really force them because they have a choice of their own but we can guide them using the word of God and counsel them also. The word of God said “train up a child in a way that is he should go, when he grows, he will not depart from it.” For the children’s Day, we gave them a free hand to do what they liked to do and they did it well. I believe it will continue to get better. The adults are not there to do everything for them. Even at home, children should be given responsibilities to do this and do that at their levels. They need to be allowed to do things the way they want under the supervision of the adults because they are not matured to take certain decisions yet. We shouldn’t force everything down on them but we should allow them air their views. In this School we have representatives from each class and they form the Pupils Representative Council (PRC) and they have their meetings. Even the nursery section do theirs too at their own levels. There are things they like and they say it at the meeting. One of them writes the minutes and there is a teacher in charge. When they meet the management, they read their minutes and tell us all those things. Sometimes, they bring the solutions to solve certain issues; if it is possible, we say yes, if not we say no and let them know why.
We have just watched the children perform very well during the Abacus presentation. How can you describe Abacus for learning?
The Abacus presentation was a wow. I can’t find a better word to use. It is beyond my expectation. Yes, I will agree, that when it was introduced we got the video of children performing and asking questions. But it was like, can our children really be like this? Now you can see it happening and it is becoming so real to me. These children were answering mathematics questions with big numbers and as fast as you can never imagine. I was trying to use my calculator but I couldn’t catch up with them. It is a mystery. Like I was saying to my deputy about the initiators, it is an outcome of their name: Educraft; they are following after that name. It is really fantastic that they are calculating and using the Abacus mathematical learning device to get the answers correctly. You can imagine how this will enhance their mathematics skills. They would no longer be scared of numbers and I am so happy because mathematics has been a global challenge to children. But now, Abacus will assist to enhance their mathematics skills. I am very happy with the Abacus presentation. I am excited.
As a professional in education, do you advise school administrators to introduce abacus to their schools?
Well, if you are going to have maximum effects, you must have it for every child. Even those that are scared of figures, you will find out that over time it will begin to boost their knowledge and interest in figures in one way or the other. I advise that whatever is for value, we should not ignore it because of cost. What we are seeing now will take these children very far, further than that cost. It is a good foundation for them. Some parents may say they cannot afford it but when “asoebi” comes, and they have to pay the same amount, they will pay. We need to order our priorities right and ensure we give these children solid foundation. I will advise that schools should be involved in this. I can’t remember if it is done in secondary schools. If it is done in secondary schools, it should go to higher levels too because it is going to eradicate that usual phobia for figures. I was sitting there and it was fantastic because they were getting the answers. I recommend it to schools.
Tell us more about the Pupils Representative Council?
It is not new but the management of schools should not just leave only the staff, adults, and teachers to do things. The children are part of the school community so they should have a say. If there are things bothering them, they should be able to talk. In some families, children are not allowed to talk. By giving them a voice you are also training that child in a way that he or she would react when they grow up. I don’t remember if PRC is a requirement from the government but I think it is a good recommendation because we need to hear what the children have to say.
I think abacus is driven by technology and we know technology and innovations have a crucial role to play these days in learning. From your experience do you think such innovations are helping the standard of education to improve?
At our own level at that time, it wasn’t bad but things are improving now. Let me use the examples I always use. We are in the computer age now; if somebody from our own age decides to continue to use that old typewriter at this level. Very soon nobody will give him anything to do. The quality of the work will not be okay and even the parts of the typewriter if it breaks down at time may not be available any longer. The children are at jet age and at the 21st century education. With the level they are, there are things that are required. Two years down the line, you never can tell where we would have gone to. If you are not training these children with the time, they can’t fit in into the future and there are some people in our own generation that were finding it difficult to handle the phone. But give the phone to today’s child, he or she will handle it effectively. They know all the apps that are hidden inside there. We cannot just depend on what we learnt only, we need to improve ourselves.
There is high rate of examination malpractices these days. What is your reaction to that?
The problems are with the parents and the teachers. It is very unimaginable that parents would buy questions or pay somebody to answer questions for their children. You know it is so disheartening that they discovered recently that there is even a special centre on the internet where you have questions and the answers. It is very sad. And it goes to show that as parents and teachers, we are compromising. We are not upright. When I was invigilating, I had such experience and it wasn’t allowed. From what I remembered that day, that particular child ran out of that centre through the fence when he knew that he had been discovered. It was an estate and I myself was wondering about my life because what if he plans to harm me. It is a general thing and it is important that everybody must join hands to stop it. Even there are heads of schools that support it. When you teach the children what they should know, you follow the scheme and the exams will be easy. Some teachers will not teach the children but will be looking for shortcuts so that they can pass. Sometimes, when results are displayed, you can’t really tell whether it is really the efforts of the students. We need to create awareness and stand our grounds as heads of schools and as principals. In addition, we need to educate our staff and follow them up. Some teachers are in school but they are not really doing the work. Everyone must be on his toes to ensure the teachers are doing the right thing. We must ensure that they follow the scheme and mark when they are meant to do so. The marking should be thorough and well corrected. In our RIS, if you have not done the correction for the previous work, you cannot go to a new one because correction is very important. Even in WAEC, if there is nobody in there that would release questions, nobody will get it. But the compromise is from them because of money. And they don’t know that these people that they have collected money from and they have been made to just go scotch free without doing the work themselves are the same people we have as quack doctors. I tell people that I am scared to go to the hospital. Whenever, I go there, I see the elderly doctors who can handle things very well. And I am sad when I imagine the ones these experienced doctors will hand over the profession to. They should be made to know that there is a price to pay for cheating. Whatever one wants to do, it is very important that one should be well educated first.
How can the government assist to improve education in the country?
That aspect is getting better. The government is paying more attention to schools. Public schools are being improved and teachers are being trained and remunerated well. I want to believe that they have started paying them salaries regularly because before now these teachers arrive at school anytime and they get to school, not ready to work. These are the teachers that bring melon in schools to pick. It is getting better and I am seeing that the education standard is improving because government at different levels now go to schools to inspect. Before now, there was no inspection but that has improved now. Those who inspect schools also need to be trained. Education is getting better although there are some schools infrastructure that need to be improved. For any nation that is going to grow, education is very vital because they (the children) are the future leaders. For me for any country to develop it needs education first, education is very vital. Even if a child is skillful in a craft and wants to do it, he should get education first. Make sure you well educated and communicate well.
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