Dr. Odoh Onuora is an immigration consultant and specialist family physician resident in Canada. He speaks in this interview with CLEMENT IDOKO, on his motivation to establish Oasis Canadian Schools, the first offshore Canadian schools in Nigeria; the need to overhaul the Nigerian education system and various issues. Extracts.
WHAT inspired you to establish Canadian Oasis Schools in Nigeria?
Oasis Canadian School is not just a Canadian school in name but in content. We live there, although I did most of my education in Nigeria. I realized that a good number of Nigerians are willing to study in Canada. Despite the qualifications and intelligence required, the challenges of travel documents, international tuition and maintenance were major hurdles. As an international student, your tuition fees are about four times that of a Canadian. Given the flexibility of the Canadian education and work system, many Nigerians have taken the opportunity of its education system to become Canadian citizens with access to almost if not all the benefits.
I have noticed that some Nigerian parents send their children to other countries. China, for example, has about 80 Canadian schools abroad as a gateway to bring them to Canada. The benefits are huge because, as a Canadian offshore school, a student pays the domestic tuition, which makes it more affordable, and upon completion of their programs, they will get the Canadian certificate. So I decided to give in to the calls for me to explore opportunities in the Canadian education system, which is provincially run.
We spoke to the New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development from where we initiated the processes involved. Through our conversations, they agreed that we should establish an offshore school in Nigeria. With a Canadian offshore school, this means that the school is accredited, supervised and the certificate of completion will be issued by the Canadian government in New Brunswick and signed by the Minister of Education of New Brunswick.
IN CASE YOU MISSED THESE FROM NIGERIAN TRIBUNE
The current set of students you have are on scholarships, and running that kind of school in Nigeria is capital intensive, where you have to buy diesel, pay taxes and all that. How did you cope?
In fact, we started as a charity organization in Enugu State. The offshore school is not just for academics, but it is closely related to humanitarian services. We will break even over time. What interests us at the moment is quality. We want to produce students who can defend their certificates anywhere in the world. It’s all about planning.
Apart from the approval from the Canadian government, is there any approval or authorization from the Federal Ministry of Education in Nigeria to operate the school?
Before starting the construction of our facilities, we obtained our accreditation for primary and secondary education; we have the accreditation for the school to take the West African Postgraduate Certificate Examination (WASSCE) at our premises. In addition, we performed a quality assurance exercise and met all requirements and criteria.
Is your curriculum strictly Canadian?
To begin with, the program is high level because no parent wants their children to go to school without having the WASSCE certificate. So we also prepare our students for national exams, but our primary curriculum is Canadian.
Public schools in Nigeria are facing many challenges and we have a situation where private schools are charging high tuition fees, what is really the way forward?
Of course, we also realize that the country’s education sector is facing several problems, but the problems did not start today. However, to find a solution to the problems in the education sector, we must understand that private schools are not the answer. The solution is to fix our public schools because around 50% of Nigerians are of low socio-economic status.
And, again, private schools are not for people who cannot afford it. In reality, private schools are meant to be the second option for those looking for that extra something or those who want to separate their children for class or status reasons. It is as a result of poor school delivery and strikes in the country’s public school system that private schools are springing up everywhere. Although our school is private, it is a special school because we want to welcome people of a certain socio-economic level; we want to cater for people who want to study outside the country or want to acquire an education with a different curriculum.
How to overcome these challenges?
Recently, I was listening to a radio program in which a parent alleged that some schools require cleaning sticks; faucet heads, brooms and cutlasses each term or student session, as well as religious fees and accommodation fees per term, which they say should be free. Our education system is bad and we urgently need to overhaul it.
Things will be better the day Nigerians start to be accountable to each other and to the public. People will rest easy when they realize that they will be held accountable for their actions. The system is so corrupt that no one is taking any action. We all keep our eyes closed on these things and just focus on how we can get rich from the bad system. That’s why private schools are a bit better; they are a kind of business run by the owners who hold the system and the staff members accountable for their actions. The day the Nigerian education system is held accountable, we will see a turnaround. We need to start being accountable to the country and instilling a culture of discipline in students.
I feel so bad that things are not getting better. Parents are suffering, private schools are not cheap, and civil servants are not paid enough to afford school fees. Wages are stagnating and the prices of food and services are rising day by day.
Many people complain about the poor quality of teachers in Nigerian schools, how do you plan to recruit teachers who can deliver the Canadian curriculum?
Our teachers are Nigerians who can be trained and we as an organization provide them with the training on how to teach the Canadian curriculum which they can deliver even without Canadian experience.
They go through a series of Content Professional Development (CPD) and will be physically assessed by Canadian authorities after eight months. Although some schools have the word Canadian in their name or are affiliated with individual providers who prepare children to go to Canada, Nigeria has never had a Canadian offshore school, where the Canadian curriculum is taught physically. We are the only school authorized to have a physical teacher in the classroom.
How can we address the alarming trend of immorality and sexual assault in private schools?
Most parents enroll their children in private schools because of their high moral standards and not necessarily because of academic quality. Those seeking extramural guidance enroll their children in Christian schools, but as things turn out, it has become expedient to hire only teachers with high moral standards in schools. Here at Oasis Canadian Schools, we try to employ bona fide teachers because while people want to have a quality education, they also want to have their children in an environment where they can easily fall asleep with their eyes closed. In addition to having a program that promotes morality, we have cameras mounted at every strategic location in the school to monitor our students.
We must not see the opposite sexes going in the same direction. We make sure that the toilets are separate and far away. All the doors of our hostels and classrooms are without padlocks because we want to enter whenever we want. The masters or mistresses of the inn sleep on the same floor as the students.