SCHOOLs: 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 Nigeria’s education system and sundry issues. Excerpts.
WHAT inspired you to establish the Oasis Canadian Schools in Nigeria?
Oasis Canadian School is not just a Canadian School by name but by its content. We live there, though I had most of my education in Nigeria. I realised that a good number of Nigerians are willing to study in Canada. Despite having the requisite qualifications and intelligence, the challenges of travel documents, international school fees and upkeep have been major barriers. As an international student, your tuition fee is about four times that of a Canadian. Given the flexibility of the Canadian education and work system, many Nigerians have seized the opportunity of its education system to become Canadian citizens with access to almost, if not all of the benefits.
I noticed that some parents in Nigeria were sending their children to other countries. China for instance has about 80 Canadian offshore schools as a pathway to get them to Canada. The benefits are huge because, as a Canadian offshore school, a student pays the domestic school fees which makes it more affordable, and at the end of their programmes they will acquire the Canadian certificate. So, I decided to yield to the calls for me to explore the opportunities in the Canadian education system, which is run based on province.
We spoke to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in New Brunswick from where we began the processes that are involved. Through our conversations, they accepted that we should establish an offshore school in Nigeria. With a Canadian offshore School, it means that the school is accredited, supervised and the certificate on graduation will be issued by the Canadian Government in New Brunswick and signed by the Minister of Education in New Brunswick.
The current set of students you have are on scholarship, and running this kind of school in Nigeria is capital-intensive, where you have to buy diesel, pay tax and all that. How have you been coping?
We actually started as a charity organisation in Enugu State. The offshore school is not merely about academics, but it is interwoven with humanitarian services. We are going to break even with time. What we are interested in right now is quality. We want to produce students who can defend their certificates anywhere in the world. It is all about planning.
Apart from the endorsement from the Canadian Government, is there approval or clearance from the Federal Ministry of Education in Nigeria to operate the school?
Before we commenced construction of our facilities, we got our accreditation for both the basic and high school education; we have accreditation for the school to sit for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in our premises. Besides, we went through quality assurance exercise and we met all the requirements and criteria.
Is your curriculum strictly Canadian?
To start with, the curriculum is high-breed because no parent wants their children to go to school without having the WASSCE certificate. So, we are preparing our students for national examinations as well, but our primary curriculum is Canadian.
Public schools in Nigeria are faced with many challenges and we have a situation where private schools charge high tuition fees, what is really the way forward?
Of course, we also realise that the nation’s education sector has several issues confronting it, but the problems didn’t just start today. However, in finding a solution to the problems in the education sector, we must understand that private schools are not the answer. The solution is fixing our public schools since about 50 per cent of Nigerians are on low socio-economic status.
And, again private schools are not for people that do not have the finances. In reality, private schools are supposed to be the second option for those who are looking for an extra thing or those who want to separate their children for class or status reasons. It is as a result of poor academic delivery and strikes in the nation’s public school system that the private schools are springing up everywhere. Though our school is private, it is a school with a difference because we want to cater for people of a certain socio-economic level; we want to cater for people that want to study out of the country or who want to acquire education with a different curriculum.
How could these challenges be surmounted?
Recently, I was listening to a radio programme, where a parent alleged that some schools demand for mopping sticks; tap heads, brooms and cutlasses every term or session from students, as well as religious fees and hostel fees per term, which they argued should be free. Our education system is bad and we need to urgently overhaul it.
Things will get better the day that Nigerians start to be accountable to one another and the public. People will sit tight when they realise that they will be held accountable and responsible for their deeds. The system is so corrupt that no one is taking any action. We all keep a blind eye to these things and focus only on how we can enrich ourselves from the bad system. That is why private schools are bit better; they are a kind of business run by the owners who make the system and members of staff accountable for their deeds. The day the Nigerian education system is given to accountability that is when we will experience a turnaround. We must start being accountable to the country and instill a culture of discipline in the students.
I feel so bad that things are not getting better. Parents are suffering, private schools are not cheap and civil servants are not being paid enough to enable them to afford the tuition fees. Salaries are stagnant and prices of food items and services are increasing on a daily basis.
Many people complain about poor quality of teachers in Nigerian schools, how do you intend to recruit teachers with the capacity to deliver the Canadian curriculum?
Our teachers are Nigerians who are trainable and we as an organisation, are providing the training for them on how to teach the Canadian curriculum that even without Canadian background they can deliver.
They go through a series of Content Professional Development (CPD), and will be assessed physically by the Canadian authorities after eight months. Though some schools have the word Canadian in their name or are affiliated with individual vendors who prepare kids to get over to Canada, Nigeria has never had a Canadian offshore school, where the Canadian curriculum is being taught physically. We are the only school allowed 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 due to their high moral standard and not necessarily because of the academic quality. Those in search of an extramural orientation enroll their children in Christian schools, but with the way things are going, it has become expedient to only engage teachers with high moral standards in schools. Here at Oasis Canadian Schools, we try to employ teachers who are of good faith because as much as people want to have a qualitative education, they also want to have their children in an environment where they can conveniently go to sleep with their eyes closed. Apart from having a programme that promotes morality, we have cameras mounted at every strategic location in the school to monitor our students.
The opposite sexes should not be seen going in the same direction. We make sure that the washrooms are separated and are far apart. All the doors in our hostels and classrooms are without padlocks because we want to come in whenever we want. The hostel masters or mistresses sleep on the same floor with the students.