The Director, Halifield Schools, Lagos, Mrs. Halima Oke, in this interview with MOTUNRAYO JOEL, calls on the Federal Government to review the national curriculum
What motivated you to start this school?
I was interested in a building an educational system that is skills-oriented. I admire people who exhibit different skills and I believe they are more balanced than others. Combined with good grooming, character and skills, they are bound to excel. The sky is the limit for them. I wanted to create an educational system that would enable a child to be exposed to all kinds of training in every area of life. I still believe education is too focused on academic work which is creating sterile, barren, knowledgeable children who are only interested in academic work. I believe a child should have a balanced life. Engage them in activities that would make them better. Nowadays, children are overburdened with after-school lessons here and there. Right from year one, parents enrol their children in lessons which is unhealthy. Let children be themselves. There would not be much difference in their school results even if they go for after-school classes. On the other hand, enrolling them in after-school classes to prepare them for external examinations is understandable. I think some parents are overstressing their children. We could use their extra energy for skills acquisition.
What type of skills do you teach your students?
We had a programme called, ‘Knowing Nigeria,’ though it has been modified. Children were taught to create anything with a particular food product which included groundnut and cassava. Their choice of food item or product was meant to be something that has never been created. The purpose of this training is to get them prepared for the future. By the time they graduate from university, they should be employers of labour. We even train our elementary pupils. They choose a club to participate in and we have quite a number of clubs— home economics, hair braiding and hair cutting, maintenance club, poultry, barbing, music class. They are always excited about participating in their clubs because it takes their mind away from academic work. By the time they return to their various classes for academic work, their brains are relaxed, refreshed ready to assimilate. The excitement makes reading and writing more interesting. In Halified, we believe that all work and no play, makes jack a dull boy. We believe in making learning interesting.
Halified School has been in existence for how many years?
Halifield School has been in existence for 20 years. We are marking our 20th anniversary this year; I am excited about our new feat. This is a big achievement for us; it has not been easy, God has been our source of strength.
What has been your landmark achievement?
We have achieved a lot, but our landmark achievement would be creating an educational environment that provides children with skill acquisition platforms. We believe and continually practise running our curriculum alongside skill acquisition programmes. We believe this would give our students an edge over their colleagues from other schools. Our students are trained in all spheres of life. We also focus on character building; every child must have a desiring character. Integrity is really important to us at Halified. Our students are trained not to tell lies, at the same time they are trained to develop a skill that would be of great benefit to them in future.
Your school should have a large number of ex-students since it has been in existence for 20 years, how do you keep in touch them?
We have almost all the details of our ex-students inputted into our school data base. Some of them are currently working in reputable firms within and outside Nigeria. Some are running programmes in various universities. Many of them come to visit me. I believe school heads should take interest in their ex-students—school is a family. Children grow up and move on with their lives, so do students. Because they have left your school doesn’t mean you should forget about them. School heads should see their ex-students as their children.
What challenges have you encountered since starting your school?
One big challenge is expansion. Running a school is capital intensive. If a school is doing excellently well, the need to expand would be inevitable. To expand, one would need to source for funds, and it can be a challenging task. Interest rates at banks are so high. We, however, get support from friends and family.
There is stiff competition between schools but how have been able gather this large number of students?
I rely on word-of-mouth. The competition is strong because there are many schools for parents to choose. Here at Halifield, we rely on our parents to spread the news about our good service. We are trying our best with our service and products. We satisfy our parents so they can recommend us to their friends. However, I encourage parents to have a personal experience with the school of their choice before enrolling their child.
Why did you decide to train your elementary class about skills acquisition?
Whatever is taught to a child at a young age, sticks in the child’s memory. The child becomes a master in that thing. It’s always good to train children from a young age.
How do you discipline your pupils?
We don’t beat our children in elementary classes. We discipline the mature ones and students who are non-compliant and deliberately refuse to obey instructions. There are times we use a cane but it is not the teacher involved that carries out the action, it is done by another teacher. We seldom use a cane. Another way we discipline our pupils is to counsel them. This goes a long way in remoulding the child.
Getting committed teachers is challenge for some school heads; on what basis do you employ yours?
Character is important to us. You can have an intelligent teacher who doesn’t get along with other teachers. Before we employ a teacher, he or she must have passed through series of interviews. The teacher is also placed on three months’ probation period where we observe their character.
The rate at which students fail external examinations is alarming, are teachers to be blamed for this?
The teachers play a major role in a child’s life. Their role is to guide and counsel them. A child’s success in external examinations largely depends on teachers. If they fail to complete the school curriculum before exam begins, the child may fail. They also need to create time for revision of past questions. Parents have a role to play too; they must be positive about their children’s academic and continually encourage their children.
This year, what issues in the education sector should the Federal Government focus on?
The government must review the national school curriculum and tertiary education; unnecessary subjects should be removed. I believe five, six subjects aren’t too few for our students. Making a child study nine, 10 subjects in school is cumbersome and it doesn’t make them masters in a subject. The federal government should take the nature of our society into consideration when redesigning the curriculum. There are many subjects that have nothing to do with the jobs available in our society. When a student finishes school, there are no jobs available for him or her. It is high time the federal government took a look at our society and decides what areas to strengthen. Electricity power has been a problem; could this be because we lack engineers? What about our refineries? The Federal Government could decide that for the next four years, it will train engineers that will restore the country’s electricity supply. Agriculture is another area of concern; the Federal Government should make it vibrant in order to encourage students. Times are changing; there are new areas of relevance. We must keep up with global change.
New schools are sprouting on a daily basis, what can the Lagos State government do to curb this?
I believe the Lagos State government is giving permission to any and every school. The government must ensure that new schools have the right facilities including good teachers before they are given licence to operate as a school.
Is the government paying enough attention to public schools?
I don’t think so. Private schools are encouraged to adopt public schools. Many of them rely on private schools. I don’t think the problem is lack of funds; I believe money is being diverted to other hidden areas. But private schools can’t afford not to support public schools because many of the students (from public schools) grow up to become teachers. Children from private schools usually opt for other professions.
Where do you see your school in the next ten years?
We hope to have extensions, 100 per cent customer satisfaction and our students excelling in all areas of life. Some years ago, we were rated among the top 10 schools in the state; we hope to be among the top three schools in the state.