Mrs. Iyiola Olatokunbo Edun is the administrator of the foremost citadel of learning in Lagos State, Grace Schools. And the erudite woman has been working at the schools for 35 years. She started from the base and rose through the ranks despite the fact that she is a daughter to the founder, Mrs. Grace Abisola Osinowo of blessed memory. Grace Schools against all odds clocked 50 years of its existence recently and there was a weeklong celebration of the golden jubilee from 8th January to 13th January, 2018. And shortly after the programme for the first day of the worthy celebration, the duo of SAHEED OJUBANIRE and NOSA OMOREGIE were at the administrator’s book-filled office to have a special interview with her because she rarely grants interviews. And she spoke eloquently about issues around the schools in the last 50 years. Please read, you will enjoy her conciseness and bluntness.
For the purpose of this interview, please give us your full name…
My name is Iyiola Olatokunbo Edun.
Let’s start by congratulating you on the golden jubilee of Grace Schools. In the last 50 years, how has the journey for the schools?
Well, it has been smooth and rough in the last 50 years because we are living in a country where not many businesses survive for not up to ten years not to talk of fifty years. So we have cause to glorify God.
Why the name Grace Schools?
The name Grace was named after the founder, Grace Abisola Osinowo. That’s my mum and I worked with her for over 35 years.
Did you also attend this school?
No, I was too old to school to start from here.
At what point in time did you take over the administration of Grace Schools?
Well, I could say since about 35 years ago because immediately I came in – well after my Masters, I did my Youth Corps. So immediately I came I just fitted in. But I actually didn’t start from the top. Because I can remember during my younger days when I was at university; when I was at school. I went to Queen’s College Lagos. All holidays I spent working. Then, when I was at the university too, I used to come and work here. So, I have worked as Nursery Assistant, Grade I Teacher, Grade II Teacher, Grade III Teacher, Grade VI Teacher and then Head Mistress.
Can you please give us your full profile?
Okay. I went to Queen’s College Lagos. From there, I went for my A’Levels in England at North Corner School in Lewes Sussex. Then after that, I went to University of Kent at Canterbridge where I did B.A. in History. Then after that, I went for my Masters at University of Essex. So I came home, did Youth Corps, went to Unilag and did PGD. I did Comparative History actually at the University of Essex.
In the 50 years, what have been your challenges?
Well, the government is not helping matters. They just pay lip service to education. They do not fund education. And any government that doesn’t fund education should not expect any miracles. They should not expect any development. South Korea, 60 years ago, 80% of South Koreans were illiterate. But the government funded education; they take education very seriously to the effect that now that lots of our cars. So many things we use here are produced by South Koreans because the government funded education and the people of South Korea really appreciate education. There is statistics that say that the South Korean parents are the parents in the world that spend the most on private education. The children in South Korea are so focused. Each child makes sure that they get to school before 8. If you get to school after 8, they would make you scrub the floor.
And they still go to school after school like a cram school. Would you believe that students are still studying till 12 midnight? and they made the government insist that this is just too much, cut that 12 midnight, and stop studying by 10 P.M. What do we have here? Half baked students. Sorry I don’t mean to insult anybody. There are lots of government schools. No chairs, no tables, nothing for the children. Nothing for them to sit on, nothing for them to write on. So, how do you think you can develop the child? Don’t expect any miracles. So, how do you develop them? You can’t.
And what do you think the government should do to address the situation?
Fund education. And when you fund education, make sure that it goes to the right place. Instead of somebody who is supposed to do certain things to pocket the money. So, that is how things work.
How have you been able to contribute to the educational sector in Nigeria?
Well, we all know that not all children can come to Grace Schools. But for those who come here, we make sure that we have excellent facilities. The same facilities that you get in the developed world you find them here.
What would you say stands Grace Schools out?
Well, because we are so committed. And also because when you are doing something, you really have to love what you are doing. It’s not for money. I mean, some people set up schools for money and their own is how much has come into their account, but it is not like that here. We want the best for the kids. Hence, subjects that are not even in the National Curriculum, we offer them here.
Our children, for years now, they’ve done etiquette lesson, Scrabble, Chess is part of the curriculum because Chess makes you focused, it makes you think. You know, you think out of the box. We want the children to think out of the box. Were you here when a child was saying something in Chinese? A lot of them can, because we realized that whether we like it or not, China is next world power. And you have to be able to speak the language; you have to be able to communicate. I remember there was a time I went to Chinese market in Australia and because I could speak Chinese, it was as if the way opened for me. So that is what I want our children to have, you know.
To have something above others because now, there are so many people who are educated. Many 1st Class, many 2nd Class Upper, no jobs and all that. But if you have an added skill; a language skill, you’ll be able to make it. In England, many people have Chinese A’Levels. They don’t even have a Degree, you have Chinese A’Levels, you’ll get managerial jobs because they realize the importance of speaking such foreign language. Here, our 5 year olds have started Chinese already. Lots of them can read and write in it. So, you can imagine training a child from age 5 and they grow through our primary school, the secondary school, you know they are going to be experts. So, that is what they get here. We are aiming at the best.
There is a scheme in this school you call Indigent Student’s Scholarship. What is it all about?
Well, this started 14 or 16 years ago. Before, we used to say, two children that score the highest in J.S.S. 1 exams we’ll give them scholarship. Then at a point, I thought these ones don’t really need the scholarships. Why can’t we give it to indigent, very poor, you know, children with poor backgrounds? So, I said, let’s invite children from public schools to come and sit an exam and out of the people who come maybe we’ll choose the best two pupils and then give them scholarship.
So, that is what we’ve been doing and apparently, we have given over 30 children scholarships to come and study here from S.S.S. 1 to S.S.S. 3. But we don’t stop at that because we have taken the children to the world and they have seen the horizon. We shouldn’t just let them stop by the wall, they should be able to climb over it. So, we also finance their university education. So, the first set, Semiu and … I can’t remember the other name, they’ve qualified now. Actually, Semiu works here as a Computer Teacher because he did Regional and Town Planning and the other one did Physics and whatever. So, we also help them out to get jobs after they graduate.
Over the years, the students who passed through these schools, have they been giving back to the school in any way?
Yes, they have been. And some of them who came here also have their children here. So, we also have a scheme for if you are an alumni you’ll have some percentage off the school fees of your kids if they come here.
Talking about school fees, how affordable is the school for an average Nigerian?
Very affordable because if you compare our standard to the schools that are charged in dollars and it is not that they are better than us, and they haven’t gotten any academic laurels or anything. Not even British Council Award, Microsoft Award, they didn’t win. We have been that over the years and lots of parents do realize that the fact that you pay an expensive school fees does not really mean there is quality there. And they know we are very moderate and there is quality there.
How have you been able to cope with the competition among private schools in Nigeria?
Well, Yorubas say: Oju orun to eye fo laifi ara kanra (meaning the sky is big enough to accommodate all birds without collision). So, we survive. We are noted for certain things and some schools are noted for certain things and we cooperate. You saw Chrisland, they were here. Doregos, they were here. We are friends.
What have been the ups and downs for you in the last 50 years?
The major problem we have, the private schools, is the government. The government sees us like an enemy or whatever. And we are not even competing because a lot of the government schools we finance them here; provide them with so many things and all sort of things. But they would come with taxes. This Industrial Training Fund, they came and said we have to pay 30 million. For what!? In good countries; in developed countries, government gives private schools subvention because we are doing what government cannot do, so they would give us subvention. But not here, they tax you to death. They would bring tax, 20 million, sixty million. Where would you get that!? Even our own government here, we supply our own power and we do our own borehole. So, they provide nothing! And they want to get so much from us. Even the Local Government; they came here in December and then they brought something. They said we had to pay tax. For what? Party! Because we were having a party for the children! Christmas party. I have never heard of that before. They even brought papers for backlog of taxes on that. Which country in the world charges a school taxes for having party for children? Christmas party, I have never heard of that. So, we are dealing with Local Government tax, we are dealing with Lagos State tax. Each school vehicle has about 11 to 12 documentation on it including radio/television license, emission something.
Earlier on, you carried out an exercise called: Time Capsule. What was that about?
Time Capsule, yes; the essence of the Time Capsule is to give generations yet unborn the knowledge of what happened years before. So, what we did with Time Capsule was to put things of the past, magazines of the past, uniforms of the past, even today’s programme brochure, Coke bottle, we even put Camcorder, so that when they open it in the year 2068, because it is going to be opened in 2068, 50 years from now, so they would look at it and say, oooh, this is what they were wearing then. Even, then I’m sure maybe no one is using paper again, they would see it that it was used at a point in time.
What is the projection for Grace Schools in the next 50 years?
The next 50 years… well, we hope to get better. We hope that we would be able to even have other branches but a major problem in Nigeria is bank loan, 28%. Ordinary people, take loan from the bank at 28%, but Dangote borrows at 6%! In good countries, schools, they would give us loans at 2% or even zero interest. We are not selling salt or something that we would make money instantly when we sell the thing. It is a long term thing. So lots of schools have actually gotten into trouble borrowing money and not repaying. Lots of people have lost licenses in the process of trying to be big. So, that is a major problem.
Is there a plan for a university sometime in the future?
If God says so, why not?
Finally, what is your message for parents who have their children and wards at Grace Schools and the potential ones who might be reading this interview?
Well, I think Grace Schools offer children the best because we really are very, very committed. And we have the expertise that we built up over the last 50 years and we keep getting better.