- In 1968, At ONIPANU, Along IKORODU Road, In LAGOS
Her name is a true indication of her story. The Grace of God that was extended to her, which took her from the harsh reality of life to a cosy living was extended to many in her life time. Many people are beneficiaries of that grace. The late Deaconess Grace Bisola Oshinowo was an icon of dedication to duties. She had a passion for education borne out of deprivation she suffered in her early years. She weathered all imaginable storms and emerged triumphant. Many, who knew her would describe her as bold and fearless. She was never afraid of saying the truth as she saw it. Indeed, she came, she saw and conquered. She was described as extremely prudent and judicious in the use of money.
A careful study of Deaconess Oshinowo’s life reveals something more than a mere rag-to-riches story. It shows that our loftiest dreams are achievable through sheer personal determination and an unshaken faith in destiny in spite of formidable obstacles. Deaconess Grace Bisola Oshinowo’s contribution to the education industry in Nigeria will ever remain indelible. Through the prestigious Grace Schools, she has bequeathed to us an institution which will continue to train the present and future generations of Nigerians.
The fruit of her labour is evident in the legacy of Grace Schools – 50 years down the line. 50 years of Grace … (Excerpts from the burial brochure and her autobiography: Grace-The Memoirs of a Committed Teacher). – Dr Nike Akindayo.
A ROUGH START
Mama Grace Bisola Oshinowo started life disadvantaged. She was born into a polygamous setting in rural Ibido, a town not too far from Ijebu-Ode, South-West of Nigeria. She was born on December 28th, 1928 to Pa Ezekiel Ogunwo Mayungbo and Madam Lucian Dero Ogunwo Mayungbo. The family did not escape the intrigues of a polygamous setting- schemes and caprices, owing to the unhealthy competitiveness that characterises such a setting.
Deaconess Grace Oshinowo completed her primary education at Anglican Girls’ School, Ijebu-Ode in 1947. In the same school, she finished her modern school education in 1949. She attended United Missionary College (UMC), Ibadan for her Teachers’ Grade Two Certificate programme between 1950 and 1952. She was posted to start her teaching career at St. James Primary School, Otta, between 1953 and 1954. She was transferred to Anglican Girls’ School, Broad Street, Lagos in 1954 and later to St. Peters School, Faji, Lagos in 1955.
“In December 1952, I took my teachers Grade 2 examination and was posted to St. James Primary School, Otta, in Ogun State. I started to teach at St. James Primary School, Otta in the then Western region in January 1953. I was made to teach Primary 5 in the first year and Primary 6 in the second year. Some of the children were as big as I was. But I enjoyed every minute of my stay with them;
‘At the beginning of 1955, I was first put at the Anglican Girls School, Broad Street, Lagos, afternoon section to teach standard one. After making series of complaints about having to teach in the afternoon instead of morning session, which I preferred, I was transferred to St. Peters School, Faji, Lagos. At the morning session at St. Peters’ school, Faji, I was made to teach Standard One. This was in January, 1955 till August, 1955: However, there was a sad incident in which some children died because the walls of the school fell on the children. Miraculously she was not there, but she knew the children and was traumatised and was on sick bed for days, ‘I was completely benumbed and was on bed for several days, receiving treatment for shock. These were children that I had grown to love, teach and play with, suddenly departing in such pitiable circumstances. The fact that I had just left the scene of the accident and could, indeed, have been right at that particular spot where the biggest chunk of concrete fell elicited cold sweats from my brow whenever I reminisced on the incident. The realisation that I had cheated death by hair’s breadth did nothing to assuage my frayed nerves:
“However, the sad incident became a blessing in disguise. My brother, Ade became so worried about me that he decided a change of environment would do me a lot of good. He consulted our cousin, Archdeacon B.A. Adelaja, who advised that I be sent to England to do a course at Froebel Educational Institute, where the principal, a renowned educationist, the late Miss Jebb was then in charge.
She left Nigeria late August, 1955 to study at Roehampton College, one of the most expensive colleges in England. Majority of the African students in the College were on government scholarship, and so she was privileged being one of the few privately-sponsored students in such a college. At the end of the third year, she sat for the London University Teachers’ Certificate and National Froebel foundation Certificate and she performed excellently well.
“I left Nigeria by air late August of 1955. I went to Nigeria office in London – where the arrangement was made for me by Mrs. Coulson, the Student Welfare Officer, to go for an interview at Roehampton for placement. As luck would have it, I was admitted to do a 3-year course – specialising in Infant method”.
“I began the training in September, 1955. I lived in the college residence and was in Montefiorre room 7, a place normally reserved for foreign students because, it is the warmer part of the building and all our windows open to the beautiful lake full of swan all the year round: ‘I enjoyed my stay from the first day in the college. There were two other Nigerians in the college, Mrs. Grace Owotomo, who was already in year II when I arrived, and Christie, who entered the college the same year like me, but left after the first year to become Mrs. Ajayi, who later became wife to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan and later University of Lagos.
Mrs. Owotomo as a married student lived outside the college. She arranged a room for me in their house during my first holiday in December,1955. It was in their place I met my darling husband, who was then a student of Chelsea College studying Science. I got married to him 3 years later after finishing my course in July 1958.We were married at St Mary Anglican Church, West Kensington. It was a grand wedding:”
“At school, we were made to be Jack of all trades but master of all. You do arts, craft, painting, pottery, woodwork, religious education including scripture, physical and health education including, of course, Maths, English, principles and practice of education. Specialization took place from the second year though one was given the opportunity to teach in all the three divisions in the school namely nursery, infant, and junior”:
“Of course, not many people could go to Roehampton-because it is one of the most expensive colleges in England. Majority of African students were on government scholarship. I felt privileged being one of the few privately sponsored students in such a college. My brother never complained though, and even at a point when he was seriously sick and bedridden at home, a sickness that put a lot of strain on his finances, he warned that nobody should let me know. He managed somehow to keep paying my fees and sending me money for my upkeep.”
She had this to say about the experience at Roehampton – “The only thing that took me aback was the snow and that was all. But then I saw it, took it and got used to it. I took it as one of those things. There were African girls, there were Ghanaian, Kenyan, and Ugandan citizen but whom at first you have to get used to and sometimes you have to adapt because they had been used to having black girls as servants at home. They like referring to we black as “the girls” just like they referred to their servants at home, so I had to stamp my feet on ground about such things;
While still a student at Roehampton College, she met Emmanuel Olorunmo Oshinowo in 1955 and they got married at St. Mary’s Anglican Church West Kessington in July 1958. Immediately after their wedding, they went to live in Scotland. They later moved to Edinburgh. She applied to the Ministry of Education for a teaching job in Edinburgh and was asked to go to Lasswade Primary School, Mid Lathia outside Edinburgh. She was the first black person or an African to teach there and she turned out to be the most resourceful teacher.
She said about her experience- “The Scots were very friendly people. My children were very fond of me, many parents kept writing to the office in Edinburgh on how good I had been with their children, this made the headmaster and the headmistress to be fond of me, that it was with reluctance that I had to leave them in 1959, when we decided I should go back to Nigeria to have my first baby girl Tokunbo who was born July 5, 1959”.
She had to merge her career with her emerging family at this point. She recalled her journey to a successful marital life. “We were both matured by the time we met. I was already 27 and he was turning 30. In fact, some of my relations had started to pressurise my parents to check my seemingly endless educational pursuits as otherwise I might not be able to get a suitor owing to age and over-qualification. I understood, Emman was under the same pressure. He had been dating a white lady but was interested in marrying a Nigerian if he could get the right partner”.
“In spite of this setting, I wasn’t overly excited about meeting the young man, at least, not immediately. Rather, I was cautious in my reaction to Emman’s advances. For one, I still did not want any deep romance, which might constitute a distraction and jeopardise my chances of passing my examinations”.
“Our meeting was fortuitous. I was visiting the Owotomo’s who had just got married. Mrs. Owotomo was one of my seniors back home and by sheer coincidence had taught my husband at Ibadan Grammar School”.
“So, he came visiting the Owotomos at the same time I did and we got talking.”
“Incidentally, about the time we were dating, his elder sister, Madam Sinatu Oshinowo (Mrs. Benson) who pulled a lot of influence in his family, came to London on a visit and saw me. I n spite of her normally censorious nature, she approved of our relationship immediately.”
“Much as I did not want to submit to any palpable emotions, I could feel the little drops of joy cascading down my powdered cheeks. Here was I, in England for education and career advancement, in search of the proverbial Golden Fleece, never wanting to admit that time was running out for getting a suitor, though worried during lonely moments all the same:
She took the decision to get married and there was no going back. She got the Golden Fleece and started her family as well. She returned to Nigeria with her husband in 1959. Deaconess Oshinowo’s marriage was blessed with three children. The first and the only female, Tokunbo, a versatile and renowned educationist, is now the Administrator of Grace Schools. The second child, Abayomi, is a Medical Doctor, while the last born, Bolaji, graduated in Business Management.
TEACHING IN NIGERIA
“In late 1959, soon after I had weaned my baby, I approached the Ministry of Education for a job, I was informed of a new Teacher’s College in Lagos where someone with my background will be useful. I applied and was employed.”
“From September 1959, I worked briefly as a tutor at Muslim Teachers’ Training College Apapa, teaching principles and practice of education. In November of that year, I got a letter from Miss Hacklot, the secretary to the Anglican Church Nigeria, imploring me to come and teach at the Protestant Teacher’s Training College, which the Methodist and Anglican missions were proposing to establish in January 1960.
“In the letter it was impressed upon me that, as a teacher, trained at missionary college that the education given to me was a missionary training in nature and, therefore, I should not disappoint them. As the then advisor on education Mr. Kay, had impressed it on them to find somebody of my qualification to take charge of the principles and practice of education. I had no option than to resign my appointment at the Muslim College”.
“January 1960 found me at the Protestant Teacher’s Training College, working with the late Mr. E. A. Afolabi to found the college in a primary school- All Saints Primary School, Montegomery Road, Yaba. That was how I left the Muslim College for the Protestant College, my sojourn in the former having been for only a term. My brother was quite supportive of the move, indeed, he was one of those who applied the pressure on me to change whether or not it yielded financial dividends:”
“As a young woman, I coped quite well, with everybody wanting me and making me to feel special. And then the feeling was that of a voluntary worker. Although I was paid 30 pounds then, I could have earned thrice as much as if I opted to work in a government establishment. Later, one Mr. Okuneye came on board as a senior tutor representing the Methodist church. He joined efforts with me and my principal and we made a good impact:
MOTHERHOOD AND FAMILY LIFE
Deacones Oshinowo had it rough initially. ‘Child bearing during my first experience was not pleasant, my first baby, Tokunbo, a girl, was delivered through Caesarian operation. I had the same experience when giving birth to my second child, Abayomi, a boy in 1961, and to my last child Bolaji in December 1968. We had another boy in 1965 in between Yomi and Bolaji, but he died a few days after birth owing to the carelessness of the nurses:
‘When I had my first issue, my mother was not even around because other children were against her going to her in-law to stay and unfortunately my husband was still staying back in England to complete his programme. So, I was alone. People thought that the difficulties I experienced in childbearing was as a result of late marriage, but that was not necessarily so:
‘Emman was a pharmacist, when he arrived Nigeria on February 1, 1961. He worked briefly with Kingsway Chemist for about 6 months, before he was advised by his relations to open his chemist shop. This he did in September of the same year. The going was tough, but we thank God he kept the shop going. Oshinson Chemist, as the shop was named still functions till today, even though not as a chemist shop, but as a wholesale shop for drinks and rugs under the management of our only daughter, who does not want that name to die”.
“In 1975, my husband was appointed by the Lagos State Governor as a Commissioner in the Public Service Commission.
This he did for a period of 7 years, during the reign of Governor Mobolaji Johnson, up till the beginning of Alhaji Jakande’s era. The chemist shop had a set back during this period of his service to the state, as he was always too busy to see the affairs of the shop”.
“The marriage was blessed with three living children; the only girl Tokunbo – who is managing her father’s shop as well as being the Administrator of Grace Schools. She read B.A and M.A in History and post graduate degree in Education.
She had got married to Dr. Biyi Edun and had children by the time my husband died in 1985.
“The second child, a boy, Abayomi, was in his final year as a Medical Doctor at U.C.H Ibadan, the last born Bolaji was in class 4 at Maiduguri Federal Government College. Thanks be to God, he graduated in Business Management in 1993. Ours is a small, but very close family. We love one another’.
LOSS IN THE FAMILY
Twice, I was bereaved. On one occasion, fate sneaked into my life and dealt me a most devastating blow, leaving me emotionally shattered and disillusioned. The first bereavement happened on 29th January, 1985, when I lost my darling husband. It was a loss I was almost unprepared for. Emman was full of life and until then, our relationship had been close and perfect. He was romantic too and, at least, once weekly we eat outside, patronising some of the best restaurants in Lagos where they served our best dishes.
“Few days before the incident, we just returned from our new house at Ikorodu where we spent our Christmas and New Year break. In fact, I was in Lagos ahead of him, leaving him behind because of some kind of annoyance at something he had done. This was no more than the normal misunderstanding and altercation that usually occur in the life of every couple.
“But there could be no appeasement when your soul-mate is gone and I still felt that lingering sense of irreplaceable loss. Often, when faced with a problem or a situation, requiring a decision, I retrospect on the advice Emman would have given me were he alive. I missed him most at such times. But I also realised that I had to be strong for the sake of our three children, who were in critical stages of their academics as at that period of his death. So, I faced the task of a lone parent with determination and squarely dissipated all my creative energies on sustaining the Grace Children School.
“My brother had the greatest influence on my life. He was there from the beginning and so made himself almost indispensable to the realisation of virtually all my yearnings that I regard him as my small god. Indeed, when he died in 1997, the effect was so devastating to me that I was in a coma for 4 days.
“We loved each other. But for him, my education from primary, through modern and secondary schools, and finally at the college in England would remain an unrealised dream if I ever nursed such dreams.
“He extended the affection to my hubby after I got married and up till the time of Emman’s death, both maintained a close and friendly relationship”.
“Often he would advise me on how to pilot my husband towards his higher personal achievement, even as I strove to make the best of my career. For instance, he made me initiate and support my husband’s effort to build a befitting house at Ikorodu.
ESTABLISHMENT OF GRACE CHILDREN SCHOOLS
“The establishment of Grace Children School in 1968 was ordained. I was still at the Protestant College when I became convinced of the high prospects of a private nursery and primary school, which would provide quality education under a conducive learning environment. The vision had been nurtured for a long while. Earlier in 1963, when I was in Australia on scholarship, I expended all the monies I could gather on playthings, lots of teaching aids and volumes of books of various kinds in anticipation of such a time when I would actualise my vision.
“For the first two years after its establishment, I employed a head teacher to pilot the affairs of the school, until 1970 when both the Rev. Akin Adesola, the then Commissioner for Education and Otunba Adeniran Ogunsanya convinced me that the school stood a better chance of survival and speedy success under my personal supervision. Otunba Adeniran Ogunsanya, had played very significant roles in my life, particularly in relation to Grace Children Schools, It was, indeed, through his influence and the help of God that I secured the land at Gbagada on which hosts the permanent site of the school.
“The school started at 1968, Ikorodu road, Onipanu in a residential building owned by the late Pa Adeola Odunsi, a philanthropist, who gave the house free without rent from July 1967 to January 1968 when preparations for the establishment were in the pipeline.
“The school’s initial intake were 23 pupils. The first set of 9 students entered secondary school in 1972.
The Nursery Section was the first to move to its present site in 1977. It was later followed by the primary section in 1980. The well-designed structure has been a classic show piece much talked about by first time visitors. It has since provided the right accommodation as well as congenial atmosphere for the promotion of the wellbeing of the children and to facilitate the achievement of the all-round development needed for sound education.
“Engineer O. O. Oshinowo supervised the building, while the late Otunba Z. Ade Ogunwo, my brother, tirelessly gave all the backing and necessary support and encouragement until his death in January, 1997.
“In the early 90’s, the need for a good secondary school where G.CS’s products could continue, since obstacles were being placed in their paths through undefined admission policies into Federal Government Colleges, was given a boost when Grace High School was founded 1993. Purposely designed for pupils of G.CS., all infrastructure and qualified staffers needed were put in place to ensure that only qualitative education is offered.
“My focus at Grace had always been child-centered. I would rather have a whole session or term of training where all you are made to do as a teacher was to study a particular child and find out his preferences and how you are to meet his needs.
When you know the need, you can provide for him. This was the essence of Froebel. Unfortunately, here in Nigeria what majority of our teachers do was to dogmatically follow prescribed methods of handling the child. With Froebel, no one gave you a method, you devise it yourself. You are given your child to study, and when you know the need is when you can meet it and respond appropriately. You are not given a method to use, rather the child himself will tell what style to use, based on your thorough understanding of his peculiarities.
When you don’t understand them is when you have difficulty. By the time you understand the child, there is no problem, you then know the method to use. If you are able to associate with the child more than no one else, you will know the need and how to meet them.
“Establishment of Grace Children Schools has made nonsense of the erroneous conception of teachers and students, that good meaningful education could only be got in developed countries, that anything in principles and practice of education came from books written for foreign teachers and in England, where all the teaching aids could be easily got or available.
Grace High School was established on 3rd October, 1994. God is great, a grandson was born that same day, in Atlanta, Georgia by the wife of my Doctor son doing a specialist course at Emory University, himself an old pupil of Grace Children School.
“Every individual must have a dream or a purpose in life. Establishment of Grace Children School and later Grace High School was a dream I had in life and pursued with single-mindedness.
“My life experience, which culminated in the establishment of Grace Schools had demonstrated that it is not what happens or what has happened to us in life that counts. It is how we respond to what happens that is important. For one, like me, who nearly missed the opportunity of finishing primary education as a result of poor environment, then having the God-given opportunity in establishing a reputable Nursery, Primary and Secondary school was a pointer that, waking up is the first step towards realising one’s dream. Apathy is one of the greatest killers of success. It kills motivation and destiny.
If you are asleep to opportunity, you will miss all the breaks that come your way. I thank God, I took the opportunity of my dream to establish a school of my own when the urge became very strong in 1968.
Having a vision clears confusion and gives one focus. Dreams make one a better you, unless you don’t want a new improved version! I thank God this is what the establishment of Grace Schools had done to me. Praise be to God Almighty.