Dr. Oyinlola Ilo is the Executive Director of D-Ivy Sixth Form College, Allen, Ikeja, Lagos. A consummate academic and surgeon, Ilo, in this interview, spoke about capital flight, how the educational system could be improved, making the teaching profession rewarding for teachers, and building the nation’s educational system to an enviable height.
As a medical doctor, why did you opt for the teaching profession as a career and not medicine?
By going into the teaching profession is more of a ministry because of my passion fior youth. I am a medical doctor, but I am more of a teacher of the word of God. I discovered that while I impart academic knowledge to the youth, I can also teach them morals. When they come here for education, their lives are also transformed.
Dr Oyinlola Ilo
Most people are transformed when they come here. Some of them are very wild. When they come in, we talk to them and teach them one verse of the Bible a week. We bring God into what we do, and it has helped us to mold the children into adults and also to change their character. Academically, they are sound and they can study anywhere in the world.
How do you think the issue of brain drain or capital flight can be addressed?
We already have an issue of brain drain, like when doctors and teachers went to Saudi Arabia, but after some time, they came back.
There is no place like home. For young people, it’s easy for them to leave the country and live abroad. Some eventually find out that they want to go back to Nigeria because they are not accepted there. It doesn’t matter how intelligent they are.
My son is a surgeon. He studied in E8ngland. He is one of the topmost surgeons in his establishment, but he is black. There may be a nurse in the hospital that decides to be rude just because you are black and there is nothing you can do about it but return home.
Or if you need to get the topmost chair in your department and the hospital gives it to your registrar, somebody who is about four levels below you, and they tell you to your face that they have only one chair and cannot give it to a Nigerian. Although you are the one doing the work, you are not the one getting the honor or money. Those are things that make some of our children come back home in spite of the problems in Nigeria.
But if those of our children who are in the age range of 30, 40, and 50 years are allowed to participate in governance, then Nigeria will be better.
Yearly, about 1. 6 million students jostle for 700,000 admission spaces in Nigerian universities, leaving a backlog of 900,000 students without hope of securing tertiary education. In your opinion, should this be the solution?
Students must learn to get things done while seeking admission to the university. They can establish jobs for themselves aside from going to university. Thank God for the Internet and information technology education. People can do a lot online, get degrees and be self-employed without much investment.
Besides, I think it is not all about university education. Maybe our students should also think about polytechnic education. What I observed is that those that went to polytechnics who come to our school to teach or lecture are sometimes better than university graduates. Some Nigerian graduates cannot write a memo correctly. And before we give graduates a job, we get them to write a test.
The student who is coming to do A Levels will write the same test as the teacher who wants to teach the subject. We found out that some students will get 80 percent while some graduates will get 29 per cent. It is not an exaggeration, the facts are there.
Of course, we don’t give them jobs because even when they are employed, they are not committed to the work. Although there are excellent teachers that would get above 90 percent, there are some that just passed through university but the school did not pass through them.
How can we make our undergraduates more interested in the teaching profession because a time will come in this country when we’ll look for teachers and not find any?
It is already happening. In fact, one of my teachers came to me and said, “I’ve got a job in England, I’m moving.” There is a Yoruba who used to teach at a primary school in Ikeja. She is now in Sheffield. If you go online and visit American schools and universities, you will see Nigerians teaching Yoruba.
After some time, they are invited to the US, and they go. Before, it was difficult for them to get a visa, but not now. Before it was doctors, but now they’re searching for good teachers.
They are looking for teachers, and almost all of our teachers have gone. To start with, what do we pay the teachers? Stipends. Even though the exchange rate goes up and up every day. We all go to the same market. Unless you get a government job, you can’t really survive.
How can we make undergraduates interested in teaching?
Parents do not want to pay for their children’s education, so how are the teachers going to be paid? The teachers have to be paid from the student’s school fees. I don’t think teachers are getting a quarter of what doctors are receiving. Even frontline receptionists earn more than teachers.
On the other hand, how can they be encouraged to study?
The government can encourage them by giving incentives. It is the same market that teachers and lawyers are in.
During our time, about two companies were waiting with brand new cars for me to come and teach in their schools.
They gave us jobs and lots of money that we could not even finish spending, even accommodation. They offered loans to build your house.
You are aware of the happenings in Nigeria as far as education is concerned. For eight months, university students were at home before strikes were recently suspended. What do you think is the way out of the incessant strike?
It’s actually a shame that we are in this kind of chaos in this nation. I went to school in Nigeria, and I did my A-level in the country. I only did my postgraduate outside Nigeria, so I don’t see why students are having so many problems with their education. Something has to be done to our system because the lives of all these people are at stake, as well as the life of the nation.
When I got into the university in 1965, I was sure that in 1968, I could have graduated, and that’s what happened. And I went in for medicine in 1968, and in 1973 I was out, so there wasn’t any strike or problems at the university.
The education we had in Nigerian universities was good, if not better than the education we have outside Nigeria. In fact, you didn’t even need to apply for any job in Nigeria before you were offered jobs in the UK. I got a job as I was finishing university.
Some of the students who stayed away from school in the past eight months may never go back to the university again. Their lives might have been ruined.
What’s the way forward for these young people?
There are some universities in Nigeria that accept A-level students, which is an advanced level of education that qualifies a student for a degree programme. Students can try out such universities. If they are admitted to the university through A levels, they begin at the 200 level. That would make them graduate after 3 or 4 years, depending on their course of study. The reason is that their lecturers don’t go on strike, and they don’t shut the university. Besides, another alternative is private universities.
Please tell us more about how the university system was in those days.
In universities in those days, it was like heaven on earth. As a student at the university, you just go into the pot and have your delicious meal. We had options for what we had to eat. We had free chicken and beef, and we ate more than enough. At that time, I had to tell them not to give me too much, because I wouldn’t be able to finish it.
In those days, there were scholarships. For instance, when I went to the University of Ife, Ibadan branch, I struggled to pay my fees and before the end of one academic session, I was given a German scholarship. A German scholarship was given to every student who wanted to, but could not pay their fees, and apart from paying our fees, they gave us pocket money. They gave us so much money, that even the vacation job that we used to do during the long vacations, was not necessary, because we had more than enough.
The lecturers at the University of Ibadan, Ife branch, were good. Our lecturers were from Sheffield University, and they used to change them every three months. So it was like the degree we had was from Sheffield University in England because we didn’t have a lot of lecturers, who could manage the arm of chemistry because I did a BSc in chemistry.
So these lecturers came, and they went back every three months, although Nigerian lecturers also taught us. Things were relatively easy for us. We had more than enough, we had exercise, and we had football. It was at the university that I learned how to ride a bicycle.
Was there anything like JAMB then?
No, there was no Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board.
So, how do you go from secondary school to university?
All our secondary schools had A levels. It is compulsory that all our schools have A levels. The A level was compulsory. I finished secondary school in 1962, and I spent two years doing A-level because it was a two-year programme. Then we also had an emergency science school where some people went. There was no way of getting into the university without an A level, although there was another option of doing prelims. You will write an examination and go to the university to do a preliminary course, which is what hundreds of students are doing now. If you did A levels and passed, you would go straight to level 200 in the university.
Is it similar to what you are doing in D-Ivy Sixth Form College?
Yes. Some students are doing two A levels, which is the traditional thing, but most of our students that are highly intelligent spend one year. They spend one year because they have done 3 years in senior secondary school, SS1, SS2, and SS3. So by the time they do SS3, they’ve actually covered half of the A levels. So the highly intelligent ones are able to do A levels in 9 months and get an A or B, which are very high grades to get into
The United Nations said recently that there are over 20 million out-of-school children and this poses a threat, considering how bandits recruit children into terrorism, how do you this this can be addressed?
Education is paramount, but many people don’t see the value of education in Nigeria because when you go to school and come out, you expect added value.
People went to school and came and people who have not gone to school are the ones who have the luxuries. They drive cars that even if you live up to one hundred years, you may not be able to buy the tires and you are telling them to go to school.
They wonder why they should go to school. Of course, that shouldn’t be their focus, but it is what they see and it affects them. You only need to close your office and see the people waiting to board tricycles, called “Keke Marwa.”
They wait in the rain and sun, and some people who are graduates are with them. If you have not learned how to be dishonest, you are not likely to make headway in Nigeria, and sending that type of message out is bad for a nation.
I don’t know the solution because people usually say don’t mind her. The solution she knows is God, and I believe he can help us.
Over two decades of running the school, any challenges?
Yes, there are challenges, but glory is to God because we hear good news about our students. The feedback from their parents is usually something like: “Oh, your daughter is getting married or heading a big company in America and doing excellently well, and he said you taught her to imbibe the nature of hard work when he was here.”
So we’ve had lots of good news and some of the students write to us to say thank you and let us know how they are getting on. Some of them are in business; some have settled their families abroad.
Some of them are doctors, some graduated from the universities of Ibadan, and Lagos. OAU, not all of their travel abroad. Some of them also go to Nigerian universities. Even those that did not pass wrote back to us and said that we are leading the class where we are.
So what are you doing differently here?
We believe that it is good to work hard without cheating. Parents come here and ask us how we are doing it, and we tell them.
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