We teach public speak­ing skills, speed read­ing – School pro­pri­etress

Marie David is the pro­pri­etress of Van­tage Point Academy, Gwarimpa, Abuja. In this in­ter­view, she talks about what is miss­ing in the Nige­rian cur­ricu­lum, and how her pupils are be­ing ex­posed to re­search and public speak­ing at an early stage.

Daily Trust - - EDUCATION - By Mis­bahu Bashir

Most schools are es­tab­lished to ac­com­plish some tasks; what is the idea be­hind your school?

The idea is to train kids that are glob­ally com­pe­tent and can make a dif­fer­ence wher­ever they go, whether Amer­ica, Rus­sia or Asia. And the fact that the kids are in Africa should not limit how far they can go.

I was ed­u­cated in Nige­ria but when I got to the US, I re­al­ized that there were few gaps that I felt were not ad­dressed and I also re­alised that most of what you get in Nige­ria in terms of ed­u­ca­tion de­pends on how wealthy your par­ents are or your back­ground. So, it was in an at­tempt to mit­i­gate those miss­ing com­po­nents that my fam­ily con­ceived the idea of es­tab­lish­ing this school. We hope to get things right, we may make a few mistakes, but ul­ti­mately the idea is to help the child build a solid foun­da­tion.

What are the miss­ing fac­tors?

The av­er­age Nige­rian ed­u­ca­tion is very lin­ear or straight. In fact Nige­rian stu­dents in the US are topping the chart and get­ting ad­mis­sions to all schools but when you think about cre­ativ­ity -the bold­ness a child needs to ad­dress demo­cratic is­sues, most stu­dents are not pre­pared for them. I went back to school in the US and when­ever I was in school, I felt that I was miss­ing those pieces. We are good at math­e­mat­ics and sciences, but the real skills, crit­i­cal think­ing and fun­da­men­tals in terms of build­ing the busi­ness by your­self are not cov­ered by the Nige­rian cur­ricu­lum.

So it’s ba­si­cally to give the kids what is best in both the Amer­i­can and Nige­rian cur­ricu­lum. We mainly use the Nige­rian cur­ricu­lum but a lot of Amer­i­can com­po­nents. One of the com­po­nents miss­ing here is in-depth re­search which the Amer­i­can sys­tem pays at­ten­tion to. We ex­pose our chil­dren to re­search. My youngest child who is study­ing in the US re­cently came and taught some of our pupils how to carry out re­search us­ing the com­puter. The kids should be able to find data us­ing the com­puter. Again, Amer­i­can stu­dents are more ma­ture in the sense that when they leave school, their in­ter­est is be­ing en­abled and they are ready to hit the ground run­ning or work be­cause of the prac­tices they con­ducted. Again, li­braries in the US are well stocked and that is what I want to have in my school here. This en­ables the kids to read as much as they want.

Re­search is the com­po­nent of ev­ery sub­ject we of­fer apart from cre­ative writ­ing and public speak­ing. Public speak­ing en­ables the chil­dren to di­rectly ex­press them­selves or speak to live au­di­ences. Nige­rian kids know what to say and have great ideas but need to learn com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills with public speak­ing tips and not when they be­come politi­cians. I at­tended a po­lit­i­cal campaign in 2014 and lis­tened to var­i­ous speak­ers on their party man­i­festos. With due re­spect, I was dis­ap­pointed when I left the venue. When I com­pare that with the Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, I feel that I know the can­di­dates and I know what they can of­fer. I can fig­ure out where each can­di­date is go­ing or whether they are telling the truth or not. So, I want the kids to un­der­stand the is­sues and speak about them. They learn that through de­bate and com­pe­ti­tions.

Sport seems to be dis­ap­pear­ing from schools un­like what was ob­tain­able dur­ing our school days. We want our kids to en­gage in sports be­cause it brings peo­ple to­gether.

Our pupils are al­lowed to bring their own de­vices such as i-pad and phones to carry out re­search. We con­duct video tele con­fer­ences and con­nect to schools abroad where our kids talk to their col­leagues there. They are happy and cu­ri­ous to ex­change ideas. It’s bet­ter to give the right in­for­ma­tion at this age.

Stan­dards are guide posts for schools. Do you en­counter dif­fi­culty in ad­her­ing to re­quired class sizes con­sid­er­ing high en­rol­ment de­mand by par­ents?

We try to main­tain in­ter­na­tional stan­dard in terms of teacher­pupil ra­tio and other as­pects which is why we em­ploy qual­i­fied teach­ers who are mostly de­gree hold­ers and few with ad­vanced de­grees. They come to the school as early as 6:30a.m. to pre­pare for their re­spec­tive lessons and they close af­ter school hours. The school tries to en­cour­age them to learn new skills not be­cause we pay them high but just to en­sure that their knowl­edge and skills re­main rel­e­vant. One of the keys to suc­cess is hav­ing the right per­son­nel; you can have ev­ery fa­cil­ity but if you don’t have the right teach­ers, there will be prob­lems. The teach­ers should be able to grasp the vi­sion of the school too. The ded­i­ca­tion of staff is high. For ex­am­ple, I have some­one who started as a driver and now he is the head of trans­port unit and does all the lo­gis­tics work. The school doesn’t owe teach­ers’ salaries be­cause we want to mo­ti­vate them.

In terms of ad­mis­sion, we ob­vi­ously have stan­dards and con­duct en­trance tests based on age and abil­ity. A can­di­date must meet the min­i­mum en­try re­quire­ment and where they could not meet the re­quire­ment, we have other op­tions. The child will be made to at­tend ex­tra lessons or re­me­dial classes un­til he catches up.

You men­tioned that public speak­ing is part of your school ex­tra cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties. How do you en­sure that stu­dents over­come

public speak­ing anx­i­ety?

We have a teacher who con­ducts prac­tices on public speak­ing skills and we al­low the stu­dents speak on the assem­bly ground. The rea­son is that chil­dren are cu­ri­ous and they need to be em­pow­ered to speak in­tel­li­gently about any­thing they know about. At the mo­ment, we are con­duct­ing in-house de­bates be­fore the stu­dents could com­pete with their coun­ter­parts from other schools. The teacher usu­ally gives them top­ics and al­lows them to carry out re­search be­fore the de­bate is con­ducted. The kids are also al­lowed to talk dur­ing the end of year ac­tiv­i­ties or prize giv­ing day.

The school runs crèche, kinder­garten to sixth grade but we in­tend to start sec­ondary sec­tion in the new ses­sion; we have al­ready ac­quired a prop­erty for that pur­pose. Ini­tially, there was no plan for high school, the idea was en­vis­aged later.

We have started some in­ter­ven­tion pro­grams in which we al­low other stu­dents to reg­is­ter with us and take lessons in prepa­ra­tion for ex­ter­nal ex­ams. Here, we try to help the kids pre­pare for the next level in their lives. We have a math­e­mat­ics club meant to in­spire stu­dents be­cause most stu­dents hate maths and avoid any­thing that in­volves cal­cu­la­tions. The stu­dents learn some nu­ances or strate­gies to mo­ti­vate them in math­e­mat­ics.

The school con­ducts cre­ative writ­ing lessons de­signed to help kids de­velop writ­ing skills and also speed read­ing classes to im­prove their abil­ity to read quickly.

Marie David

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