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.
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.