Chalcedony SchoolChalcedony School is a co-educational institution founded out of a need to provide quality and comprehensive education for students. The mission of the school is to cultivate in students, a passion for learning, confidence and a capacity for independent thinking in a peaceful, loving and focused environment using world-class resources and techniques delivered by seasoned professionals. The School Head, Mrs. Gbemi Olowokere is a thoroughbred professional who is passionate about developing children. Mrs. Olowookere took us through the journey to where they are now in this interview with ABIODUN FAWUMI.

What influenced your choice of career?

I LOVE working with children and I’m always excited when I have them around me. I love picking children who have challenges and don’t know how to do a lot of things, taking them on and making sure that they get better on a regular basis. As soon as they get better I’m excited and passionate about it. I am a graduate of English Education for about 25 years now and for the past 24 years of my life I have been working with children. I started my teaching career at Ladybird Nursery & Primary School, Gbagada Estate, and from there I was in Corona School, Victoria Island for ten years. After leaving Corona, I was at Lekki British Junior School, after which Attwool Sunflower School started and I was there for another seven and half years. I pioneered the establishment of Attwool School and left to be able to pioneer the Chalcedony School.

What led to the establishment of Chalcedony School?

Chalcedony School started in September 12, 2011 precisely. While I was at Attwood, I felt there was no reason to leave, that I should just keep working there and the school should keep growing. And then to the glory of God, the school that started with just four children including two of my own has grown to about 430 to 450 children, and from one school to about three schools precisely in seven and half years. So, by the time we were getting to that seventh year, I felt there was a need for me to leave. Chalcedony is a miracle of circumstance because there wasn’t really any fund to start with. The only thing is that I knew there was a vision and this vision is to run the best school in this country. That was what we started with, and God helped us in the process of looking for funds to provide the building that could accommodate the primary and secondary at the same time. From the first day that the school was established, we had 74 children. In about one year, before the close of the session, we had close to 150. We’re three and half years old and this is the fourth session and we already have above 330 children. I think God has been very, very good. We started in a rented apartment that could accommodate the number we had at that time, but by the time the school was getting close to 300, the place became very small for us. As we were still thinking of how to go about it, the landlord also came with a quit notice. It was tough. We had to get land, and after that, we waited for the bank to help us out and the bank kept making promises and nothing was forthcoming. So, it became quite challenging and we had to keep praying, miraculously, God connected us with a developer who was willing to take the risk and spend his money with an agreement to payback.

What are the unique factors that stand you out?

Well, I will say that Chalcedony School is different from other schools in the sense that our academic programme is a bit different from what other schools are doing because we are very specific. We make our methodology of teaching British and within the curriculum, we added the Nigerian aspect to it. With the British methodology, you will be able to work with every child because there is what we call differentiation in the class, where you meet children at whatever level they are and work with them. The Nigerian curriculum is always there to push the children, so we added it in order not to stay with the children at their level but also push them forward. In our secondary school, we run a five-year program. After five years, we present our children for the Cambridge exam and the SSCE exams. We had only one student in our first year [passing out] and to the glory of God, that student is in the second year at the University of Tennessee in America now. In the second set, we had eight of them and all of them are in universities now both in Nigeria and abroad. We had 18 of them who passed out last year and about 80% of them are in the University now.
We also admit children into our school when they are mature. We don’t admit until they are 11 or about to be 11 and that’s the standard. We put children in the right classes for their ages and they do not jump classes because we don’t give double promotion. If a child is very good and is working above the standard of the class, the teacher will keep working with the child above that standard but the child does not move from the class. So, we manage their strengths as much as possible and we try to overcome the weaknesses.

What has been your greatest challenge and how were you able to surmount it?

Well, I think the very first challenge is starting the business of a school without any form of capital. It’s like this adage that says, “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going”. From day one, we had challenges with payment of salaries because when we first started, the fees that come in will not be enough to run the school and pay salaries at the same time. We also needed to borrow money to take off some things and banks were not supportive. I think it’s only Fidelity Bank that has been able to help us out with just a token of overdraft here and there. Then recently, FCMB also bought two school buses for us. See, they will only take risks that are manageable and I understand them in a way but I still feel it is not fair. In fact, moving into this place, we thank God for the developer but you see, the road was also very bad, so the developer had to concentrate and put money on the road. By the time we were moving here, we had to look for money to support him here and there. And we have to pay back this money while we have to also pay salaries. So it’s been quite challenging, but till date, I can confidently tell you that we do not owe any staff any salary and everything has been fine. We have never been stranded and I will give that to God because He has been good. We have had challenges, we have overcome them and we are still having challenges that we know we will overcome.

What are your focus/projections in the next couple of years?

In the next 5 years, I want to believe that within two years, the whole of this project should be completed. The plan and the vision of this school is to also be able to have this school replicated in some major cities in this country. But before we get there, we want to start a sixth-form school because from day one we had accreditation from the British Council to run both the O Level and A Level programmes. We’re trying to bring everything you can get abroad right here. We don’t just want an affiliation with a sixth-form school over there, but get the school to come and set up here. We hope to achieve that in the next two years so that when our students pass out, there’s a place to go to for SAT, TOEFL, IELTS and so on, rather than hiring teachers separately. We want to have a place so that there’s a transition program for our students when they pass out. We want to bring the teachers here to work with them so the students get the best from day one. We’re not looking at something that is so large but of very good quality that can give the best to the students. In the next 10 years, we’re looking at Chalcedony School in Abuja, Port Harcourt and probably Ibadan. Those are the focus for now.

What are the challenges facing the education sector in Nigeria?

I think basically the problem with education sector is the fact that our schools are not centers for creative expression, and most times people go to school basically to obtain a certificate in order to secure a job. Schools should be about discovery and exploring your abilities in developing one’s skills towards expressing your creativity, but the government and the society do not reward creativity rather only certificates are recognized. Inadequate infrastructure, non-qualified teachers as well as government policy has not helped the sector. One important thing we need to know is that, if we want students to be better, we need to give them the tools to work with. But, while doing that, we need to make sure that schools are not run as a profit making venture rather as a sustainable effort at changing lives.

What do you think government can do differently to help the education Sector?

Government should as a matter of urgency improve on the standard of education as well as formulate and implement policies that will improve on the standard of education, where commitment and dedication will be the order of the day. At Chalcedony School, we believe schools shouldn’t just be about teaching and learning, but a combination of practical expression of theoretical inputs and exploration of new frontiers based on individual peculiarities.

Do you have training plans for your tutors?

Yes, we do. For now, what we do is to do in-house training on a termly basis for two days before resumption. But at the beginning of the session before September, we do whole week training and we bring in professionals from everywhere. By next year, we hope to start sending our teachers abroad for training. Mr. Abiodun Fawumi is the publisher of Eko City Engineering News.

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