The best schools for your kids and wards are not necessarily the ones with the most expensive fees or the most beautiful wall paints, an education entrepreneur, Shola Okpodu, has told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mrs. Okpodu is the Group Managing Director of School Hunters, an education enterprise that helps parents search and enrol students in schools – from crèche to university level – across Nigeria and overseas. School Hunters also owns the largest database of Nigerian schools and offers a free online service that helps busy parents search and compare schools based on criteria like cost, curricular, and general standards.
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, she said parents need to look deeper, beyond the fancy, social class and cost of schools in deciding where to enrol their wards.
“Some parents think the bigger the better but that’s not the case because you find out some of the schools do not even pay the teachers, and others may not have accreditation,” she said.
Mrs. Okpodu is also a TV personality. She was inspired to start School Hunters after she suffered hard times finding schools for her kids after she moved back to Nigeria from the United Kingdom.
Read excerpts of her interview below.
PT: Tell us about School Hunters?
Shola: School Hunters is a social enterprise, which simply means we have two arms of our business. We create unique platforms to solve societal needs, and our market is the Education sector. As a social enterprise, we have School Hunters Integrated Education Marketing Communication Agency and we also have School Hunters Education Development Initiative. The commercial arm is the integrated marketing which funds the NGO. We create different opportunities for schools, that’s what the commercial aspect does. We create opportunity such as publicity, we help students in search for schools. We also have services for parents that are looking to change their children’s school. We have a robust data base in Nigeria.
And for the non-governmental organization aspect of our business, we promote sustainable education … in local communities at no fee.
For the commercial aspect, the services are paid for. So 50 percent of our revenue goes into our community development, which means we get indigent children and pay the schools fees through public schools and we also support citizens that have the interest of children at heart as well, we look at their projects, or if they want to build a school in the community or send kids to school, we fund them in our little way. We pay school fees and we also give the children in those communities resources like school bags. We do mentoring. In the last two years of our operation, we have built a school in Ghana.
PT: Why do you have to go build a school in Ghana?
Shola: Because we are pan African. We are not just Nigerian based. One of our focus is to go international as well. We see ourselves as Africans than Nigerians, so if there is a need in any part of Africa and our attention is called to it, we will be there.
PT: But there are kids hawking on the streets of Nigeria. Why did you not consider them first?
Shola: We paid school fees for about 63 kids in Nasarawa state, we also supplied school bags to over 3,000 children in Nigeria. We also act as mediators between ourselves and public school and the government. An example is a school in Jabi situated at the heart of the wealthy and these children used to be under the tree, and the land was allocated to a building company. Our attention was called to that and we acted as the mediator between them and UBEB (Universal Basic Education Board). UBEB later gave them structures.
PT: Let’s talk about your school search services. How does the school search Website help?
Shola: We have a particular service which is Nigeria’s number one school website, which is the largest website in Nigeria because we have a very rich database where schools go online and put up their details and profiles, and parents can also go on our site free of charge (to search, compare, and choose schools for their kids.)
PT: You have close to 2,000 schools in your database. How do you get the schools?
Shola: We partner with various schools and we have been able to partner with over 2,000 schools in Nigeria and some come to register themselves. For the schools, we give them publicity and for parents looking for schools, we recommend schools for them free of charge. We also process admissions into schools. It’s a one stop shop for all your needs. We go to schools for advert and some schools come to us. We started with only one school but as time went on we started growing.
PT: How is the reception for your service like?
Shola: Because it’s a novel idea, people are trying to get used to the fact that we are trying to do everything in one place and we have everything, we offer admissions into schools, we recommend schools, we have training centres for JAMB, WAEC, we have School Hunters TV with Shola on AIT. But the reception so far has been good.
PT: How do you get funding?
Shola: We are still self-funded; it’s just the board and the passion that is running through us and from our TV shows people donate, some call us to ask us questions like is there any school that needs assistance, I will like to donate to them.
PT: Why did you switch from broadcasting to Education?
Shola: I will not say I left TV totally, I’m still in TV because its PR, I only built a niche market which is the Education, and the inspiration came seven years ago. I moved back to Nigeria from the states and I needed a school in Nigeria for her to fit in. My daughter changed school six times. Anytime she comes back from school, either she speaks Pidgin English or something and I asked myself why can’t I get an agency to recommend good schools in Nigeria? That was how I started it two years ago. And I got the school myself. I made the research myself.
PT: Do people have to pay for these services?
Shola: Yes they do, we have different services. We have the premium service for very busy parents, and we have air conditioned cars to take you round five schools and it is only N10, 000. But we also work with your budget; we ask parents what is within your range? If a parent comes for advice on what school to go, it’s actually free but when you say give us options then you pay for us to give you schools.
PT: In your experience recommending schools for parents, what have you found about the relationship between cost and quality? Does the cost of a school necessarily determine how good it is?
Shola: No, not necessarily. What I found out and this I’m happy to talk about is that majority of the schools are not accredited and parents do not know. In the course of partnering with schools, we ask them for accreditation and they bail out.
Some cover up with the building and size and I think that is born out of the fact that many Nigerians are just too materialistic. Some parents think the bigger the better but it’s not the case because you find out some of the school do not even pay the teachers. Some teachers can’t even speak good English.
For instance I was in a school once and I was interacting with the school teacher but she was speaking pidgin language. If we were in a market place it would be understandable but we were in the school environment and she got carried away and that’s how the kids started speaking pidgin. English is very vital. Education in Nigeria is appalling. Not all expensive schools are the best. There is a school I’m quite impressed with and I was tempted to tell the principal to increase the school fees. The school fees is a hundred and fifteen and when I tell parents about the school, because the price is low, they say no they want schools that are more expensive.
PT: What are your challenges?
Shola: Schools need to update their database. We cannot monitor any school. When you register your school, you need to upgrade it because you paid for that service, but we cannot do anything any about it. So that’s the major challenge we face.