Priscilla Ediare, Ado-Ekiti
It was undiluted joy for Henry Olaoluwa Asubiojo in Abuja, recently, as he was pronounced the best teacher in Nigeria.
Climbing the podium at Eagle Square, Abuja, to receive his award must have been one of the best feelings he had ever felt. From his small classroom, where he quietly plied his trade, fate and fortune smiled on him. The good news spread so fast that he became the talk of the town in Ekiti and beyond.
There is a common saying that teachers’ reward is in heaven. But hard work, diligence and dedication brought Asubiojo his reward while on earth. When the reporter met the award winner recently, he was still his usual humble self, even though you could notice the excitement in him.
Those close to him asserted that reading, learning, researching and imparting knowledge to others were the things he enjoyed doing. His voracious reading, as gathered, has been a positive weapon in building a successful career. His early years, the reporter learnt, were devoted to devouring books above his age.
All his labour paid off recently when he clinched the prize for the best teacher in Nigeria, in the secondary school category for 2020. Only last year, he had been awarded the best teacher in the secondary school category in Ekiti State.
The 50-year-old teacher form Igede-Ekiti, Irepodun/Ifelodun Local Government Area of Ekiti State, lost his father at a tender age, but defeated vicissitudes within and outside academic environment.
Supported by his mother, Rachael Asubiojo, he attended Saint John’s Anglican Primary School, and Ekiti Baptist High School, both in Igede-Ekiti. He proceeded to the Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti, where he graduated as a Metallurgical Material engineer.
Although he didn’t know that he would end up in the teaching profession, he started teaching while in secondary school to earn a living at the time.
He told the reporter that he had wanted to study Medicine, but couldn’t do so, having scored 286 in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). At the time, the cut-off mark for admission required by the University of Lagos (UNILAG), his first choice, was 291.
He enrolled for Higher School Certificate Examination (HSC) GCE A’ level at Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti. When the results didn’t come as he expected, he decided to go for Mining Engineering at the Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti, and later Metallurgical Material Engineering at the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Ondo State.
He recalled that, while in Form 3, he started voluntarily teaching his mates that he left behind and other students in the lower classes. He also recollected how, after enrolling as a HSC candidate at Christ’s School, he was going to teach students Physics in his alma mater, because there was no Physics teacher in the school. He said that was an arrangement by the board of governors and the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA).
He said that almost all the 23 subjects he offered in secondary school were his favourite as he won between 18 and 19 prizes out of all the 23 prizes. His brilliance gave him the school’s senior prefect while in Form 4.
Asubiojo recalled that, growing up in Igede-Ekiti, he always had brothers and uncles who were learned in different fields around him. From his relatives, he got books in different fields. He also benefited immensely from one of his uncles, who was an education consultant. The man had a library where Asubiojo read any book he could lay his hands on.
Asubiojo said: “I am passionate about teaching, that was why I got into it from my secondary school days. And when I finished my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), the first opportunity that came to me was teaching.
“When I got to Form 4 and we were to register for West Africa Examinations Council (WAEC), I didn’t pick the sciences. I wanted to study International Relations or History, as one of my best subjects then was History. Nobody wanted to do science in the school. Some of the elders in the school, Deacon Fadelu of blessed memory, and Baba Fatunla called my uncle that he should persuade me to pick science subjects. They later withdrew that form and they asked me to fill science subjects.”
While in Lagos after his service year, he narrated how the then Elemure of Emure-Ekiti, the late Oba Bamidele Oshin, who was married to one of his aunts, invited him from Lagos when there were no science and mathematics teachers in Emure. He said the Oba motivated him by paying him a N20,000 monthly salary when a graduate teacher then was being paid N14,000 by the government. He gladly taught Mathematics in three schools while in Emure-Ekiti and was being paid by the Oba-in-Council then.
Asubiojo said he secured a teaching job with Ekiti State Government in January 2006. He was given an appointment to teach Mathematics and Physics. Looking back, he said he has enjoyed every moment in the classroom, impacting his students positively.
The elated teacher said what has been helping him over the years as a teacher and has also been helping his students to comprehend easily is his continuous research and his efforts to simplify whatever he teaches.
“I have a background in Engineering, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, so I should be more practical in my own teaching than somebody that studied education.
“l will always identify the peculiarities of the society. Those are the advantages that I have during research. I look for ways to concretise the abstractness of those concepts. So, that was when I started designing those processes and even had to fabricate some of those instructional materials and teaching aids by using waste materials from the environment.”
He emphasised that a teacher must create a friendly environment that would make his students like him.
“Once this is established, the student will associate more with his or her teacher and also like the subject the teacher teaches,” he said.
He acquired a desktop computer and books on Engineering and Mathematics and always invited his students to come and learn on his desktop. He bought other books to help his students comprehend easily. The sessions provided opportunities for the students to bring questions, which they solved together.
Through familiarisation and via various interactive sessions, at Orija High School, Emure- Ekiti, where he taught close to 10 years, he started to know the weaknesses of his students and proffered solutions.
He said after a few years later, he started getting positive results from the students. He then began presenting the students for competitions within and outside Ekiti. This might be what brought him the award of the Best Teacher in Ekiti in 2019.
On whether his emergence as the best teacher was a dream come true or by hard work, he said: “It was backed by the type of vigour and zeal I put into teaching. My involvement not only in the teaching process but the general administration of the school also helped. I used to be the labour teacher as well as the creative and readership coordinator of the school. I was in charge of JET Club, Agric, Press Club, Literary and Debating Society, and we won awards in all these areas separately. I didn’t know my hard work was being noticed.”
In 2010, Asubiojo’s students picked the second position at a science exhibition in the state. In 2015, he was nominated as the Best Teacher in Emure Local Government. From Orija High School, he was transferred to Amoye Grammar School, Ikere-Ekiti, and as usual he studied the environment to identify the peculiar problems.
In 2017, he said, upon identifying his good students, he presented them for competition to represent Ekiti State in the South West NNPC Science Quiz Competition, where they came third. And in 2018, he also presented students for Science Project Exhibition in Katsina and Ekiti State came first in the whole country.
Asubiojo said that though he always looked forward to winning an award as the Best Teacher in the state category before it came in 2019, he never thought he could win the overall best in Nigeria.
So, how did he emerge the best teacher in the country? “It started from the local government where you face a panel,” he noted. “They ask questions on your discipline, practice of teaching, school records, lesson notes, attendance, students’ note book and assignments, volume of work covered, whether you mark your notes all the time, and lots of other documents for grading.
“At the state level, you face the panel again. They ask questions on discipline, current affairs and many more. But at the federal level, it was a bit different. They sent some documents; in it there were list of questions you needed to proffer answers to and produce a compendium. The compendium would include all your activities from when you started this job, the number of workshops and seminars you attended, the awards you already got, to many others.”
Asubiojo, who has a postgraduate diploma in Science Education from Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, said teaching while in secondary school propelled him in becoming a better teacher today.