“My first book was published before December 2016 and between 2016 and now, which is a space of less than two years, I have published twelve books.”
Kelechia Ochonogor is an award winning author, entrepreneur and school proprietor who has consistently advocated for a complete overhaul and reform of the education sector. She also recommends the inclusion of entrepreneurial studies in school’s curriculum, saying that more students should be taught how to set up businesses rather than depend on paid employment when they graduate from school.
You collaborated with the United Nations in the writing of one your books. What informed the decision to enter into this partnership?
The goal of the United Nation is to make life better for people and it is based on this that I decided to partner with the organisation to write a book, ‘Understanding the Force of Liberty’, that would impact positively on the lives of people.
UN stands for gender equality, justice, better health and development and that is basically what God made provisions for in the book of Genesis in the bible. When God created man in Genesis 1:38, He made provisions for everything, even for man not to be sick, until man disobeyed. The book is based on what the world actually wants from humanity in connection with what the UN is pursuing.
My first book, ‘Understanding the force of liberty’ was published before December 2016 and between 2016 and now, which is a space of less than two years, I have published twelve books.
There have been calls for educational reforms for a long while. Many have advocated for the teaching of entrepreneurial skills instead of just focusing on studying to pass exams and get good jobs? At what level do you think kids should start learning entrepreneurial skills and as a stakeholder, what recommendations would you give to improve the education sector in Nigeria?
I am not satisfied with the present state of education and I have always said that we don’t have to be rigid – that it has to go the Nigerian way. We can incorporate different international curriculums with the Nigerian curriculum and bring out the best. We can combine the British curriculum, a little of what they do in Montessori, a little of what they do in the early years, and then see how we can harmonise them with our Nigerian curriculum.
I believe in teaching entrepreneurial skills because when I attended Covenant University, there was a course we did on entrepreneurship. That actually helped me to go into business because we drew a lot of business plans and feasibility studies. I went to into Lagos and find out on how businesses are done and that really gave me a lot of ideas on how to run a successful business. When I first came to Lagos, I was complaining about the environment because I had spent most of my life in my local community in Delta and I was not used to the hassles of Lagos. So with that, when I came to this environment, it was so harsh, and I was not used to that kind of hardship from the kind of home I came from. So it was difficult for me that first time but when I started my Masters at Covenant University, it broadened my understanding of how to run a successful enterprise and I believe it is actually what is making me who I am today.
Entrepreneurial skills should be taught from pre-school. During the summer, we engaged our students in craft to develop their skills. We allowed them to do it and mess up themselves before they can attain perfection. Because with that, they would be able to get engaged and then, you know children, when they make mistakes, you correct them, before you know it, that thing will stick and they will hardly forget it.
Why did you decide to start a school despite the fact that so many private schools are already in existence?
It has been my dream for over eight years. Most times when I go to my children’s school and I see the ‘misbehaviour’ of some members of their staff, I correct them and wished within myself to start a school with very high educational standards.
Most of the times, I had to correct them to the extent that anytime the members of staff know that I am around, they immediately straighten up. I then asked myself why they don’t do the right thing unless they are supervised. You are being paid to take care of these children, why wait for somebody that you know would complain about your attitude before you do this thing. So I feel it is not right and that is the most important thing about our school – taking care of the children whether their parents or the owner of the school is there or not.
One of the usual factors that educationists complain about is finances, how were you able to gather the resources to setup your school? Were you working previously, were you in business or did you have a background on education?
My first degree was in English Education. For my second degree, I went for Language but later came back to Education. The second masters I have is in Educational Administration and Planning. My parents were also educationists. My father retired as a principal, my mum just retired last year.
Talking about the financial aspect, it is actually capital intensive.
On a daily basis, I know what comes out of my purse. If not for God and the vision, you would almost want to give up. Apart from writing, I also do business; I am into the oil and gas business and I do supplies for many companies. I was also able to do most of what I do with the support of my husband, without him, I don’t think this would have been possible.
Do you think that the state government is doing enough to encourage the education sector and what is your suggestion on how it can checkmate the proliferation of substandard private schools?
We have actually gone to the government concerning the registration of our school and the process is ongoing. So we are actually on it.
Because the government wants to improve the education sector and wants to encourage more parents to send their kids to school, it has exempted schools from paying taxes, but workers in the school are mandated to pay their taxes, so the taxes are deducted from the source.
When you are paying the salary of teachers, you can remove the VAT, which you remit to the authorities but for school itself, it is one of those non VAT-ables in Nigeria because we are encouraging education. I believe the secondary and primary sector in Nigeria. So I don’t see government taxing schools and I have not heard of that either.