By: Dr. Ghalib Fahad. (Director of Studies , Grenville Schools, Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria)
Upon arrival in Nigeria, the writer was immediately struck by the reverence accorded to the word “international”. The host explained with great emphasis that my itinerary the next day would include visiting 2 international schools and how difficult it had been to arrange such visits.
Immediately, the writer was made to feel a sense of gratitude and the need to express the same sense of homage to the proprietors during such visits. This is the preamble to this piece since 3 years has passed and the word international looms large in the writer’s dream.
First, it is necessary to explain the word international which according to the Collins English Dictionary refers to: “of, concerning, or involving two or more nations or nationalities”; “established by, controlling, or legislating for several nations”; and “available for use by all nations”.
In this context the last meaning perhaps seems more applicable since, for example, the Cambridge curriculum culminating into various certificates through rigorous examinations (administered by the British Council) are widely (or universally) accepted.
But in other parts of the world, especially in India, the word has been coined to also refer not only to the use of external curriculum in the school but with additional dimensions namely: the student population consists of both indigenes and some other non-nationals; the teachers are derived from more than one country; and the school undertakes trips abroad as part of the education content.
Whether these additional dimensions can be applied to the Nigerian context would be a matter of hot debate and possibly best undertaken at another time.
Now to the crux of the matter: why does it matter?
Elsewhere in another article this writer has touched on some of the contributing factors explaining the demise of the educational sector in Nigeria. The British, with their past colonial history, have been well placed to take advantage of such deterioration as have, in more recent times, the Americans (the US and Canada).
The curriculums from these countries are perceived to deliver exactly as specified in the “package” with quality and delivery guaranteed.
The fact that that there has been a severe economic downturn in Europe and elsewhere has also encouraged many of the Nigerian diaspora to relocate to their fatherland. Such relocation has brought with it the added pressure for such parents to select schools that “feel and look” international.
The majority of these parents visit schools that appear to have a student population consisting of some “white faces” (though in Nigeria the so-called white faces consist mainly of Lebanese/Syrian and Indian students).
In places like Lagos and Abuja it is easier for some of the schools to pass this litmus test that has been set by such parents. This then forces the owners of such schools to consider nothing else except an international curriculum.
This writer’s observation of practice, though not in any way scientific, leads to the view that the so-called Nigerian international schools can be grouped into three categories namely: the elitist club; the aspiring club; and the outsider club.
The elitist club group tend to consist of the schools that have history and pedigree behind them and are intent, by design, to remain elitist and exclusive. These are the schools that have joined various international bodies and want parents to be assured that they will remain exclusive.
The fact that they are required to pass certain tests to remain in the club and to the international bodies gives them an added sense of superiority. The aspiring club is composed of schools who tend to be relatively new and a minority few are also well resourced and want to be truly international.
They follow the rules set by British Council and other such bodies to the letter and want recognition. They realise that they must join the elitist club though they are doubtful as to the superiority claims made by such schools, given the fact that many of these elitist places are beginning to lose students to these aspiring schools.
The outsider club has schools based in semi-prosperous areas of the city where parents want to be assured that some quality education is being provided to their children.
These ones, long-term, tend to do the most damage to the perception that all international schools provide quality education because they are constrained by resources and so can ill-afford the basics that make up an international school.
They have little checks and balances and tend to be controlled by the capricious desires of the owners, most of whom have no understanding of the educational system. This will form another piece by the writer at some future date.
The word understanding above is the key driver that all these groups need to incorporate into their management systems.
Based on visits and inspections of a number of schools, inside and out of Lagos, has led to the view that an international school is one that demonstrates an understanding of the dynamics between management of the school and the following stakeholders: owners; parents; students; curriculum; teachers; and technology. At this stage the writer would like to label these as Fahad’s 6 Cs..
So in addition to the curriculum, the audits that would need to be developed would have to incorporate all the 6 Cs and possibly the adoption of a new level of international categorisation. Measures will then be more robust and based on a number of factors including the various stakeholders listed above.
In conclusion, though there is a level of understanding of the word international in Nigeria it is anything but clear. In many cases it seems to be an appendage that entitles a school to charge a certain level of fee.
In other schools it seems to be a way of distinguishing themselves from the more poorly funded public schools. In others, it seems to mean little or nothing worthy of value. And so it goes on depending on the area where you locate a school calling itself international.