interviewBy Shaka Momodu
Mrs Abiola Anyakwo, a dual citizen of Nigeria and Canada, runs The International Learning Network which offers learning opportunities in face-to-face, online and blended formats. Anyakwo, who also offers a Canadian curriculum pre-university programme for Nigerian secondary school graduates, spoke with Shaka Momodu
Tell us about your organization, The International Learning Network.
The International Learning Network (ILN) is an education management company. We provide Nigerian youth with 21st Century learning opportunities in face-to-face, online and blended formats. Presently, we offer a Canadian curriculum pre-university program (Grades 11 and 12) for Nigerian secondary school graduates. We also offer Canadian after-school, weekend and summer enrichment programmes for students as well as career workshops and career planning programmes. The workshops utilize a leading Canadian career exploration software and experiential learning programme that is used in over 20,000 sites in North America. Our Canadian pre-university programme is delivered in collaboration with our Canadian partner institutions. Students come to us to study Ministry of Education accredited pre-university courses from the provinces of Alberta and Ontario.
The Canadian curriculum, instruction and assessment are delivered online. The expected learning outcomes, instructional strategies, and learning tools are those used by Canadian teachers in regular classrooms. We help students interface with their Canadian teachers, and provide administrative and technical support. We also provide extended tutorial support where required. Each student is supported by an ILN mentor and coach to whom the student is accountable for attendance, conduct, and timely completion of all assignments.
What benefits do students receive from your programme?
In many ways, we provide excellent preparation for Nigerian students to transit to a Canadian school, college, or university. Our students earn Canadian credentials, boost their achievement, acquire knowledge and learn to apply the knowledge they have acquired. Their cultural and transition challenges are reduced as they experience and become familiar with Canadian style of learning. Above all, they become independent and self-directed learners who can think critically, research and evaluate information, deliver oral presentations and much more. Parents get to keep their child at home for another year so that the child gains maturity. They also save costs of travel, cold weather clothing etc. For the Canadian institutions, they get to expand their international services to include off shore students. It is a win-win situation for all.
Who are your Canadian partners?
We have partnered with Virtual High School, Ontario, for the Ontario Secondary School Diploma program. VHS has the authority from the Ministry of Education in Ontario to grant credits and issue the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD). The VHS credits and the OSSD are recognized for admission to post-secondary institutions around the world. There are currently 70 different online courses currently available for student registration. Another partner is the Golden Hills Learning Academy. This is a public online school in the Province of Alberta that offers courses for an Alberta High School Diploma and pre-requisites courses for Canadian University entrance. We also work with Alberta Distance Learning Center for our after school and weekend enrichment programs. ADLC offers courses such as entrepreneurship, forensic science, fashion, photography, public speaking, robotics and much more.
Your background is in law, yet you run a Canadian pre-university programme in Lagos. How did you move from law to education?
Actually, I practiced law for over 25 years before I moved to Canada. I specialized in commercial law, and actually taught business law on a part-time basis early in my legal career. In Canada, I worked with a niche business and immigration law firm in Vancouver as a legal consultant. Since I returned to Nigeria, I have not totally neglected my legal work. I am just extremely selective in what I do. However, I have always been passionate about education and its impact on people's lives. Interestingly, my involvement with Canadian education arose from my work with immigration law. In providing advice to executives who were transferred to Canada to work, clients would often request for information and advice about the Canadian educational system and how to secure admission to college and university for their dependants. When I left the law firm in Vancouver, I established a firm providing Canadian education, immigration and investment consulting services.
In the education field, I started off providing educational counselling, school placement and visa processing services for students, their parents and family members. I also provide Canadian immigration services. I have had many successes in this regard. In the course of my work, I encountered students who had struggled with the transition to the Canadian education system, resulting in low marks and dropped courses. This had the potential to impact their visa status. It was also disturbing to see parents struggle to pay foreign student fees only to have the child withdraw from school, repeat the school year or perform poorly. It became clear that students would benefit from doing some preparatory work in Nigeria so that they would be better prepared for studying in Canada which would in turn improve their overall student experience. Furthermore, I found out that several schools in Nigeria that claimed to provide a Canadian foundation programme did not in fact provide a comprehensive programme. These foundation programmes were either not recognized in Canada or were of limited application to one or two colleges or institutions. I started to think of a creative way to meet these students' needs. My daughter had participated in online courses and received full credits for these whilst registered at her day school in Canada, and I saw no reason why foreign-based students could not do the same. I was able to establish partnerships with Virtual High School, Ontario and Golden Hills Learning Academy in Alberta. The credentials secure from these institutions are the same as those issued to Canadian students residing and studying in Canada and they are accepted Canada wide.
What is special about Canadian education?
In Canada, a great deal of emphasis is placed on education. The country understands the direct link between investments in education, educational attainment, and economic growth and the country spend a significant portion of its income on education. Canadian students are top performers in reading, literacy, math and sciences. They rank at the top of the English speaking countries. This is borne out by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Other advantages that Canada offers include high quality of life, lower living costs and tuition fees for international students, compared to countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom.
What is most rewarding about your job; what makes it worthwhile?
The most rewarding aspect of what we do is when we see changes in students. Our initial class of students started off really struggling, and they were shocked at the quality and quantity of work required from them. However, within months, they began to get to grips with the work and are mostly doing well. Our parent testimonials are very encouraging. One parent wrote in to say that our pre-university program has really broadened his daughter's knowledge base and exposed her to excellent and current learning resources/materials that will help her fulfil her desire to pursue a degree in global business in Canada. Another wrote to say that his son has developed independent learning ability and is now able to manage his workload without monitoring. This young man has also acquired the skills to conduct academic research on the internet and has built strong internal motivation and discipline. This sort of feedback is very encouraging indeed and we believe that the best is yet to come.
You recently hosted a Canadian delegation. Tell me more about that.
The Honorable Ed Fast, Canada's Minister of International Trade visited our premises during his recent working visit to Nigeria. He was accompanied by Canadian senator, Senator Dom Meredith as well as Mr. Chris Cooter, High Commissioner of Canada to Nigeria and the Deputy High Commissioner, Mr. Marcello DiFranco. We were very honoured to have our work recognized by such distinguished personalities. The minister was able to interact with students in the inaugural class of our Canadian pre-university programme as well as with their parents and programme facilitators.
The minister commended the work that we are doing in promoting Canadian education in Nigeria and our investment in preparing students to thrive when they travel to Canada to study.
What has been the most challenging aspect of the business
We face the same challenges that entrepreneurs generally face in Nigeria. These include the usual challenges with erratic power supply, access to capital, access to skilled personnel and periodic interruption to our internet service. Fortunately, we have learned to work around that particular challenge as we have students download much of their work to file and they upload assignments when internet access is steady. The main challenge though has been getting Nigerian parents accustomed to the concept of online learning for teenagers. However, this is becoming less of a challenge as we now offer course demonstrations to students and their parents. Parents are able to see and appreciate how the programme works. They see that online learning courses are not condensed or easier versions. The curriculum is regulated by the ministry of education and the outcomes and standards are the same regardless of the delivery method. Students must demonstrate competence on all the same learning outcomes as students in traditional schools and classes.
What has been the most revealing thing about the work you do?
Two things have really struck me. The first is that many parents are not informed enough about the Canadian school placement and visa processing exercise and fall victims to charlatans. In the bid to recruit students, some schools are not forthright about the student's situation and the remedial work that is necessary to bring the child to the place of success. When the child gets to Canada, they begin to stream him to less challenging courses, and end up frustrating the dream of the child. Secondly, we find that many parents are not realistic in their expectation of the child. You have a child whose father's dream is for him to study engineering, but the child is very weak in his math. Rather than playing to a child's strengths, they will insist that the child pursue their dream rather than his. This parent is setting up his child for failure. Sometimes, a child will need to go back and correct the deficiencies in his education in order to be stronger and move ahead to success. Sometimes parents are not willing for the child to undertake this remedial work and are more concerned with costs. When a child is building on a faulty foundation, that child is being set up for failure.