…An exclusive interview with Mr Itodo Anthony and Mr Ayodele Odeogbola, two Nigerian finalists for the Varkey’s Global Teachers Prize

As part of African Leadership Magazine’s efforts towards showcasing Africa’s best the a the global stage, our team cough up with Mr. Itodo Anthony and   Mr. Ayodele Odeogbola, two Nigerian finalists for the Varkey’s Global Teachers Prize, to discuss their selection for the prestigious prize and the prospects for the education sector in Nigeria and Africa at large. The two-part interview talks about the prize, education in Nigeria, STEM, amongst other issues. Excerpts:  

Mr Ayodele Odeogbola, a nominee from Ogun State, Nigeria, is a 2018 Finalist, Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, a Commonwealth scholar, and a Fellow and Reader of the Young African Leaders Initiative. In this interview with the African Leadership Magazine, he narrated his race to highly coveted Global Teachers’ Prize.

Congratulations on making the final list of the Varkey’s Global Teacher Prize. How did you get shortlisted, Is this your first trial?

Thank you. This is definitely not my first time of applying. Precisely, the third time. Applications are received from thousands of educators across the world with the specific rubric on international standards. These applications are then reviewed by the Academy of Judges with reputable integrity all over the world for further stages

Your selection is coming at a time that there has been a lot of conversation around teachers training and quality of education in Nigeria, looking at the recent competency test carried out by the Kaduna State government for teachers in public school. What was the standout activity that brought your work to the fore and how have you managed to stand out?

What you called the standout activity is not a singular activity but a cumulative one.

I think the mystery behind innovations that I bring into the classroom really played out in the consideration this year. You would agree with me that every kid is born with different needs so teaching has to be tilted to meet every learner’s need aside from tailored learning outcomes on paper. One of the main reasons for the decline in learners interest and apathy for learning in our public and private schools today is that there is always a conflict of interest between what a teacher intends to teach and what learners want to learn. So the learners need to be involved in learning outcomes if effective teaching is to be achieved in the 21st century. I have at many presentations, meetings and panel discussions on education and pedagogy made a stance that no teacher can ever deploy the 19th-century solution to solve the 21st-century challenge and expect achievable learning outcome.

There are times I go extra miles to ensure these students achieve expected and extended learning outcomes. Every learning is considered as an investment in this regard because it would be documented and communicated to the world and when offer on innovative teaching pedagogies comes, we consider any of these to showcase

Another key important aspect I think that played out is the involvement of industry experts in teaching and learning process which is the power of collaboration. The time has come for educational planners in Nigeria and Africa to infuse this into the curriculum and specifically state this as one of the innovative methodologies and conditions for instruction. Educators’ role is shifting from teaching to facilitating and Schools/teachers should leverage the resources within their communities to stimulate the learning process. A lawmaker who spends most of his time on legislative duties would share real-life applications and experiences on Bills and Constitutional amendment (with living stories) as compared with a teacher who just read a textbook overnight. Collaboration as an important element of 21st Century education is vigorously embedded in teaching and learning process in the United States and other developed countries with the sound education system. Personalities like Special Adviser to the Vice President on Technology and experts from Microsoft Nigeria, other co-educators in other parts of the world had engaged my students at different times through Skype and in-person on applied contents in our curriculum.

Professional development with other existing international educators and technology platforms stood as strong leverage. My role as a Microsoft Educator Expert, Evaluation Lead for Educator Experts in Nigeria coupled with my selection as a Mandela Washington Fellow by President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative are strategic pointers to my selection in this year’s edition of Global Teacher Prize

The issue of Competency-based test for Kaduna Teachers is a very controversial one. It is globally accepted that no nation rise above the quality of its teachers and every country’s development is a reflection of educational standard and by extension, its custodians of knowledge. To measure the competency of a teacher requires a set of rubrics that addresses both the literacy level and pedagogical skills that required of such an educator. As for the literacy level, I cannot challenge the decision of any State Government but for the latter, I think all the stakeholders would have to come to a roundtable to address teaching pedagogies and skills that matter to 21st these century learners.As a follow-up to the development, Governor El-Rufai has made a position that those that are trainable would be retrained. By and large, the issue surrounding competency based test is purely an administrative one when it comes to educational management and could not be used as a test case to determine the quality of all Nigerian teachers going by the fact that a Nation where 20,000 teachers are to be sacked on the ground of incompetency is also producing teachers as country representatives for global recognition . That is the paradoxical view I would like to share


To a lot of Nigerians, it begs comprehension why you chose the secondary school despite your post-graduate program in the US and international exposure?

I come from a family of educationists. My father was a Lecturer in Accounting, my mother, a teacher (now a school administrator) in a primary school while my wife is also an educator of French Language. My journey to the world of education and by extension, the choice of teaching in secondary school were borne out of 4major conditions that are intertwined.

Taking the teaching profession despite other top paying jobs available at that time was premised on the vision to raise a new generation of the workforce and global citizens which is a reflection of Global Studies that you saw in my Bio with Varkey Foundation.Global Studies is an instruction that I carved out from the general curriculum towards encouraging my students on global awareness and to influence their perception as global citizens even though they are local students. This has led us featured in collaborative projects on global issues and also present these students (public school students for that matter) as delegates at global events that are youth-led across the world

On the other hand, I saw how youths in other parts of the world are defining their new world and the challenge was how can I make my students be global key players going by the fact that they are public school students most of those who come from disadvantaged social backgrounds? Based on the fact that I teach the Technology side of the STEM which is Computer Science/IT, I leverage on this to expose my students on concrete and lifelong learning as well as learning beyond the classroom.

The third decision was to challenge the public stereotypical perspective and existing narratives on teaching when considering lucrative offers from other sectors. Everyone knows that no student would want to consider teaching as a profession even at the primary education level in Nigeria and in so many parts of the world and I am really commending Varkey Foundation for this Global Teacher Prize initiative for sharing this vision of mine.

Finally, I am in the teaching profession to inspire others and restore the glory of teachers by exploring diverse strategies and synergies that could improve professional competencies to make them stand at par with other countries around the world going by my experiences at different international education events from 2012 down the line.

In specific terms, this nomination would not have been possible without strong reference to innovations and exploration of project based learning activities in classroom as a teacher, channel of opportunities I have created for my students on global citizenship through intercultural exchange programmesin many my participation as a Fellow of Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in 2016, my role as a mentor with US Department of State’s Pan Africa Youth Leadership Programme of FHI 360 as well as teacher professional development programmes and initiatives that have been supported by United States Government, Corporations such as Microsoft Nigeria and Google Computer Science Clubon professional competencies of teachers and STEM advocacy initiatives for teachers and students in Ogun State and Nigeria.

As an advocacy expert in innovation and a technology-driven education, what are the ways Nigerians can get it better in the area of STEM-based education?

This is a global issue and Nigeria is not an exception. Where now living in the world of Artificial intelligence where coding and robotics are now becoming the new literacy and language for learning. What I feel the stakeholders of education in Nigeria should consider at this point is the need to empower schools with required resources that would facilitate the project based learning experience for the learners. The world has shifted from didactic to constructivist teaching and learning process. Memorization of theories should be drastically reduced only for the sake of principles. All our school science and computer laboratories should be revamped as designated innovation hubs. Learners at all levels should be evaluated on the basis of project learning that is all-encompassing with 21st-century skills and specifically, 4Cs of Learning- Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity and Communication). The curriculum of these STEM associated subjects should be reviewed and tilted towards solving one real-world problem or the other and not just for passing examinations.

Finally, training and retraining of teachers should not be left out in the design of STEM framework in Nigerian schools. It is of note that these teachers of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are products of the didactic learning process and they need to be re-trained on the new paradigm of real-world problem-solving skills.

Is the STEM-based education capable of thriving in Nigeria?

Yes with strong commitment on the part of the government and support from local and international organizations


What is the central theme of the Classroom and Education without Borders (CEWB), Genderless Nigeria, and Teach Right Africa and Codeliners?

Thank you. All these aforementioned are initiatives I founded and co-founded respectively and are encapsulated in a coordinated framework (tagged under a social entrepreneurship entity called TedPrime Hub – www.tedprimehub ) to support the attainment of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on Education in Nigeria and Africa. I want to specifically state at this point that a friend of mine and a colleague has been instrumental to the success of all these initiatives with support from United States Government, Microsoft, Google/MIT Lab, Ogun State Ministry of Education, Science and Technology Lead Resources and other local and international partners.

Teach Right Africa is an attempt to develop professional competencies of teachers first in public schools (regardless of your subject of specialization) to explore the education paradigm, 21st Century Skills, Teaching with Technology and Professional Opportunities available to educators across the world as an African educator

The idea of The Codeliners was conceived as a strategy to raise the next generation of STEM Youth Mentors and to support STEM-based education in Nigeria and Africa through extra-curricular activities.

Genderless Nigeria is an advocacy platform that is addressing gender inequality in Nigeria and the platform is predominantly dominated by women and youths to underscore the impact of a gender-free world which Nigeria as a country should not be an exception.

Classroom and Education without Borders (which is still at incubator’s stage) is an inspiration from post Mandela Washington Fellowship experience at the Public Management Institute of Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, Centre for Public Leadership of Harvard University(and my work plan on return as a Scholar with Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, United Kindgom) which premised on strategies to leverage on technology to engage higher education teachers both locally and internationally as guest speakers to students, cross border collaboration and to improve access, quality and inclusive education (even in less disadvantaged zones such as IDP camps, remote areas e.t.c).


How well have you been able to integrate these into the Nigerian educational sphere, considering the gap in the quality of our education — particularly the public schools?

On Teach Right Africa, we established a robust synergy between Ogun State Teaching Service Commission as their employees, Microsoft Nigeria as strong members of Microsoft Educator Experts and United States Consulate (Lagos) to train 2000 teachers across 20 Local Governments in Ogun State. These participants are now acquainted with the new world of teaching and learning process while over 1,000 among them are certified Microsoft Innovative Educators. We currently have other Microsoft Educator Experts in other States that are moving this framework gradually

The Codeliners on the other hand is embodied with a detailed framework to transform all existing Computer Laboratories from mere word processing rooms to coding and robotics laboratories and hubs(with 200 public and private schools for the first phase) by first training selected teachers of STEM subjects in these schools and then returning back to their schools to establish coding clubs using Google and MIT Lab resources. These clubs have weekly activities and they are expected to feature in annual events with industry experts and tech-preneurs in attendance to explore models and designs that are real-world solution specifics from these young potentials and creators of technology from Ogun State public and private schools. We are currently implementing this project in Ogun State with the support from US Consulate Lagos, Google CS First, Ogun State Ministry of Education, Science and Technology Lead Resources and Computer Teachers Association of Nigeria.

The idea of Genderless Nigeria was conceived and was birthed during the teaching and learning of Inequality as a curriculum content using innovative approaches that are all 21st Century skills encompassing in 2015 in my school. Till date, we have now had not only Abeokuta Grammar School students but many subscribers of this page across Nigeria as they receive updates on Gender issues and opportunities available to women and gender.


Considering the flurry of complaints of underfunding by stakeholders in the government-owned institution, how best can the underprivileged, which are the major constituents of public schools cope out there?

For school leadership, collaboration would continue to play a dominant role. It is obvious that government cannot do all and most school administrators still need to work more on strategies of harnessing synergies that connect their schools and private organizations around their school communities through community service and corporate social responsibility. Enough of relying solely on subventions, allocations and running cost from Government. Teachers, on the other hand, should change their orientation on the need for personal and professional development. I have declared at different events as a speaker that most of us are growing but not developing in the profession. The complacency rate is sporadically high coupled with misguided priorities. Only a few of us have never at one time waiting for our employers (though it remains their obligation) to take responsibilities for our professional development even if it requires spending from our purses. The only two major consolations we hang on as teachers are the security on the job and static promotion as compared with our colleagues in higher institutions. You get promoted to the extent of your research, professional engagements. With Mobile and PC technology coupled with professional development platforms like Microsoft in Education, Google in Education, Intel Education, YALI Network, British Council on Education other educational sites could be leveraged upon to position you as a 21st-century educator.

Knowing full well that at this stage, you are pitted against 49 teachers who have done marvellously well, what is your competitive advantage?

Branding as a global educator and volunteering with other professional colleagues, diplomatic organizations and international corporations to elevate and promote teaching profession, youth development and qualitative education across Africa and the world generally might be considered as competitive elements.

But aside from these, every finalist at this stage is a potential winner going by the great work we do in our respective countries

Aside from the competitive side of this contest, are there lessons to draw from this contest, as regards improvement in your quality and skills as a teacher.

I see this as another opportunity as a Varkey Foundation Teacher Ambassador to be part of another community of global teachers community to sustain all the aforementioned initiatives and their ultimate goals as an educator.

How do you plan to spend the $1million price tag if you win (laughs) any project(s)?

This is critical to the selection of any potential winner of the $1Million prize. Like others would have their plans, this fund (if finally selected) is expected to be ploughed back to the teacher and youth-led initiatives – supporting STEM Education in Nigeria and in Africa by expanding the framework of The Codeliners through training of teachers as STEM Youth Mentors and scale up Coding Clubs across the continent. On the other hand, the framework of Teach Right Africa that develops professional competencies of educators would be scaled up simultaneously. Currently, we have about 5 colleagues as representatives in 5 African countries to support in the implementation of these projects.

We wish you the best, and are happy to tell you that Nigerians are proud of you Mr Ayodele Odeogbola?

I am so much delighted to have you today too.