Folashade Adefisayo is an educationist and also the founder of Leading Learning Nigeria Ltd. She tells ADEMOLA OLONILUA about how she once resigned from an international finance agency because she found the job boring
What influenced you to study Zoology for your first degree at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State?
I actually studied arts subjects in secondary school and not science subjects. But I took preliminary examination and passed it. My set was the first that had their school certificate examination in June; before then, the exam was usually taken in December. I just followed my friends, cousins to sit the preliminary examination when I was in Form Five, in those days, and I was accepted. Although I was studying arts subjects as a student, I got admission into the Faculty of Science at the University of Ibadan. I did not know what to do so I had to look for easy subjects.
How were you able to cope in the department?
I was a very good student and everything I did was done very well. My school certificate result was very good and it showed that I could have done more subjects. I could have aimed for the science class initially but I think I was quite lazy. In my Chemistry and Biology examinations, I had A2. I just did not offer courses like Physics and Further Mathematics because I did not really like them. In those days, we did not have enough career counsellors and we did not do so many subjects like Economics and Business Administration so our choices were limited. I never knew what I wanted to become in school, I just offered the various subjects.
How would you describe your university days?
I must confess that I was very young when I gained admission into the university. I got into the university when I was 15 years old and I remember that I celebrated my 16th birthday at the university. I was quite young and nervous because I attended an all-girls secondary school. Gaining admission into the university was quite overwhelming but after a while, I settled down in school and was less serious. I think I got into school too young and I was not serious after a while. I offered Zoology not because I loved the course but because the university offered it to me.
But we learnt you were a university scholar…
Yes, I was. In my first two years, I was very focused and that was when I was a university scholar and I have a national award from the Federal Government for academic achievement. However, after a while, I just relaxed. Till date, I feel like I went into the university at a very young age and it was quite unplanned.
Wouldn’t you have been disappointed if your parents had delayed you from going to the university early?
I feel that I should have gone for my Advanced level examination first. If I had done that, I would have been 17 or 18 years old before gaining admission into the University of Ibadan. My classmates were all older than me when I was in school. When I was in the university, I had no career ambition or aspiration.
How would you describe your childhood?
I grew up in Lagos and Ibadan. I was not pampered by my parents but I grew up in a very happy home. We were five and I am the first. My father worked at the United Africa Company while my mother was a teacher. I grew up in Lagos as a child. I had a very happy childhood and all I did was to play and attend school. Since my mother was a teacher, I did not have extra coaching but my friends did and I was jealous of them. My father liked travelling and since his work required him to travel, he took us on trips within Nigeria. We visited places like Tarkwa Bay, so I had a happy and quiet upbringing. I was neither troublesome nor quiet.
I think I am lucky with my parents because they were not very strict. All they expected from us was to always be of good behaviour. I do not recollect a time when they were very harsh on us. My mother is a gentlewoman; she is gentle and peaceful like my father.
You said you grew up in Lagos and Ibadan, at what point did your family move to Ibadan?
I actually attended Corona School, Yaba and I remember that I used to walk to school from Surulere or my father would drop us off at WAEC bus-stop and we would walk to school with some friends. I took the common entrance examination when I was at Corona School and got admitted to Queens College, Ibadan. I was the only member of my family that was in Ibadan and it was a very trying time for me. I cried all the time because I was homesick. Ibadan was a very far place in those days, mostly because the road was not good. I was quite miserable. Suddenly, when I got to Form Two, the whole family moved to Ibadan. I do not know why. I am sure it was not because of me. Till date, my mother still resides in the house (we lived in Ibadan) even though we had moved since 1970.
At that point did you know what you wanted to become in life?
I knew that I did not want to be a zoologist. During my National Youth Service Corps programme, I taught in a school as most people do. Although I was young and the students thought I was exotic, I do not think I enjoyed the job. I served in Maiduguri, Borno State. After the programme, I got a job at the National Cereals Research Institute in Ibadan. I was a junior pupil research officer and that was when I knew the job was not for me because I’m someone who gets bored easily. I was not excited about the job, and there was not much to do there. I started to think about my next plan in life. At the time, I had made friends with some people who had started their MBA programme, so I decided to pursue one despite the fact that the institute offered us a Master’s degree abroad at their expense. Some people opted for the Caribbean while others went to the University of Ibadan but I knew that it was not my calling. After relating with most of my friends during the NYSC programme, I realised that I would prefer to work in a bank, so I applied for the MBA and was accepted to study it at the University of Lagos.
Is it true that you quit working with an international financial agency because you were bored and that it led you to the education sector?
Yes, but before then, I had worked as a banker and I liked the job. I made a mistake by working in a finance house which collapsed eventually. My whole career collapsed around me and it looked very bleak, eventually, I got a job in a Swedish company. The money was not much but I had the opportunity to travel a lot and I had a lot of training and exposure, but I could do all the work for a month in about four days. So eventually, it started to get boring. At the time, I was back in Lagos. My children went to Corona School as well and I think my last child was still in Corona when I saw the advert that there was a vacancy for an executive director in the school. It was tilted more towards administration and since I had worked in a bank for about 16 years, I felt I had the skills. I applied and was employed as an executive director. I later worked there for over eight years.
How did you come up with the initiative to found the Leading Learning Nigeria Limited?
I had worked in Corona and from there; I worked in the secondary school as a consultant. During the period, I became an educationist; I did a certification examination and subsequently a Master’s degree simply because I fell in love with the sector. I wanted to see how I could use my skills to contribute to the sector. My vision is to make an impact on education in Nigeria. I am very concerned about the bigger picture when it comes to the Nigerian education sector and this came about because I was the consultant of the Nigerian Economic Submit Group on education for some years. When I set up Leading Learning, it was to say that I would consult but also see how I could make an impact in the public education sector.
It is often said that a teacher’s reward is in heaven. Do you subscribe to this school of thought?
I know that my reward is in heaven and I am expecting it but I want a bit here on earth. I think I deserve some of it here.
During the course of your career, you had to work with teenagers. What are some of the challenges you faced?
I have worked for over 30 years and the best part of my career was when I lived inside the school because where the school is situated is very far from the town. That was the best job I have ever done. I do not worry about teenagers neither do I find them to be erratic. I believe that they are extremely interesting. I love working in secondary schools because of the kind of conversation I have with the children; I love their curiosity, wittiness and intelligence. I love that age. We are the ones that stifle them; if you do not stifle a teenager, you can learn anything from them, especially truthfulness because young people do not lie. If you give them a good environment, they would not lie. I think they are fantastic and I learnt from them. I keep saying it that the best time of my life is the four years I spent with the children.
After I left Corona, I worked in another school, Supreme Education. That school gave me a soft entry into Leading Learning on a permanent basis. At Supreme Education, I had to work with children all the way from crèche to secondary school. Initially, I was not a big fan of working with children in their early years but Supreme Education made me fall in love with little children. Now I am in love with the education sector.
Whenever you have to take a break what do you do to pamper yourself?
I read a lot and I like travelling. I am a fairly eclectic reader but I do not like fiction. I like books on history around certain periods. I like the Napoleonic wars and I am sure I have a lot of books on Napoleon and the wars around that time. I like reading about what led to wars because I do not understand why people would fight with each other like that; what led to the war and what happened after. I think it is so barbaric. I often say that I am an amateur historian. I also focus on the First World War, Second World War and the Cold War. I love history. I read books on war to know its impact on leadership and its aftermath on the country. I like to read about how a country can rise from such a catastrophe. It is not about the war but its aftermath that interest me. Since I consult, I look at things from that standpoint.
Where are some of your favourite vacation spots?
I have not been to some of my favourite places yet but I am widely travelled in Africa. A lot of people have been to Dubai just like me. I love travelling to the US and my dream trip is travelling across the US from coast to coast; that is, from the East Coast to the West Coast by road. I have done it by air but I want to do it by road or rail probably over a span of two weeks. Since I like history, I would want to know the history of most places that I visit. I would like to know the tribes that lived there before the Americans and where they are today.
But don’t you like watching the television?
No, not really.
Why do you not like watching the television?
What are they doing there? I do not find it interesting and the only time I watch the television is for the news and it is just for an hour. They do not show what interests me. On some occasions, I watch the history channel but they do not show what interests me. I prefer to read.
Do you like sports?
Not anymore, but I love athletics. I am a serious follower of the International Association of Athletics Federations, so I know all the top runners regardless of the distance.
Were you ever a sprinter?
Yes, I used to run back when I was at the Queen’s College, Ibadan and I represented my school on some occasions. I was a short distance runner. After I left the secondary school, I did not do active sports again but I love watching it. My dream is to go to the Olympic Games and watch the athletes. I would love to watch the athletics and maybe swimming even though I find the sports as a slow one.
What is your favourite food?
I am not a big fan of food but I think Amala is my favourite food.
Do you enjoy attending parties?
No, I do not because I do not like going out much. Whenever you attend parties you do not do much; you cannot converse because of the noise so you would be left with sitting down somewhere and eating all sorts of things. Relationship obligation is what makes me attend parties sometimes but I would rather not go. People who know me very well know that I can go for months without going to any party. However, on a Saturday, I could tell a family member to accompany me to have lunch or dinner at a restaurant. I would rather go somewhere nice for a lunch or dinner date than attend a party.