Ekene Franklin Ezeunala, 15, has been in the news since the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) Registrar, Prof Is-haq Oloyede, named him as the best performer in the 2019 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) on May 11.
The SS3 pupil of Meiran Community Senior High School, Ojokoro, Lagos State, scored 347 in the result released 16 days to his 15th birthday. Last Friday, he was presented with a $40,000 presidential scholarship of the Academic City College, Ghana, to study Computer Engineering even though the result of the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) he just completed would not be released until August.
Ekene got the scholarship because the International Academy for the Gifted (IAG) has assessed him as a gifted child with intellectual abilities higher than his peers. The academy, a non-profit run by Professor of Algebra, Adewale Solarin, has scientific and personality tests used to assess and identify gifted children at primary and secondary school levels. It also coordinates international competitions – American Mathematics Competitions (AMC) and Kangourou Sans Frontieres (KSF) Mathematics Competitions – that rank such children in comparison with their peers in about 120 countries of the world.
Unsurprisingly, the second and third best performers in the UTME, Igban Emmanuel Chidiebube (who scored 346), and Oluwo Isaac Olamilekan (345), are also gifted children who have been assessed by the same Academy having taken the AMC and KSF. The trio has won countless mathematics, sciences and other trophies for their schools.
Igban, a pupil of the Ambassadors College in Ota, Ogun State has participated in the South African Mathematics Olympiad. He also made the Nigerian team to the International Chemistry Olympiad which will hold in Paris, France next month. He made six A* and two As in the University of Cambridge IGCSE in 2018 and made it to the competitive stage of the 2018 InterswitchSPAK competition with the second highest score; while he made the semifinal of the 2018 Cowbellpedia.
Olamilekan of Taidob College in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, has been an excellent pupil from JSS1, winning competitions. He participated in the national Olympiads; Cowbellpedia 2016 junior category.
Experts say children display giftedness through academic, artistic, creative, dramatic, humanities, leadership, mathematics, mechanical, musical, physical skills, scientific, language, and social and emotional talents.
Solarin said the tests run by IAG, which are different from conventional academic standards used by schools, can help identify these children early. He noted that it was possible for children to perform below a school’s academic average and yet rank high in giftedness after assessments. Solarin also said gifted children can be found everywhere regardless of their backgrounds.
Gifted education in Nigeria
Underscoring the importance of identifying and grooming gifted children early, Solarin, a former Director-General, National Mathematical Centre (NMC), said it would go a long way to promote the country’s development.
The Federal Government runs a secondary school for gifted children called the Federal Government Academy, Suleja. Director, Basic and Secondary Education, Federal Ministry of Education, Dr Lami Amodu, said all students admitted by the school established in 1986 are on scholarship.
“The Federal Government Academy (FGA) Suleja, is still a gifted school and the Federal Ministry of Education has a policy on running gifted schools as the children are on scholarship,” she wrote in a text message in response to the government’s policy on gifted education.
According to the information about the FGA online, candidates who are not more than 11 years old are selected strictly by merit based on their performance in a special entrance examination administered in centres across the country. It adds that they must be capable of completing the curriculum before the required time.
“The Gifted Education programme allows precocious students with outstanding intelligence capable of high academic performance, to fast -track the secondary education curriculum and complete programmes in less than the prescribed years with excellent result,” a website noted.
On his part, Solarin said the IAG’s gifted education programme is aimed at identifying and grooming highflyers who capable of excelling on the world stage. He said he started the Academy in 2007 following appeal by some of his former students to search for highflyers as they had a greater chance of winning international awards if discovered on time.
“When I paid a visit to some of my students in the U.S, they thanked me for my work with students at the tertiary level. But they said it was almost too late at that time to discover people who could win the Nobel. They urged me to start the search from the secondary school. After that, I started the academy,” he said.
Solarin said experts from IAG visit schools to run assessment tests that can identify those who are gifted and rank them in comparison with others. He added that the NGO also runs summer camp programmes for children so identified during which they are exposed to curriculum, games, puzzles that challenge and accelerate their learning. He said the IAG also grooms students for international competitions like the AMC, KSF, as well as the Olympiads, and partners with universities around the world to offer scholarships to these outstanding students.
Challenges of gifted education in Nigeria
An education expert, Mrs Dideolu Adekogbe, said the Federal Government’s gifted education programme (through the FGA) was not transparent enough. She said it should be operated such that schools know the selection process to get into the FGA, Suleja and what programme the Academy runs and what happens to products of the school afterwards.
Mrs Adekogbe, who is the Lead Consultant, Florish-Gate Consult, said: “There is need for more transparency, more exposure. What are the criteria for admission so that every school will know what it takes so if they have children who qualify for such academy, they can prepare them for admission? In other countries, such schools run compressed curriculum such that the children can complete the work for six years in three years. It may be in particular subjects they are good at. We need to know what programme they run.
“When these children are so brilliant and gifted, they finish school aged 14 or 15, what happens to the child? How is the child further enhanced and exposed? Are they left to spend two or three years writing JAMB and being denied admission because they are too young? Many of these children may not come from homes where they can afford to go abroad. So if they if they finish school early, what will happen so they do not hang around wasting time? If they have a special academy for such children, I think there should also be a special university where all those students are admitted. They should be camped out so they are not open to all distractions, bullies and they can concentrate on studying that special area where they have talent.”
On his part, Solarin idenfied poor funding and curriculum as impediments to gifted education.
Regarding curriculum, he said it was a challenge winning international competitions like the maths, physics, chemistry, biology, and informatics Olympiads based only on the the Nigerian secondary school curriculum. He explained that in some countries that compete in these Olympiads, what is regarded as part of secondary education includes Advanced Level curriculum as well as part of university education curriculum.
Solarin said: “The problem with our curriculum is that when you talk about secondary education, it in some countries terminates at advanced level. Now, that becomes a challenge for most of us that are trainers. For instance, if a child is going to win a medal in the Pan-African Maths Olympiad, that child will have covered the WAEC maths curriculum by JS2 – latest before the end of JS3. After that, we would now begin to look at advanced level. The Nigerian students that want to compete in PAMO representing Nigeria, six of them-three boys, three girls, they are going to compete with students from Morocco, South Africa, Francophone countries which we know their curriculum is just like France. In fact, their best student can just walk into PAMO, solve some problems and get medal. So when training Nigerian students who will compete with their best, that means the student must cover the regular curriculum early enough for you to now cover advanced level for you to be able to beat these countries.”
Though Nigerians have won medals in the PAMO, Solarin said only two Nigerians have won medals in the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO), and one in the International Physics Olympiad. Winning medals in the international Olympiads come with scholarships to world class universities. Top universities also recognise PAMO medalists as well.
Solarin said the winners were groomed for at least three years from JSS2 before they could deliver medals when they were in senior secondary school.
“Training to get a medal at the IMO is not something that happens overnight. This is something that lasts for three years. When you start from JSS2, JSS3, then they start winning medals in SS2. The first to win a medal in IMO SS2, Pius Onah, we started in JSS2. He finished his first degree from the University of Cambridge in two years. He won a prize. He is currently doing his MSc/PhD. The second to win a medal, Henry Aniobi, started training at his school in JSS1, then NMC started with him from JSS2. It was in SS1 he got a bronze medal. He also won in SS2, SS3, and before he got into the university. He won four medals in all. He is now studying at the University of Waterloo, Canada,” he said.
The boy that won a medal in Physics was Andrea Ayomide.
The second major challenge, funding, affects how many Nigerians can compete at the international level. After qualifying with the required score at the national Olympiads in Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Informatics conducted by the NMC, not many can get sponsorship to compete at the international level.
Chairman, Board of Governors at the Ambassadors College, Ota, which produced Igban (second best UTME candidate), said the 16 -year-old ought to go to France to represent Nigeria in the International Chemistry Olympiad in France next month. However, he backed off when the NMC asked the school to pay the registration fees for the examination as well as the ticket of its official who would accompany the team.
“Two-thirds of the students that made the International Chemistry Olympiad were from my school. The government is saying we should pay the registration fee of 3,000 Euros and the sponsor air ticket of two officials to go with them, not even our own staff,” he said.
In April, Mrs Ayoyinka Babatunde, Proprietor of the De Ayo International College, Alakia, Ibadan in Oyo State, sent an SOS to the public to raise funds for one of her bright pupils, Pelumi Akinsola, who qualified for the International Biology Olympiad holding in Hungary in July. (She said two others from her school also qualified for the Biology and Chemistry Olympiads). She said she was also told by NMC to provide N1.4 million that would cover registration fees (2,000 Euros), visa, insurance and air ticked for Pelumi and an official of the centre before June 15, which the school has been unable to raise.
“They wrote to us and told us to provide N1.4 million for Pelumi and one of their officials. I appealed to them to please allow us to concentrate on raising funds for Pelumi alone for now as we could not afford to pay for the official. The boy is an orphan and is in our school on scholarship. He is an exceptionally gifted child and we want to support him,” she said.
Mrs Babatunde said Pelumi is certain he would be the first to win a medal in Biology Olympiad for Nigeria.
But with the deadline for payment just days away, it is not known whether he would be able to represent the country.
“I love the Olympiad so much, and all I want is to break the medal drought. I am still hoping for a miracle before 15th,” Pelumi wrote to Mrs Babatunde, expressing his faith.
Reacting to the proprietors’ claims, Prof Solarin said the NMC had no funds to sponsor all pupils that qualified to all the Olympiads so it usually concentrated on the Mathematics Olympiad, in which Nigeria had won medals in the past. He said however, when schools mount pressure to attend, they are told they could attend if they can sponsor.
He said: “This is the problem that the government officials usually have with schools. This makes me feel bad. Participating in the international competition is not compulsory. The Centre cannot sponsor everyone. The students have to attend the competition with an official of the centre. When the schools mount pressure to attend and they are told there is no funding for it, they say they would sponsor. But later they turn around and say they were asked to pay.”
If gifted education was properly funded, Solarin said schools would not have to bear the cost of sponsoring students to these competitions. He said the situation was so because Gifted Education was not considered part of Special Education and so did not get enough funding.
He said: “The problem is that we are a nation that has not got its priorities right. If we get priorities right, education would be properly funded. When you talk about gifted education, it is part of special education. Funds for special education should be split into two for Gifted Education and Special education for those with special needs. They are two extremes of the normal curve. But even the so-called experts think that gifted education is not part of special education. Unfortunately, because somehow, the gifted manage to succeed, they are not given enough attention.” [THE NATION]