Igali's dream growing thanks to SFU's help

Sep 04, 2003, vol. 28, no. 1
By Marianne Meadahl

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Daniel Igali and his friend Timi Wolo travel by boat to Igali's home village of Eniwari in Nigeria.

Daniel Igali's dream to build a school in his Nigerian homeland has prompted another vision. Moved by the SFU Olympian's perseverance, SFU international is developing a plan that would strengthen basic education in that country.

Nigeria is one of the poorest countries in the world. For the past two decades the education system has been deteriorating and many schools have been closed.

The SFU initiative is aimed at turning that around. The goal is to strengthen education management by empowering Nigeria to plan and deliver quality education through the use of information technologies.

The initiative follows a late spring visit to communities in the Niger Delta, located in Bayelsa state, by SFU international executive director Nello Angerilli and former Canadian high commissioner John Bell, who were accompanied by Igali. Born in Nigeria, the SFU graduate student helped to facilitate meetings with university, government and industry officials.

Financial help for the trip came from SFU chancellor Milton Wong, an enthusiastic supporter of Igali's school project. Bell covered his own expenses.

The initiative also supports Igali's plans to build a school in his home village of Eniwari by addressing teacher training and technology needs.

SFU would play a major role in the effort by providing the expertise of its faculty of education, working together with the new Niger Delta University and local communities, in the development of pre-training and in-service training programs at the primary level.

Collaborators would work with several community schools and the creation of a centre of excellence housed at the Nigerian university is among plans being considered.

“We hope to work with Nigerian teachers in such areas as curriculum development and other instructional activities to learn how they would like to see things change and how we can help them develop programs, based on their priorities,” says Ian Andrews, director of international teacher education at SFU. “The goal of such a collaborative effort is to produce sustainable solutions and develop support systems and operations with long term implications.”

Andrews says collaborators would determine how various technologies and resources could be applied given Nigeria's educational and economic realities. “We see Daniel (Igali) as being a valuable facilitator of these discussions, as he knows first hand what those realities are and can work to bring us together,” he adds.

Burnaby-based Advanced Interactive, a high-technology company, has agreed to assist with setting up remote and wireless technologies that would support the endeavour. Shell Oil in Nigeria has offered funding support for furniture and textbooks while Canadian University Service Overseas may provide new teacher placements. The organization is also managing Igali's school project.

The proposal will be presented to the Canadian International Development Agency for consideration for its support. The agency aims to help developing countries to ensure free quality primary education for all children by 2015.

Angerilli has travelled to many developing regions and was disturbed by the level of poverty in Nigeria, noting the lack of water and reliable power in many villages surrounded by major oil fields.

He says getting around would have been impossible without Igali, as there were often no phones, no taxis and sometimes no roads. The university is only accessible by boat.

He also saw the decrepit shacks that served as schools and why Igali's dream took root. “What is truly amazing,” he says, “is to see where he came from, and wonder how he ever got from the village to Burnaby Mountain. It's a testimony to the kind of person he is - strong, smart, and really focused.”

At the proposed school site, a cement base has been built. “It's a start, but consider that the cement has to be carried by village volunteers up from the river, and every brick has to be made at the site,” says Angerilli.
Igali's plans are for a 12-room school that could also serve as a community education centre.

“The school will be a huge benefit for the village,” says Angerilli. “But poverty is so widespread and the need to improve the education system so critical. That's where our emphasis will be.”

It is estimated that 60 per cent of eligible children are enrolled in primary school in Nigeria and nearly half drop out. Of those who make it to the sixth grade only 40 per cent are considered literate. The country is one of five identified by the World Bank with the largest number of children not in school.

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