Mrs Donna Wallace is the proprietress of Tender Years preparatory school and Oxford Manor college in the city of Abuja Nigeria. Tender years school is a Crèche, Nursery, and primary school while Oxford Manor College is a Cambridge international secondary school. All the schools have a strong academic background which includes extra-curricular programs.
The schools ensure the scholars are well prepared for the future of their choice.
Mrs Donna in this interview shared her start-up experience, stressing that the aim of the school is to produce well-balanced young adults whom are responsible for
themselves. The ultimate aim however is to build children who can contribute to the society.
I WAS A LAWYER AT FIRST, BUT I DISCOVERED MY CALLING WAS TEACHING.
I am of British Jamaican origin, my first calling was to be a lawyer, but I later decided my real calling was to become a teacher, I then went and studied education. My Husband who is a Nigerian decided to relocate back to Nigeria, when I arrived in Nigeria, I initially started looking for a principal’s job because I felt I could add something different to the educational system in Nigeria, but the teaching job did not materialize so I decided to focus on establishing a school with a difference because as we all know education is the only thing in life that can take you to the next level for example taking you away from poverty. Also I strongly believe Nigerians do not have to send our children to study abroad. Nigerians are one of the most intelligent race in the world, they do not need to pay millions of Naira or thousands of pounds, dollars e.t.c to get their children educated abroad.
I grew up in England where Education is good, however the moral clement was not provided. Children need to be in a triangle of great family support, strong faith through whatever religion your child is and morals. If you don’t provide this triangle, your child is more likely to fail.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO ME IS IF YOU DON’T START WHO WILL?
This statement applies to education in Nigeria, there was so many complaints about schools when I came to Nigeria that gave me the impetuous to open a school. I started with a dream no cash but I had imagination and a hardworking ethic. I did not have a penny to my name, I had everybody around me saying “DO NOT OPEN A SCHOOL IN NIGERIA” after all you don’t have any money”, but I had self-determination. I decided to sell my property in London and encourage Nigerians in the diaspora and Nigeria to invest in my dream. So in September 2005 Tender years Preparatory School was born. Everything was against me but I would not let anything stop me.
I was not used to the Terrain of Nigeria everybody around me was negative for example telling me” we do not like small schools in Nigeria” but I am a person who believes in small schools. I understand why they build big schools in Nigeria because of the population. However, I grew up in small schools in the UK and I have ran small schools and bigger schools and prefer the smaller schools as children tend to get more individualized learning.
I started with a rented building which was very small but very powerful, as I look around me today some scholars who started from this small building are now Doctors, lawyers, Engineers etc. all over the world!
MY FAMILY PUSHED ME TO ASPIRE TO BECOME A LAWYER
My family pushed me into becoming a lawyer, but one thing I want all parents to know, it’s important to encourage your children to study hard but also understand who they are and what they are interested in. Work with your child to achieve that goal. If your child follows their passion, they will be more successful in their Career. People often ask me what are the characteristics that you need to be successful not only in my field but any other. I always say, there is nothing that will stop an individual achieving your dream you need to go into your inner self and encourage yourself to succeed and surround yourself with positive people who will collectively come together to increase your drive to go for what you want. You have asked me what are the characteristics of leadership? You have to be tough prayerful and lastly sacrificial, you cannot achieve anything without sacrifice, I notice in London and Nigeria that a lot of Nigerians would always say that “it is not my father’s business” that notion is very wrong. In as much as you are working out there in any business take it as your own this will ensure that you give your best to the business that you are living and learning from.
The new generation does not seem to take the time to build and sacrifice, they want to run through life but life doesn’t work like that.
It has taken me and my team nearly 15 years to build our brand in the Educational business with a great board of directors chaired by Mr. Abdul Ismail and a strong team of teachers.
As an individual I’m very reserved and private it takes a lot me a lot to do interviews, but was encouraged by people around me to share my experiences, that may help others succeed in their chosen career. The common traits to succeed in anything as I have said earlier is sacrifice, hard work, believe in yourself and to never ever give up!!
A SCHOOL IS LIKE A MILITARY CAMP,YOU HAVE TO RUN IT WITH EXTREME DISCIPLINE
Discipline is the core to which everything flourishes, if you are not disciplined you will never achieve anything in life for example time keeping, working to finish assignments within a given time and not making excuses!
People who are disciplined do not make excuses, another thing a leader or an entrepreneur must know is that they must lead by example you have to be prepared to run the course with your workers. In other models of business around the world you can give a command and its usually done with immediate effect, but it does not work like that in Nigeria, you have to constantly support your team to carry out given tasks assigned to them. You must give your team a sense of ownership and respect, Work alongside with them and key them into your vision once you do that and remain prayerful, your business will succeed. You asked me earlier what challenges do I see In my business; and the answer is I really don’t see challenges only solutions, if you have in your head I have this challenge and that challenge it will kill your spirit and hinder your performance. Change your mindset to believe I have solutions to change my circumstances.
WE CALL OUR STUDENTS/PUPILS SCHOLARS
We call our students scholars to imbibe in to them the spirit of excellence in their studies, we encourage our scholars to study with the mindset that they will achieve with self-determination.
WE REINVEST OUR INCOME BACK INTO THE SYSTEM
Some people tend to make a little profit in their business and immediately spend it not on the business but for pleasure, in our case we reinvest our income back into the schools. We have sacrificed to ensure the children have the best teachers, resources and finally facilities to encourage our children and staff to live and work in a happy environment. Every one of our team members have invested in the school,this makes us family which translates to rearing successful results, thereby encouraging our children to want to learn as supposed to being pushed to learn.
Nigeria is one of the best places to bring up a child, you look surprised when I say that; look at all the positive things Nigeria has to offer on the whole, we have kingship, a great climate, children are encouraged to have a faith and finally the extended family provide a positive role model for children. I have found that some Nigerians may not see the positive aspects of raising a child in Nigeria. However, foreigners can see what indigenous people sometimes can’t. Nigerian children are more polite and have more respect for their elders than in many countries. I have traveled worldwide and Nigeria is one of the most creative countries in the world, you asked me what country I admire apart from Nigeria I said India, 10 Indians can live in a house and they will put their money together and buy a house for one person after another till the 10 of them own a house while they work to create a business for them all.
Life is all about imagination and humility, you must not have space for negativity in your spirit that hardwork and ambition will encourage your drive. Its okay to start small for example, my sisters catering business(Aris place in Wuse 2),started small but it was her passion which is to create healthy food. My mother has also started a furniture Company in Nigeria, it’s called Beevee interiors Abuja, you don’t have to leave Nigeria to achieve your dreams, you just have to train your mindset, your mindset is the most important thing, and if you have this you have everything!
THE WORD IMPOSSIBLE IS NOT IN MY DICTIONARY
Why do I say that?
Everything that has come my way is to teach me.
Every failure has a lesson; I see it as a learning experience to make sure I don’t repeat the same mistake. Funnily enough a lot of people fall into the same trap over and over again. A one time failure is your angel stopping you from total collapse in your business learn from that failure!
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE PROBLEMS IN THE NIGERIAN EDUCATION SYSTEM?
Exam malpractice kills a child’s future. All across the world, look at the recent scandal in the American system about rich celebrities trying to get their children into top schools not by merit but by money!
All schools need excellent grades to survive, Would you send your child to a failing school? I know you would say “NO” and quite rightly so! However, owners of schools need to look at why their scholars are not doing well, is it the school policies, the teachers working conditions, ETC, which by this rules applies to all business. Find what is causing the issues and fix it! Cheating by changing grades will set off the law of karma on yourself and those around you. You are killing a child’s destiny.
WHAT ROLE DOES THE GOVERNMENT PLAY IN EDUCATION
The government has to appoint people that have a strong passion for education and Nigeria. If you put someone in the education ministry and the passion is money,
it can’t work, such appointees will never go the extra mile. I used to ask myself and say if you have a Nigeria father and mother who came from Nigerian soil would you not want to make your country great .
The fact is whoever runs the educational system in Nigeria need to love their country with a passion. That will allow Nigeria move ahead. Also let’s allow the private and the locals work hand in hand to ensure that all schools benefit.
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE A GOOD SCHOOL?
I always believe that when you walk into a school that your intuition takes place, “listen to that voice in your head” your friends can be gushing about the latest school, but the truth is no school including our own is prefect. You choose a school and work in partnership with the school, complain with respect and ensure you get feedback.
SO WHATS THE NEXT STEP FOR TYS AND OMC?
We Intend to concentrate on working in collaboration with local schools, we are always truthful our scholars, that life is never going to be easy and but we will help them develop the skills they need to survive in life. If i have the energy you will see OXFORD UNIVERSITY! But I shall now bow out with this quote.
We have two quotes for our schools, but basically they both say the same thing, which translates to –“Primus Inter Pares” which means “FIRST AMONG EQUALS”!
Oxford Manor college Abuja (Secondary school)
Address: No 9 Magaji Muazu Crescent katampe Extension.
Tel: +234 (0) 817 6067 809
Cambridge Preparatory school ( Creche, PRE-nursery, Nursery and Primary)
Address: No 4 Asheik Jarma street Jabi
Tel: +234 (0) 805 775 3448
Tender years Preparatory school (PRE-nursery, Nursery and Primary )
Address: 150 Aminu Kano Crescent Wuse 2 Abuja
Tel: +234 (0) 805 7331 115 , +234 (0) 818 552 3642