Yetunde Ajibade is a lawyer, trainer, Montessori educationist and sales expert. She oversees the strategic direction of Ace Michaels Integrated Services Limited, which conducts capacity building programs and strategy sessions for HNI’s and corporate organizations. Unsatisfied with the state of education in the country, after her Master’s, Yetunde proceeded to the University of Nottingham in the UK to study early childhood education and upon her return, has organized several workshops to promote the benefits of quality education at all levels before finally deciding to set up her own Montessori-run school. As a professional trainer, coach and lecturer for the Center for Law and Business and Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM), Yetunde has helped many professionals confidently and comfortably navigate business situations for career advancement and success. Yetunde co-founded GETWORK Nigeria, an initiative hinged on improving the current quality of entry level workforce in Nigeria through training and development, mentoring and recruitment to place suitable candidates in the jobs of their dreams. A passionate advocate for women empowerment, she organizes sustainability projects and has traveled round the country organizing skill acquisition projects for vulnerable women. In this interview, she talks about how empowering women came naturally to her, dumping law for education, why Montessori education is better for children and why not everyone needs to start a school amongst other issues.
Give us a peep into your background?
I read law in the university of Lagos and proceeded to the Nigerian Law School in Lagos before moving to the U.K to pursue a Master’s degree in marketing and innovation. This was exciting for me because I quickly learnt that any business that is not innovative would die. Around this period, the standard of education was something I was passionate about and determined to improve so I went on to study early years education at the University of Nottingham. I intend to go all the way and get a PhD in it. I will continue to learn to the day I die.
You’re a woman of many parts, lawyer, educationist, Montessori directness and so on, how do you make everything function seamlessly?
I think it’s the excitement of waking up every morning knowing I’m doing what I love to do. I’ve always been restless and a talkative right from when I was young and people told me I would become a lawyer. Getting things done gives me life and being idle is as good as being dead. I have 3 P’s by which I live my life by, people, purpose and profit. I’ve always been a people person but I’ll say this really started in 2009. I was just sitting and thinking to myself that I wanted to make impact in life. So I called my friends together and started a group called, “senoritas, so what?” and later, “young women for positive change.” I just wanted to get women together to help one another and give back to the society. So we put our money together and visited less privileged homes.
This made us realise that there are so many people that need our help and just need little to put a smile on their faces. This was where women empowerment started for me even though I didn’t know what it was at the time. In my experience then, I realised a lot of women were suffering and helpless so I put together a women empowerment program and I was called up for funding. I’ve been lucky to work with many multinationals across the country, hosting and executing women empowerment programs and giving them hope. We get these organisations to camp the women for a week and they’re mentored, given skills and so on. We want them to leave with various skills at the end of the day including life, social and hand skills. This was really how women empowerment started for me and I can tell you I have seen all sorts of situations that almost broke me. From here, I moved to management consultancy, how to manage a business and its people.
At what point did you decide to transition from law to education?
It’s not like I didn’t enjoy being a lawyer, I just wanted more. For everything you have, the best thing you can do is to give back to someone else. I realised during my sessions with people that most of their problems were foundational and the only way to deal with it was to tackle it from the foundation. So I started researching and my research led me to early years formation and trying to get the best method for starting a child right. I finally settled on the Montessori method. Dr Maria Montessori dedicated her entire life to understanding children, observing them and creating materials to allow them flourish and I settled for it and decided to open my own academy. I went back to school to get a degree in Montessori education.
I didn’t want anyone to tell me this was how I was going to solve the problem, I saw the problem and decided to tackle it. When I was looking for a school for my daughter, I picked it because of what the owner was trying to do with education; the school wasn’t even popular then. Montessori is particular about the environment where a child grows and develops. From birth to six years is very important in the life of any child and whatever you do during those years sets the course for how the child’s life would most likely progress. Children have their different abilities and learn at different capacities, this is why I don’t really fancy the regular standard of education. We nurture the natural gifts of each child, support and guide them to try new activities, discover new things and solve problems themselves with provided materials.
Children learn through solving problems and this is what Montessori method helps do. We offer freedom with some limits and the reward of the child is in the process of achieving their work. If you begin to reward children for doing their work, they begin to expect rewards every time and what happens the day you don’t have any reward to give them? There’s no punishment with this method because the orderly system encourages discipline. What does beating, inflicting pain on a child really do at the end of the day? The foundation, early years of our children is very important, once they’re raised right, they’ll transition into responsible adults. This method teaches children to be independent very early, physically, financially and so on. We aim to develop life-long learners and that’s why I’m so passionate about it.
Why are you making a case for the Montessori system of education as preferable for early childhood education?
There are so many other alternative methods. The Montessori system is just one method, different from the traditional method we have used for years in this part of the world where the teacher sets the course for the day and so on. I did my research and looked at so many scholars but Maria Montessori stood out for me. She designed all the materials with precision and with particular attention to children. Because she was a doctor, she took her time to find the best way children could learn. People usually claim that the method is for kids with disabilities because she started out with kids that were ‘different’ but now, people have realised this method works 10 times better, even in kids with no disability. We’ve had testimonies from different parents whose kids are undergoing Montessori teaching. It embraces a hands-on method in teaching, there’s respect for the child and this was one of the major attractions for me because if you expect respect from a child, you should also respect the said child. We have kids of different ages in the same class and the younger kids look up to the older ones whilst the older ones nurture the younger ones. It gives them a sense of responsibility from a young age as the fastest way for kids to learn is from themselves. We don’t do exams, the reward is in the work and the children are doing well.
Is there a particular number of children that can be taught at once?
It should be a maximum of 15 to16 children per class, not more than that. Because the children in each class are of different ages, you see that they mature quicker because they have children of a year, two years looking up to them for comfort and direction.
There are so many private schools springing up around the country daily, is this having a positive impact on the level of education?
I strongly believe education is life and we cannot have too many schools. What I would advocate is collaboration where we’re not individually focused on our own needs and successes but thinking of the greater good by collaborating more. Everyone doesn’t have to own a school; we should be able to partner with an existing school to start something. I’m not saying you shouldn’t start your own school but we should think of collaboration first. When I first started, everyone kept asking me what’s my plan for growth and expansion but I kept telling them my growth and success was in my children. If we had more educators thinking like this, there would be more impact in the sector. Money is important no doubt but you need to enjoy educating young minds. If I could do this for free, I would.
Recently, a serving governor put his child in a public school, what do you think of this?
I think it’s brilliant. I’m sure they’ll do right by his child and every child in that class/school would benefit. If we had more or all public servants doing this, imagine what public schools would look like. In developed countries, children attend public schools, which are of good standards, and people only choose private school as a matter of choice. Parents don’t need to struggle to raise huge sums of money trying to educate their kids as is done here because they know if they’re not educated privately, they wouldn’t get what they want. If more governors do this, there would be huge reforms in the sector.
You’re widely educated home and abroad; in your opinion, do you think classroom education alone is sufficient in today’s world?
Education shouldn’t just be restricted to the four walls of a classroom and that’s why we’re having problems with today’s graduates. We’re churning out graduates that if they don’t get employment, they don’t know what to do. Entrepreneurship should be embedded in our curriculums, students should have the mindset of creating employment, solve problems instead of waiting to be employed. Even if you’re going to be an employee, you’ll have an employer mindset. Skill acquisition has to be embedded in classroom training; children have to learn other skills in school apart from regular academic work.You’re heavily involved in women empowerment programs.
How does education better the lots of women using you as example?
I’m aware, which is what education does. I’m very much aware of Nigerian women’s sufferings and it’s only when you’re aware that you can provide solutions. I always tell women, you don’t have to become a victim of your circumstance or environment; let it propel you to greatness instead. Don’t wait for anyone to come and hold your hand and tell you what to do. Go out there and find your way. The universe rewards hard work, passion, excellence and commitment. This is part of the importance of education. It saddens me that in some rural areas, you have to plead with some father’s to educate their female children and I’m glad more and more women are taking this up.
What’s your advice for young women looking to take their place in the world?
Be available, learn to be of service. We all want to be Queens but who will serve? I see some young people saying they cannot take this job or that employment because they feel the money is too small. When you’re young is when you need to put in the work. If you’re blessed enough to get an organisation to mentor or train you in your process of becoming, take it because it would be invaluable. Stoop to serve and the universe would reward you. When you put in work, the time to enjoy would come. Don’t expect to make money before you serve, understand that you need to do the work before you can become a person of value. In Nigeria, we have a lot of people that were PA’s to their bosses and have become big names in their own right today, so my advice to you is be of service always.
Any last words for women reading this?
Women should learn to support other women. I don’t see challenges because we decide what challenges we accept. As women, we should lift each other more, help each other more, encourage each other more and champion each other more. Find a woman, young girl you can support and do it passionately. All my experiences good and bad have shaped me into becoming who I am today. Every time I meet with my staff, mostly women, I try to motivate them. Encourage someone else, be the reason why someone wakes up and is happy.