Victoria Folasola wanted to be a journalist and never quite realised she had a passion for teaching until life's challenges led her to her actual dream.
She recalled a reluctant decision which changed her life forever: “When I finished my secondary school in 1995, I was looking for admission into higher institution and because there was delay then, my brother in Ilesha said, ‘Come and try out this school.’”
That was how she enrolled in Osun State College of Education, Ilesa, where she studied French and English.
During her time at the college of education, Victoria realised that her inner passion wasn’t news reporting but knowledge impartation. “It was like I was redirected to the right path,” she enthused.
The Abeokuta, Ogun State-born educationist, who bagged a National Certificate of Education in French and English in 2001, taught in some private schools in Ilesa after graduation. In that period, she kept having a hunch to go further.
She recalled: “I proceeded to the University of Ilorin, Kwara State, where I studied Linguistics and Nigerian Languages and graduated in 2006. I decided to acquire more knowledge in the education sector, so I worked with quite a number of private schools, mainly in Ekiti State.”
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After three years of working as a teacher in private schools, she asked herself if she couldn't do more. She knew she was pushing herself too hard and fast,but running her own school at a young age became almost like an obsession.
Victoria took a bold step: “I relocated to Lagos. I was shuttling between Lagos and Abeokuta before I finally settled down in Abeokuta to establish the Leaders Maximum Academy, Lala, Abeokuta, in 2009,” she said.
She was well aware of the challenges involved in starting a school. But this was her “redirected dream” and she wasn’t ready to give up on it.
With the help of family and friends, and a little loan from her church, Victoria started her school. It was a classic case of starting small, as she had only three teachers and seven students, four of whom were her cousins.
Fast-forward to 2017: Leaders Academy now boasts of 25 staff (teachers and caregivers) tending over 100 pupils.
Asked what her initial challenges were, Victoria said: “The major difficulty I faced as an entrepreneur was trying to convince people to come on board. I couldn’t secure loans and couldn’t convince parents to enrol their children. Five years ago in a particular session I lost close to 50 pupils to schools around me, because parents’ were very demanding. In this sector, the attrition rate of pupils is higher than the rate of gaining them.”
Apart from the above, Victoria also faced the challenge of indiscriminate increase in rent and teachers who merely used her school as a springboard.
She explained how she took all the challenges in stride: “I joined the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) and it helped me a lot. I also joined a co-operative society and was doing thrift. The buildings you see here at our permanent site were put together gradually; the day of 100 blocks, 50 bags of cements and so on…”
“I want to be able to see successful people in life and say he/she was my student"
Growth at Victoria’s school has been phenomenal. Aside from the completed structures for her nursery and primary sections, there were other buildings under construction at the school premises. Victoria said they were meant for a secondary school.
“We plan to start a secondary school very soon,” she told us, “and we don’t want it to be like the way we started the primary school. We want the secondary school to have its own premises right from the beginning.”
Judging by her success in a relatively short period, there has to be a selling point – a unique value she is adding to education – that has remarkably turned her fortunes around.
Victoria smiled, “We teach life skills. We focus on agriculture, vocational studies and sports. We believe it is not all about academics. Trainings in these areas too can assist pupils to make it in life.”
What then does she want to be remembered for? “I want to be able to see successful people in life and say ‘he/she was my student’. I want to see children doing well. I want to see the level of moral decadence in our society reduce drastically through efforts I am significantly part of.”