Mr Ungbo Gideon Wuyahku is Zaria Academy’s Principal. In this exclusive interview with The Intellectual, he chronicles the school’s transformation through the years, its success story and why it is always a secondary school of first choice. Excerpts
It’s been 18 years since Zaria Academy was established. How would you describe the journey so far?
The journey so far has been marked with many challenges but we thank God that everything had worked together to make the Academy grow stronger to a point of becoming a pillar to other schools in Northern Nigeria.
We started with 93 boys in 1998, in a single block of three classrooms. But through the years, the population has been on an increase; a feat that has led to some wild transformation of the Academy from an only-boys school to a co-educational school in 2009. The student population grew to about 1000 in one of the years. In terms of physical infrastructure, the Academy has expanded to 35 classes to accommodate 900 students. We now have special rooms and science classrooms, a standard library, kitchen, examination hall, multipurpose theatre and a modern hostel for girls to mention but a few.
One major concern that parents have when choosing a school for their wards is security. Luckily, Zaria Academy has not had any breach of its security, has this general fear of insecurity affected your admission figures?
The insecurity that has trailed the insurgency and the last presidential election has actually affected our admission figures, especially since 2011 negatively. The fear being nursed parents in taking their wards to boarding schools has grown in proportion as even many parents of northern origin are also withdrawing their wards, thus reducing the admission figures. But in the light of such reality, Zaria Academy has taken other proactive measures, with the help of God and the immediate community, to build assuring security network and services.
Parents are also usually concerned about the quality of teachers because of the notion that some private schools cut corners. How qualified are your teachers?
All our teachers are university graduates in their various fields of speciality, with over 90 percent of them having higher degrees and/or postgraduate professional teaching qualifications. And they are duly registered as professional teachers.
It is worthy to note that the recruitment process in Zaria Academy is quite unique. Applicants undergo written tests and must obtain a minimum score before they are invited for practical and oral interviews.
On getting the appointment, induction and mentoring programmes are mounted for the new entrants by their experienced colleagues that are already on the job. Also, after their probation, they are encouraged to pursue further studies in the nearby University on in-service terms.
The appropriate teaching of science is very important in secondary education. How are the science subjects taught in Zaria Academy?
Science is taught through the hands-on approach. Our qualified teachers ensure that the students learn science by the practical approach, using materials that are familiar to the environment through projects, class discussions, field trips and finally, the experimental method.
Our new, ultra- modern science laboratories are well stocked with teaching aids that enhance learning at ease. This guarantees that our teachers have all that is needed to ensure that the learners understand the concepts thoroughly to be able to generalize the ideas learned appropriately.
How well are your students performing in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and the Junior Secondary School Certificate Examination? What is the percentage of your graduates in tertiary institutions at the moment?
Over the years, the Zaria Academy has fared very well in the WASSCE in which the average global performance of students in all subjects has been on the increase but not less than 93 percent. In the UTME, our students’ performance has been excellent, with almost all candidates scoring far
above the minimum cut off mark required for admission into institutions of higher learning annually. On the average, 90 percent of our students normally gain admission into tertiary institutions every year.
I wish to say that the brilliant performance can be attributed to our collaboration with Zinox Computers, which in the past five years, has been helpful in making the Whizkid Computers available for us at affordable prices. And our students also willfully avail themselves of such opportunity.
Concerning our ex-students that graduated from 2004 to 2010, most of them have finished their first degrees and about 50 percent of them have completed their Master’s degree programmes in their various chosen careers.
What are the extra curricula activities put in place for Zaria Academy students? Have you been winning laurels at invitational or major sports competitions?
The motto of Zaria Academy is ‘learning without borders’. This implies that we are on a continuous quest to ensure that our students receive total and complete education. To achieve such dreams, we organise sporting activities to improve healthy competition, monthly cross-country trips, clubs and societies under the guidance of patrons/matrons. All these are regular priority activities in the school.
Other developmental plans include: cultural exhibitions, technological/ electronics, robotics programmes, Quranic Recitation (not compulsory for Christians students) and a mandatory Citizenship and Leadership Training Programme for all our students. The overall aim is to keep the students socially, mentally, physically and emotionally fit in the society.
These are a few of the extra-curricular activities we engage our students in: In the 2012/2013 edition of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program Competition in the USA, our student, Maryam Abdullahi Suleiman was part of the state winners who took part in the program for an academic year. Another candidate, Tafida Muhammad, was also among the state winners for the 2013/2014 edition of the competition.
In the Science Teachers Association of Nigeria (STAN) Model Design Competition in 2014 on the theme: “Model Design to control Desertification / Flood Control”, Zaria Academy won the ticket to the national level where we narrowly missed the bronze.
In quiz competitions, Zaria Academy won gold in the Haroun Adamu’s Cup, Emir’s Cup and the NOCACO’s Cup in the competition organised by Zaria Education Development Association (ZEDA), in 2014.
In the Nigeria Mathematics and Sciences Olympiads, eight Zaria Academy students qualified for the 2nd round in the 2014 edition. After the first round our students emerged as the state champions. We actually got gold, silver and bronze in Physics, Chemistry and Junior Science from the state level.
Two of our teachers Mal. Usman Garba and Mal. Kazeem Balogun also won the prestigious Murdock Thompson International Teachers’ Award for Innovative Teaching from an NGO based in the USA.
Managing a school full of adolescent boys and girls could be challenging. What are the specific challenges you and your teachers encounter with the students with regard to discipline and moral issues?
Coping with adolescents is not an easy task, knowing full well that this is the time they experience a lot of distractions, peer pressure and the likes, as such influence affects their academic progress.
The school has a zero tolerance for indiscipline. Therefore erring students are usually punished and handed over to the school Counselling Unit to be given good guidance and counselling as well as mentoring by qualified and competent staff of the Academy.
Equally, we appropriate the proximity advantage we enjoy with the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), by engaging their professional counsellors to give their expert services through talk shows and workshops with
parents and students.
Do you have facilities for children with special needs or disabilities?
We don’t have specialised facilities for children with special needs or disabilities per se. However, we operate a system that ensures proper and close monitoring of the students. For example, we ensure accommodation and modifications in our programmes to ensure that students with special
needs or disabilities are adequately catered for. Our Drills and Special Attention Programme (DSAP) is solely aimed at helping students with special needs to overcome learning challenges through personalised and closer contact interactions between teachers and the students with special
The Proprietor of Zaria Academy, Dr Haroun Adamu pioneered the introduction of UCMAS and Abacus education in Nigeria. What is the current rate of progress at the Academy?
UCMAS, the mental arithmetic and brain development programme which the proprietor of Zaria Academy holds the franchise in Nigeria, has enjoyed tremendous acceptance by both parents and students of the Academy. And well-trained staff dedicated solely to the programme, students’ participation and performance here in the Academy have been excellent.
In the same vein, a school in Akwa Ibom State and another in Kaduna town have also fully enrolled their students. I wish to stress that from its introduction, the fear of mathematics has diminished and/or flushed out in all the participating students. This is evident from the records of performances in Mathematics and other related subjects in our external examinations.
Staff training and motivation, in addition to favourable conditions of service, are quite important for attracting and retaining qualified teachers. How can we rate Zaria Academy in this regard?
Zaria Academy is rated high in terms of her goal-oriented staff training, motivation and favourable conditions of service. For examples, workshops and training programmes are sponsored as in-house events. The school also encourages teachers’ participation in such programmes within the country
as an important and integral package of our motivation for their overall development.
We equally partner with education consultants from institutions of higher learning, especially the Institute of Education, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) to train and re-train our work force. We also sponsor teachers to attend national and international workshops as the ultimate benefit will determine the level of excellence of our students.
Running a secondary school is a very expensive activity. Would you say Zaria Academy is very comfortable in terms of funding? Have you received some help from the Parent/Teacher Association? Is there a way you think the government can help private schools in this regard?
It has not been very easy for the private proprietorship to generate the financial needs, considering the economic situation in the country and services rendered to both students and staff. But the PTA has been very supportive financially in meeting the needs of the Academy, in terms of
infrastructural facilities and teacher development, and through the goodwill of the following partners: Deux Project limited, the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), Dr. Wale Adenuga as well as other individual members of the PTA.
How do you measure the effectiveness of your teaching staff on your students? Does the school organize a forum where students are allowed to state their concerns about the services being rendered to them?
The students have different fora where they air their views about the services rendered to them in the Academy. They are called: Year group forum, Hostel forum, and Weekly prefects meeting, Food Committee and the use of a Suggestion Box.
What would you describe as Zaria Academy’s most outstanding accomplishment to date?
The most outstanding achievement of Zaria Academy is the overall human development of our students. For example; Zaria Academy has produced disciplined citizens that are contributing in almost all developmental aspects of our national life. Through their discipline, commitment, and hard work, our students have distinguished themselves both nationally and internationally.
Finally sir, what are your achievements as Principal?
-High scores in external examinations.
– Higher qualifications for teachers, three PhDs and still counting.
-Improvement in general infrastructure and provision of basic social
– Establishment of a UTME Computer Based Test (CBT) centre.
– Establishment of stronger bond with the host communities.
– Youth empowerment through a vibrant skill acquisition programme, etc.