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October 21 - November 3, 2012

Educators from Nigeria visit schools as part of archdiocesan partnership

Father Fidelis Ikbe sings and dances for students of the Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center, as, from left, Father Moses Ugwu, Innocent Ugwoke, Sister Mary Brendan Ezigbo and Father Gilbert Ezeugwu look on Sept. 24. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Teacher Michele Leider watches as a student in her 3 to 6-year-old Montessori class plays an African instrument on Sept. 24. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Father Fidelis Ikbe sings and dances for students of the Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center, as, from left, Father Moses Ugwu, Innocent Ugwoke, Sister Mary Brendan Ezigbo and Father Gilbert Ezeugwu look on Sept. 24. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

By Joyce Duriga


A group of educators from the Diocese of Nsukka, Nigeria, came to Chicago late last month for a two week visit and left encouraged and with lots of ideas on how to strengthen their school system.

The eight people are part of a partnership between the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Catholic Schools and the Diocese of Nsukka and visited the city Sept. 14-29 to participate in a long-range planning session with Loyola University and to visit Catholic schools here and see firsthand how the system works.

The archdiocese formed an educational partnership with the Diocese of Nsukka back in 2006 after Father Willy Odo, a priest of the Nsukka, reached out to the archdiocese for help with his diocese’s schools while he was living in Chicago and training in the archdiocesan tribunal.

The people in Nsukka do without many of the things Americans take for granted, like clean water and regular flow of electricity. Cases of malaria and typhoid are common and unemployment is rampant.

Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa with 170 million people. It also produces the most oil. But most of the proceeds from the oil companies are siphoned off by corrupt officials and little is put into infrastructure and into building a stronger country.

Since the partnership began, educators from Chicago have travelled to Nigeria to provide professional development for teachers and administrators. This is the first time a delegation from Nsukka came here.

“We have gotten a lot of experiences going through your schools seeing the innovations the teachers have come up with. It will help us when we go home,” said Father Fidelis Ikbe, the director of education in the Nsukka diocese.

During the first week, the delegation went through training with Michael Boyle of the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness at Loyola University. That experience helped the group hash out a new, more effective structure for their diocesan Catholic school administration that they proposed to their bishop upon their return. This plan includes putting someone in place full time to direct the school system.

A new structure will make a positive impact in Nsukka, said Esther Hicks, archdiocesan director of the partnership and director of Catholic identity and mission for the Office of Catholic Schools.

“They will move from a commission to a more stratified organization where there will be a superintendent and directors,” she said. “I think it’s a much clearer articulation of how they can do work together.

This is music to the ears of Sister Mary Brendan Ezigbo, a delegation member and principal of St. Mary Nursery and Primary Schools in Eha-Alumona.

“I see the little children under our care as the future of our people, the future of the town, city, the state, even the country,” she said. “It gave me a lot of encouragement that something positive will soon happen.”

During the second week of their visit, the delegation visited several archdiocesan Catholic schools to see firsthand how the system here works.

“I think for the first time they are able to see what we are talking about,” said Hicks. “You can show pictures, or describe programs or ways of teaching and learning that are successful, but unless you see it in action in a classroom it is awfully hard to really help them understand.”

The group saw how what they’ve been learning through the partnership can be helpful and they have a clearer direction to move in, Hicks said.

“Of course they see also the distance,” she said. “They are a long way from what our classrooms look like, on the one side. But on the other side there are things that they can do now that will gradually move into a more improved teaching and learning environment.”

The first school they visited was the Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center, the archdiocese’s only Montessori school. The principal, Sister Barbara Jean Ciszek, is involved with the partnership and began training Nsukka teachers in Montessori methods this summer. She will travel back in March for the second part of the training.

The group visited with the teachers and students, often singing and dancing with the latter. Ikbe said he learned much from what he saw in the schools, how the teachers teach and how the children learn.

“This system of education and the type of education the children acquire is excellent. And that is the system we are trying to imbibe in our own system,” he said.

Several members noted that the people of Nsukka do not have the resources that are here in America to move their school system forward rapidly.

“But we have begun,” Sister Mary Brendan said. “With whatever we have seen, we go back and give our reports and do the most we can, that what we have learned, what we have seen, what we have touched and felt, comes down to our people.”

For more information about this partnership, visit