Imagine growing up in a rural farming village in Nigeria, where money and materials are so scarce that you can’t afford a school uniform, or a real football to play with. This was Monday Gala’s life.
Now, imagine being a successful principal at a secondary school on the other side of the world, in Toronto, Canada, helping to shape the fortunes of future generations. This is Monday Gala’s life today.
In 2012, Monday was appointed Principal of C.W. Jeffreys secondary school, which he had joined in 2000, teaching physics and maths. After taking over as Principal, he made sweeping changes to the school to ensure that every student receives the best education and opportunities possible. He noticed that students from historically-marginalised backgrounds were being penned into one particular pathway – applied, rather than academic, courses – which resulted in these students achieving significantly lower grades than others. Consequently, Monday cut the entire programme, making his school the first in Toronto do so. This decision proved so successful that the Toronto District School Board opted to do away with applied courses in all schools.
Since then, Monday has noticed dramatic improvements at his school, in not only his students’ grades, but also the number of university applications each year, and his students’ self-confidence. This, he says, is something that he will look back on as one of his proudest moments. He was named one of Canada’s Outstanding Principals in 2017 by the Learning Partnership, an organisation that champions public education in Canada, in recognition of his leadership and innovation, and received the Toronto District School Board Excellence Award for outstanding achievement in 2016.
The incredibly proud secondary school principal attributes his career successes to his own education, much of which he owes to his Commonwealth Scholarship. Between 1990-1995, Monday studied at the University of Western Ontario, now known as Western University, where he achieved his PhD. He was able to do so through a Commonwealth Scholarship, which provided him and his family with the opportunity to relocate to Ontario. According to Monday, through the scholarship programme and in partnership with the local community, he, his family and other scholarship recipients were made to feel at home and welcome in a country that was so far removed from what they had known in Nigeria.
Monday’s Commonwealth Scholarship came at a time in which Nigeria was under military rule following a coup. His new life in Canada gave him the confidence and personal security to become more politically active, and to help tackle the social injustice happening back in Nigeria at the time. Along with other scholarship recipients, he helped to challenge the military dictatorship, with their advocacy in Canada playing a role in seeing the military regime in Nigeria suspended from the Commonwealth.
In my career and my political activism, I have been led by the principle of 'do things that are greater than you'. My Commonwealth Scholarship has allowed me to live by this principle, and to share this outlook on life, not just with my children as a father, but also with my students as an educator.