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3.5.2024 |

Community Lead: Damilola Okonkwo

Introducing Damilola Okonkwo, HundrED Community Lead passionate about Africa, Future Skills, EdTech, Teacher PD, and Student Voice

What is your name?

Damilola Okonkwo

Where do you call home?

Lagos, Nigeria

How does education fit into your life?

I love the quote by philosopher and psychologist John Dewey: "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself". I’ve come to embrace this mantra in my adult life as I shifted away from education just being a means to get me to the “next level” of life and secure a “good job.” In essence, education is my life, and my life is an ongoing journey of learning. I genuinely believe that 21st-century education has the potential to transform Nigeria, and I founded a social enterprise dedicated to this mission. Our model school, KEY (Keep Educating Yourself) academy, is Africa's first 100% project-based school, and the first step in our long-term plan, helping us anchor our broader initiatives in edtech, nationwide teacher training, publishing, and policy reform. We aim to revolutionise the approach to education across all 36 states in Nigeria, equipping the next generation with the essential 21st century skills they will need to change the world.

What brought you to educational innovation?

In 2013, I moved to Lagos, Nigeria, after nearly a decade in the Finance industry in London, in the UK. Starting a family 3 years later prompted a career break, sparking reflections on my own education while thinking through aspirations for my children. I envisioned a path of life-long learning, pursuit of passions, exploration of talent, and raising socially conscious global citizens right here in Nigeria. This set me on a long journey of discovery into the world of transformative education. After years of research which exposed me to project-based approaches to learning spanning Finland, Indonesia, the US and more, I found no schools in Lagos offering a comparable approach. I immersed myself even further into this field, connecting with inspiring leaders in the transformative/alternative education space worldwide, which led me to co-found a preschool and after-school learning centre dedicated to nurturing 21st-century skills. 

The KEY academy team.jpg

Damilola with her team of educators at KEY academy

It was a hugely rewarding experience, but after a few years I realised that it still did not address the broader problem - which school in Lagos could these toddlers go onto to continue developing these 21st century skills? As a result of not being able to answer this question, I considered setting up an educational think-tank to drive educational policy reform in Nigeria, but as I fleshed out the idea, it became clear that making the impact I envisioned would take years, and I needed a model school for educators and policymakers to be able to see 21st-century project-based learning in action. I also realised that it was critical for me to understand the intricacies involved in the daily operations of running a world-class project-based school in Nigeria, if I was going to be an effective advocate for change.

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself

So, after countless debates and deliberation with family, friends, mentors (and myself!) I finally launched our model school, KEY academy, in April 2019. We expanded the school in 2022 to add a nursery, and in 2025 we will begin enrolling 9 to 11 year olds, ahead of opening our new secondary school campus in 2027, in order to educate children right up until the age of 18. Our model school has allowed us to build critical back-end processes and infrastructure, and we are already codifying all of this (alongside KEY academy's learning methodologies, curricula, and teacher training) into our edtech platform. This will serve as a scalable operating system which can be used in existing schools across Nigeria, transforming millions of lives.

What are your biggest inspirations in educational innovation?

My greatest inspiration is Nigeria and its boundless potential. I see the huge (and sometimes daunting) challenges we face as a nation, but also choose to see past them and look forward to a much brighter future. I feel led to play my part in the education space, contributing to the collective effort to uplift our country. Secondly, the hardworking, hopeful, and resilient young people of Nigeria inspire me - they are the future! I firmly believe in the enduring positive impact that a transformative education approach can have on their lives and those of the next generation. Lastly, I’m inspired by the pioneering educators and forward-thinking schools worldwide in the transformative education space.

What challenges do you see facing the educational system today?

The current global model of education was designed in the 1890s to address the challenges of the Industrial Revolution. Today, almost 1 50 years later, we have very different challenges in the form of new and emergent technology changing the way we all work and live. I think we need an educational approach which arms our children with the skills they will need to thrive in this new world! There appears to be a lot of inertia from educators and policy makers because “we have so much invested” but there needs to be a paradigm shift or schools and universities will become redundant. One thing that has remained consistent throughout history is that technology has continued to evolve, and it will continue to evolve, and there is very little anyone can do to stop that.

Children at KEY academy.jpg

KEY academy uses project-based learning to enrich children's lives

Our focus should be on how we leverage new technology to help enrich and improve education, as opposed to focusing on the downside. Our archaic global education system must adapt and evolve for it to remain relevant. An education system focused on memorising and standardised testing is not preparing our children for the complex, technology-driven world they will inherit. Educators and policy makers need to embrace technology and see it as an ally, not an enemy. It provides an opportunity for us to reach and educate people in a far more efficient way than has ever been possible in human history, especially here in Nigeria (and Africa more broadly), given our infrastructure challenges and current low base. Ironically, this low base presents an opportunity for us here in Nigeria - since we are not burdened with decades of investment and infrastructure, we can completely rethink and redefine our education system, arming children with 21st-century skills to help them tackle both local and global problems.

What are your hopes for the future of education?

My vision for the future of education, specifically in Nigeria, involves interconnected and collaborative schools and educators. It encompasses a move from rote learning and standardised testing to project-based learning that promotes 21st century skills. This shift aims to instil in children a passion for self-directed learning, empowering them to become socially conscious global citizens capable of making significant contributions to society.

To realise this future, our social enterprise is dedicated to a thorough reimagining of the entire educational landscape. This includes revamping curricula, teaching methods, and placing the child at the core of the learning process. Equally crucial is our committed investment in the professional development of educators, providing them with the necessary tools for success.

KEY academy utilises various methods to encourage critical thinking and decision making, including regular chess playing and competitions

Our far-reaching initiatives in edtech, nationwide teacher training, and publishing will undoubtedly offer opportunities to collaborate with policy makers in Nigeria, with the goal of reshaping the development, assessment, and delivery of primary and secondary education, impacting millions of lives for generations to come.

Why did you choose to become a Community Lead?

First and foremost, I’m excited about serving as an Ambassador for HundrED right here in Lagos! When you hear the term “education innovation”, many people don’t think of Nigeria. Yet, what we are doing at KEY academy deserves recognition and support. I also want to shine the spotlight on the incredible work that other educational institutions are doing here in Nigeria, so I’m keen to collaborate with stakeholders to champion education innovation across our country. I intend to be hands-on, and believe that being a Community Lead is a chance to learn from others in different fields, gain insights, and develop across a broad range of areas.

What are your goals as a Community Lead?

My main goal is to use this platform to connect with and galvanise like-minded people who are passionate about education innovation and leadership within Nigeria. I believe that the relationships we build here will not only create a supportive community and provide guidance but also open doors for potential partnerships and collaborative opportunities in the future.

I hope to work closely with other Community Leads across Africa on projects that address common challenges we face in Nigeria and on the continent more broadly in all areas of education - tackling these issues from many different angles will undoubtedly lead to fresh perspectives and creative solutions.

How can our members get involved?

Connect! Connect! Connect! Learn more about what we are doing at KEY academy on our website

or across our various social media channels. Feel free to also reach out to me directly :-)

- Website:

- Instagram:

- Facebook:

- X/Twitter:

- LinkedIn:


My personal LinkedIn:

Damilola Okonkwo