Written by Gbenga Quadri
Nigeria with it diverse cultures and tribes has been referred to as “the giant of Africa”. A cliché that has been drummed into my subconscious from my formative years till now. The Nigerian educational system, handed over to us by the British, used to be a standard other African countries aspired to and emulated in the early 60’s well into the late 80’s. An era when children were comfortable in their learning environments and mostly happy to be there, same with their parents, who largely encouraged their children to immerse themselves in the wells of knowledge abundantly available. The LEARNigeria project has provided me a platform to holistically experience the fast eroding educational system our country prides itself on
From the West (Lagos), to the North West (Kano), to the North east (Taraba), the factors affecting our educational system progressively worsens. General neglect and abuse of children has significantly hindered their literacy and numeracy skills. For instance in Lagos state, you would find most of the pupils outside the classroom during school hours running errands or roaming the environs as their teachers are either too busy with their personal business or they did not even bother showing up at school. The few ones in the classroom show lack of enthusiasm, while the teachers are not motivated to impact knowledge to these children, hence jeopardizing the foundation upon which the educational career of these children could have been built upon. The parents are also not innocent as I observed that an alarming number of children were at home during school hours engaged in various domestic/economic activities for their parent, who do not seem to mind the impending deficiency it poses to their children’s future. The children on the other hand, seem to have no choice since they have to eke out a living daily.
The great city of Kano was no different. In Abase local government area for instance, most of the people that have agreed to send their wards to school seem to be ignorant about how their children learn. The children resume school by 10am and close at 1pm after which another batch of children resumes after them and close by 4pm. How would one expect a child in his formative years to assimilate any significant amount of knowledge for just three hours, each school day? I was made to understand that these few hours of learning was necessitated by the population of the children and the insufficient facilities available for learning. This arrangement is largely embraced by the parents because it avails them more time to engage the children in their daily activities – majorly farming and trading. In the peak of the farming season the children rarely attend classes as they form the major labour force of their parents’ subsistence farming methods. The few zealous children that have been reluctantly allowed to attend school during these period hardly find teachers to attend to their thirst for knowledge. The teachers who ought to be custodians of education are preoccupied with farming activities, pushing the future of these innocent ones to the background. These children start to lose interest in education as they do not possess foundational literacy and numeracy skills that are required as they advance in education.
A case of 11 year old twin girls in Taraba comes to mind. I would refer to them as Aminat and Aisha. They were accessed by a team of volunteers in front of their house, where they help their mother roast and sell corn. After much persuasion they agreed to participate in the assessment. Aminat impressed us by her reading ability and numerical skills, she reached the highest level of our assessment but the twin sister could hardly read a complete sentence neither could she add numbers successfully. That peculiar case piqued my interest; I wanted to know more about them. Casually, I called their mother’s attention to our observation and she was equally surprised at the great difference in the smartness of her twin daughters. She initially refused to give us full details about her children but as I probed further she revealed that Aishat, the twin who did not do well, lived with her paternal grandmother few kilometres away from her residence – where we assessed both of them. Aishat lived with her grandmother to assist her with domestic chores and pepper cultivation, though she visits her mother during the weekends to help in the corn-roasting business. I could gather, from my conversation with Aishat that she rarely attends the public school she was enrolled in because she is often preoccupied with assisting her grandmother. Aminat on the other hand, resides with the biological parent where she is obviously well-catered for and enrolled in a private school. She only helps on weekends when she doesn’t go to school. She is also fortunate to have literate neighbours who assist her with school assignments and extra coaching. Her father sometimes put her through also, but her twin sister doesn’t enjoy these privileges where she lives almost as a domestic help. After assessing the situation, I advised the mother to bring her back home for the sake of the child’s future and provide alternative arrangements for the grandmother.
This situation, though peculiar in nature, is occurring in several households across the country. A lot of children are being abused and made to suffer unnecessarily at the expense of their education. In Taraba, the case of a 13 year old girl who is pregnant and already has a 14 months old baby come to mind. She could communicate majorly in Hausa and bits of English but she was presumably a smart girl, judging from the way she responded to our questions. We were able to gather that her education was cut short, four years ago when she was in primary 3, by her father who gave her out as a 4th wife to a much older man. She did not do well in the assessment but she showed a remarkable level of enthusiasm towards learning. She may have done well academically if she had not been abused at such a tender age and deprived of her most fundamental human right.
Some suggested solutions to the problems described above include: a back to school program for out-of-school children – a sustainable program that could be tailored to fit the lifestyles of children in these communities; and parents should be educated on the long and short term benefits of educating their children at least to junior secondary school level. Also, Proper monitoring boards should be established to evaluate and monitor the recruitment and performance of the teachers – trained and corps members – in these schools; these set of people are majorly instrumental to the academic development of these children. Additionally, a sustainable school feeding program should be setup to nourish the children and further encourage them to stay in school. At the community level, parent should be sensitized on the importance of guiding their children academically at home as these little efforts and attention by the parents improve the overall academic performance of the child.