I have been thinking lately about where I am now and where I was eleven years ago and it inspired me to write this piece.
While growing up, the nearest public school was quite a distance from home and I was going to be trekking there if the parents in my village had not realised the importance of getting an education and decided to build a primary school for us. Many of them who had had an education fought numerous odds to obtain it and so sometimes they would come to classroom when the visited home to teach us.
Most of the parents could not afford to pay regularly the school fee which was a thousand naira, some could not even buy exercise books or sew uniforms, we had a wide variety of students with diverse of these inabilities, some genuine and in some cases the parents just didn’t take the education of their wards seriously yet but whatever was the case we are learnt together.
There weren’t enough classrooms and some classes were taken under mango trees or thatched shades, the floors weren’t cemented but the advantage was we could scribble in them with our fingers, we would call on the teacher to check our work on the floor and if we were correct he would nod his head or otherwise correct us. There were no desks, we sat on logs of wood and those of us who had books place them on our laps while we wrote, it was not the most comfortable way of learning but it was here that some of us gain the initial momentum that has driven us this far in life. It was here I learnt how to read and write, it was here that I learnt the first few words in my English vocabulary.
Of course what was obtainable here wasn’t the best primary education but it was ideal to the basic principle of education, “a dedicated teacher and a student who desires to learn”. Our certificates showed the name of the public school our school was affiliated to but our education was mildly unique. The teachers didn’t get paid regularly but we all understood our difficulties because it was a community effort and sometimes the students would engage in manual labour to support the teachers or raise money for any need that arose, for example our graduation ceremonies. There were no fundraisers, the students raised their funds which was not exactly ideal but basically and most importantly we got as much education as was possible within our environment and its limitations.
I will forever be grateful to one particular teacher who taught me in class 3, at that time we all thought he was wicked but for me, think his wickedness has made a lot of good out of me. He gave us assignments to learn to read and write some words and texts from this book that he had and the next day he would make sure we all recited it all wrote down the words, what happened if we failed to do it was what made us think he was wicked. His mastery of the cane was spectacular and often left an impression on our mind, a lingering memory of what we had done wrong and it wasn’t an expression we looked forward to any sooner.
When I see the beautiful classrooms that our government built under the ETF/UBE schemes, I can’t help but notice the hypocrisy or rather glaring ignorance or should I say negligence of our government. How can we assume that building classrooms and declaring free education will boost our education when the teachers are not regularly paid? Most of our teachers today would rather be anything else, but they resolve to teaching because it is the one of the many ways we can pretend to be offering services to government and get paid, they lack passion and dedication but most would do their job if their salaries which remain their singular motivation were being paid.
It is interesting that the present government plans to train unemployed youths but they must not forget to help those prospective teachers understand that for every task to be carried out successfully, a certain level of dedication and commitment is necessary. They must be helped to understand and accept their new vocation with as much passion as they can surmount.
Education is simply the teacher and the student, they may be standing under the sun and decide to find shade under a tree or build a classroom, they might have been scribbling in the dust and decide to get a pen and paper for convenience, the student may offer a little service to the teacher in appreciation or some money for his time but ultimately it is the teacher dedicated to teaching and his student eager to learn that led us to think of schools or classes and all that is former education today. Take away these, neglect the teacher and he will neglect his student and we will continue to pretend that we our wards are getting an education while malpractice remains the last resolve. Then it will continue to reflect in our electoral processes, public service and everything else.
Well, you may be wondering so where I am, it’s no big deal really but for me it was a dream come true. Firstly, my parents realise I needed a better education so they took me to the city, I was in primary three in the village before then so my brother thought coming to the city I should go a step back to fit in but the headmistress refused because I was able to read the text that she gave me, she put me in primary four instead of two and I did well though at first I couldn’t even speak English but could read it. Now I am studying for a degree in Mathematics in Russia, I am grateful to my parents for understanding my needs all through my life and letting me study mathematics even though it seem like I couldn’t go for better because many people think if you are intelligent it is either medicine or engineering or some other high sounding profession.