(NOTE: This post was already published on August 22, 2013, on http://www.yarfulaniaturai.blogspot.com the blog has moved here. Though I have made some edits from the original text in the blog, the subject matter is still the same)
August 22, 2013
“The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living differs from the dead.” This claim was made by Aristotle, and I totally agree with him. To my simple explanation, the educated differ from the uneducated as much as light differs from the darkness.
Today’s gist is on education and lack of it in Nigeria. I choose this topic because in one way or the other, we all as children; as parents; as teachers; as members of the society; and as the government have a lot to do with it.
To me personally, education is what changed my status from ‘Yar Fulani “me Nono” to ‘Yar Fulani “a Turai” and I thank God for this!
Without education, I imagined myself each morning dressed in a typical colorful Fulani attire, milking cow. Not just that, I also imagined carrying a calabash full of the cow’s milk I extracted and parading from one village market to another in a bid to sell and make few returns. Maybe with shoes, maybe barefooted, who knows?
Sitting one evening in a corner of the sitting room, I watched my daughter from the far end of the room punching the keyboard of my small notebook computer. She was not four years then, but I sensed the difference. I can say the Montessori system of education she was enrolled in really made a lot of difference. She can read the alphabets, the numbers and even identify them. She’s one of the very few in Nigeria opportune to attend a good school where she can acquire quality education.
How many out of millions of Nigerian children had such a privilege? The simple answer is; very few out of the whole percentage.
According to UNICEF children under the age of 15 accounts for about 45 percent of the population of Nigeria. Out of this, only a few are all that lucky to get a quality education. And they are either children of the elites or those belonging to parents who can really work so hard to afford such a luxury.
I intentionally use the words “Privilege” and “Luxury” here, because education in Nigeria is now “only for those who can afford it”, contrary to the norm that “education is for all”. Education is a right which every child is entitled to have, but I don’t think it is so in Nigeria.
Many scholars argued that no Nation can prosper without quality education. People will not be able to distinguish good from bad if they are not educated, and the consequences will be hard for the Nation to bear. Nelson Mandela once said; “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Malcolm X added that Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.
I always salute the courage of our heroes past for their efforts in scouting for children and sending them to school despite resistance shown by the parents at that time. Today, most of those who benefited from the courageous effort of our heroes past or their direct descendants are now swimming in power or in wealth. No problem at all if people are all that successful and are in power or in wealth, but the unfortunate thing is that after gaining all the benefits, they tried to make it hard for others.
Those elites, dining in power and in wealth conspired to make education in Nigeria a luxury and a privilege. They swore to draw a wide margin between their children and the children of the poor. One such margin is in the education sector, and I will discuss it in categories.
1. Category one is the children of the elites who are studying abroad.
I will not waste much time on this category because we need not be mathematicians to do the math and come up with an idea of the huge amount spent there. How many public schools can be re-built in Nigeria with a child’s school fees abroad?
2. Category two is children of the elites who attend expensive private schools.
The other thing is that Nigerian Elites tarnished the image of our public schools by setting up private schools for their businesses and for their children to attend. They divert the budget allocated to public schools, to rebuild theirs and made it stand out. Not only that, they made the private schools expensive and unaffordable to the poor, leaving them at the mercy of a retarded four walls and a roof in a local area. They also employ the best teachers and pay them so well, that none will ever dream of teaching in any public school.
With all these, very few determined parents work day and night tirelessly in order to earn what to sponsor their children’s education in some of those less paid private schools. After laboring so hard to raise the school fees, the exorbitant charges that follow are unimaginable. Some of those charges, you may never know what’s meant for because its definition will never be found in any dictionary in the world. The determined parents still struggle with loans and debts to pay in order for the children to acquire quality education.
Even at that, the intimidation of the children of the elites is also frustrating. They go to school with all sorts of expensive things, tempting the children of the lower class. Princess, Barbie, Hannah Montana, Cinderella, Ben 10 and more; all these cartoon characters are now physically seen on school bags, wrist watches, shoes, lunch boxes and other things the rich kids go to school with. The determined parents that managed to send their children to that school will now be faced with more challenges of acquiring such, as they can’t bear the worries of their children.
Don’t even compare the summer holidays and other holidays spent abroad. Growing up as a child back then, we spent most of our holidays visiting relations in the village, so are those who cannot afford to send their kids abroad on vacation. When schools resume, the low-class children hide in shame for fear of laughter and hatred after revealing their village encounter; where visits to places like Disney Island and the likes are being discussed by the rich kids. From where do I start now? Directly or indirectly, this oppression and intimidation affect the psychology of both the child and the parent.
3. Now let’s talk about the bulk category; that’s the children whose faith remains in public schools.
The first thing you will notice apart from the broken door is the multiple entrances into a classroom. I mean all those broken windows that made easy entry and exit. The broken chairs and tables if any, which will make easy movement impossible, will be the next thing you will notice.
The untitled floor; filled with mud and sand resembles a local football field. The ceilings look so scary and need a re-work; because falling on top of a child wouldn’t be a hard thing to happen. The cobwebs and the dirt all made the classroom atmosphere unhygienic for the children.
No one talks to the pupils about cleanliness, as they come to school in dirty uniforms, nails uncut, hairs never made or barbed. Who knows when last they even had a bath, as no one question them.
The noise made by the pupils in their local dialect is a great nuisance as no teacher is available to shut them up. No one cares to record an absentee neither to enquire why the child is absent. The schools have turned from places where a child can acquire education and good morals, to places where a child learns all sorts of bad things from his or her peer group.
As for the teachers, unlike the private lucky ones who are well paid, the dream of those public teachers remain to either find a similar job in the private school or elsewhere. With this frustration, they divert half of their time and attention looking for alternatives. With their salaries delayed, or never increased when due, some of them resort to buying and selling among themselves; to make ends meet, neglecting their duty as teachers.
To some, they see it as a waste of time teaching a bunch of children that will not grasp a word, so they choose to sit in the staff room chatting and gossiping.
Not that I am blaming any of those teachers, I am blaming the system that pushed them into doing such. Like the poor children, the public school teachers are also being subjected to second-class citizen’s treatment, no motivation, no appreciation, no encouragement and above all no one cares if they are in school or not. Don’t even go near a training opportunity to build-up their capacity.
4. The last category of children whose faith is endangered by the greed and selfishness of the elites are those that do not go to school at all.
Some parents have already given up, so they think the children will be better utilized at home than wasting time in schools where they learn next to nothing. So these parents do not in the first place attempt sending their children to go to school because they share the similar faith of “not having the opportunity to go to school”. With these categories of people in a society, how do you think things will ever be alright?
The greediness and selfishness of the elite are responsible for the ingratitude of the masses in Nigeria and what I foresee as a long-term solution is that good quality education must not be a luxury or a privilege to a Nigerian child; rather a necessity that must be accessible and free to all. Walter Cronkite said; “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant Nation.”