As much as I have waited and delayed to get this piece out of me, I feel elated that I am actually doing this. Over the course of this journey, I will be sharing my thoughts and opinions on stuffs and happenings around us, things that shaped my growing up and things that define the kind of person we grow up to be. I might wanna sound a note of warning to people expecting a big array of grammar or a rapid display of great eloquence and use of English that you might not get that here; because I am going to be down to earth on this one. It’s going to be raw and practical and I sincerely hope this will stir up something in whoever is reading this.
Growing up as I did, in the neighborhood where I grew up, in a house popularly referred to as ‘face me I slap you’ in the typical Nigerian language. In a street where kids roll tyres across the street immediately after school, playing wildly in the neighborhood. Some grown ups doing some rough and dirty play that their parents must and never know of until this day. Some of these older kids have grown to be different individuals today. I can say we have the good, the bad and the ugly.
Though I was not born with a silver spoon, I was opportuned to attend a private primary school which gave me a strong and much needed background as I would later proceed to a government secondary school. Private primary schools in those days were known to be effective in teaching young children the art of good and fluent English speaking compared to the public primary schools. I still don’t know why this should be. I’m still going to talk on this issue much more later.
The belief then was that private primary schools lay much emphasis on developing the total child and this has vastly improved. What we have in private primary schools these days is far greater and better than what we used to have back then. Sadly enough, this cannot be said of the government owned schools as an average public school student cannot stand shoulder to shoulder with his counterpart from a private school. The slim positive drawn from these public schools is that the pupils are somehow good in mathematics related subjects.
What I can’t seem to really understand is how they are able to comprehend and understand calculations and reasoning induced subjects and tend to fail in English language. Well, I think some factors are responsible for that- the locality and neighborhood of such pupils and the fact that some teachers in these so called public schools teach these pupils in their local dialect (Yoruba). This can be viewed from two sides- firstly, the said teachers might not be competent enough to express vividly and clearly in English language himself to the pupils, thereby forcing him to use the next alternative available to him. Secondly, I strongly believe in teaching other subjects In our local dialects as this will enhance better comprehension and understanding and help the students express themselves much better. We need to reduce the emphasis we lay on English language in our society. Let’s take a look at this scenario- a young student sat for an exam where he wrote different papers, he passed all the papers but failed to pass English language. That should sound somehow crazy simply because he was taught the other subjects in English language. If he can pass the other subjects with English language then why should he be castigated or reprieved for failing English language on its own? If he is capable of scaling the hurdles of other subjects with the aid of English language then he has mastered the art and use of the language as expected of him and should not be seen as having a deficiency in the language. I hope one day that our leaders can adjust the over-emphasis we lay on English language as this has denied a lot of promising and prospective young Nigerians the privilege they need to actualize their dreams.
Now, that is just a deviation from what is meant to be talked about here. Let’s get back on track…
Primary school days was a mixture of the good, bad and ugly. From the days of going to school happily and the days of going forcefully or grudgingly. From the days of enjoying the activities lined up for each day, to the days of making the teacher go through hell in bringing us all to order. It was all a mixture of different learning procedures that has shaped us all into what we all are today. Looking at some of my colleagues now, I see a lot of changes has occurred and much thanks we owe to those pretty and caring ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ that helped shaped us and brought out the qualities and talents embedded in us .
Needless to say that some of those teachers back then were spirited, intelligent and dedicated Ghanians who were vastly experienced and highly trained in the art of teaching and equipping young minds. This is not a biography or an appreciation chapter, but as they say, we have to recognize and appreciate the efforts of our teachers, for without them we might not be where we are today.
That is where the struggle begins. We shouldn’t have had to attend different schools while growing up. The Awolowo’s, the Azikiwe’s and the Tafawa Balewa’s I believe didn’t attend private primary schools back then. According to what we read and heard, education was free and qualitative. Now, it is not even free talk less of saying qualitative. Our parents struggle to put us in the best of the schools, at least the one’s they can afford.
I remember back then when it’s few weeks after resumption that they start chasing us for non-payment of the school levy, our parents wanted the best for us and they knew that enrolling us in a government primary school wasn’t going to give us the best foundation we needed to get a good life for ourselves. Many parents that couldn’t afford the fees of the private schools then had no choice but to enroll their wards at the government owned schools.
The issue of incessant industrial action (strike), nonchalant attitude of teachers and a host of other factors were determinants in shaping the early lives of those young and innocent children; we couldn’t fault them for being in Nigeria or for coming into that family. When these kids were directly hurt by the actions of corrupt government officials who deliberately turned away from what was expected of them, they in turn sent their kids to the best schools, some even go as far as sending them abroad when they themselves actually studied within the shores of this great country Nigeria.
The struggle for survival starts from that very place, when the only time kids get to eat chicken is once in a year during Christmas. That’s even if they get chicken and not smoked fish. Some of us were a bit lucky to get chicken seldomly though.
If an average Nigerian youth were to recall his childhood days, its sure going to be a picture of survival, struggle right from his infant days when he was completely innocent of everything he was made to endure. People sleep in houses without proper ventilation, exposed to mosquitoes and cold and you can bet there was no electricity too talk less of good and clean water.
All these culminated into the building up of the average Nigerian youth. Some were lucky to break through the ranks with the scars, while some just couldn’t muster up the strength to fight what the Nigerian factor is throwing at them for a chance to survive or were completely overwhelmed by the constant threat and ever increasing daily pressure they face in their quest for a shot at life; a better one.
Breaking through the ranks of the primary school we all get high hopes and move up to higher grounds –the secondary school- which is divided into two parts; junior secondary and senior secondary. Most people back then (and even up to this day) moved into the government owned secondary school, I for one was lucky to get into one of the most reputable ones back then (I am tempted to mention the name but I won’t). We were lucky to enjoy the dividends of free education at least in a little sense compared to what our parents told us about how education was taken seriously and well organized back in the days. Overcrowding was the order of the day at the government secondary schools as parents couldn’t afford the ever increasing fees being charged by private bodies and government made no effort to checkmate the nefarious acts.
Where there is overcrowding, you should expect that there won’t be enough furniture to go round the students. Some of us had to provide our own seats in class as there was no other option. We managed to comprehend and learn what we were being taught (not always though) but it was difficult for teachers to monitor the progress of each student as it was meant to be because the ratio of students to teachers was way beyond normal. We had to struggle for resources that should have been provided in excess for us all by leaders of our great nation but alas, our leaders failed us woefully. The foundation of the ones who came from government primary schools was not as solid as those of us who came from private schools. The difference was clear back then, in English speaking, in comprehending in the class and so on. Some of them managed to keep up while the rest just tagged along.
I remember teaching a friend in junior secondary school 2, I guess, 3 lettered words! Imagine a secondary school student who couldn’t read and write properly, it’s simply because the foundation was poor. It’s a thing of joy to see that fella today doing well in the four walls of a university studying a good course after struggling with WASSSCE and JAMB for quite a number of years.
The struggle to be better, to be someone great in life, to live a life full of great and positive impacts and a life full of wonderful and life changing inventions shouldn’t have been this tough if (if and only if; pardon me for that I am a mathematics grad) the right tools needed to study and excel were put in place by the people at the helms of affairs. Instead, they choose to enrich their personal wallets or should I say reservoirs at the expense of thousands of the Nigerian child who could have been the next Albert Einstein /Blaise Pascal/ Thomas Edison and so on.
As Nigerians, the struggle continues, the never say die attitude seems to have been given to us specially by God himself as we always have a way to survive anything. I read a joke of recent that talks about Nigeria being a tough place to live and survive that even the deadly virus EBOLA couldn’t survive living in Nigeria. Whatever is being thrown at us, we always find a way to make peace with our present predicaments and still find succor amidst the situation we are passing through no matter how bad it might actually look or feel.
The next series will be on the struggle through the senior secondary schools and gaining admission into the universities or polytechnics as the case may be for different individuals.
I hope you find a bit of inspiration from this simple write up as u take your time to carefully go through this piece and actually reflect on the struggles and travails of an average Nigerian youth in becoming someone relevant in the society.
Thanks for taking time out with me. I really appreciate you. Thank you and God bless you.
Written by- Gbaroye Olalekan
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