Nigeria at 59… not-so-Happy Independence day.
I left Nigeria for Zambia at the age of 14. Back then, Nigeria was under the thumbs of General Sanni Abacha. I did not want to leave the country, but as a child of missionaries, I had no say in the matter. I soon found myself at home in a new country and discovered I loved the new environment. It was a very healthy one for me in terms of absorbing what I was learning inside and outside the classroom.
Despite the years and distance that kept me away from home, Nigeria always remained a big part of my identity. I carried it proudly when I said my full names, when I dressed up in my traditional attire, even while away in boarding school and when I went to University in the United States.
How had it gotten to this stage? I wondered.
I always looked forward to returning home. In 2013 I got my first shot. I was 30 years and decided that the best place to start was by doing the NYSC. I am glad that I got to do that; it allowed me to see firsthand the educational system in Nigeria. I wept at night when I marked the scripts of the students, many who found it hard to spell their names let alone, the patterns they saw in Purple Hibiscus.
Where were the stakeholders?
These young men and women are our future leaders. I thought back to my time in boarding school here in Nigeria; to the boarding life struggles I had to adjust to. Back then, academics wasn’t in freefall.
However, in Zambia at my International boarding school, I had to relearn and think about learning in new ways. I soon understood that cramming figures and names were not going to help me any more. Mind mapping and taking creative notes were the new tools given to me. To be honest, it took almost three years for me to finally get the hang of the new system. That was just before I sat for my IGCSE exams.
So imagine my bewilderment to find teachers still teaching in the old ways, the way that had set me back. Here in Nigeria, it is habitual to find teachers yelling at students to pay attention to the notes on the blackboard. Sad.
I thought back to my teenage years and realized how privileged I had been. The privilege of getting an education at home and abroad made me see the difference between what is and what should be.
There is no doubt that Nigeria has talents, and our greatest assets are our youths. The thing however is, not only what we teach them matters, but how we teach them. Most if not all of our systems in this country hanker for urgent and intense help that I think would require a lot of thinking outside the box and innovation.
Sadly, our educational system is exactly as it has always been. I think back to the times I was so frustrated because I was struggling in my new school in Zambia. Schoolwork had never been hard for me, well… maybe Mathematics, but there I was struggling even in English classes.
It would end up taking about a year and a half for me to understand what my new teachers and school wanted from me.
No, they did not want me to repeat word for word what I saw in the text; they wanted me to interact with the knowledge I read and make it mine. They wanted me to internalize the learning and then use it appropriately when the need arose. They wanted me to be able to answer questions in whichever guise or format it appeared on the examination paper. The teachers wanted me to be creative and to come up with answers that reflected me whilst still answering the questions correctly.
Once I got the concept, I was free, finally free to let the real me show up in class. Learning became something of immense joy. I looked forward to engaging with my classmates and teachers, and yes, even though I am an introvert, I was now willing to risk it by raising my hands to voice out my answers. I now believed as my teachers in Zambia had always thought, that I was an intelligent girl who had a lot to contribute.
It makes me angry to see that even in Sunday School, children are being shouted at and made to cram all those memory verses. My experience of Sunday School in Zambia was completely different. I think about the children who, just like me, never really thrive in the cramming, repetition and recitation method of learning. Those who sometimes hide their true self because they have been the butt of jokes for getting the answers wrong on a few occasions.
Learning does not have to be hurtful; it can be fun and creative if teachers are empowered and given the right tools. We need a different way to look at things, children innately do that, but education in Nigeria ensures that many of those children lose that ability, the very thing we need to take this country to where it needs to be.
My question is, how can you be a part of the solution?
Rant sent in by Bethany-Angel Chijindu
Photos courtesy Midas Touche Photography: @midas.touche.photography