History isn’t taught in Nigerian schools

History is not taught in Nigerian schools.

One of the best ways to determine the state of a nation is to inspect the schools. Just pick any school – primary or secondary – with a sizeable number of students. Observe the student-teacher dynamics, the cliques that form among staff and students, the school’s assessment and reward system, and the curriculum. Then you will know all there is to know about the country that school is in.

History isn’t taught in schools, meaning that our nation doesn’t care about the past. For a people who profess so much respect for ancestors and elders, this is shocking. We cannot begin to dream of a better Nigeria unless we know where we are coming from. Unless we learn from the past, we will never develop. We will simply keep achieving variations of underdeveloped structures and mindsets – not progress.

Children don’t know their heritage, so the country’s future is in soup. They only know about American presidents and King Henry VIII’s wives from cartoons and television shows. They know nothing of our powerful precolonial kingdoms and empires, the great kings and queens, what the Benin bronzes and Nok terracotta sculptures are, the animals that once roamed Nigeria that have left their traces in ancient artwork, and nsibidi and how the easterners communicated before the British imposed their culture on us.

Our museums are empty and desolate because there is no curiosity. I used to get annoyed whenever I visited the Things-Stolen-From-Other-People Museum in London because those artefacts are ours. They were unfairly taken from us and the British have innocent blood on their greedy hands. However, now that I am back in Nigeria and I see the grotesque lack of regard for our heritage, I think those artworks might as well stay where they are in the UK; where they are treasured and appreciated; where people value every curve and symbol, oohing and aahing at them in amazement.

We destroy historical sites and buildings because we do not see their value. Buildings I grew up with are no more. Mud houses, Portuguese structures, colonial architecture are being torn down to make way for shopping malls and overbuilt houses, magnanimous shows of wealth and prestige. We pay millions of naira every year to go around London and see their old buildings and monuments. Yet, we are destroying ours.

If we knew our past, perhaps we would treasure its footprints. We need to put history back on the menu in schools. We cannot progress until we lay in our minds the foundation that is history, standing on the shoulders of giants.

 

Image|Sacred Forest, Osogbo|Source: Jeremy Weate, Flickr

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Books are a distraction. You should focus on your studies #ALiteraryRevival

Books and studies are two different entities in Nigeria. Studies are generally what your teacher hands you – with a cane in the other hand –  that you have to memorise in order to pass exams. Like television, computer games and the internet, books are distractions that pull you away from the most important thing you need to do as a child – bleed your way to a school certificate. While studies do not require you to think but just remember, books open doors you never knew existed to dreams and imaginations, much to the bane of many parents. Too much thinking in children translates to stubbornness.

Teachers don’t read, so we are taught outdated information. They don’t read, so they can’t accommodate the child who does. They don’t understand the child that answers questions differently, outside of the set formula of parroting whatever you are taught, so such a student gets punished or downgraded for their thoughts. Parents don’t read, so they have no idea how to answer or respond their offspring’s numerous questions. They don’t read, so they kill their children’s natural curiosity with their blunt, impatient responses. Thus, children don’t read, so they struggle with critical thinking and reasoning beyond what they can see around them.

You see the lack of thinking in government. Politicians went to school but they never cultivated their minds. Their charisma and coldblooded greed lifted them to the top but their infertile, dry, barren minds stem them from doing anything useful for Nigeria. Even on the few occasions that they do try, their plans expose a lack reasoning. Reading doesn’t just supply facts, it gets the wheels of dusty cobwebbed minds turning.

Encourage children to read. Buy them Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis books, Tintin, and Supa Strikas. Let them read and begin to write their own stories, form their own ideas and make their own discoveries.

I am on a mission to get Nigerians reading books again. If I can get just one person to fall in love with the written word, I would be ecstatic. Look out for blog posts with the tagline, #ALiteraryRevival, and spread the word!

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The Rocky Path

With a crown of grey hair and a walking stick at her side, she seemed old and frail but her eyes were alert and alive.  She insisted vehemently that she would stand, exposing even more strength.

As one clings to gold, I hung on the words Professor Grace Alele-Williams spoke at a friend’s book launch.  The 83-year-old retired Professor of Mathematics Education was the first woman to become the vice-chancellor of a Nigerian university.

Shortly after her return from the US, she was given a position of authority at the University of Ibadan.  She recalled that at her first faculty meeting, she realised she was actually there to serve the coffee and not much else.  After six years of studying in a different society, she wasn’t quite sure what to make of all this.

Then she told us about a dream she had one day.   She was on a rocky path and there were many other women walking behind her.  At the time she had no idea what the dream meant but took it as an encouragement to just keep going.  So she went on serving coffee without complaint while also doing ground-breaking research for her generation.  Today, Professor Grace Alele-Williams is one of the most celebrated women in Nigeria.

Decades later, the path is still difficult and uneven; but I am treading relentlessly after women like her.  I am watching their steps, drawing on their strength to persevere.  And like her, I will overcome the rocky path.

 

Image|Source: Harry Metcalfe, Flickr

Money Making Machines: Education

Money Making Machines: Part 2

Friends, don’t wallow in depression about the future!  Here is another bright idea to consider as our breadwinner, oil, grieves a massive pay cut.

This is a nation of 180 million inhabitants with a growing middle class.  So, there is an increasing number of parents who are seeking to saddle their children off to institutions.  Why not start a school?

It would be easy to buy a house or building from the endless sea of civil servants – who have not been paid in months – that are selling off their properties for less than market value.  You don’t have to wait for the hole in the floor to be fixed, for that bush full of snakes to be chopped or for the plumbing to work well – or at all – before the first session commences.  Parents would see these petty inadequacies as discipline and rugged training for their children.  If everything is sound and proper, children would grow up spoilt.  However, after the first session and you decide to double the tuition fee, things would have to be finished up and you would need to acquire expensive-looking teaching equipment that no one knows how to use to impress potential clients.

Foreign! Foreign! Foreign!  Everything you do must be anything but Nigerian.  Speak with a foreign accent when engaging with parents – preferably British.  The more convincing your accent, the more fees you can charge.  By the way, you could always make clients pay in dollars because of its higher value and stability against the naira.  May I share another secret with you?  Putting the word ‘international’ in the name of your school propels its status by 200%.

What you teach them in this school doesn’t really matter.  Nigerian parents don’t care much if their kids learn anything valuable, as long as they come home with an A or distinction.  It is the certificate, not content, that we are concerned about here.  So, begin to think about the side income that would come from parents for a pass or the extra they would donate for an A.  If the rarer-than-Halley’s-comet inspector does show up and make a fuss, you could always slip something into their hands.  They too must be struggling in these tough times.

Don’t have the capital to do any of this?  Have you considered writing a textbook?  Only God knows how much Ugo C. Ugo has made from selling us over 20-year-old past question papers that tell us Pluto is a planet.  Again, no one cares about content.

If you own a church, capital is no problem at all.  In fact, why not start a for-profit university as an extension of the business?  Use financial support from your congregation to fund the construction of the campus and acquisition of other resources.  Then charge an extortionate tuition fee so that even your church members can’t afford to send their children there.  They won’t be annoyed.  Everyone knows education is just for the rich.

 

Image | Source: Flickr