Why are you not in school? The story of a young boy in Nigeria.

“If you are upset about the direction things are going in, I hope you don’t just sit around and be upset, but you feel urgent about building the long term infrastructure that needs to get built,” – Mark Zuckerberg

In a BBC interview, Mark Zuckerberg – the founder of Facebook, talked about taking actions if one sees a situation one would like to see changed. It is in light of this that an issue that was prompted by the picture of a young boy with a book in his hand, standing on a raised pavement, facing a plastered but  unpainted house with his head turned at right angle and his body twisted and with written chalks on the wall comes to mind.

Source: Facebook page of Emiola Taoheed

Looking at the picture, much might not have been deduced from it, but by reading the caption underneath the picture a lot was was put into perspective. The caption says the person that took the picture saw the young boy studying alone in the open:

“This gentle boy was alone working mathematics this morning at about 11:05 am. When asked y he was alone working mathematics, he said he was staying with his grandma and nobody to pay his school fee and he decided to practice some exercises.”

My first reaction when I first saw the picture on WhatsApp was to question the reasons why the boy’s family would send him to a private and fee paying school when there are state’s run schools that are free? Then, I thought of many issues that are synonymous with state’s funded education in Nigeria, some of which that have been talked about in some of the previous posts on this site.

I also thought of some of the reasons the boy’s family might have considered, for example: maybe the boy lives in a state in which education is not really free?; maybe there are no public schools around where he lives?; and most importantly, I thought to myself that, maybe the boy’s family just want the best for him, irrespective of the cost implications to them as a family?

More so, I linked the boy’s case with a 2013 published research article by Dr. Joanna Harma of the University of Sussex in the UK, contextualised in the Makoko fishing community in Lagos. In the research, Dr. Harma wanted to know why poor families with so many socioeconomic disadvantages would still go out of their ways to send their children to private and fee paying schools, when state’s run schools are free and are supposed to be accessible to these families?

In the research work, Dr Harma raised a fundamental issue that she found baffling, that is, it seems that no one amongst the focus group participants that she interviewed ever saw the issue of educating children from a social justice perspective.

Dr Harma raised the critical issue of social justice in her research and juxtaposed the idea of the amount of money spent on school fees by these families with the proportion of the income of these families; she also raised the issue that there are no established set standard criteria for determining the quality of education delivered by these fee paying schools aside words of mouth recommendations by families and friends and the affordability of the tuition fees. After which other considerations like: proximity to their houses and the belief that these schools will always have teachers in their classrooms.

In some of the focus group discussions that were held during the research by Dr. Harma with some of the families in Makoko community in Lagos, the families raised different issues that were quite astonishing and very revealing of the state of education, social inequality and the frustrations that low-income or no income families in Nigeria have to endure. Some of the quotes from the research are quoted below in order to put things in perspective:

“My children can stand their ground wherever they go. You have to be able to take the child to the father’s relatives and the child should be able to compete with children on the father’s side. If the child can’t compete then it will be a disgrace to the family. I took them to this (private) school because I know the teaching is good. The children can hold their own.”

“The population is still high. They don’t teach. There are a lot of problems in public schools… They don’t teach them anything. What they are meant to teach the children during school hours they do not teach. Then they teach the material during lessons, just to get paid. At times I don’t have money even to eat, and then at times the school beats my children for the school fees. I am very unhappy about the situation.”

“They don’t teach the children very well; if it wasn’t that I don’t have the funds, I’d have preferred to take my children to private school. They don’t teach the children and … it is just a lack of funds that has made me keep my children there.”

“There are differences between the two types of schools: firstly there is a set number of children in each class, but then in public schools the population in classes is too large for one teacher to handle. One teacher can be in charge of a class of about 100 children, which is not easy to cope with. So as far as I am concerned, I am much happier with private school; compared to public schools it is OK.”

“Children are well-taught in private schools. If government can raise the standard up to the level of private schools it will help a lot, because it’s not all parents that have the money to educate their children in private schools. Private school students are well taught. I would like to see government schools copying private schools to raise the standard.”

Going back to the young boy’s case, I started asking myself some soul searching questions on what can be done to address such a fundamental social issue in Nigeria? Hence, I came up with some suggestions:

  1. Civil liberty organisations or Non-governmental organisations can take ministries of education or local education authorities or schools to task on delivering their basic duties and obligations to every child of compulsory school age;
  2. People can come together to form more cohesive structures to provide support for the education of disadvantaged children in the society;
  3. Academics in academia, particularly the educationists amongst them, can put in more efforts into bringing educational issues into the mainstream discussions in Nigeria’s politics and the media;
  4. Private schools can support more disadvantaged schools and kids and offer them either financial or human resources support or both where possible;
  5. Individuals can volunteer to provide education to disadvantaged children directly or indirectly;
  6. Community development associations (CDAs) can influence their local public schools in through community engagement programs or financial aids?
  7. Groups or individuals can make concerted efforts to establish community radio stations in places of high needs to offer educational programs through radio programs to disadvantaged families and children;
  8. Groups or individuals can fund established NGOs, after school centres, Teachers’ unions, NYSC corp members… to deliver mass literacy and numeracy programs in various communities;
  9. Professional firms can offer free career advice talk in schools or offer at least 1 day work experience programs to disadvantaged kids.

This post is more of a food for thought than a post to say this is what you should do precisely; as I have no knowledge of anybody’s personal situation. However, it is a call for us all to do something, to avert the impending dangers of having a deeply socioeconomically divided society, coupled with mass illiteracy.

Last week I received a comment through a WhatsApp message on the article Use mosques to provide education – Emir of Kano that I am sharing with readers, as I found the comment to be very enlightening and historical.

“Some of the ideas made me reminiscence the North in the 50’s. Hausa was used for the 1st 4 yrs; school meals were provided from the 5th year; some primary schools 5th to 7th yrs were boarding; yrs 1 and 2: we wrote on sand; in summer, classes were held under the tree etc etc.” – Anonymous reader

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