A thread on Twitter by Juliet ‘Kego, @julietkego, got me thinking about the vital role we all could play individually and collectively in improving the standard of education in the country. The two tweets in the thread that resonate with some of the ideas I have on how the quality of public education can be improved upon.
You can read the tweets below:
May each of us choose ONE public school in our community/village/LGA to advocate for? Get like-minded folks in our communities & engage with Govt/Teachers/Parents/Faith based groups/NGOs/Private sector/Donor agencies…and really standardize these schools/sponsor teacher training
— Juliet 'Kego (@julietkego) May 13, 2018
In the two tweets, @julietkego raised key issues on how as individuals and communities we can come together and play our roles as major stakeholders in the country’s public education sector. The key points I took away from her suggestions is that individuals in every community should come together and form a formidable group that will support a local school in their community and this they can do by adopting the school and advocating for its improvement with the other major stakeholders.
As part of what I consider as the process of adopting and advocating for a local community school is that the adoption and advocacy should be involve both financial and material supports or either of the two at the bare minimum. For instance, the group might sponsor: book drives, sports events, libraries, continuing professional development (CPD) courses, sanitary provisions, building of play centres/areas etc.
Going back to the Twitter thread, @julietkego also highlighted the need to standardise the Early Childhood Education and Basic Education levels in the country. Thus, she suggested community engagement as a formidable approach to improving the standard of education in the country’s public education provisions. However, it is important to note that for any community engagement to be sustainable it will have to happen through a medium that is non-partisan. Likewise, it’s important for the community engagement to occur through a registered body, but not necessarily an NGO. It could happen through existing associations like Community Development Associations (CDAs), religious organisations or other groups like Landlords’ Associations or local youth groups. But the absence of any of these associations in a community shouldn’t deter an individual or a group from commencing the process of contributing positively to the growth of a community school. More importantly, in most instances such a community engagement starts from the effort of an individual.
Community engagement is not and should not be a case of a tree can’t make a forest. Rather, it should be like the metaphor of an oasis. Hence, we all should aspire to be the oasis that everyone comes to in the desert; just like in an article in The Conversation titled “Active citizens for better schooling: what Kenya’s history can teach South Africa” by Brian Levy, in which the writer emphasised the important role local communities played in the post independent Kenyan education system – up to the late 1980s – in maintaining high standard of education in the country. This approach to community engagement in the provision of public education, the writer termed as “all for education” as against the normal cliché of “education for all”. However, what seems to have been lost to many people in Nigeria of today is that this concept of “all for education” is not alien to the Nigerian education system. For instance, in the history of free education in the then Western region of Nigeria under the leadership of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, it was reported in the press that individuals provided their private houses for government to use as schools. In a video documentary “Free Education Launched in Western Nigeria, 7th January 1955 – 0:00 to 5:42 (YouTube)” it was reported that:
…All the buildings are not yet ready to post the millennial pupils, work is well on the way at Okepopo for instance but in the meantime, the teaching is not delayed. Generous [Inaudible 3.48] like Mr J.O. Shobo, an Egba man, donated their houses to be used as schools. The minister of education had already said in order to get the scheme going, he would allow classes to be held under trees, in churches and mosques and in private dwelling houses. So by the generosity of perfect-spirited people, the children can start learning immediately and get their [Inaudible 4:17] under the job…
Also, during the reign of Alhaji Lateef Jakande as the governor of Lagos state, in an interview he granted on the Lola Sanusy show, he said communities in Lagos state provided his government access to land to build public schools, and this he said was part of what made his free education policy in the state successful in that era. So, these two experiences show that when communities positively engage in the provision of public education within its locality, the extent of success that can be achieved is unfathomable and invaluable.
This concept of community engagement brings me to a model that engages communities from the position of assets as against deficits. Hence, the idea that a community (school in this instance) needs help because it lacks everything should be eschewed. Contrary to that, the model of engagement that I am suggesting on how we can engage with our local schools is based on the concept of “half-full glass of water”. A very good essay that explains the model brilliantly is the “What is asset-based community development (ABCD)?” article by Graeme Stuart. In the article, he enumerates four key factors of the ABCD model, and these key factors I believe are very important on how to successfully engage with public schools in the country. The four factors are:
- It focuses on community assets and strengths rather than problems and needs.
For instance, if one was to go in into a local school to provide support it’s important to engage with the staff, particularly the head of the school and find out what they’re doing great in and look for ways to support them in such areas, rather than saying – here’s our “know it all solution that would solve all your problems!”. It should be that one engages the school from the position that irrespective of how woeful the standard of education or facilities in the school could be there are still some basics that are provided and could be improved upon. By doing this we would be able to create the relationship with the school, and this feeds into the fourth criterion that “it is relationship driven”.
- It identifies and mobilises individual and community assets, skills and passions.
This second criterion focuses more on the group that wants to support the school. The members of the group should carry a detailed analysis of its own strengths and weaknesses and use that in determining how best to engage with the school, with the sole goal of providing the best educational experience for the children. For instance, if the group is made up of individuals with IT, construction and financial knowledge and skills, they could help the school in: designing and maintaining a website, sourcing for copy right free and appropriate teaching and learning resources, organising field trips or excursions to interesting educational places, volunteering to read to the children, manage the school’s library, establish a school based after school club, computing hub, coding club or even a school garden.
- It is community driven – ‘building communities from the inside out’ (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993)
It should be all about the progress of the community (school) through the children. It shouldn’t be about the much touted world class education but an education that has the best interest of the host community and its children at its centre of gravity. The model should be glocalized (PDF), that is, it should evolve by first attending to the local needs of the community and then addressing similar global issues within the educational opportunities provided to the children.
- It is relationship driven.
Relationships are built over time and trust is normally earned. Hence, if on engaging with a local school, there seems to be some elements of suspicion from the school management, this should be seen as part of the natural process of all parties developing a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. But consistency and clarity of goals and purpose would lead to the much needed trust over time.
In as much as the primary goal is in the best interest of the children, then every decision and action must always be taken with the children’s best interest at the centre of such decisions or actions. Hence, mutual trust and respect are very important in fostering positive relationships among all the major stakeholders in the Nigerian education sector. Particularly the major stakeholders that are involved or are directly affected by the day to day operations of public schools, that is, government, parents, students and school authorities.