My journey into education: in solidarity with every out-of-school child in the world.

So, it all began when I was a child. I can still remember those playful days with fond memories; when I used to play alone in the morning whilst other kids were in their classrooms studying. Back then in Lagos – Nigeria in the late ’70s and early ’80s going to nursery school was still very rare for most kids. I can still remember a particular morning when I was around age of five and I was playing alone, looking at the kids in a church run nursery school in my parents’ condominium rented apartment premises.
The school was in a big open hall-space like structure with concrete floor, brick walls up to the window seal level and the rest of the structure supported with timber columns and beams with the building covered with zinc roof. The window parts up to the ceiling level of the building were open structure without any building materials fitted or fixed to them. The classrooms were partitioned with plywood boards on stands and there were long benches without backrest and writing desks for the children to write on.
The classroom floors were pure concrete without any protective layers like carpets or floor tiles. The teachers had their chairs and desks positioned at the front of the partitioned classrooms facing the pupils. Writings were done by the kids mainly on slates with chalk by the younger kids and the older kids wrote using what was called back then 2A, 2B and 2D exercise books with HB pencils and every student was expected to have an eraser for correction and a ruler to draw straight lines.
The 2A exercise book was used mainly for English language and other words related studies whilst the 2B exercise book was used mainly for arithmetic and the 2D for handwriting lessons. The teachers made use of rectangular shaped blackboards and chalks with usually locally made dusters – these dusters were usually made from off-cuts from clothes by the local tailors. Basically, it was a minimalist approach to education
As rudimentary as these facilities will look today, back then they were luxury to most families and I came from such a background that my parents who were both junior civil servants with the state and federal governments respectively could not afford such luxuries for me and my older siblings.
So, I spent the early years of my childhood playing (PDF) – I wonder if there is any child out there who would want something different?! I was never concerned about formal schooling until my mother took me to a local photographer’s studio to take probably my first studio environment photo shot – passport photograph for school enrolment purpose. 
Then, it was time to start primary education at one of the Lagos state government run school on Lagos Island – Ereko Methodist Primary School. Although, prior to my commencement of formal schooling; my mother had enrolled me in a local evening class where most of the learning were very didactic and repetitive but very helpful in preparing me for the world of formal education.
In my early years in the school I struggled educationally and socially. I was very introverted and I think I’m still an introvert – to a lesser extent; I lacked self-confidence and school was a nightmare. In retrospection, I now know some of the reasons for the challenges I had with my education whilst I was in primary school, but I will come back to them later.
So, I spent the first three years of my primary school education feeling like an idiot; without direction and overburdened with school. But something significant happened when I was in primary 2 (year 2), I had a friend – Adam (not his real name, couldn’t get in touch with him at the time of writing this post and without his consent I’ll want him to remain anonymous) – that we used to go home together after school; society was safer for us as kids that we literally walk back home after school in groups, with each kid branching off to their respective home and wishing their friends farewell. 
It was on one of such routine after school trip back home that I asked Adam – how was it possible for him to be the best student in the school at the end of every term and come first during examinations? He just said ‘whatever we do in class, when you get home practice it all over again’ and we were just kids in primary 2! Although, we were kids but I held him in high-esteem and revered his intelligence; I took what he said as pristine truth and just literally did that. I told my mum that I wanted exercise books to practice at home and she just said OK.
She started getting some white and orange coloured papers of about A3 in size for me to use and simultaneously another important thing happened; one of my older cousins was staying with my parents back then and she was so magnanimous to spend some of her precious time to provide support for my after school learning by giving me extra coaching classes in Math and English on daily basis.
Because we were living in a condominium property we had very close neighbours and it was easier for kids to play together and share resources. One of the benefits of living in such an environment for me was that, I was able to have access to lots of comic books from our richer neighbours’ children – who were by then already in their teens.
I read stacks of comic books and I also read most of my father’s newspapers on daily basis. Gradually, I was introduced into the world of letters. By the time I was in primary 4 (year 4), my education was on a more positive trajectory; I started belonging to the top set in my class – school was becoming interesting; education was beginning to make sense to me and life as a school going kid became much more pleasurable.
Now, there were certain challenges that I faced that were major barriers to learning (PDF) and are still be major barriers to learning to any kid, in any society, in any part of the world. These barriers were:
  • 1.    Lack of adequate study materials;
  • 2.    Lack of access to school meals on most school days  civil service wages in Nigeria aren’t great;
  • 3.    Lack of access to basic facilities like good toilets and sick bays;
  • 4.    Lack of proper communication between school and parents on how best to support children’s education;
  • 5.    Lack of access to school library (PDF) or classroom library;
  • 6.    Most times, my school was not adequately staffed, and as such staff were over-stretched and fatigued – by having to attend to more students than they could actually cater for their educational needs.

Despite all these barriers I highlighted above, I’m still grateful to God that I had access to education, then, the Lagos state government of Alhaji Lateef Jakande (part of a YouTube interview with Lola Sanusy) that embarked vigorously on a mass education policy agenda between 1979 and 1983, my parents, my teachers and everyone that directly in one way or the other contributed to my education.
Today, I feel melancholic (Podcast) that in this age and time – the world is still saddled with a population of about 60 million of children that are out-of-school (PDF); a population size that is almost the same as that of the UK and France (PDF),respectively. Over 10 million of these children are in Nigeria. That is, for every six (6) out of school children in the world, one (1) lives in Nigeria! This population of over ten million (10,000,000) out-of-school children in Nigeria is more than: a third of the total population of Ghana and Ivory Coast; half of the total population of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, individually; two-third of the total population of Guinea, Senegal and Chad, proportionately. 
The population of out-of-school children in Nigeria is also equivalent to the combined total population of Sierra Leone and Liberia; almost the same as that of Republic of Benin and the combined total population of seven fellow West African countries: Gambia, Gabon, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome & Principe, Saint Helena and Mauritania – that is more than one-third of the total number of countries in West Africa, correspondingly. It is about a third more than the total population of Togo – a neighbouring West African country.
If Nigeria’s population size is taken out of the combined total population size of West African countries; the number of out-of –school children in Nigeria will be equivalent to about seven percent (7%) of the combined total population of the remaining seventeen (17) countries in the region. With no gain saying, this is potentially a source of serious security threat to the stability of the region in the nearest future – if serious measures are not put in place and implemented to significantly address the problem.
This article is my own little way of saying – what are you doing about this problem in your own little way? Are you supporting a local school/organisation/charity, to solve one of world’s most challenging problems? Don’t wait for that eureka moment or when you become the next Aliko Dangote or Bill Gates before you act! Remember, every little helps. If you’re a policy maker in the field of education, you’re in a unique position to help the most vulnerable children. And if you’re a teacher or an educationist – you’re already doing great but it can be better. For every other person – YOU have a much needed skills set that is greatly needed at this moment in time.
When I talked about hating school and lacking self-confidence during the early part of my primary education, I said I will talk about the reasons later; in hindsight and retrospection, my attitude to education in that period was due to my lack of reading readiness and the fact that I was suddenly thrust into the system and not eased into it gradually. Perhaps, such a drastic shift in my daily lived experience had significant impacts on my education and well-being (PDF) as a child.
I know some people may be of the opinion that – if my parents had sent me to a nursery school, I would have been better prepared! However, financially it wasn’t a feasible proposition for them and secondly, there weren’t that many early years’ settings in Lagos in the ‘80s. Also, starting full-time schooling early does not necessarily mean better educational experience or outcome later in life. Rather, supporting low-income parents early on will improve children’s life chances and the Nigerian government should endeavour to do so, especially, low income families.
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  • Thanks. Majority of the out of school children can be found in the Northern part of the country. Aside poverty, there is the religious angle to this where local religious leaders "mallams" discourage formal education "boko". How do we address this?

  • Hi, you've made a very important observation. However, the problem is more of a national problem to Nigeria than a within-nation regional problem. Also, the issue of religion is one aspect that I've been considering for a while and I'm curious to learn more about it. For instance, it'll be interesting to know the average socio-economic background of out-of-school children in Nigeria or Northern Nigeria as the case may be or their parent/s' level of education. I'm interested in these two factors because they'll be good pointers that will shine some light on the significance of religion on the discourse. Thanks for reading my post/s and the comment.

  • The article is interesting. The writer highlighted important issues bordering education in Nigeria.

    From his own initial wrong assumption of school life based on his "laziness" and not being prepared for school to the fact that pupils can do well in school if they get support (his friend, his cousin, and his mother), then to the shocking fact that as important as education is, we are still in the past on developments and getting every child into school.

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