Education meets Culture

Different cultures have diverse mindsets about education. Sometimes, these views are convergent; at other times, they are as divergent as parallel lines that can never meet no matter the reference direction. In Nigeria, the various approaches to education from the North to the South span diverse shades of the colour spectrum, from black at one extreme, to white at the other extreme.
Growing up in Nigeria’s south, the average child was inundated with stereotypes about the people living up north. These stereotypes portrayed a culture that had an antipathy for education—western education. Unconfirmed tales were told about some northerners angrily marching to schools to chase their children out of the classrooms—the point being that they considered such education a waste of time and energy, preferring to have their children join them in agricultural activities. Hearing such tales, one wondered whether western education and agriculture were mutually exclusive in any way.
My first encounter with northern kids came during the course of my primary education. Although it was a Christian-run school, a few Muslim parents enrolled their children, ostensibly to avoid the dismal performance in public primary schools, coupled with the fact that back then the area did not have many private schools. Those few northern kids were in colloquial parlance, “just there”—they were run-of-the-mill pupils. When I sat for the National Common Entrance Examination in Primary 5, two of those kids also sat for the exam. Being in Primary 4, their attempt meant they were brilliant enough to sit for the exam, or maybe, their parents wanted to take advantage of the much lower entry requirements for northern students.
As a student of a federal unity college, I was exposed to students from various cultural backgrounds. The mix was designed to expose students to the best of different cultures—that is, if we assume that each culture’s bests were assembled there. The northern students did not perform in any noteworthy manner. In my six years among some of the “brightest” kids in Nigeria, I cannot recall any northern student being reckoned among the top students, although some of the girls performed much better.
As a student of one of Nigeria’s elite universities in the country’s southwest, I did not have the opportunity of relating academically with any northerner. The acclaimed smart students with “Muslim-sounding” names were usually south westerners (ignore my allusion to the false notion that all northerners are Hausa Muslims). In my final year, I had a next-door neighbour who was a Kaduna native, and he was quite an interesting character.
So far, the descriptions made seem to reinforce the early stereotype that northerners dislike education or perform poorly at educational activities. However, the North has produced renowned well-educated personalities. The Tafawa Balewas, the Aloma Mukhtars, the Aliko Dangotes, the Nasir El-Rufais, and the Nuhu Ribadus are as northern as the hills in Gwoza. Something must be wrong.
The voluntarily compulsory national youth service scheme has now embedded me into the midst of the culture whose tales I have long heard. Last month (August 2015), during the holidays, I had the opportunity of teaching mathematics to a group of students at an orphanage, and I saw first-hand the weakness of their foundations. I am yet to conclude whether their problem is due to poor teachers or a culture of nonchalance to education.
This month is officially my first teaching month in an academic term since being posted to Fadan Karshi, a rural town (sic) in Kaduna State. As I sit in the staff room writing this article on the last day of the first week of resumption, I look back at the week that has been lost because a sparse number of students showed up. The school’s proprietor has informed us that this is the usual trend in this community; students would begin to come from the second week. He however made a discouraging statement that in public schools, students tend to wait a month before resuming. Ours being a private school settles for just a lost week or little more.
It is common even in the South for the first week of resumption to be “unproductive”. What is alarming in this northern area, however, is that many students have to be forced to attend their schools. It appears that many persons have not understood the value of education. If they understood the essence of education, they would run to school.
I still refuse to settle with the stereotype that has been presented to me for long. I want to believe that I have just been repeatedly unlucky to encounter the lower cadre of the North’s educational ambassadors. The North surely has brilliant lovers of education. During interactions with a number of persons up north, it is obvious that smartness is not a southern property. The North just needs to get most of its population to fall in love with education. I have told two students in a class that I am to teach, to visit their colleagues during this weekend and advise them to resume. I hope that I will see students to teach next week. The federal government has sent me here to teach—teach I will.

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