This essay is concerned with the mental crippling boxes in which young scholars are being placed because they do not conform to a particular “standard”.
The essay, thus, will consider some ideologies in the Nigerian school setup as it concerns students’ performances; how these systems affect the students, and what better measures can be employed to help average students. Take, for instance, a transfer student coming to join a new school weeks after resumption. The student may not catch up on the course work quick enough to perform well academically. This disparity in academics may even go on till the end of a school session, resulting in a below-average performance.
What is the usual response of many schools to such a child? And how, instead, should such a child be helped to do better?
These and more will be addressed in this essay.
As Africans, whether you admit it or not, we are a people with hard and fast rules about a majority of things, one of which is the area of learning and what we believe is ‘education’.
In a typical high school—or ‘secondary school’, as known in Nigeria—there are so many awkward things that have become accepted as the norm and ideal. For example: two tissues, one soap and one cane (many of you will understand); the stretching of school time to 4pm or 5pm; the little or total lack of adequate time for extracurricular activities and vocational training; and the selective behaviour towards a student based on his or her academic record.
The last is the baseline for our painted scenario.
Proverbs are loved in Africa, and one greatly used, especially during one-sided ‘discussions’ between parents and their children, is the proverb about the finger which gets smeared with palm oil but ends up staining the other four fingers. The child being ‘discussed with’, of course, keeps silent and nods (as is expected of a respectful child), and when dismissed later, could probably have forgotten the proverb used to emphasise a point too many. However, his or her school authority does not allow the proverb to be forgotten. The authorities blare it in the face five days a week at school, and it is done through a system we can call ‘separation of elements,’ with element here referring to brains.
Many can relate to this. If you can cast your mind back to when you were in elementary or secondary school, you would recall how you were separated from your playmate, or neighbour, or the girl/guy you were eyeing, because the school grading system had determined that one person was better than the other. This physical and mental separation puts a divide between you and some other students because one or more of them did not answer a question adequately, pass a test excellently or do a sum on the board accurately.
Our ideal description of a good student is simply a brilliant person, and so many students have been labelled ‘dull’ and pushed into another class—akin to detention or a rehab for dullards. Many schools use the ABC titles for their class labels, and the usual practice is to assign ‘brilliant‘ students to classes A-C, while the ‘dull’ ones are assigned to D and the rest.
The brilliant people, as defined by the system, have to be kept away from the ones who fell below average. Therefore, segregation and the placement of value on the supposed ‘brilliance‘ are unconsciously being taught in schools.
The system classifies brains, and subconsciously implants the idea of being a failure in the minds of some children, while making other children feel superior to others. Minds are bent into ugly shapes by the intent to separate children who were just natural in their modes of expression and learning.
Many of the teachers of these schools who are poorly remunerated for their work and time do not consider hw to make learning fun for the children. They do not know their students beyond their grades in Maths and English and Science. They hardly studied their students’ quirks to understand how it might play a role in their learning nor teach at each individual’s own natural pace with an aim to groom a mix of capacities that would result in a well rounded individual.
Luisa Brenton, in many ways than one, thinks the old, conventional way of teaching should go, and make way for newer, more lively, more inspired, more emotional, more personal techniques. These, ultimately, will work wonders for students.²
Research for this involved the question of what makes a child ‘dull’. Rather unsurprisingly, the findings came up that no child is dull. Students who are considered ‘dull’ are simply children to whom learning has not appealed to the way it should because whoever is doing the teaching has not learned them, the ideal environment their minds need, the questions and troubles of their hearts, and what, in fact, they desire to learn. Thus, Paul Thiebaut III thinks “people are not dull; education makes them dull”¹. Education, here, denotes a particular modus operandi. So, one can boldly say that many schools were, and still are, ignorant of what it takes to educate a child.
Helping a child learn, surely, is more than separating a palm oil stained finger from the ones with just invisible microbes. Helping a child learn is, and should be, helping a child live.
Combating this problem in our education system involves a lot of work such as reviewing the practice of sieving children like wheat by their level of IQ and assigning them to classes designated for the ‘brilliant’ and the ‘dull’.
When one relegates children to the background, or talk down at them, it screams into their ears that they are idiots—the irredeemable kinds. And when they believe it, it robs them of the self confidence, encouragement, and drive needed to attain heights in life.
Instead of making the children considered ‘brilliant’ look like superheroes, why don’t teachers learn them too, know why and how they excel, teach them to be more accommodating beings and teachers themselves; so that they can talk to other children, understand, and even teach them. Students can be teachers too. Better, in fact!³
To impact people, we have to value who they are and what they have, no matter how ‘different’ they seem. More has to be done in order to raise more.
With thanks to the internet, there are e-books, teachings, podcasts, internet articles and other materials about teaching and leading which one can fortify his/herself with, so that destruction is not done in the guise of planting.
As a final note, if you have been a victim of the school ‘ABC’ system, I apologise on behalf of a system which didn’t know better. However, if you are part of the system, change is necessary if our intention is to groom life long learners.
Aganaba, Jesudubami Jemima participated in the 2021 Crater Library’s Remote Internship for Non-Fiction Writers.