Our Children & Public Schools

on the Future of Public Education in Nigeria

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Public primary and secondary schools need to be overhauled

Another strike has brought university education to a standstill. But unlike the university system, which receives adequate coverage in the press, few people continue to talk about the completely failed state of public education at the primary and secondary levels.

The complete dearth of public education in Nigeria is almost accepted as a fait accompli. Even though public schools produced great minds in the 1970s and 1980s, you would rarely find people who want to send their children to public schools.

However, it would be of great meaning and significance to ensure that all children of public office holders attend public schools. This would spur them to commit necessary funds and attention to these schools.

A critical question – as socialists, what can we do to save public education in our day-to-day actions? Does sending our children to private school assist them in developing into the socially responsible children, with critical thinking, that we want?

I have sent all my children to public school. It was a very tough sell for me, growing up as a child of privilege I attended an elite private primary and secondary school in Jos and moved on to attend a private university in the United States for my first degree.

The rest of the degrees I got however have all been at public institutions, in three countries, and I would never change these experiences, including my time at Obafemi Awolowo University where I took a second master’s degree and began to see tertiary education in Nigeria from an entirely different perspective.

Bob Marley quotes a proverb in one of his songs “who feels it knows it more.” And this is the entirety of my conclusion about public education and the need for us to make conscious decisions about where we and our wards go to school.

When we sent our children to public school, many people thought we were crazy. My partner at the time had many children and made the decision based on economics, but also on his position as a government (though political appointee) employee.

It was tough but to be honest, Lagos public primary schools in Bariga and Kosofe at the time were better than many of their private counterparts in the same area. The teachers were well educated and had requisite certificates.

There were also several International NGO partnerships with the British DfID and the American USAID, that donated things like chairs and books and set some standards for the curriculum and goals of schools. At the time I also got involved in some of these projects.

We later moved to Osun and attended public schools which were then undergoing reforms with the Aregbesola administration, there were tablets, physical education programs with Cuban trainers, and dance and speaking competitions sponsored by the government.

I cannot say that it was easy having my children in public schools in the Southwest, and I also do not know if I could have done the same if I lived in the East or the North, where public schools have a whole set of issues of their own.

I can say that the legacy of Awolowo’s free education and the programs of the Tinubu and Fashola governments upheld public education in a way that I have not seen administered in other parts of the country, and I have traveled extensively and visited many, many schools in the North.

But I will say that it places in me a firm determination that public education was the only hope that we have as a nation. No country has ever achieved its own purposed development without public education.

Countries that are failing on public education, are failing on many other fronts of social justice, like the United States, while countries that focus on education as a human right such as Finland, South Korea, and Cuba, have seen improvements across many other sectors of social welfare and social justice.

While my children were in public school, I paid attention. I attended PTA meetings, even when they were mostly in Yoruba, as was the case in Osun. I had a pulse on what teachers were doing well and the kinds of after-school activities that would help my children excel.

I became aware of public libraries, which, no matter how unstocked, are still open every day in every corner of the country. I became aware of what teacher and administrator training could accomplish, and what it could not.

I became cognizant of the limitations of infrastructure investment, and the necessity of parent and community involvement to sustain long-term change for children and communities when it came to education.

I fought with teachers and principals and defended my children on every front. I knew what it meant to have a new free meals program in schools, and I knew what that free food program looked like months down the line.

I knew what it was like to organize an inter-house sports day and the politics of something that seemed as simple as choosing a local vendor for the inter-house sports day uniforms.

I was awake, alert and as a Western-educated parent (and I saw Western educated because all parents are educated in their way), I could navigate the systems, provide opportunities for my children, and keep the school administration on their toes.

I would not say that my children did not suffer from it. I know that they at times probably hated us for this decision and would likely say that we were punishing them in some shape or form, but they grew up tough. They grew up aware of what Nigeria was, from the inside out.

They were never sheltered. I would say for sure that they were over-exposed. They became aware of class differences, in a way that will never leave them.

They immediately noticed the private school kids and how they were looked down upon by them, yet they grew up not caring because they knew their intelligence and capacity, and what it took for them to move forward.

 Three of my daughters have attended public universities, that is another story which I may write with them if they will have me. But that is the topic of another story.

As socialists, the praxis of our ideology must be in the lives that we live. I have people that make far less than I do, and they struggle to pay school fees, it takes up most of their time, energy, and efforts, and I would dare say in some cases that it even kills them.

But if we all made choices to send our children to public schools, to collectivize, agitate and ensure that the schools were functional, not just for our children, but for all the children in our community, we would not only raise the class consciousness, but we would also raise the standard of public education, and with it, add a ray of hope to the increasingly dismal state of social welfare in the country.

by Rhoda Nanre Nafziger

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