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LAGOS. NIGERIA.     Monday, August 12 2002





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Dumebi goes to college
By Bruce Malogo

INDEED, time flies. It is hard to believe that seven years have already rolled by since I made a piece entitled "Dumebi Goes to School". Dumebi is my son. In that piece, I had told my experience of being around while a newborn is nurtured. I also told how it feels to have a sense of loss as the kid leaves home for school. Perhaps it may serve some purpose to quote some portions from that piece.

I had written: "A new-born baby is an extraordinary event... it gropes in the dark like a blind thing. It's got a little hair, which it's going to lose, it's got no teeth, it pees all over you, it belches, and when it's frightening or hungry, it exercises its lungs. Presently, it discovers it has you, and since it has already decided it wants to live, it gives a toothless smile when you come near it, gurgles or giggles when you pick it up, holds you tight by the thumb or the eyeball or the hair, and, having already opted against solitude, howls when you put it down."

"You begin the extraordinary journey of beginning to know and to control this creature. You know the sound" the meaning" of one cry from another; without you knowing that you know it. You know when it's hungry" that's one sound. You know when it's wet" that's another sound. You know when it's bored. You know when it's frightening. You know when it's suffering. You come or you go or you sit still according to the sound the baby makes. By the time it manages to grow, you have developed certain spiritual bond with this miracles. That is what it seems, but the truth is that you see in it a creation, your creation and ultimately, your possession."

"Every parent knows this; experiences this deeply. I do, too. Which is why I felt something indefinable altered in me when Dumebi, first of my two children, started school. Dumebi is three-plus and in nursery one. The night before he started school, I kept awake. I did not sleep because I realised painfully that my claim on him was over. I was going to lose my possession to the world... From hence, my boy was going to live in spite of me. He was going to depend, not on me any longer, but on the world outside, on his own experiences to go through life... whether it pleases me or not."

That article was written in 1995. Dumebi will be 11 in a few weeks from now. Late last year, I saw him off to college; to Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary, a secondary school of the Anglican mission located in a village near Ikorodu in Lagos. To be sure, the parting this time was no less emotional than when he was stepping out into the elementary stage of his formal education - moreso that he would be staying away in the boarding house. Ordinarily, this parting and the emotional drain it caused the family should have been the focus of this piece. However, I find that less compelling than the experience and lessons of searching for what I considered a suitable secondary school for my son.

As many parents know, nothing prepares one for the hassles and aches of looking for school for one's kid, that is, if one is doing it the first time. For parents like me, it is all the more troubling if you are a bit stubborn, or let's say, puritanical about matters concerning your child's education. From beginning, I didn't have in mind a particular school Dumebi would go to, but I had very clear idea of the schools he would not attend. He would not be sent to any of the government colleges nor would I be snared either by class or compensatory complex to put him in one of the exclusively, highbrow schools, assuming I could afford it, that is.

My problem with the Federal Government colleges is that I was not ready for the intrigues and the theatrics of the admission processes; God knows that my kid would have passed whatever examination set for him. Trouble was that I was not prepared to go through the extraneous and dubious pre-conditions for his admission. In other words, I was not ready to bribe anybody to make him "pass indeed". Nor was I ready to go looking for someone who knew someone who could connect me to someone who... I was not ready to go looking for some influential person who would give me a note. It is not only exasperating, it is as humiliating to me as it is psychologically damaging to the young boy. My quarrel with the exclusive schools is of a different reason, but nonetheless objectionable: parents pay so much for what turns out to be synthetic education; kids loaded with a world-view that spins them off the realities of their larger environment.

But those are beside the point really. My prompting, as I have said, is what my search for a suitable school for my son threw at my face. I came face-to-face with the bare realities of the state of our schools, at the secondary level at the least. It occurred to me that indeed take away Federal Government Colleges, what you have is a frenzied, even obscene, constellation of private and quasi-private schools, few of them thriving and most of them trivial. And the tragedy of the whole thing is that their fees are all in the sky, irrespective. It is that bad that you begin to wonder where and how things have gone this awry; and to think that my generation, as recent as it is, went through the three tiers of education not only tuition-free, but was also pampered by government.

One of the schools my son passed sent me a bill of a little over N300, 000 for one session - class one! My son saw it and said, "Daddy, are you paying"? I raised my head, looked at him with a meaning stare and dragged a long, contemptuous hiss. He got the message and didn't say a word about it again, nobody in the family did. Another school said it was building its permanent site some place "conducive for learning" therefore, every prospective student will have to pay N50, 000 development fee, that is in addition to a total of N276, 050 tuition and boarding fees.

While all this was going on, a cousin visited and was informed of what my wife and I were going through. He didn't mince words. He turned to my wife and said, "the problem with him is that he is too stubborn and traditional", referring to me. "With only N50,000 or thereabout, the boy would get any government college of your choice. You people should stop behaving as if you are not in Nigeria." My wife looked across to me and changed the topic.

If private schools are in the sky, their public counterparts are in the mire. Any parent with serious intention for his children's education will definitely not look that way. The schools are dead in all their essence. Teachers are disgruntled and despondent, students are frustrated and flustered and government is behaving as if it is a fringe actor. And these say a lot about the temperament of our children today. They are in dire straits; caught in a strange matrix; between official cruel dispassion and festering adult delinquency.

The children themselves know this; it is hard to fool the young people. They also know why they go to overcrowded, out-modelled schools; why their classes are so large that even the most strictly attentive student, the most gifted teacher cannot but feel himself slowly drowning in this sea of chaos; this vortex of despondency. Today, the refrain is that the level of education in this country is low. Of course it is low. And it is low not because of low intellectual capability of the Nigerian kid. It is low because Nigerian leadership has little respect for genuine intellectual effort. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that the violent distractions of puberty, occurring in such a cage, usually take their toll, sending female children into the maternity wards and male children into the streets.

It is not to be wondered at, that a boy, one day, decides that if all his studying is to prepare him to be dependent on the goodwill of others to feed himself and his family; that it will not lift him above the subsistent and pedestrian circumstances of his father, well then, to hell with it! And there he goes with an overwhelming bitterness which he will dissemble all his life, an unceasing effort which completes his ruin. The result? He becomes the menial or the criminal or the shiftless, mindless Nigerian whom we have produced.

And over all this hangs a miasma of fury and frustration, a perceptible darkening, as of storm clouds, of rage and despair. Which is the reason the girls now move with ruthless, defiant dignity, and the boys move against the traffic as though they are moving against the enemy. Dumebi is now settled in college, almost rounding off the first session. However, I grieve for millions of children his age who may not have such opportunity; children who could not be snatched from the calamitous collapse of their safety-net. It is all the more grieving to think that the attitude of those in authority, those who preside over the affairs of the estate holds no promise that the system will be put together again, soon.

 Malogo is a bank worker in Lagos.


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