I had always looked forward to my National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) year even before I knew what NYSC was all about. As a primary school child, seeing corps members dressed in their khaki and jungle boots really made me long to wear the uniform. I finished primary school and went straight to secondary school and in little or no time I was through with secondary school. I immediately entered university which was the final journey for me before I could wear my longed for Khaki and jungle boots.
As I was rounding off with university, I heard that the President had said that the next set of corps member would work in four major sectors of the country which were agricultural, medical, infrastructure and education . At this point, I was destabilized and I told myself that there was no way all corps members would fit into all these sectors without the problem of some sectors being overpopulated but I was wrong. I was through with university after defending my project and clearing myself out from school. I was to be a ‘batch A’ corps member and so I had to wait for six months to receive my NYSC call up letter.
As I was waiting, I tried to keep myself busy by taking some computer software programming classes and teaching summer lessons at a primary school. The latter was not interesting, especially when the children were not that bright because I had to explain over and over again. I could not really understand why children in the lower classes of primary school could not do some simple mathematical additions. Those six months seemed longer than the ten years I spent in secondary school and university put together. The time came for me to finally go for youth service so I travelled down to my school in Anambra state and picked-up my call-up letter. I was to serve my country in Lagos State which was where I lived with my parents. I immediately called my immediate elder brother who was also to serve as a batch A corps member and he told me that he was also posted to Lagos State.
The following day, I was on the first bus to Lagos. I had barely a week to prepare for NYSC camp. I got to Lagos very quickly. The driver of the bus I boarded drove at top speed. It felt like the tyres of the vehicle were not touching the ground. The next day I went into the popular Balogun market to get my pair of white knickers, a white t-shirt, 2 pairs of socks and a pair of white sneaker. It wasn't easy going to buy these things. The market was crowded and it seemed like everybody in Lagos came to market that day. I got everything I wanted except for my pair of white sneakers. I got back home and packed my things together. On the day we were to assemble at the camp, I woke up very early, prepared and was on my way to Iyana-Ipaja where the NYSC camp in Lagos is located. I got there and settled in.
We were to spend 3 weeks in camp. Every day in camp was worth it. From the early morning drills to the afternoon lectures to the man of war drills, to our social nights to our Mammi market visits at night. In camp, I noticed that corps members moved in pairs of a male and female. I was most of the time with my elder brother and that kept my male counterparts from pairing with me. People thought we were twins. The three weeks soon came to an end and corps members were posted to their places of primary assignment (PPA). I thought I was going to escape the education sector but I was only deceiving myself.
I was posted to a public primary school in a semi-rural area. My idea of a public primary school was a compound with rooms used as classrooms, no windows, pupils going bare foot and in torn uniforms, nylon shopping bags as school bags. Hmmm. I knew it was not what I dreamt of as a child. I was determined to enjoy my service year so I told myself that I was going to make an impact in the lives of these children. I put aside all forms of discouragement and resumed quickly at my PPA. The building I saw was exactly my idea of a public school. The administrative office was used partly for administrative duties and partly as a store. I submitted my posting letters to the administrator who smiled at me and said ' you are the first corps member in this school' and I faked a smile back. He then showed me to the Head teacher who was so excited and said ' we have been waiting for people like you'. She quickly took me to the primary 6 teacher and introduced me as a corps member that would be assisting her. I immediately resumed duty.
The class teacher asked me what I studied and I told her mathematics so she said I was going to be teaching the pupils Mathematics, Basic Science and English. After teaching them for about two weeks, I was able to understand that Basic Science wasn't a problem for these children, but Mathematics and English were. It was like they were at ground zero in these subjects. I began to wonder how they got to primary 6 and before my service year ended, I knew how. I can remember teaching them Pythagoras theorem in maths and after giving them three examples, I then went ahead to give them four questions as their class work. They started solving the maths questions and after about 15 minutes of writing, a pupil stood up and said ' aunty, aunty number 3 did not understand me’ which if translated to Yoruba language would be ‘Number 3 ko ye mi’ and a pupil beside him tapped him and corrected him. Then I went ahead to explain the number 3 to the pupil.
English language was no different. After few weeks of teaching them, they sat for their common entrance exam. On the day of their exam, the school authority requested that I go with the pupils as a teacher from their school. The pupils wrote their exams and came out rejoicing. They graduated from school and we're waiting for their common entrance examination results. The results were finally out and 70% of them were successful. The pupils came back to school to inform me and at that point I realised why God wanted me in that school. I was grateful to God.
The next term, I was sent to assist the primary three teacher who taught about 80 pupils in her class. She fell ill often and so as I was assisting her, it was more like I was the only teacher in that class. I would almost scream out my lungs and I got home every day with a severe headache. Handling this class was like committing suicide. One of the days the teacher wasn’t around, the parents of primary three pupils were invited for a meeting. Immediately their meeting ended, a parent walked into the class and accused me of not giving her son homework. I was shocked and told her that the children were always given homework. She then brought her son’s book as evidence that there wasn’t any homework given. Before she finished opening her child’s book, I had brought a serious pupil’s book and she saw that the problem was not with the teacher but her son. As we were still discussing, a pupil just climbed his table and started jumping and shouting while his fellow noise makers backed him up with the usual noise. The class was like a market place. I immediately started to scream ‘stop making noise’ but the children just looked at me and continued as if it were a noise making competition.
The parent was surprised. She took a cane and beat the child then the whole class was silent. My service year was soon coming to an end and the school's term exams were fast approaching and the pupils were getting scared. The exam date finally came and the pupils wrote their exams and performed well. I passed out from NYSC 2 weeks after the primary 3 pupils’ success. I was glad I served in that school if not for any other thing, but the fact that a great number of the primary six pupils made it into secondary school which was not always the case.
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