Teaching??? No way! Why have I been posted to a school for God’s sake? I mean, I should have been posted to a radio or television station where I could be relevant. What will a Mass Communications graduate like me do in a school? These were my thoughts as I collected my NYSC posting letter. Not only was I posted to a school, it was in a rural area – the village of Okuta in Kwara State, far away from the hustle and bustle of Lagos − where I would be an English teacher.
I got to my orientation camp in early March 2012. The experience was amazing: although lights-out was at 10pm I would switch on my little torch and fill my diary with the day’s activities, from making new friends to planning escape routes to avoid the parade ground. At the end of the orientation camp, it was hard to say goodbye because we were all posted to different places for our primary assignment: some (like me) to the rural parts of Kwara, others to its capital, Ilorin. The journey to Baptist Grammar School, Okuta was a very long and sad one. When we arrived, the school authorities welcomed us warmly (one peculiar thing about the people of this community is that they were very accommodating).
We were given a tour of the school premises, the staff room and our sitting positions, which was exciting for me. Some students brought us textbooks, and we were given notebooks in which to write lesson notes. We were also given a register to take attendance of students who were present or absent, note down who was well-dressed or not, and other tidbits. I started to think this might not be too bad after all. My students were an interesting bunch: imagine seeing students with a hoe hanging on their shoulders or a broom in their hands. This made for a funny sight, but it was the school rule. The stand-out amongst the students in the class I taught was the class monitor, Kafilat Ahmed. She was an intelligent Science student who always came first in her class and second in the whole school. Kafilat was punctual and active in class discussions. I admired this young girl and was impressed by her performance.
While I was there, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) organised a quiz competition in the state. Kafilat came first at the local government level and was selected to represent the school at the state level. As her class teacher, I was instructed by the school authorities to travel with her. Because it was her first time going out of town for such a competition, she became nervous when she met with other students from diverse educational backgrounds. She was intimidated by the students who spoke English more fluently. I did my best to encourage her to go in there and make history. I realised there and then how privileged students in urban areas are to have basic educational facilities and teachers who give them the moral support needed to complete their secondary school education.
However, for students in rural areas, little or no attention is paid to their academic excellence: public schools teachers especially in the school I was posted to were often transferred without replacement and few would want to teach in a village in the first place (I know I certainly didn’t). The entire staff body in some rural schools – except for the principals – is made up of corps members. What happens to those brilliant students who have so much to offer to their society, but are unfortunately born in a place where there is no value in education? In his poem “They Too are the Earth,” Niyi Osundare writes that “the swansongs of beggars sprawled out in brimming gutters” are the earth, and “those who are under snakeskin shoes and Mercedes tires” are also the earth.
Regardless of our social status, we are all made of the same earth. I believe, therefore, that every child – regardless of background – should have the right to a quality education. When the competition started I noticed that Kafilat, who was confident at the zonal level, had begun to lose confidence and I did my best to cheer her on with encouraging gestures. Although she didn’t come first, second or third, she learnt to always be confident in everything. As the saying goes, “failure is the mother to success,” and I’m sure that next time, she will definitely make it. Not every ‘kopa’ will serve in cities like Lagos or Abuja; others will have to see what it’s like to serve in villages like Okuta. But I promise that in the long run, they will have one thing to say: it’s not bad after all.