Friday, October 31, 2008

Professor Bullallah

Teaching is an amazing profession.

As most fresh graduates lamented over the fact that they’d be posted to schools to teach for the Service year, I was delighted because I’d always wished for an opportunity to teach. An opportunity to impart knowledge in fresh, exciting ways. No need for cramming, people; just come into class with your unfilled heads and I’ll fill them up with easy-to-understand knowledge (Picture Smiegle of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ saying the ‘easy-to-understand knowledge’ part and you’ll get how crazy I am about uncomplicated knowledge… my precioussss).
I had always imagined my students listening to me, absolutely captivated, as I gently opened up their minds to new ideas; as I carefully laid block upon block on a solid foundation… In my mind’s eye, I was the perfect, enjoyable teacher- ready with a key joke or analogy that would not only make the students laugh, but serve as a link between The Everyday and The Abstract.

This is what I experienced instead:

"When an acid and a base react, they form salt and water only. Kun gane ko?"
"Ok, that’s good. So if I have an acid like HCl reacting with a base like NaOH, what products am I going to get?"


"What two products will I get?"


"I’ll get a salt and…."

Silence."A salt and water naaa! Weren’t you girls listening? When an acid and a base react, you get salt and water"

"Aunty, ee!"

"Ok, what if I have an acid like H2SO4 reacting with a base like NaOH?"


"Acid and base equals salt and water. Zainab, what did I just say?"

Silence, then: "Aunty, ban ji ba"/"Aunty I didn’t hear"

Hm. Is it that I’m talking too fast? Not using enough examples? Too boring? What???


Most students will be excited and relatively well-behaved in the presence of a new Malam or Malama, but novelty can only take you as far as two weeks, tops. After that, you’re on your own. It’s now time to think of creative ways to motivate the students to pay attention and learn. Teaching tactics are now employed, like using everyday examples to introduce new concepts, (because learning is really just a process of building on a foundation that has already been laid); like giving assignments and quizzes to make the students serious; like injecting educational games to lighten the atmosphere a bit; like rewarding good performance, and many other tactics.

But WHAT IF the foundation that has been laid is horribly flawed?

After a short while I began to experience what the older Corpers had often complained about: very low morale.
I wasn’t transferring much knowledge… and was it my imagination that Hussaina, Shamsiyya, Jamila and Aisha were always falling asleep (or falling ill) the moment I walked into their class??
I complained about this to the HOD so he followed me to class one morning. He pointed out that I sometimes explained while the students were busy writing, which is wrong. I took correction, but didn’t get much better results, so I was back to my initial questions- what was I doing wrong? Abi these young ladies were really hopeless?
Another teacher shed more light on the issue: He said most of the students in the school are suffering from Ba Turanci Syndrome(that is, No English Syndrome). Why? Because they never attended Primary School! They were admitted into Secondary School straight from Islamic School or even from home (and in Islamic School, they are taught in Hausa). The result is what you see in class:

-they cannot speak English, or just manage to string words together. To get through to them, you need to speak Hausa to them (the new students coming in are improving though)

-they mostly show interest in Hausa, Arabic, etc. (Not surprising. I only liked the subjects that "made sense")

-they hate reading and doing assignments (No excuse for this one; it really vexes me)

- they are permitted to dubb during tests and exams, but the strangest thing is that with all that 'xeroxing' they still fail (WAEC and NECO are the worst; they write the answers on the board for them to copy)-they doze in class. Tell them to sit up, stand up, kneel down… posh’ti ka fan! (heehee, that’s my language for they don’t hear)

Good and fine. While this was vexing news to me, I knew it didn’t apply to my case, because most of my students often impressed me with their good command of English. So in which area lay the problem, Mr. Holmes?

CAUTION: Northern Mentality in Progress!

Auren Soyayya!

In the extreme North, there must be three allotropes of oxygen- normal oxygen, ozone and marriage oxygen. So how do you expect a core Northern girl to withstand the great pressure to marry early when she’s been breathing m-oxygen since birth? Or more importantly, why should she withstand it? Isn’t marriage a beautiful thing? Who is to say that being married to that elderly Alhaji is not the very purpose for which she was born? Who says all this boring, abstract education thing is really necessary for a good future? Besides, even the Mallams are checking her out during free periods (some don’t even go to class to teach because they are waiting for her). Wallahi, it’s not easy to be hot cake. So please, all that matters is the Alhaji- he likes her enough to want her to be his latest amarya. Aiyiriiiiiiiii!

And couldn’t the POOR EDUCATIONAL FACILITIES have something to do with it?

This week, I enjoyed my classes very much. Why? Because the girls were moved out of their ‘containers’ and into impressive new classrooms. Let us now wave bye-bye to the following bad rubbish:
Bye bye excessive heat! Hello spacious, learning-friendly rooms! We even have fans! 11:10 to 1:45pm lessons may not be sooo bad afterall!

Bye bye tables with ‘collapsible’ tops and chairs that we fall off when one of us stands up too fast. We have solid desks now, and our chairs dey kampe!

Bye bye dim containers; hello well-lit rooms. Maybe I’ll pay more attention to what’s on the board afterall. Teacher, you’ve got an extra ten minutes to "bring it" before I tune out, okay?

The students in the school I’m serving are fortunate enough to have such classrooms. They are fortunate to have a Princi that is concerned and connected enough to upgrade their facilities. Imagine what other students are going through. The Government school in Tsafe Local Govt., (which also serves as the temporary NYSC Orientation Camp) is a perfect example of what bad facilities can do to the human psyche. Those students are something else: ruffians, thieves, and…. I lack words to describe them in fact. Now when a human being starts to behave like an animal, you must either help get him back on the road to humanity or…

Send in Bullallah (Ph.D)

Students who refuse to behave are flogged regularly. It seems to be the only thing the students will respect. A dozing student threatened with being sent to the Mallam specially employed for lashing gives immediate results. I’m not against lashing (it showed me the light when I was unserious) but the manner, rate and purpose of lashing matters. We were going for CD one day, and met an ex-student in a taxi. He complained about the lashings he received in his school. He said there was this boy who was given 100 lashes, straight up. No way I can confirm that story, so let’s just leave it as "them-say".

I wonder whether we are trying to correct negative behaviour, or (unconsciously) trying to encourage the animal within the students to grow... it's not really a mystery, anywayz.

So, you’ve read my little bit on the educational system in ZM. I’ll conclude by saying there’s certainly room for improvement. I know that I sat tall on my high horse a few times, and I apologise for that. Thanks for reading!