I finally watched the trending video about the boy that was abused in boarding house and having read all the arguments for and especially against boarding school i would like to give my opinion borne out of my personal experiences.
I went to secondary school at the age of 10, an all girls federal government college in far away Bida, Niger state. I remember very clearly, my first trip to school with my Mum and my excitement and nervousness at leaving home for the first time. I don’t know what my mother thought but i remember that we took no provisions and had to go into town to buy after being told i would need to have some . So i looked very much like the boy in the video who was chubby on his first day and a bag of bones, 2 months after – in my case it was a mix of no provisions, inadequate care and malaria which plagued me every term.
The subsequent terms met me fully prepared as I always had at least 6 bottles of Treetop, a dozen of Nasco biscuits, 4 packs of St Louis, 3 packs of cabin biscuits, 4 packs of cornflakes, geisha , garri, the biggest tin of Nido and Bournvita and a bottle of Orepthal tonic. Somewhere along the line Cerelac found its way amongst my provisions but they were never enough and always finished before the term ended especially as the food became increasingly little and unappealing to the eye and tastebuds.
Those were the years of fagging and bullying and innovative punishments. I will like to publicly thank my school mother Bola Fagade Bello who though was with me for just 1 year as she was doing her A levels in my first year was all a school mother should be and more, she helped me keep my things, wash my clothes and tidied my appearance.
Although I was quite young for my age (one of the youngest in my class) I adapted well ,making friends that I will cherish for the rest of my life. School was tough, very tough, ours more than most unity schools in our time for reasons that I cannot explain but I think it had to do with the fact that most of us were southerners and our parents didn’t come around as often as they should so the school got away with a lot of things. I remember us having to eat 4 cabin biscuits for breakfast one morning, watery stew, yellow Eba, tiny pieces of meat and fish; we often resorted to hiding our provisions which were labelled contraband from monthly inspections. We lived with unsanitary bathrooms and toilets, there was always scarcity of water which meant we had to be going to the stream tp fetch water and where we were lucky, fetching from the kitchen tap amid beatings from one Baba, the night security guard.
I remember us bathing with cold water in the cold harmattan mornings, cutting grass and preparing the field for interhouse sports and many times, we were being punished unjustly and unduly by our seniors.
Yes, there were sexual escapades, as well, I remember clearly in my Form 1 when officials of the local hospital came calling because a student ( no one knew who) had aborted a foetus in the dorm bathroom and how our Principal (princi) beat almost half of the school in one night as they sought to find out from physical inspections who committed the act. As is common with an all-girls school we had practising Lesbians ( supe was the name it was called) and for most of them it was just being adventurous and we let them be. Most of us left school as innocent as we came in though I was told recently that some of us that were sexually active ( from home) made forays into town at night, no thanks to the absence of walls at the back of the premises.
It was tough but we survived it and in many ways I am the better for it today. So when I started having kids, I was determined they would go to boarding house at some point though I drew the line at public schools having gone through the system I knew with our bad maintenance culture, things would be worse than they were during my time but I still yearned for the boarding schools of old, large grounds, big dormitories, and sport facilities, not too comfortable hostels etc
My compromise was to enroll my daughter as a day student for her first three years, so she could grow under my watchful eyes ( there were many things I still didn’t see though) and then enroll both she and her brother in a boarding school for her senior years and his junior years, she having matured enough to keep a watchful eye over him.
So for those who are berating parents that send their kids to boarding school, not all of us are irresponsible or eager to let go of our children in order to pursue our selfish ambitions. I speak for myself and I know I speak for others, that we were very involved in our children’s lives even though they were away from us. We ferried them to and fro and never failed to visit every visiting day ( every 6 weeks) for the 6years they were in school. We were active in the PTA and I served in several capacities in the association.
Secondly, not all boarding schools are terrible and the fact that it is touted to be a Christian school doesn’t mean its perfect or even good. I remember succinctly my son telling his friend who attended a day Christian school and was complaining about the decadence therein that parents send their bad children to Christian schools in the hope they will get better and they end up contaminating others.
Thirdly, day schools also have their fair share of bullying, sex romps , harassment etc and most parents are oblivious of what is really going on in their children’s lives even though they see them everyday that is if they do see them at all.
Fourthly, most good schools frown at fagging and bullying and will not hesitate to expel and or dismiss students who prey on others. This is the main reason why unlike our times, the students are housed according to their classes and sets so they are amongst their equals.
Secondary boarding schools are part of our heritage from the British colonial masters and like all things, they have their disadvantages and advantages. As far as I am concerned, the main advantage of boarding school is the independence it breeds in a child; enabling him or her to stand on his or her own feet anywhere early in life and it is the main reason I wanted my children to go to boarding house and why I choose the school they went to. I wanted street smart responsible kids, who would be able to mix well and learn to take good care of themselves; I wanted kids who could manage their resources by themselves without always asking for help and I am glad to say that I got what I wanted.
In my opinion, the main disadvantage of boarding is that parents miss out on a lot of their children’s lives because they spend most of their growing up years away from home and most times we miss the important landmarks of their years . Their being independent works against us because they become strangers who seemingly do not need us in their lives.
It is a lie that children are more susceptible to external influence when they are boarders, the truth is that children are influenced by external factors whether or not they go to boarding house but the advantage to having them at home is that we can, if intuitive and discerning, spot trouble from afar before it comes near. It is also a lie that most of the things wrong with our children is due to the boarding system. Boarding houses are the cesspit of bad behaviour nowadays because most of us have outsourced our parental responsibilities to several things, TV, Church, School , Teachers and it is now obvious that we cannot expect those institutions to do what we alone are equipped and mandated to do.
Back to the video, I applaud the mother for coming to the public arena, I would have rather wished though, that the boy being a minor was shielded from the public glare, I however hope that it will cause us to initiate the necessary conversations with our children about their lives in and out of school.