Reminiscences on my primary school experience and the future of primary education
The foundation of a child’s education is very important. To a large extent, it sets the standard for the child’s mental, academic, and social development. I believe that the kind of school, the learning methods/ practices, the quality of teachers, and the appropriateness and diversity of information the child is exposed to could significantly determine how that child fits into society.
I attended Our Lady of Apostles Private School in Yaba, Lagos. Founded in 1950, I dare say it was the best primary school at that time and I still have very fond memories of the school. Our Headmistress at the time, Mrs Helen Osugo, knew practically every pupil or so we liked to think. She was strict and firm, and this character was reflected in all the teachers and administrative staff.
Our teachers did not permit any form of indiscipline. Late coming was rewarded with punishment: strokes of the cane and sanitation duty. They modelled the standards that they set for us. Teachers were assigned classes and were responsible for taking all of the subjects. Our classrooms were large and airy. Each child had his/ her desk and chair, and our walls were decorated with pictures, amateur art that we had drawn, or magazine clip-outs that the teachers had made.
Those were the days before technology changed our lives significantly. Our teachers were our reference points for everything. If Miss Collette said something happened, then it happened exactly the way she said it even if daddy or mummy had another opinion about the event. Our teachers, understanding the heavyweight they were saddled with, ensured they provided the most accurate information, taking their time to explain subjects to us, and helping us understand tricky concepts.
Mathematics was my least favourite subject. We spent mornings repeating each times table until we got to the twelve times table. I had no issues with memorising the various times table but as soon as we graduated into geometry and everything else, life as I knew it ended. Each child had his/ her areas of strength and weakness, and thankfully, our teachers were patient enough to help us identify any issues and work us through our difficulties.
Teaching wasn’t just about Mathematics and English as we learnt a lot of different things. We had social and civic education classes where we learnt about our rights and duties as citizens, and our role in society. We also had handwriting classes. Teachers would hold our hands steadily while we traced each alphabet and eventually whole words and sentences. I remember the reward for improved handwriting was that one got to graduate from using a pencil to using a pen. I was lucky enough to master my writing by Primary 3 but a few others didn’t get the privilege of using a pen until Primary 5 at the worst. It was a thing of pride for the early birds: we felt so grown.
I remember discovering the school library. It was set apart from the classrooms so it was not immediately accessible to all pupils. Besides, I think one had to reach a certain class before gaining access. From that day onwards, I would spend my break time there leafing through different brightly coloured books.
We had a large field where many children spent time playing in the sand or practising their football skills. Many fights took place on the field as well or how else would kids have expended all of that energy? When we weren’t playing on the field, we were either having assembly or observing a march-past, a practice that eventually became a regular activity as all the classes would march in formation before the headmistress. The regular march-past was a precursor to our annual inter-house sports events. We had five houses and every child was assigned to one of the houses. We would have had sports trials before the day so each house would have the best pupils to represent them on the day. It was always a fun event. I never participated in the sporting events though, marching was good enough for me.
One of the most beautiful things about my primary school was that we were exposed to a wide range of learning opportunities even outside the classroom. Pupils had the choice of attending either arts and crafts classes where one got to learn how to carve items, draw, and paint, or Needlework classes where one got to learn how to make different stitches or sew simple items.
We also had a school band complete with musical instruments and I auditioned to join the band in Primary 4. I played the recorder which is a long flute with a whistle mouthpiece. I first had to play the music scales (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do) then I played one of our marching songs. Thankfully I made the cut! We had the honour of playing songs at assembly and school ceremonies.
There were also Boys Scout and Girls Guide clubs with opportunities to go on weekend camping trips. My brother was an active Boys Scout and they were taught many survival tactics. He even got to attend a few camping trips and I was quite jealous. I eventually joined in Primary 5 but I never got the chance to attend any trips.
As the school was owned and operated by the Catholic Church, we developed not just our souls and bodies, but also our spirits. We had regular prayer sessions in school and at the neighbouring church, St. Dominic’s Catholic Church. Interested pupils could also enrol in catechism classes for spiritual development and progress to becoming baptised or confirmed.
I look back now and wonder about primary education nowadays. No doubt that technology has enhanced learning but I still wonder if children are exposed to the richness of primary education that was available in the 1980s and 1990s. When learning was not largely from technology-enabled devices.
I also wonder about public primary education these days. Back then, the standards were much better: not at par with the average private school but still quite high. Nowadays, everything appears to be in shambles. The teachers are ill-equipped for the task, poorly paid, and ultimately unmotivated to give any extra. Learning materials are either non-existent or in short supply, thus inadequate and unlikely to reach the majority of pupils who need them. The government appears unconcerned whilst battling various stakeholders at the federal level.
The same pupils who attend these underfunded public schools will eventually become members of society who either go on to attend deficient secondary and tertiary institutions or drop out for lack of opportunity to get ahead.
I believe primary education sits with the federal government now but as things stand, the Ministry of Education and various supervising parastatals do not receive enough funding in the federal budget to address these issues. The government needs to prioritise primary education, maybe even involve the private sector if that would enhance standards.
Anyway, as I usually like to think, what can we in our capacities do to help? How can we support child development at the most basic level? We may not make a great dent in the sector but we could create an impact on one or more children. This is the way I see things today!