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A Distressing Visit To The Past

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A Distressing Visit To The Past

By Sunny Awhefeada

An abiding relationship exists between our past and present. The farther we move away from our past through ageing, time or travel, the fonder we are of it. Our past ensures our rootedness and provides a compass for navigating a world that has become so complex that one is daily baffled and astounded with happenings. Our past remains with us, individually or collectively. Our past is not just enshrined in our memory, but it is lying in wait and active whenever we summon it as a rememberer, companion or guide. We are beholding to our past and we often look back wistfully to recall what we think we have lost. Ironically, to remember the past can spin a duality that can heal or hurt depending on what is involved. The Romantic poets, William Blake, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, embodied the essence of what we lost in our childhood in their poems. Critics put a finger to that streak and called it “nostalgia” and “the far away and the long ago”. Childhood and youth occupy special slots in the mnemonic construction of experience. No matter one’s socio-economic background, childhood is a cocoon of bliss. The mind that constructed the saying “as happy as a sand boy” aptly frames the prevailing state of mind of childhood and adolescence. However, as the days, weeks, months and years roll by, the child of yore evolves into a man or a woman confronted by the crisis of existence which are legion. It is in the midst of these crises of existence that we occasionally or regularly revisit the past in thought or in person.

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I had one of such visits or better put return to my past recently. A research group with which I am associated requested that I lead a team to some schools to distribute learning materials and also inculcate the relevance of history and culture to the students of the selected schools. Somehow, my alma mater, the secondary school I attended was among the ones selected for the visit. I did resolve that since the primary school I attended was in the same community, we were going to do a brief stopover there. Although, I have had cause to visit both schools occasionally since I completed primary and secondary education many years ago, I anticipated this particular visit with a troubled emotion woven around anxiety. Unlike previous visits that were largely informal, this one was going to be formal and I was expected to give a talk. It was therefore with mixed feelings that I embarked on the trip. Memories tumbled and collided as I thought about my schooling years. The school compound, my classmates, our teachers, games, lessons, examinations, acts of mischief among other lines of thought preoccupied my head.

We arrived at my old primary school fifteen minutes past eight o’clock in the morning. The pupils were reluctantly trudging into the school compound, but we saw two dutiful teachers instructing them to run and begin the morning assembly. My crew walked up to the teachers for greetings and introduction. We joined the morning assembly and my mind went to the years when as a pupil I was part of that assembly every school day. There were, however, contrasts between the school of my childhood and the one I now behold. The school of my childhood began its assembly before eight o’clock. The giant bell, called ama, dangling under the mango tree usually summoned us to the assembly. The bell was rung twice. The first was the “warning bell” that urged you to leave whatever you were doing and hurry to school. The second bell was premised on the reality that you were already in school and it summoned you to the assembly ground. Incidents of lateness then were rare. The punishment for going late to school was better imagined than experienced. The school of my childhood had many teachers. The morning assembly usually had all the teachers in attendance. The pupils of old, although barefooted, were smart and determined. The environment then was clean and inspiring with the field neatly cut, fruit trees and trimmed flower hedges. The school that I met during my last visit had only three teachers. The pupils were uninspired and appeared jaded. The school was dirty and the environment was like a forsaken place in a war torn country. The ambience was gloomy and dreary. No good learning is taking place.

It was the same experience at my old secondary school. Although, there are new buildings compared to what it was in my time, the school lacked teachers and learning infrastructure. I was shocked to hear that the school had no Mathematics and English teachers. Many of the subjects in the curriculum have no teachers to teach them. The few teachers available are overworked and largely unmotivated. I took time to interact with the students and I was heartbroken over the kind of responses they gave. The scenario was gloomy compared to the zeal with which we studied in our time. I left my old school with troubling thoughts about the future of the students and Nigeria. What I saw in both schools were not peculiar to them. The same can be said of over eighty percent of public schools in Nigeria. It is a manifestation of the acute failure of government at all levels. My agony stems from the reality that we daily retrogress when we should be making advancement. As the distressing visit came to an end and we drove away, my mind was troubled by thoughts and thoughts and thoughts. My childhood, the years I spent in both schools, confronted me and I muttered unheard words and shed unseen tears.

Every year, governments at all levels embark on the hollow ritual of budgeting and announce bogus figures for education, but the figures do not reflect in what we have on ground in the sector. We are a nation with rulers bent on destroying education. There is a big crisis in the education sector and instead of confronting and resolving it those who rule us send their children to expensive private and foreign schools. What they are yet to reckon with in their shortsightedness is that soon their children will have no country to return to if the masses are not given the requisite education that will make them nation builders. And if they listen well, they will hear the clock ticking that soon the masses whose welfare they stole for themselves and their children will say “enough is enough”.

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