Thursday, April 12, 2012

Parenting in 21st Century Nigeria

We have not completely fulfilled our responsibility as parents until we bequeath to our children a love of books, a thirst for knowledge, a hunger for righteousness, an awareness of beauty, a memory of kindness, an understanding of loyalty, a vision of greatness and a good name. - William Arthur Ward

Parenting is a very challenging obligation, no doubt. Child rearing is energy and purse sapping. Children’s needs are endless; they want comfort, attention and the best of everything money can buy. Modern civilizations have exposed them to a world of fantasies which many parents can ill-afford. William Arthur Ward in the opening quote imposed eight duties on parents: First is love of books. How have we fared as parents on this count? Statistics showed that there are over 10 million out of school children in Nigeria. Even those who are enrolled in schools, what manner of education are they exposed to? What is the quality of education imparted on our children? In Nigeria, public schools are nothing to write home about in terms of infrastructure and quality of teaching. Recently, in Bauchi State, out of the 12, 864 teachers screened, 5,502 were found not to be qualified or possess requisite teaching skills. That is almost half! The situation with private schools is not much different. Many of them too engage unqualified teachers to teach. Where they are qualified academically, they lack the professionalism required of trained teachers. Children themselves do not want to read. They prefer watching to reading. They will rather watch cartoons or play computer games than read their books. Little wonder the nation has been recording abysmal performances in her schools external examinations?

The inimitable Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe of blessed memory, many decades ago, observed thus: “In the war against ignorance and superstition, education should be regarded as a birth right of every Nigerian. The State should trifurcate this basic right into three segments: Religious Education should instill in our children moral values and ethical conduct in their relationship with fellow human beings; Vocational Education should train our offspring to be knowledgeable and acquire skill to adjust themselves and earn an honest living in the struggle for the survival of the fittest, Continuing Education should make them adaptable to their environment and inculcate in them the idea that education is a continuous process throughout life” Spot on you would say, however, on these three counts how have we fared? Do we give our children the right religious education? This question is germane because the ‘troublers’ of Nigeria today are ideologues who have brainwashed their followers to believe that Islam is the only way to heaven and that Sharia practice is non-negotiable in all the Northern States.

Paradoxically, some schools are de-emphasizing praying during assembly sessions while religious education is taking backseat particularly in Christian homes. In many, family altars have crumbled. Why and how? Economic struggles have made many parents to leave home early and return late. In some homes, parents don’t get to see their children until weekend or public holidays. Thus, the only time and place children are exposed to religious education are on Sundays at the church. This is not good enough. The challenge of making ends meet is also partly responsible for why parents don’t have time to impart moral trainings in their wards and children. In those days, after a hard day’s work and dinner, children gathered to listen to tales by moonlight from their parents. During this session of oral history; fables, folklores and animal stories are shared and lessons drawn from the stories. These are subtle ways by which children are impacted with mores, values, ethics and social etiquette. All these salutary practices have disappeared as parents engaged in a rat race to meet family financial demands.

A letter purportedly from former American President, Abraham Lincoln to his son’s teacher read thus:
“He will live to learn, I know that all men are not just, all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel, there is a hero, that for every selfish politician there is a dedicated leader. Teach him that for every enemy there is a friend. Teach him that a dollar earned is of far more value than five found. Teach him to learn to lose and also to enjoy winning. Steer him away from envy if you can. Teach him the secret of quiet laughter. Teach him the wonders of books, but also give him time to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun, and flowers in the green hillside.

In school, teach him that it is far more honourable to fail than to cheat. Teach him to have faith in his own ideas even if everyone tells him they are wrong. Teach him to be gentle with gentle people and tough with the tough. Try to give him strength not to follow the crowd when everyone is on the bandwagon. Teach him to listen to all men but teach him to filter all he hears on a screen of truth and take only the good that come through. Teach him how to laugh when he is sad. Teach him there is no shame in tears. Teach him to close his ears to howling mob and not to stand and fight if he knows he is right.

Teach him gently but do not cuddle him because only the test of fire makes fine steel. Let him have the courage to be impatient, let him have the patience to be brave. Teach him to always have sublime faith in his creator and faith in himself too because then he will always have faith in mankind.

This is a big order but please see what you can do. He is such a fine little fellow, my son!”

I don’t know how many people have come across this so called letter but I find it very instructive and didactic. Only that many of the things Abraham Lincoln expected his son’s teacher to do are what we as parents need to do ourselves. Family is the first point of socialization before schools. Many parents expects too much from their children’s teachers forgetting that these children actually spend more time at home than in the schools. The challenge before us as parents is to strike a balance among many other priorities.

Like Gabriella Mistral rightly observed:”We are guilty of many errors and many faults but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things we need could wait - the child cannot.”