7 a.m. on Thursday 21st March 2019, on my way to the office, I arrived Ikeja at about 7:15 a.m from home aiming to board a bus going to Maryland. Just in front of me was a neatly dressed young girl going to school. She boarded the bus which I was intending. The first drama was that I saw her came down of the vehicle (Danfo) at a time I was already close to her and the bus. Then I overheard her requesting the bus official (conductor) to sit beside the driver, which was exactly my target. Fortunately, it was a seat for two. She jumped into the car and I immediately followed and I slammed the door.
Surprisingly, I heard a strange sonorous voice “good morning”. I was amazed and trying to see where the voice was coming from as though an angel sat beside me. It was a good morning indeed as she got me amazed. So good morning I said in reply, how are you? She replied fine in humility once again with her head protruding forward (describing a popular culture in Nigeria showing respect). Trust me, I was never used to talking to strangers and I am still lost in the grime of balancing between talking to strangers or not especially for adolescents. I believe the situation of the country is what leads to high-end restrictions or perhaps people do not understand.
I often come across school children along the way while going to the office and we exchange greetings without knowing one another, especially if we identified ourselves to be of similar faith. Then we exchange pleasantries through the statement “may the peace and mercy of the Almighty God be upon you”. Back to our story, I was not at ease engaging her in the discussion being a stranger, but I could not hold the joy and I became optimistic to know more about this glorious girl. I have girls also I am wishing to train to make the world a better place.
How are you? set the conversation into pace. What is the name of your school I asked? Community junior high school, Wasimi, Maryland. Where are you coming from?, I asked further. On this occasion, she replied with the sound “umm”- connoting that she didn’t hear me well. Then I asked louder, where do you reside to have your school located that far? She replied “Mangoro”. Where is that? In Agege, she answered. Oh! Agege is one of the towns in Lagos state. Even though these questions are beginning to look intrusive in my opinion for a young child to a stranger, I went further owing to the pure heart for her. It is noteworthy to understand now that, we all need to teach our kids the manners of engagement with strangers. Having an absolute rule “do not talk to strangers” might look too extreme. Making your child understand when and when not to talk to strangers is far more advisable. In cases of emergencies, teach your children to ask for help from elderly women or men who are officials like policemen, street guards, and the likes. In the absence of these, they can move further asking who they feel might be of help in the right sense. They should be taught to stay aloof of strangers who request of them to touch any part if their body or extending hands of care to them by giving a gift. In fact, they should be made to understand the polite way of answering a stranger, like saying “sorry, I don’t talk to strangers please” in response to a stranger who tries to engage them.
As we went on our journey, being a teacher, I was interested in knowing about her performance in school. How is your school, and I hope they are teaching you well?. She responded in affirmation saying “yes, they teach us very well”. Let me mention something here, do you notice the reply she has been giving. All were in full sentences but few; (E.g. Yes, they teach us well). That is amazing, isn’t it? I am always interested in what students find difficult as I love to take away difficulties. How is your mathematics in school, do you like mathematics? Without even wasting any time she replied, “No, it’s too hard”. I wasn’t surprised. Disliking maths is like eating rice. Why do you dislike maths? I enquired further, she said it is too hard. Oh Goodness! I felt for her then I started another story.
“You see, truly things might be difficult but not everything is. In fact, the most thing we see as difficult is just as simple ABC to many. For you to conquer a difficult subject (be it in education or career), the first is your mindset. Always reassure yourself that it is not difficult. Stay focused and practise more. Meet those who find it easy to crack it for you. I could remember back then, during my undergraduate studies, students complain of find structures; a course in civil engineering- difficult, although many later ran away totally from it, although, they scaled through passing the subject after witnessing my class where I teach with their mother’s tongue. I said to the little one, have your mind prepared for mathematics and you will find it easy. Do not say it I difficult again, rather say it is simple.
We moved further, but why do you find it difficult, don’t you ask your teachers questions? Who is your mathematics teacher?, I further enquired. Is he a male or a female? “It is a female” she replied. I screamed at minimal not to cause a scene in the bus “then you should be able to know maths since you are a girl as well”. Why not ask your teacher whatever you find difficult? This was where I got heartbroken. “She is wicked”, was let out of her lip. I took a deep sigh because I could sense her plight. This is a call to the government bodies, schools, teachers and parents. Though in a broad sense, the frustration resulting from handling an overwhelming number of students could be unavoidable. As she said, they were about 70 or more in the class, for a single teacher, to teach and make them all understand is going to be a daunting task. In the teacher’s struggle is also to control students who are careless of their ambition and hence, are only good at causing nuisance in the class. However, human resource management, psychological attention, proper administrative settings, care and passion for kids, amongst many others are of great importance begging to be considered in the daily educational routine.
How was your last result? It was fine but I didn’t pass mathematics. Oh, but among all subjects, which is your favourite? I like English. Judging from her spoken English, I knew she was not going to be bored studying in English class.
Then I pushed further by saying; what are you doing about the mathematics you do not know? At least before you eventually drop it as a subject of concern, you still have to pass it to study medicine. Mind you, she told me earlier, she wanted to study science, and I asked which of the sciences, she said she wants to study medicine.
Understanding where the problem could have set in. Subjects, especially mathematics are disliked today by students because it was never placed before them as being simple. Probably, from the primary level of their educational studies. Teachers are to apply attractive techniques in teaching early days mathematics. Along the line, all teachers from the first class of mathematics are to make the students understand that the simplest subject on earth is mathematics. Let us imagine a topic like a word problem. Many of these kids apply them in their daily lives. Unbelievably is that they do not even know that the topic has already been understood before the class. Hence they kept on complaining about finding an ‘x’ which is already written on the board. I beg for the session ‘teach the teachers’. Probably problems can be mitigated. I wonder if teachers were told as a student have always been told; while in a counselling session on the resumption of my secondary school, I could remember that it was buttressed that, we should love our teachers. Because if you dislike a teacher then you cannot know the subject. Good enough, that’s interesting and true although not in all sense, believe me. Are teachers also being told that disliking students, or trying to condemn them, using hate speeches, cursing is more likely to make the student lose 100 % interest in the subject taken by the teacher? I hope so. So everyone has a role to play. Enough of blaming students alone for their mess.
I once had a bitter experience with a student of mine who returned from school with his mathematics script. After checking all he did, I found out that a particular question was answered correctly but he was denied the mark. Then I asked him, what went wrong with this question. The reply I got was shocking. He said “the teacher said I didn’t use his method” I was still at ease then, but asked further, did he specify that you should use any method if at all there is anything like “his method”? The student replied in reversal. Then I got boiled up. That declares how messed up things are.
I experienced just recently about some few months back when I joined a senior secondary school to take mathematics classes. While in class, I tried to carry every student along of about 70 as well and I just had about 30 minutes or 45 minutes in teaching the topic modular arithmetic. When I got back to the staff room and met the teacher I was assisting, I explained to her where I started from and where I stopped, perhaps if I will not be the one teaching them next. To my surprise, the teacher in response altered the statement “you are too slow” oh God of mercy. I wasn’t just infuriated, I was really embarrassed and saddened. While taking the pain to make the students understand with little or no headache. All I could get is “you are too slow”. Then I realised why only a few students are reckoned with as being brilliant. The truth is those whom you have praised to be brilliant had either a superior brain or are exposed to superior teaching or background which doesn’t justify your teaching as being good. All that is of concern is the completion of the syllabus. Bogus topics are paired with a fixed amount of time with rather time taking topics in a situation where students’ population is never decreasing and assimilation rate of the students differs with large digits. Also in the midst of all these complications, they are offering about 13 to 15 subjects in just a semester. In essence, there are a number of compounding factors that actually affect them. These factors were never considered, yet we expect the students to perform exceptionally.
I was really glad to have met this young girl of great potentials and I believe the parents are also glad about having such a beautiful daughter. I could not hold the joy that while we were together, she asked, how much are you giving the conductor? I said never mind, I will pay your fair.
And to ensure she had learnt something from me, I asked her this time, is mathematics difficult? Guess what her reply was. Then it gladdened my heart.