Our Professors…

This letter is an appeal to the Nigerian teacher especially lecturers in the higher institutions. I want you to, despite the facts that I will list here, inspire the next generation. Point them to the bright light at the end of the seemingly endless tunnel. Encourage them and let them know that you believe in them. I am giving you no ammunition but asking you to face the Goliath of adversity in the mind of the average Nigerian student who is going to be the first graduate in a whole village and cannot go abroad for the type of education that he might wish to get.

The educational system is what it is. The financial, IT, agricultural, telecoms, banking, and power systems of the country have seen some changes, albeit short-termed, as transformational leaders were posted there. The educational systems seek for one. Someone to breathe into it and give the masses hope. That as an aside, you cannot change the system overnight but you can do things from your confines. So I throw this challenge back to our lecturers. What can we do to become a beacon of hope to aspiring students?
 I use the word aspiring because I completely understand you.

  1. There are students who show up but the constituents of their spirit, mental faculties and soul are far from where the bag of bones called their body is.
  2. There are another set that don’t just get it; not because they cannot cope with academic rigours but the only thing that they listen to is their hormones.
  3. Yet another set, are humanoids; they are hooked to social media and can’t hold a 3 minute conversation with the next man without touching that screen.
  4. Another set are in front of you because their parents said so.
  5. Again another, that openly come to you with money for grades or threats as they claim to belong to ABC or the ones who believe in the self-invented philosophy of “getting what they want with what they have” in the most untoward way.
  6. Then the final set are those wondering why they are here, in front of you and what has the dy/dx has got to do with their progress in life.

All in all, you must understand that you are dealing with teenagers that just left home for the first time and have just tasted supposed freedom. They want everything to happen at once and hence are utterly confused. For some others; the pace of everything hitting them so fast and hard is literally leaving them breathless. I am not making excuses. I am only throwing the facts out there for you to understand. Understanding your constituency engenders empathy.
The system also does not help. You teach more students than you can possibly handle. You basically teach with nothing….no teaching aid, no graduate assistant, no reference books and a whole litany of things that you would need to make your work easier. You cannot conduct a simple experiment to demonstrate the beauty and practicality of science or a simple survey to show the complexities of human desire. Apart from titration and sodium darting over water, you can do very little. Same with giving out questionnaires; those seem to be the only social experiments you can do. So, I get that part as well.
 The society has not helped either. In social gatherings, you are not accorded your status. Your dropout secondary school classmate, who has a warped sense of tenses and literally blows grammar such as “I wanted to collected that money yesterday” and who has no known job but “shows working” evidenced by flashy cars, landed properties, oil blocs and harem of red light district acquaintances is given the high table and the right hand of fellowship. Your teller in the bank, who earns more than you, wonders why you are complaining for his / her terrible services, given your bank balance. Your former students do not call to say “hello” or “thank you”. It is only when they want a younger one to obtain admission or they need their transcript, that is when your number is dug up from the abyss of their smart phones. Yes! Their phones are smart and yours is…..not so smart.

The first person you were interested in and asked out, asked you to “look me well o. I resemble who wan suffer ?”. And you wonder, if anyone in their right senses wants to suffer naturally. You actually believe her. The second one told you to “leave that thing”. Then you turned to your colleague and the person schooled you in the art of rational thinking and the discussion goes thus “If we go on strike for 3 months and we are both teachers / lecturers, how will we survive with 4 children. Think am na ! No be say I no love you o but love must make sense. You need to think these things through”. Your family members question you career choice. You seem to always be in the dark. You seem not to exist. It seems you were cursed to have taken this path; whether willingly or otherwise.
 Your children are in schools that you wish they were not. You know better and want better for them but your economy cannot support that mission. Your car speaks spattering Japanese — Kihi Kihi Kihi — every other time especially when you want to start it. You wish the Japanese can transcend to the language spoken by other cars but that is a wish. You have become a mechanic by force and Bikob, the local mechanic is now you bosom friend. Infact, he is now family because you call him more frequently than your spouse. Same as the generator repairer. The last time you were in court to witness a proceeding, the judge nearly ordered your arrest “for contempt of court and disturbance of proceedings” courtesy of the sound of your car. 
 The private sector has done things in trickles. Nigeria LNG Limited, Etisalat, ExxonMobil and Cadbury has programmes for the educational sector but that is in trickles as compared to the enormity of the task at hand. If every other person / company contributed their lot like what these companies have done, then it would make the education space a better place.

Oby Ezekwesili started the “Adopt-A-School” programme but the living day light was snuffed out immediately she left office. Let me borrow the words from the intelligentsia in WhatsApp land. It states……
 * MTN Project Fame: N7.5m + SUV;
 * Etisalat Nigerian Idol: N5m + multimillion naira contract;
 * Glo Naija Sings: N5m + SUV;
 * Gulder Ultimate Search: N10m plus endorsements;
 * COWBELL Mathematics Competition: N100k;
 * Spelling Bee: N50k;
 * School Scrabble: N25k.
 * Cool FM Spelling Game: a goodie bag filled with amila drink…
 And someone is asking why on earth WAEC results standard is on the decline???

 These are not my words. Imagine if some lecturers get the sponsorship a teenager gets from Nigerian Idol. Neymar’s salary and Mayweather’s latest alert has not helped matters. Anyway, we get what we encourage. Have you seen any University advertise its best lecturers? They only award professorship to those that publish papers. And publish papers, we will. Why should I be a good lecturer and bother about my morals when all I am rewarded for is my publications.
 Finally, your take home pay does not take you home. You need to do the needful to get government’s attention and it takes half of forever for the negotiation to start talkless of ending. During those times, you are supposed to survive on the 21% available oxygen in the atmosphere. With all these extenuating circumstances, you have been made to become all things to all men. This sounds like African Magic, Nollywood, at its best but unfortunately, it is your reality.

Let’s call these issues I have raised — externalities. Is there anything that you can influence or do to make the students get the best out of the system? The initial answer is “no” but if you think it through, there might be some things. What can you do with what you have to encourage them ? I have listed a few.

A. Please don’t vent your anger on how the society, employer, government etc have treated you. It is the natural thing to do but resist that urge.

B. Never get dragged down to the level of your students. How do you know that has happened? When you argue unnecessarily, when you plan a revenge. Walk the higher path. You are the elder here.

C. Don’t brag to students how good you were in your days. They know when you are good. Actually, it does not matter.

D. Please don’t tell them that “if you are bright, you can get a C in my course”. It sounds cool but it is not cool at all. Somewhere else their competition is getting what they deserve and soon they will meet to compete for a space. Your student will not be able to explain why he/she got a lower rating. Never cause an irreversible reaction because of your ego. The key word her is “irreversible reaction”.

E. Think of how you can help. You can call former students to come back and give a talk on how they got a job, a scholarship for further studies or started their own company. Use your network to make this happen. There are people in your network that can easily do this on pro bono basis.

F. Don’t ask for what you cannot justify. Don’t take advantage. It is just a matter of years they will not be under your control again. Do your best when they are with you.

G. Spend some time finding ways to inspire your students. Google it. Others are already doing it in some parts of the world. It’s all there on Youtube. You don’t have to invent anything. Copy. Adapt. Paste. Pronto!

H. Plan a visit to where your course of study is relevant. It might take a while to make it happen. Ask for the help of your students. Some of them have people they know in those places. A tour around a manufacturing plant might do wonders. Students love group trips.

I. Give them something to do that will involve group / team work. The way the system is shaped, some classmates may never ever talk to each other until they leave school. Use this as an opportunity to make it happen. The Nigerian school system hardly teaches collaboration but this is a skill they need to make it in life and the work place.

J. In the group work, ask them about Belbin’s theory and the life cycle of a team. It will lead to some self-discovery.

K. Ask for presentations of the group work. Make them choose who will make the presentation. It will task them. They will seen group / team dynamics for themselves. It might be their first foretaste of an election. If they elect popularity over competence, then it is their choice.

L. Say sorry when you make a mistake. Apologize. Just do it. Some may see it as a sign of weakness but it doesn’t matter. In a decade’s time they will know you were not. You were just humane.

M. Finally don’t give up on them. Yes they have their issues but to a few of them, you are the richest man they have ever met. You are the only voice of conscience they know. You assist God to run the earth. That is how they see you. Don’t disappoint them.

N. There are many other things not listed here that you can think up and adapt for your situation. Think through, write them down and implement.

“Teaching is the greatest act of optimism.” ~ Colleen Wilcox.

“I’m m not a teacher but an awakener.” ~ Robert Frost

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” ~ Henry Brooks Adams

I wrote this in respect of a lecturer in school who inspired me, Prof Robert Ebewele. He passed away a few months after I wrote this for the first time. (I wish he saw it but I did not know how to get it across to him even though I visited him once and we had a nice chit chat. Luckily, I was able to tell him how he inspired me). Painful exit. Prof taught me Polymer Engineering. He wrote one of the best book on that subject. See below.

He came to class on time, would inform us if he wasn’t coming, printed journals for us to read and made his classes interesting. He told us that he wanted to make it difficult for us to fail his course. Waoh! Can you beat that? He explained to stupor complex matters and made them simple. A willing goat could learn from him.

He was as fresh air to me and he made me fall in love with learning.

He made a difference.

Would you join him?