Daily increase in number of students, tremendous devotion from volunteer teachers
The Ajegunle, Lagos, branch of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) has commenced its annual free holiday coaching. The ERC is a campaign initiated by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) – CWI Nigeria since 2004 to campaign against education underfunding, fee hikes and for provision of free and functional education at all levels and also respect of the democratic rights of students and education workers. Annually the Ajegunle branch of the DSM and the ERC organizes free holiday coaching lessons for secondary school students of the poor communities of Ajegunle.
In the sprawling slum of Ajegunle where mass poverty, lack of basic amenities, unemployment, hunger and mass misery are dominant features of daily existence, education is a choice almost beyond the means of a majority, let alone holiday lessons which often cost more than schools. Meanwhile education in Nigeria has virtually collapsed in standard and quality over a long period of time and students require lessons during summer holidays to prepare themselves adequately for their new class next term and for entrance examinations into the Universities and other tertiary institutions for those in SS3.
The turnout at the coaching was therefore not surprising. On a daily basis, the numbers of students are increasing. Last Friday, August 19, about 200 students attended from 25 schools, private schools included. On Monday 22 August, the number of students increased to 220.
The coaching holds daily in the premises of the Nawair-Ud-Deen primary school located in the midst of a sprawling collage of matchbox buildings, burst sewage and dirt roads of Kojo Lane, off Layinka Street in Ajegunle. The school itself sports a big notice in front saying it has been newly renovated by the Local Government but a look inside the brightly painted classes shows sagging ceilings, desks and chairs requiring repairs, broken windows etc.
Members of the DSM as well as about 20 volunteer teachers shuttle between their jobs and the coaching to teach various subjects. The volunteer teachers are particularly interesting. Most of them have been attracted by the urge to contribute something to the poor youth of the community amongst whom many talents abound. Such is the case in rejected and abandoned slums and poor communities that the best always come from amongst them. With nothing to make it easy for them, poor community youth and school students grapple to excel despite the huge odds stacked against them by the anti-poor capitalist system.
The significance of the free holiday lessons is not just to assist the students academically. It is part and parcel of the campaign of the ERC and the DSM for the provision of free and functional education at all levels and the democratic running of schools by students, parents and teachers. The lesson show in practice how communities, students, teachers and parents can take democratic control of the running of education unlike the current situation wherein government bureaucrats are the ones in charge of education.
The teachers hold meetings regularly to review timetable and discuss other ways to improve the lesson. Effort is made to keep the number of students per class to accepted standard. This means that the lesson is always in need of new classes and, of course, more chairs and desks. For key subjects like English and Mathematics, there are as many as 3 teachers, something hard to find even in some private schools in Nigeria! Every Friday, career and counseling talks are held with the students. This has provided an opportunity to introduce the students to the idea of struggle.
Last Friday, Hassan Taiwo Soweto (DSM member and National Coordinator of the ERC) was at the lesson to speak to the students. Also in attendance was Mrs. Gogo of the "Keeping it Real Foundation" NGO. Mrs. Gogo inspired the students with her life story in which while growing up, she confronted different social and economic obstacles. This includes having to hawk in the street, nearly being raped by an older man, a life of drinking and smoking. This, unfortunately, is still the scenario which millions confront daily in Nigeria.
Some of the volunteer teachers
On his part, Soweto emphasized the importance of students organizing to fight back at the capitalist system which has condemned them to live of misery at the slum. He talked about the 60% and 70% mass failure in the two entrance examinations (UTME and WAEC) this year as a feature of the decay in the education sector and how things will get worse if a mass struggle for improved funding of education is not started now from communities linking school students with university students, teachers and the trade unions in joint struggle. He also talked about the lack of adequate admission places in higher institutions and how this ensures that millions of students are unable to secure admission annually.
The discussion was particularly very lively. Soweto described the horrible condition vast majority of youths and working people are placed in Nigeria due to capitalism. This includes lack of basic amenities in communities, collapse of the public health care system, excruciating poverty, hunger and slum dwellings, huge fees in schools only to graduate without jobs. He urged students and youth to play active roles in struggle to fight cuts in education funding as well as to change society instead of trying to find shortcuts (internet fraud a.k.a ’Yahoo Yahoo’, crime, prostitution, drugs etc) out of a systemic crisis. This is the best way out of the crisis of capitalism in Nigeria.
According to him "the cliché that if you cannot beat them, you join them is false, the reality of today gives youth no choice of a bright future. So if you cannot beat them and you cannot join them, you must fight them!" To this the students roared with applause. But when asked how the fight back should be organized, some of the students suggested "Boko Haram" as a method. Boko Haram (translates roughly as "Western education is evil") is an Islamic fundamentalist group in the North East of Nigeria which is presently carrying out a campaign of bombings of government buildings, police and army patrols, beer drinking joints etc. They demand the establishment of a Sharia state and legal system. On June 16 this year, this group carried out an audacious bombing of the Police national headquarters in Abuja with the Inspector General of Police escaping death by whiskers.
This is an apparent confirmation of the argument of the DSM that unless the working class fight consistently for a takeover of political power from the corrupt capitalist ruling elite whose life of opulence contrast sharply with the misery and poverty of vast majority, Nigeria may not only descend into a raging inferno of ethno-religious conflict as fundamentalist groups step into the vacuum but also terrorism and other highly violent methods could appear attractive to huge majority of youths and working people who are searching for a way out of excruciating poverty and destitution. If the methods of Boko Haram appeal to youths in the backwaters of an Ajegunle slum, it can be seen how they can get support from youths in the North of Nigeria where high poverty levels competes favorably with a frightening level of mass illiteracy.
The only way to change Nigeria in the interest of the working masses and oppressed youth is for the trade unions to build a national mass movement that can unite the workers, youth and poor of the North, East, West and South against the capitalist ruling elite and the anti-poor policies of privatization, commercialization and deregulation. There is equally the urgent need for a mass-based workers political party that can wrest political power from the hated ruling elite and establish a democratic socialist Nigeria where key sectors of the economy will be nationalized under the democratic control of the working masses.
With the significance of the career talks as a mini-symposium to discuss ideas of struggle with the students, the ERC has agreed to further enhance it by producing a regular bulletin and by organizing a regular stall where students and teachers can sample ideological materials as well as the Socialist Democracy (SD), the paper of the DSM.
However the lesson has also attracted support and interest from individuals and groups. One of the speakers at the career talks promised to lend the Campaign a projector so that radical films can be shown to students during the remaining days of the lesson.
Also plans are on the way to organize a symposium to mark the end of the lesson. The symposium will bring together students, teachers, parents, community people, socialists and trade union activists to discuss the crisis of education in Nigeria and the need for a fight back. Also some of the students and teachers have already shown interest in the ERC. A meeting has been fixed for August 27 to acquaint them with the Campaign as well as the ideas and programs of struggle.