Issue  

A warped sense of priorities

Omagbitse Barrow

When you hear people say that if you want to hide money from a Nigerian you should place it in a book – it is true. I have experienced it myself at multiple levels, and I imagine many others have too. A few years ago, I travelled with a colleague for a training in Ibadan, and after the first day of the two-day training, we left our training materials, books and DVDs that we usually sell at workshops in our training suitcase at the client’s conference room – a very typical practice with trainers. The next day we returned and alas – our suitcase was gone, but all the books for sale and even the proceeds from the day one sales that were placed in the books were intact – carefully arranged on the ground for us, while the thief made away with the suitcase.

In the last couple of years, my colleagues and I while on our sales drive with our children’s educational resources: books, digital products and games in various areas of life skills have gone to scores of schools in Abuja and Lagos for Book Fairs, Fun Fairs, PTA Events and the likes. Over time, our interest in such events has diminished because of the warped sense of priorities that parents display at such events.

Firstly, most Nigerian parents will just send their children to such events accompanied by maids and nannies. Interestingly, in the international schools, we see a clear trend where the expatriate parents attend themselves, unlike their Nigerian counterparts. Then what is even more interesting is that the few Nigerian parents that actually attend would literarily “pass over” your book-stand, and stuff their kids with pop-corn, fizzy drinks and cotton-candy rather than buy books at an event that was curiously called a ‘Book Fair’.

For the handful who even show an interest in the books, they spend so much time haggling and trying to shake you down for a discount, before moving on to the candy stands and paying the recommended selling price without even putting up a single fight. I imagine, most readers will be wondering that the books may be expensive – quite the contrary, in most cases they cost about the same price or even lower as the treats. Recently, we even had a parent refuse to heed the pleas from his son to buy a book insisting instead on buying candy for the son. In another event, a parent who observed this warped sense of priorities expressed his feelings loudly to other parents and got into an altercation with the candy vendors who claimed that his statement was “trying to spoil their business.”

The point I am trying to make is simple – many Nigerians really pay only lip service to education, and it is no wonder that we produce the kind of workforce that we do, and that mediocrity and charlatanism seem to be the order of the day. While there are other factors that have contributed to this decadence, the typical apathy shown by Nigerian parents to investing in educating their children is something that we should be concerned about. I mean the mere fact that you have paid millions of naira as school fees does not really mean that you are committed to your children’s education. You will be amazed that it is the smaller investments in quality time and conversations with your children that make the real difference!

What does it profit a child who goes to the best school and yet never gets any real interaction with his parents regarding his education and up-bringing? I recall how it used to be reported that the late MKO Abiola in spite of his very large family always took the time to engage his children on their education and learning. Our parents today just want to pay the school fees and expect their money will do the rest. Thankfully, one of the Schools in Abuja have asked me to share some thoughts on Parent-School Partnership/Collaboration as a keynoter, at their graduation ceremony this week. I hope the parents who will show up will not tune-off and be pre-occupied with the Jollof rice on item 7.

Well, each time we have this experience, I task my colleagues and myself to think about our products – enhancing the pricing, quality, presentation or pitch – after all it may not be the warped sense of priorities of the parents, it may just be our product that isn’t meeting their expectations. The other angle will be that we do have many parents who prioritize books over candy, and I reckon that we will just have to make do with those parents and pray that others will begin to think differently.

We do have a major crisis in education and literacy in our country, and parents have a big role to play that goes beyond just paying school fees. Parents need to invest quality time in engaging conversations with their children, they also need to collaborate/partner more with the Schools and teachers, and then of course, they have to teach their children through their purchasing decisions what their priorities should be – learning and continuous development over candy and treats. In the words of Rev Fr George Ehusani of the Lux Terra Leadership Foundation – “there is no difference between the one who does not know how to read, and the one who can read, but chooses not to.”

Barrow is a Director of Life Skills Experts and has authored a number of children’s books and educational resources.

In this article:
Omagbitse Barrow


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