From Billy Graham, Yola
Bunmi, as Oluwabunmi Anani is fondly called, can teach anything and you would have no option but to understand. Her sonorous, but unassuming and imposing voice makes her delivery captivating, elaborate, crystal, majestic and down-to-earth as she takes her privileged students on a journey of learning of the subject in question.
Bunmi is the winner of Maltina Teacher of the Year, 2020. She spoke with The Education Report recently in Yola.
You had your education in Lagos, how did you get to Adamawa State?
I did my primary, secondary and university education in Lagos. I gained admission into Lagos State University (LASU) to study English. Initially, I applied to study English Education at LASU but because I was told that, I didn’t have Christian Religious Knowledge as one of the prerequisites to read Education, I had to rewrite JAMB the following year through much persuasion from my father because at that point, I was already giving up. I had spent five years trying to gain admission into the university. I thank God in 2007 eventually I got admission into the university.
I was posted to Adamawa State for my NYSC service. At first I thought it was Ekiti State. I was disappointed actually I wanted to go to a different place, but definitely not the North.
At that time in 2011, the issue of insurgency was already at its peak. So, I wanted any other place like Port Harcourt, Calabar, but definitely not Yoruba area and the North. When I told my father, I thought he would insist for redeployment. But he would not, he said, “my daughter let us get the map of Nigeria, come on and let’s see.” And he pulled one out and showed me. He exclaimed: “Wow! Adamawa State is close to Cameroun, oh my God, this is interesting, you will go.”
My mother and I were like, what is happening, you mean, my father, with all that you read in the newspapers, still want me to go to Adamawa State? Well, I decided to go and I enjoyed myself. The weather was beautiful, yes, the insurgency was there but the people were not the insurgents. The people were accommodating, I enjoyed my stay there and I was actively involved in camp activities. I made sure those three weeks in the camp were memorable.
After my service year, I decided to stay back in Adamawa State. I had no plans to do that, let’s just say intuition, that I needed to stay. I applied to Condordia College for a teaching job among other schools. I was in a desperate situation because I had just N200. I got the job at Condordia College. I am registered with the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) and I have obtained my PGDE.
How did you get into the teaching profession and what actually attracted you to it?
When I completed secondary school while at home, one of our neighbours who was a school proprietor met my dad and said, why are you allowing this girl to waste away waiting for admission, please, she is talented, let her come and teach in my school. That was how my formal induction into the world of teaching began. I started with kindergarten class, from there I was moved to the primary section, worked there for a while, the third year, I was still trying to gain admission. When I gained admission into LASU, I was still teaching.
What attracted me into teaching is a combination of passion, conviction and a host of influences around me, positive influences and again the desire, deep-seated desire to make a far reaching impact. When it comes to influences, as a child my parents were the first teachers for me. Particularly, my mother was my Mathematics teacher, she was committed to my tutelage, eventually.
I took over from my mom to in turn tutor my siblings. I also became their teacher and they listened to me. It came first of all naturally to me to teach, then experience. After school, I was absorbed into the employ of my neighbour, then in the university too, I kept teaching, that was how I was able to augment my pocket money from home.
Permit me to mention some very significant people that made a difference in my life on my way to becoming a teacher. Mrs. Itiade Ladi was my Vice Principal, Academy, when I was in Lagos State College, Meiran. She inspired me that one can attractive, elegant and classy as a teacher.
Prof. Leke Fakoya, at LASU was the one who began to talk to me about the possibility of going into the education line. Then my father, he has been my biggest and strongest supporter. When I decided to take up teaching as a career, he never doubted me; he actually encouraged me and stood strong for me.
I graduated from the university in 2011, served in 2012 and I started teaching on March 8 2013.
What would you say were your low and high points as a teacher?
Many people would expect me to say October 16, 2020, when I won the Maltina Teacher of the Year, was a high point. But I would rather prefer to call it a defining moment in my career. But when it comes to this profession, my high point was the day I started taking the SS3 students in this school and they all made their English. They all passed without getting involved in any examination malpractice.
I have zero tolerance for examination malpractice, it does not mean am perfect. I insist that as long as it is possible, we have to transfer the culture of hard work, discipline and integrity to these students. We work so hard so that they can sit for any examination confidently and so that they can be independent learners. My high point is always when I see my students graduate with flying colours first in English, then other subjects.
My low points are usually when students look down on us or speak low of us as teachers. Some students look down on their teachers and some parents blatantly talk down to teachers saying if not for the school fees they are paying, we would not have a job or salaries as teachers. Those are usually very depressing comments and some parents do make them.
When I see some invigilators or external supervisors aiding examination malpractices that also constitutes one of my low points. Yes, for a very long time, the teaching profession has been derided and ridiculed, and there were times when the treatment of teachers and so many wrong things going around have made me doubt and question my conviction.
I have had reasons to question whether, Am I on the right path? If not for one of my mentors, Jude Adaki, he always tells me: “In every occupation there are hazards, so you have to learn to master it, overcome it and make the best of it.” That is how I have been able to manage my low points.
How did you feel when you were announced the winner of the Maltina Teacher of the Year? How were you received by colleagues, students and family?
I was a member of a teachers group and it was posted on that platform, so I decided to go for it. The day I was declared winner, I could not believe it. Someone asked whether I was not expecting to win. I said no, but the way the competition was so well organized and how the various stages were professionally handled, no one there could tell you that they did so well and would definitely win.
Everyone there was good and the truth is that anyone could have won. So when I was announced as winner, I really felt humbled, that was my number one feeling. When my name was mentioned, then all the floodgates of memories were opened wide. I began to reminisce on all the struggles I had gone through in the course of my teaching experience and life. I recalled all the squabbles that ensued when after my service year with some members of my family, when I decided to stay back in Adamawa State.
Questions like why would you want to stay there? Why would you want to teach? Come back to Lagos, there are better jobs there. My father in particular, was firmly behind me in any decision I take. I became emotional, I was overwhelmed, because I could not believe what was happening to me.
I have been through so much, a lot of sacrifices with my students. At that instance, I remembered that there is favour in every labour and profit in every endeavour. I am so grateful to God for making one of my dreams come true.
To be truthful, there were moments I thought of leaving the teaching profession. Moments when I felt doubts and questioned whether I was on the right path. I have had to ask myself, are you sure you are in the right path? In moments like that, I would confide in my mentor and sometimes my father. My father would simply say: “Focus and remain steadfast, keep at it and pray.” My mother would say: “There are always occupational hazards in any profession.”
There were times when I felt like quitting. But when I got to the classroom, I got refreshed, re-energized and renewed. So, the reception from my colleagues, my students and school, was warm and they were so happy for me. Coming from my students, it means a lot to me. And with my colleagues, it is a collective victory. It is like am representing all of us and we are worthy of the honour and am glad to be representing a generation of positively-minded teachers committed to making the difference.
What do you intend to do with your victory?
Before now, I had some education-inclined projects I had planned with the Maltina prize in focus, I would begin to implement them. You will get to know more about it as it unfolds.
Your take on the falling standards of education in the country
The most notable factor for the falling standards of education right now is the fact that stakeholders in the education sector have not been working as a team. We have continued to be engaged in a blame game in terms of issues ailing the education sector. Parents, teachers, government, the community, and students, must work towards the same direction. We must develop a feasible strategy and together take responsibility towards making it happen, and then we can turn the tide around for good.
Secondly, the checkered academic history of most of our children. A child will be in let’s say, primary three and the parents would be in a hurry to graduate them from school, forgetting that these classes and processes they circumvent always come to take its toll on the performance and ultimate development of the students education. Schools are structured with curriculum that students need to satisfy to progress. Circumventing the process at times make the student, ill-suited, ill-equipped mentally, emotionally and physically for the rigours of the challenges ahead in their academic pursuit.
Thirdly is the perennial issue of educational infrastructure Thank God for the private sector but not all of them though. Some of them are just taking advantage of the gaps that lie in the education sector to cash in from it. But some few private schools are actually living up to the standards. However, there are still gaping holes to be filled.
Our classrooms, especially in the public schools are in a sorry state. How do you expect a child in such a poor learning condition to pass his or her examination? We are in a technologically driven learning environment, students cannot perform well when they need technological intelligence and the facilities are not there.
Many students do not know what a computer is apart from what they learn about it on the board. In the face of a computer based examination or activity, they would perform badly. These are areas that need quick and immediate intervention to break the rapidly falling standards of education.
Another factor is that teachers are not properly motivated and opportunities for training and retraining have been scarce and not encouraging. The remuneration of teachers is grossly inadequate for the teacher to take care of his basic personal needs let alone invest in professional advancement.
The attention has been over focused on the teacher, what about the curriculum planners? The policy makers? Do they even get the input of teachers who have direct relationship with the students before designing some of these schemes? But today, more than ever, am proud to say that teachers against all odds, are more academically and intellectually updated and prepared for the job largely through personal efforts.
Sometimes I think, there is a conspiracy to destroy and frustrate well meaning educationist. How do I mean? Examination malpractice has become the order of the day. Parents are involved, students are involved, even the examining bodies who are supposed to be at the vanguard of academic integrity are also involved and we are here talking about falling standards of education.
There is the urgent need to put infrastructure in place and to set up conducive environment. Some parents who lived through the early pre-independence periods, might say that in their time there were no computers and that had to trek for miles before getting to school, but times have changed.
We have a restless generation, with a very short attention span. When we are teaching these ones, we need to put the necessary infrastructure in place to get their interest sustained to get the desired results. There is a need for conducive educational environment for both the teacher and the student.
Teachers need the right environment to help them redefine and repackage themselves and carry themselves with pride as a change symbols and influencers in the society. The society because of teachers’ low earning, treat teachers as if they are an extension of their domestic workers. The quality of pay for teachers has a way of affecting the psyche of the teacher and how they treat their jobs and the people around them.
How did you teachers cope during the COVID-19 lockdown?
The COVID-19 lockdown period was challenging and grueling for teachers. Any teacher who survived would survive anything. Most of us have come out of it better and stronger. We have learnt to adopt and reinvent ourselves to survive the period. Many of us who had been struggling with technology and the social media had to stoop down to learn to become relevant. We had to explore beyond the confines of our classrooms.
Most teachers have become technologically aware and attuned to the social media. Teachers had to go out looking for alternative sources of income and means of survival. At the end of it, we became better, smarter and innovative.
How would you want challenges of insurgency and out-of-school children addressed?
For the out-of-school children the statistics is alarming and if not strategically and timely arrested, we would soon be in a dangerous situation. There is danger looming in the horizon and it is not only a threat to the North but to the whole country. I will challenge the wives of governors to take it up as a project.
I will call on governments to improve the funding for education. Let all stakeholders, in the private and public sector be pulled together towards mitigating this disaster.
Concrete and practical actions need to be taken to turn all lip-services into concrete action that would save the lives of these young ones. It is high time we put our money where our mouth is.