• A close look at the life of children who combine schooling with vocational training
The tiny, frail-looking kid vulcaniser is a familiar sight on the streets of Igando Phase One. Every day, from afternoon till late evening, he is seen busily pumping or gauging tyres. The sight of this puny labourer pantomiming up and down begs the question: How did he end up in this vocation at such an early age? “I was brought here by my parents to learn vulcanizing,” says 10-year-old Eritosin, a JSS 1 student of Egan Grammar School.
His declaration opened a floodgate of questions. How does he cope with the pressure that comes with combining schooling and learning a vocation? Does he get to read his books? And, is he happy with being a vulcaniser?
According to the child’s claim, he usually takes care of his school homework before heading to the workshop. “My work here doesn’t disturb my schooling,” he said timidly. “I am satisfied with learning this vocation.”
The same vulcanizer workshop had an even younger apprentice in eight-year-old Segun who looked every inch a child that should still be under the watchful eyes of his mother. The youngster couldn’t confidently ascertain his age, until assisted by his senior colleagues.
That raised a pertinent question: “How is he likely to cope with learning at school and at his chosen vocation?”
Eritosin and Segun, both trainees for a few months now did not appear to fare any better in vulcanizing tasks. This could be attributed to their being underage and physically weak for a vocation that requires a measure of physicality and sheer strength.
Going to school and apprenticing at a vocational workshop isn’t a bad idea, but when the child concerned is 10 years old or younger, worrying questions arise as to the appropriateness of such situation. Alarmingly, the street of Lagos is teeming with children in such situation.
Ten-year-old Qudus, a Primary Six pupil who became apprentice tailor in December 2017, is yet another example. He has an even busier routine than Eritosin and Segun. “During the day, I go to school. I resume work at the shop by 2 pm and 9 am on Saturday or holidays,” he said.
In between the two engagements, he also attends an Arabic school. So far, Qudus can sew drawstrings and also tack buttons. For him, apprenticing as a tailor does not affect his education as he proudly informed that he came 4th in a class of 27 in the previous exams.
How did he end in a tailor’s shop? “I told my mother that I would like to be a tailor and she brought me here,” he declared.
His master, popularly called Alfa by neighbors and customers, was present during this interview. He corroborated the youngster’s claim, though his version differed slightly in details.
“His mother brought him to my shop, not because he told her so, but because he was becoming too naughty and troublesome for her and she felt having little or no time to play around the streets will reduce his waywardness,” said the master.
According to him, he hardly takes boys of that young age under his tutelage. “I allowed him to stay because of the pleas of his mother.” Has the boy’s naughtiness decreased?
“Not really,” affirmed his master. “He still plays around especially when we send him on errands. At times, he would go an errand that shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes and would not return until 30 minutes later or more, because he is always playing around”.
So how does the boss deal with his recalcitrant apprentice? “At times I discipline him, at times I only scold him, because he is a small boy and should be given a little time to play, that is why I don’t beat him always,” he said.
On Fatimoh Street, Ikotun, you will find 12-year-old Idowu Abiye––now three years an apprentice tailor––who started his traineeship at the age of nine.
He is presently a Primary Five pupil of Olukotun Primary School. Normally, it takes three years or four to learn tailoring, but the 12 year old might have to serve as an apprentice for six or seven years.
His progress has not been impressive as he confessed that he was learning “small, small” and he knows just little about tailoring. What he does most the whole day is to run errands; buying tailoring materials or food for his master and senior colleagues or neighbours.
Like Qudus, Idowu also started learning tailoring when he told his mum he would like to be a tailor, he also said he was pleased with it and that learning tailoring and also going to school does not disturb each other.
“I come here after school, then close around eight in the night but during weekends (Saturdays and sometimes Sunday) or holidays, I resume latest 9 am and close around eight in the night”.
The quartet of Idowu, Qudus, Eritosin and Segun are kids but a chronicle of their daily routine indicates a clear case of an all-work-and-no-play childhood devoid of playtime with peers, which is an essential part of a child’s upbringing.
Michael Idowu, a retired primary school teacher, was vehemently opposed to primary school pupils learning a vocation.
“Based on the experience I have and based on my knowledge, a child of 10 or 11 is still below the mark because there is a limit to what they can assimilate,” he argued. “A child that has just closed from school is meant to go home and review what the teacher has taught him. Instead, he goes to another boss to learn something else. When the child gets to school the following day, how is he going to remember most of the things he was taught the previous day?”
Idowu––once a part-time tailor, now a full-time practitioner of the vocation––started to learn tailoring after completing his secondary education.
“It is okay for a teenager of 18 to combine schooling with vocational training because he or she has become a young adult,” he added.
Even if the children had brought up the idea of enrolling to be trained as a clothier at too early an age, Idowu felt the onus lies with the parents to dissuade them.
“If I were their parents, I would explain everything I need to explain to the child, to make him understand why he has to wait till he is old enough to learn a vocation,” he said.
The same sentiment echoed from S.A. Olaolu. He was a bit blunt: “It is only an illiterate that would allow a child of 10 years or below go to learn a trade.” The primary school teacher said such practice “is not good at all.”
He gave two reasons why it is a bad idea.
“Firstly, educationists says when we are done with reading, we should rest. The brain should not be used just anyhow. Secondly, the child will not be able to do the homework he has been assigned in school. There is no way he or she can do it. The child would remember some and forget some.”
Like Idowu, he also concurred that 18 years is the ripe age to learn a trade. Said he: “If at all a child wants to learn a trade, it should be at the age of 18 and it would be of an advantage to the child because there is no work that you would want to learn without having education. You will need education to do estimates and also communicate with customers.”
Noting that life has become complex and sophisticated, he advocated for a thorough education even before going into vocation. “A child that is deficient in education will be a misfit in the future. There is nothing bad for a child to finish secondary school, then start learning a vocation because, truly, this is also an era where you have to go to school and also learn a vocation or craft. However, we shouldn’t put too much burden on the children at their tender age. Let’s do things properly; let the child be 18; let him or her complete secondary education, then he can go and learn a craft.”
For children who do not “have the head for books” Olaolu prescribed technical college, where they would learn a vocation of their choice for three years in an academic environment. “At this stage, the child should be about 14 years of age or more, and would learn both the vocation and also some useful academic education,” he insisted.