Tuesday, 29 April 2014

(100): Understanding the dream of your kids

This column will celebrate its 100th edition with one of the friends of this blog, parents and the youth.  It is common in our part of the world to simply send kids to school, and in this age parents are very good in spending their resources on the education of their children.

But what many parents are not good at is helping those children to have a dream, and work towards achieving that dream. Instead, the parents decide that every brilliant child in the family must be a medical doctor, not a bad choice, though, but what criteria has the father or mother used to decide that medicine is the best course for the child.

I was once told an interesting story about someone seeking admission for his daughter. You know the Nigerian way, getting admission into higher institutions of learning sometimes requires a ‘long leg’, and so if your leg is short, you have to find an influential person to make it long enough to secure the admission. This gentleman contacted a fellow teacher to assist him; so he came with the qualifications of his daughter. After studying the results carefully, the teacher told the man that based on the result he sees, it is better for the lady to study something in the social sciences. The gentleman was quite, and then replied “amma Hajiya ta ce medicine ta ke so ta karanta” (but my wife wanted her to study medicine).

An area that requires significant attention is for parents to carefully understand their children and know their dream.   That way they can help them to achieve their goals in life. This is something that needs to be done early rather than waiting until the kid finishes secondary school and starts seeking admission to university, or for the parents to simply decide that he must study engineering when his potentials are those of a lawyer who could work his way to become a Senior Advocate.

It is also important for parents to understand the most important dream of their children and help them develop a passion that will actualize such a dream. Where there are pitfalls in the dream, parents can easily guide their children into making the right decision.

I have no doubt in my mind that parents select such disciplines like medicine, engineering,  and law because they want the best for their children. When the kids fail to get into these programmes, perhaps attention is given to economics, accounting or business administration. With the exception of few, you rarely see parents encouraging their kids to study education or even journalism. But there are some critical questions you need to ask yourself as you work towards helping your kids to achieve their dream.

First is weighing the risk between imposing a discipline which they don’t like and then ending up with  a career that will never be described as a success, or making them lose the study entirely; there are many examples to prove that.

Secondly, as a parents, which option is the best between studying a course that your child hates, and graduating with a pass degree, compared to supporting him to study a course of his dream and graduating with first class or an upper second class honours?

So what do you need to do now? The answer is simple. Engage your children in a discussion right now and begin to understand their dream and career choices. Provide them with as much information as you can and develop their interest. Purchase books that align with their dreams and encourage them to study those books as part of their private study. Tell them stories about people who have followed the same process and how they succeeded, the challenges they faced, and  how they overcame such challenges. In fact in such discussion encourage your kids to tell you how they intend to follow such career and take it to a greater height.

As you prepare to start guiding your kids to achieve their dreams, be ready for some shocks as they can come up with a crazy idea.  How about if he tells you that he wants to become Wayne Rooney or Lionel Messi since football pays a lot and brings fame. Handle it with care and show him the comparative advantage of skill acquisition and contributing to society by leaving a legacy that makes impact beyond entertainment.

And finally if you have a friend who has achieved the dream of your child, visit him frequently and encourage the two parties to engage each other in meaningful conversation, so that your child can learn more from first-hand experience. The thinking and the dream of our children should not be left to be decided by the streets especially in this age when misguided elements can snatch the thinking of your child. What do you think?



Tuesday, 22 April 2014

(99): Revisiting our values

Today’s tsaraba will start with an apology for the unannounced absence of this contribution which is about to make its 100th anniversary since it started as a series two years ago. Gladly the celebration does not require a budget, nor a grand occasion to be marked by speeches from special guests. In fact the 100th anniversary will save you the burden of travelling to my home state of Kano, let alone commit a political blunder that will require the political Juggernauts in the city to come and sweep it away.

In the course of the absence of this column, I met two brilliant individuals, one of them a retired senior administrator in one of the leading universities in Nigeria, and the other an active academic who still gives his contribution for the betterment of our society. By coincidence both individuals are linguists with firm commitment to their culture.

Our discussion about the Hausa language in particular focused on the effect of using foreign curriculum from nursery to secondary schools, and the impact of that on our youths. Yes, it is a fashion today to take your kids to schools where Hausa is not taught as a language, and these days it is common to hear that “kasan ban yi Hausa a makaranta ba”, (I never studied Hausa language at school).

I told my guest about a story that happened around 2003. I was writing a research paper on the Hausa home video industry, in the course of that I interviewed one of the leading actors in the industry, and he told me that one of his fans called him from Abuja and told him that she had the word Zaure in one of the home videos he has featured, and she asked him for the meaning?

As we continued with our conversation, one of my guests said, that is even better, perhaps you never had the expression “tuwon rice”. Mhm.  I never heard about it. The only time I remember we tried to use non-Hausa terms to explain traditional food was about two years ago when we held a fundraising dinner in Newcastle, UK to do some charity work in Nigeria by supporting orphans and conduct some healthcare projects.

My friend and brother Dr Mukhtar Ahmad brilliantly translated a lot of the names of Hausa food into English for the benefit of the non-Hausa speaking contributors. Yes, I still smile when I remember such terms like “mash rice” for Tuwon shinkafa, and “beans cake” for Kosai, as well as ‘pumpkin sauce’ for miyar taushe.  But you see, he was able to do that because he understands the Hausa language very well, and so that understanding was used to benefit the people back home.

Gladly the guests enjoyed the food fair. It was a pleasure to see a mixture of the English, Pakistanis, Indians, Arabs and other groups enjoying African local dishes, not just for the sake of eating, but to support a human cause.

Language is an asset we should never play with as much as we can. Even those who live in foreign countries try their best to ensure that their kids speak their mother tongue. Those who allowed that opportunity to slip away ended up regretting it, for their children are normally caught in the crisis of identity.

Indeed we live in times when understanding a foreign language is an asset, and we should encourage people to learn as many languages as possible, but that shouldn’t be at the detriment of our native tongue. Language is not as innocent as we might assume. It is important for our school administrators to understand this, particularly private schools promoting foreign curriculum at the expense of carefully developed content that takes care of our languages and value system.

The Chinese, the Indians, the Malaysians, and other countries that are making progress did not do so in a vacuum. They always maintain their culture and language, and even work hard to export it. Today, Indian and Chinese restaurants have become global brands. I wonder whether our kids who struggle to understand Zaure, will be competent enough in our local languages to be good ambassadors for our people in the future.



Tuesday, 1 April 2014

(98): The limit of favouritism

One of my favourite teachers at the Kano State College of Arts and Sciences, popularly called CAS was Malam Ahmad Gambo. Those days were beautiful because the Kano State government at the time had succeeded in bringing the best of the best to teach at the College. In the Arts and Social Sciences you had such brilliant minds like Dr Said Dukawa, Malam Zakariya M Zakari, Dr Ado Mukhtar Bichi etc.

Despite the hectic nature of the IJMB programme, you never want to miss your lectures. For certainly apart from the lesson you take from these lecturers, you also learn one or two things about life.

Towards the end of the IJMB programme, many of the students were worried about getting admission into university, not because they will fail in the exam, but simply for the fear of what in Nigeria is called ‘long leg’. As students expressed those fears, Malam Ahmad, in his philosophical way said something that has remained with me till this day. All you need to do is to make sure you get the best result in the final exam, he told us. Should your application be thrown into the dustbin, if the result is good enough, the paper will shout from the dustbin to remind the admission officer that you have forgotten a qualified candidate, and so he must find a place for you. He added.

In essence what Malam Ahmad was teaching us was that we should remain confident and understand that favouritism has a limit. Many of the students listened. To date I couldn’t remember one student who had 10 points and above in the final IJMB who couldn’t secure admission into the university, of course some got it much harder than others, but at the end, those who passed the exam well proved that their results cannot be dumped in the dustbin.  

For those who may not be aware, the IJMB is a post-secondary school programme conducted by the Institute of Education at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Students normally take a combination of courses that will lead them into a degree programme. For instance if you want to study medicine, your combination will be chemistry, physics and biology. If you get good result you can be admitted into the second year in the university. It is equivalent to what is called high school or college depending on the system.

About three years ago, I attended a rigorous job interview. Instead of the traditional single interview panel that you find in many organisations, in this occasion you attend four different panels. In the first panel, you develop a module, from teaching to assessment and present it to the entire staff of the department. You then move to another panel to discuss your research. In fact even students have to evaluate your ability, so you attend a student panel and teach them for half an hour, and then finally, you attend the main interview. Each member of these panels will give you a score and the total result as well as your performance in the final interview decides whether you get the job or not.

The professor chairing the interview sessions, a brilliant and jovial person noticed that many of the candidates were worried, and he said something interesting which has remained with me to date, “each and every one of you is qualified to get this job, that is why you have been shortlisted”, and suddenly all the faces started smiling. He then continued, “So you are not competing with the person next to you” he added, “you are simply competing against yourself, all you need is to prove that you are the best candidate for the job.”

Why am I narrating these boring stories to you? The answer is simple, I am worried about the self-defeatist attitude which I noticed in some of our youth. They believe ‘long leg’ is everything? I disagree. Yes ‘long leg’ is a reality, perhaps those unlucky youths who lost their lives or got injured in the Nigerian immigration interview were there because they don’t have a ‘long leg’. But understand that favourtisim has a limit, if you do your homework, one day your chance will come. I conclude with one of my favourite quotes attributed to Dale Carnegie, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy”.