Lost boys

Lost boys

I’ve just returned to Lagos and noticed how hard the faces of the local area boys were. Boys in their teens with scars and penetrating eyes, screwed up mouths and desperate husky voices. They wanted some naira for forcibly washing our windscreen. I had no money having just returned that morning. That’s when I realised the 50 naira is what you give to not have to listen to the please of those who beg by day maybe mug by might, to wonder at the harshness of life’s lottery. When i got home I said to my husband what kind of life must they have had to look like that. He replied you don’t want to know. London immediately seems light years away.

We worry so much about the fine points of our children’s education we forget about those who have yet to breathe the rare air of a school room.

Slum to School is a charity I really like because they are trying to provide schooling to the many school kids in Lagos for whom school is like something they dream about when their hard day comes to an end. It kind of puts everything into perspective.

I have yet to donate or do anything with them because of ebola and I’m worried about heading into the slums of Makoko. It takes some courage.

But do check them out – they are doing a fantastic job.

http://slumtoschool.org

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School’s Out, In Out

The latest on schools and the Ebola crisis in Nigeria is that schools were postponed until at least October 13th by the Ministry of Health – a couple of schools were forcibly closed by armed  personnel.  Then  private schools lobbied the government and schools are now due to resume September 22nd.

Since then the debate has been raging for parents – should schools be open or closed.

 

The arguments to open

  • Most parents work and do not have materials, time or inclination to teach their children at home.  Perhaps they don’t even really have a home suitable for children to be cooped up all day or left to their own devices.
  • Some children are preparing for exams – for them every week of school they miss could make the difference in their grades.
  • Parents have also in many cases already paid school fees that schools are unlikely to refund.  They are highly invested in getting value for this money, Ebola or not.
  • Yes there is Ebola but Nigeria is a country of many plagues, from dengue fever to malaria which kill thousands every year. To date Ebola has only killed 18.  Under such circumstances the mentality is very much – life must go on.  Weddings, naming ceremonies, funerals and church services. School too.  It’s not like there’s an end point in sight.  This could go on for some time.

 

The arguments to stay closed

  • Adults can quickly learn the language of Ebola. Preventing transmission requires avoiding physical contact with the fluids of an infected person, so no kissing, handshakes, touching sweat, vomit , blood, diarrhoea etc.   Washing hands with soap and water and using hand sanitisers as well as practice good hygiene can go  a long way to keeping Ebola from spreading. Even teenage children struggle to keep this up.  Children love to touch, are generally nasty and do not understand the seriousness of the instructions.
  • Schools in Nigeria are not regulated and held to the same standards as most Western schools.  Some do not have running water never mind soap. Many do not have toilet paper and, especially less developed areas, the ‘toilets’ will be as basic as you can imagine.  Ebola would rip through such schools leaving the nation with the horrific spectacle of children in isolation and possibly dying.
  • Ebola seemed to be trailing off at one point but has broken out again in another Nigerian city where there are reportedly 400 people under surveillance. This is far from over. Schools should wait until it is over – safety first.
  • It’s easy for me to say schools should be closed as I only have 1 pre-K age son who I’ve already been homeschooling for  a year and a toddler who is nearly 2.  I also think Ebola has been managed pretty well by the authorities here and do not feel too much at risk, hence why I’m still here in the country.   I am with my children pretty much all the time so I can limit their activities with strangers and monitor their sanitation personally.
  • We still don’t have Zmapp in Nigeria. There’s a lot of talk about trials and getting Zmapp but it’s not here.

There are pros and cons and the safety of our children should always take priority. I don’t think the new earlier resumption of September 22nd is wise. I think we should still wait but I do understand this is a tough decision  and a huge responsibility for the Health Minister also my child is not going to school so I will reserve judgement and try to stay positive

 

 

Inlaws…

School is closed because of Ebola but that doesn’t stop people from telling you your son should be in school. A few people have said, you’re in a good position because your son isn’t in school but most people haven’t.

This week my inlaws weighed in and I always find it annoying when people say your son should be in school BECAUSE he’s so smart and doing so well yada yada. Like at least let it be because he couldn’t recognise his name or add up to 10 or sat at home crying all day from loneliness. Success is not its own reward, it is just another stick people use to beat you with ha ha.

Someone at the summer camp said my son would benefit from school because he didn’t sit still well – which I think is true. He is not a good sitter and he definitely sat and followed tasks better after a few days at the camp. Is this what they call socialisation? I’m not sure. That’s something I’ll take on board, I just don’t know how important it is. What do you think?

My inlaws really want my son in school, even though schools are a hotbed of disease and are currently closed because of the Ebola outbreak. I’m not even sure how I will handle this when schools reopen. Some of my anxieties are cultural. In Nigeria inlaw pressure is more of a phenomenon than in the west. As a wife living with inlaws my children belong to the whole family and inlaws have a say in their welfare and expect their input to be taken very seriously. I know my husband will support me on my decision and my inlaws are great – they’re just more conservative when it comes to education and want the best for all their grandchildren. I guess I will have to decide how committed I am to homeschooling if it means a confrontation with my inlaws about it. I’ll keep you posted.

Ebola Update! Everyone’s homeschooling now!

Well, not really, not yet.   Some international schools were supposed to resume Monday 18th but they have decided to postpone reopening to give people a chance to return (many parents have gone on vacation and have understandable stayed abroad until they feel more confident about returning).  The Government has declared a national state of emergency and requested schools/nurseries etc not reopen until they assess the situation to be safe.  Interestingly, private schools are making their own decisions. Most are saying they will open a week later. I find this odd, disturbing even – schools wouldn’t ignore government advice in the UK for fear of litigation. On the other hand perhaps this is good news, it shows confidence.   The problem with children is that they are not hygienic.    I have visited enough schools during lesson time to know that young children, like to touch toilet bowls, avoid hand washing, drink tap water, soil themselves and are generally icky.  They have no sense of personal space and all the stuff you’re not supposed to do during an Ebola outbreak, its pretty much guaranteed they will do.

None of this is my business by the way since I homeschool. I’ve finally taken my kids out of camp. I may be travelling to the UK soon with my kids to sit out the next few months.  I haven’t so far because its unplanned and very costly as its still holiday time.  BA is charging 5000 dollars for 1 adult, a 3 year old and an 18 month old for an economy ticket from Lagos to London.  But you know what, we may have to just pay this because we are so worried.

Every one is worried, hand sanitiser is mostly sold out everywhere and where it is sold you can pay up to £25 a bottle.  That’s about $40!   My nanny was so happy today we gave her a pair of gloves and a mask and she put them on immediately with her long sleeved sweater to get her bus home.

We still are doing the odd playdate with just one or two friends and going to restaurants but some people are holed up in their homes, not seeing anyone or they’re leaving.

The next few days will be crucial. We have 10 confirmed Ebola cases. Will there be more?  Will there be dreaded secondary contact cases?  The whole country is holding its breath.  This is make or break time for Africa’s most populous nation.

 

 

New School Year

I’m feeling some anxiety about my next school year.  I was excited when my books arrived and did the Carlton Dance.  But now that I actually have to start teaching I’m feeling a ton of pressure.  And I don’t know why because my kids are doing ok.  We had an awesome summer, they learnt so much and all the stuff school can’t teach you, like how to vibe with adults and how to be super confident  around complete strangers and give great hugs and be open minded and excited about life.

So why, now I’m back in Lagos do I feel kind of jittery about starting the work.  I’ve been unpacking for just over a week and we haven’t even done any music practice.  I made the week’s playdough yesterday but that’s it.  I feel sort of defeated and not sure why.  I think it’s something to do with worrying about my kids falling behind and being responsible for that and  feeling like I’m not being my own high expectations for how much I think we should be able to do each day (and I’ve never met my own expectations for how my life should be lived) and shock horror, thinking my kids are playing too much.  Like yesterday.  We went to playgroup in the morning then we came home, they had lunch while I ran errands.  They went outside to play, they played inside, my oldest son helped me make playdough then they had some playdough time and then he was on the iPad for the rest of the afternoon.

Visiting schools give me anxiety, one reason why I’m happy to homeschool.  I visited a school in Lagos recently  where at 8am  the 2 year olds were all seated in a row doing puzzles.  It was like something out of Ender’s Game.  This has also given me anxiety by the way that I haven’t done enough puzzles with my son and he won’t have as high an IQ as other kids  (even though intelligence is largely genetic).

So I guess I’m also anxious because even though I homeschool and I claim to eschew the pressurised, standardised testing environment of school that reduces our kids to test scores and doesn’t nourish the whole person I still want them to be top of the class, which is ridiculous.

As we’re still in preschool, I’m still using the ‘Homeschool Your Boys’ preschool curriculum but with the following add-ons,  handwriting, science, phonics, history, drama and cuisinaire rods.  A lot of this stuff I’m doing in case my son needs to go to school anytime.

The reason why this blog is so useful to me is because even as I’m writing I’m seeing that my fears are mostly baseless and feeling more relaxed.  We’re not following the school year but it is only June and other kids are about to go on a really long vacation while we’re about to start all this new fun stuff. So I have time to get au fait with it all before ‘it really matters’.

Right now I’m scheduling our days so that we can have more structure and working out what my life is going to be about over the next 12 months. Was thinking of freelancing for someone else but I’m not ready yet.  My nanny needs constant direction, my home is starting to look like an episode of hoarders and my youngest son is suddenly starting to demand more attention. Go figure.

So  although I’m fearful and feeling overwhelmed and held back by my own inadequacies, the big picture is not that dramatic. It’s ok.  No really. It is.

 

Groundhog Day for homeschoolers

Sometimes the reaction you get to homeschooling makes you feel like you’re living a groundhog day existence.

Last night at a soiree for breast cancer I bumped into the head of my son’s former nursery.  She’s a lovely woman but she got increasingly passionate about me removing my son from nursery.  Her comments went something like this.  ‘Please put Amaru back into nursery he needs it.’  ‘He needs his own life’ ‘I have been working with kids for over 18 years, I know this’  ‘Even if you don’t put him in my nursery put him anywhere’  ‘Let him go, please’.

 

I could tell she genuinely felt concern for my son’s well being which I appreciate and I value her opinion as an experienced childcare practitioner as well as someone who actually knows my son.

I could not deal with her comments at the event because I found her distress distressing and also I don’t see the point of getting into the homeschool debate with people who know nothing about homeschooling. I’m not an evangelist for homeschool – each to their own – and its a very personal decision.  I will take responsibility for my son, but not your feelings.

However, of course her comments annoyed the hell out of me.

‘He needs his own life’.  Is this some sort of joke?  My son is still 3 years old last time I checked.  He has friends, he has private space and he has regular activities – what is this ‘life’ he is missing out on?   I think  I know what she was trying to say, the routine of his own day outside of his home, where he is shaped by his relationships with others etc.   If  this woman was talking about a 10 year old, I could relate but at this age, I think my presence is still beneficial to my son’s development in myriad ways. I have heard of so preschoolers being slapped in schools here, humiliated for not being able to keep up, shouted out and getting urine infections because they’ve been left in their filth all day by negligent helpers.   When you release your children to the care of others there are pros and cons. Right now I don’t that he needs his own life as much as he needs proper care, loving discipline and one to one support with his work.  Oh and lets not forget none of that shouting, slapping etc is free. £1000 per month

‘If you don’t put him with us, put him anywhere’.  Anywhere? Really?  My child?  There are people who are intrinsically opposed to homeschooling and once I identify with them – I don’t engage with them.  These are people would would respect and like you more if your child went to an awful school where they were bottom of the class, hating every minute than if you said you were homeschooling them.  Because most people are sheeple and can’t handle difference, perhaps  they’ve slaved their whole life just to fit in. In that case how dare you opt out?

‘I’ve been working with kids for 18 years, I know this’  I can’t argue with someone else’s experience. But this is the same nursery that bribes children with buckets of sweets.  Education is constantly evolving and nobody has ‘the’definitive answer’ to what it should look, that’s what makes it hard.  Teachers are constantly learning new methods of engaging with children and new theories about behaviour etc.  The latests science actually suggests, its all in the genes, so then it barely matters what school they go to.

‘Let him go’  This really annoyed me because it suggested I have made a selfish emotional decision that has nothing to do with my son’s benefit.  This is the only way she can understand my actions.  It demonstrated an ignorance about homeschooling that made me glad I had removed my son from the nursery.

Back in the saddle

It’s great to be back in Lagos after two months in the UK and USA visiting family.   It’s great to be able to travel during term time and not have that end of term cabin fever so many parents and pupils get.  I don’t know how I’ll feel when all my friends fly out of Lagos leaving us with just the thunderous downpours and flying saucer-sized cockroaches for company but perhaps I will appreciate the piece and quiet.

 

I’ve had the chance to do even more reading around homeschooling and look at things from a different perspective. I’m still committed to homeschooling but I also wanted to visit a few schools and see what my son’s missing out on. I don’t think you gain anything by being some kind of hell-bent zealot.

I’m now in the process of unpacking (my luggage is still arriving at the airport in dribs and drabs from BA’s malfunctioning baggage system) and rescheduling our homeschool for the year.

 

But more on that later – it’s good to be back in Las Giddi!