Some Nigerians tend to berate their fellow compatriots who send children abroad to study. Some, on the contrary, grudgingly admit that Nigerian education system pales in comparison with foreign ones. Naij.com’s guest contributor Mawuna R. Koutonin evaluates the situation from yet another angle: he talks about why Nigerians who emigrated to the United States of America choose to send off their kids back to their fiefdom to get education.
In Africa, Nigerians are the “big boys”.
They copulate a lot. Nigeria is the most populous country.
They are the best entrepreneurs. Nigeria is now the first economy in Africa. Lagos alone has a GDP equivalent to that of 25 African countries combined.
They are also lucky: Nigeria is the first oil exporter of the continent.
You don’t become triple champion by accident.
Big at home, Nigerians are also the best abroad.
They were the only Africans mentioned in the top-eight of best performing ethnic groups in the United States of America, in the best-seller book “The Triple Package” by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld.
According to Chua and Rubenfeld, Nigerians have three distinguishing characters in common with Jews, Indians and Chinese: a complex of superiority, a feeling of insecurity, and impulse control.
Nigerians feel superior. It’s the country with the highest number of self-proclaimed “Princes”, “Princesses”, “Queens”. All have a story relating them to an ancestral kingdom or a king. They feel entitled to a high social status.
Nigerians are very competitive. When you come from a crowded country, you feel insecure about your part of the pie. Parents plug a “fighter spirit” in their kids early on.
Now, when it comes to the third factor, “impulse control”, I have hard time believing the authors. For me, the third factor stems from a unique practice by the Nigerian diaspora: sending their kids back home to attend primary or secondary school.
This is very counterintuitive.
Why would anyone living in the US send their kids back to Nigeria to study? The best schools are in the West, as a popular belief goes.
According to the Washington Post, “the decision made by families reflects a discomfort shared among immigrants from Africa. They don’t like … the lax public school system, the sense of entitlement that comes with living in a country so privileged.”
I asked a number of Nigerians why they have sent their kids back, and below is the list of reasons they gave me.
Reason 1: Kids getting in trouble
Early Nigerian immigrants were ‘America-lovers’. In Nigeria, they have dealt with whites who came to Africa as peace corps volunteers, missionaries, doctors or teachers. These whites acted as mentors or opportunity providers, therefore, most early immigrants have a positive opinion of them. These Nigerians trusted them, were eager to connect. That attitude exposed them to more opportunities.
However, their US-born kids usually have African-Americans friends with parents whose background makes them distrust the whites and believe their social and economic conditions are to do with the discrimination by whites.
Thus, sending kids back home is an attempt to help them prevent self-victimization, loss of self confidence, low expectations, and ‘getting in trouble’.
Reason 2: Damage inflicted by racism
A lady residing in the US told me a story: “My six-year-old first grader was spit on (in her face) by a white child. The faculty failed to see the historical connotation and poorly addressed it!
“In second grade, my 7-year-old (the only black kid in class) was “taught” in class about a black kid who hates his dark skin. Two issues here: this “lesson” opened up the possibility that didn’t exist for her: to hate her own skin, and it taught the white kids that black skin could be something to hate. They do not read about hating white skin, mind you. Drum roll… And the first lesson about Africa, again in second grade, is about how we don’t have running water, drink from dirty ponds, live in huts, walk to classes and crap under trees. I’m so done with white-superiority-style teaching!
“I am so done,” she repeated, desperate. “I can teach my kid academics. But it is hard to rebuild years of self-esteem after it has been crushed by your so-called teachers.”
Another worried Nigerian told me: “My son is five. Insanely brilliant and insanely hyperactive. I’ve been teaching him Math and other studies myself, and he can already do his multiplications, additions, subtractions, name all his planets, and so on. But PRE-K teachers are already complaining. I’m quite concerned about them ‘bending’ him.”
Structural racism, daily humiliation and denial of identity often break kids early in life. By sending their kids to Nigeria, US-based Nigerians are preventing them from being broken by a system they have no control over.
Reason 3: Schools in the US aren’t challenging the kids enough
“My boy is good in Science, Math. He plays tennis. And it was a big struggle with the school. They were not challenging him enough. They blamed him for acting out, when bored. We sent him back. That experience changed him,” said a Nigerian businessman.
Another Nigerian told me: “An Igbo couple in my old church were having real problems with their last one. They shipped him off to Nigeria. After two years, he came back. Grades went from 2.4 to 4.0 in high school. Except he’d do anything not to be sent back.”
Nigerians in the diaspora continue to think that schools back home are still with the iron discipline of the old days, and the old-time competitive spirit among pupils would yield better results.
Reason 4: Help kids connect with our culture
“Many of these top schools produce great African professionals with bright professional prospects, but not great African citizens,” complained a Nigerian.
Another, shared his son’s experience: “Whilst in Lifeforte [international school in Ibadan that admits both Nigerian and foreign students], my son went on excursion to Egypt organized by the school. Visited the pyramids, and the Valley of the Kings. The experience is invaluable. It has changed him. You can’t tell him Africa is barbaric. He is in a program for gifted children, now taking college level courses in Johns Hopkins.”
Few schools in Nigeria like Lifeforte, Vivian Fowler Memorial College, and Ibadan International School are now catering to the needs of the ‘homecoming’ diaspora.
A Nigerian IT consultant summarized it all: “Nigerians are, by far, more likely to consider or to execute this plan of sending their children of a certain age home for their education. I have seen the coursework and curriculum for some of these schools. The standards are higher, and more demanding than some of the best public school districts in the United States. These kids who go back home get to experience a highly competitive culture, and an elite culture, where the mindset they have is that “nothing is really out of reach”. The kids expect to attend Oxford, Cambridge, MIT. Children and teens are far more influenced by peer cohort than any parent would like to admit.”
The trend of sending kids back to Africa will definitely continue, as more and more Africans become aware of this opportunity and success stories.
By Mawuna Remarque Koutonin is an editor of SiliconAfrica.com