By Kachi A. Ozumba
My Personal Fashion Assistant
Since the age of twelve, Oluoma’s father had always called her MPFA: My Personal Fashion Assistant. It all started one morning in May. Her father had dressed in his usual grey khaki shirt and trousers to leave for his work as a roadside hawker of bits and bobs on the streets of Onitsha. He had stooped low to buckle his atakarami, rugged sandals which had soles made from discarded car tyres, in which he trekked many miles daily under the blazing sun while shouting to draw attention to his wares.
“Daddy, why not wear your Fanta T-shirt,” Oluoma had said, referring to a bright orange vest hanging from a nail on the wall, beside a poster with a shimmering crucifix and the words: YOUR MIRACLE IS ON THE WAY! “It will also scream for you, allowing you to save your voice and energy a bit.”
Kachi A. Ozumba
Oluoma’s father returned home that evening with more sales than he had for some time. You are now My Personal Fashion Assistant, MPFA, he had said, and would always say whenever Oluoma gave him dressing advice: “Daddy, why not cut a similar hole on the left sleeve of your shirt and then patch the holes on both sleeves with the same material so it would look like design rather than a tear”, and many others.
By the time Oluoma finished secondary school, she did not pass the final examinations in sufficient subjects to proceed with any further studies, which was not entirely surprising considering that she spent almost every hour out of school processing cassava to sell as garri or looking after her five younger siblings since her mother passed. She however made a distinction in one subject: fine arts. Her uncle had promised to pay her higher education fees if she passed the required examinations. So Oluoma sat for the examinations three more times, with her results getting poorer each time.
“You’ve given the Law of Diminishing Returns another meaning,” her uncle told her.
Kachi A. Ozumba
Oluoma gave up on the exams. She grew even thinner and struggled with depression. She threw herself into playing mum to her siblings, and into the new job she got as a salesgirl at a local eatery where she worked for a pittance, and where male customers occasionally complimented her: “You’ll make a great addition to my bedroom.” Her former classmate and neighbour, in just the same situation, had become a ‘runs girl’ and was often picked from home by expensive cars while she wore clothes her security-guard dad could not afford.
Then one afternoon at the eatery, after a particularly busy period serving spicy jollof rice to customers, the news from the radio had just finished announcing President Obasanjo’s election and a fresh start for Nigeria, when a new voice challenged her to aspire to succeed and achieve her dreams through an education for life. It was an advert for admission into a different kind of school which, to further pique her interest, also offered courses in fashion and textile design and many others. And her now smouldering passion for the subject sufficed to get her a consideration from the school.
And now, four months into her residential course at the school, she drew an ornately designed poster in all the colours of the rainbow. The poster had just four letters: MPFA. She hung it at the foot of her bed, so she could see it each day she woke up. It usually brought a smile to her face. She began to dream once again of becoming MPFA to many more people besides her father.
Education to live a life
The origins of our work in Nigeria with the folk high school tradition and Grundtvig’s ideas can be traced back to the early 1980s. It was through a critique of the official education system in Nigeria, that the ideas from the folk high school were introduced. The School for Life became a hard-hitting one-liner. As a top official of the West African Examinations Council, the prime examinations body in the country, the founder of the Grundtvig Movement of Nigeria, Dr. Kachi Esogbuna Ozumba (1942-2011), witnessed firsthand the negative impact of a one-sided bookish and certificate-oriented educational system, which produced many dropouts and frustrated graduates. The emphasis on passing examinations and obtaining certificates had turned the system into what Ozumba dubbed “education for certificates”.
It was through a critique of the official education system in Nigeria, that the ideas from the folk high school were introduced. The School for Life became a hard-hitting one-liner.
Kachi A. Ozumba
For these reasons, there was a need for a change within the educational system and Ozumba began searching for an alternative idea of education. Eventually, he heard about N.F.S. Grundtvig from an acquaintance who had attended a Grundtvig conference in Askov, Denmark. Further research led him to the discovery of Grundtvig’s idea of “Education for Life,” of a robust education not focused on passing examinations and obtaining certificates, but on living a life. This idea also reminded him of his indigenous traditional system of education, whose primary objective was the preparation of members of the society to live lives useful to themselves and to their communities. Ozumba had a feeling akin to Grundtvig’s frustration with what he called “schools for death”. Grundtvig’s frustration, in 19th century Denmark, gave rise to his ideas for the “school for life”.
A parallel life-oriented Awareness Curriculum
For Ozumba, the question became how to introduce (or re-introduce) this idea of an education-for-life in the Nigerian postcolonial educational landscape. The system placed examinations on a pedestal, and valued rote memorisation and worshipped certificates. So entrenched was this exam-driven system that any attempt to dispense with it wholesale, as we find in Grundtvigian schools in Denmark, would have been tantamount to an act of suicide by a school in Nigeria. This should not be surprising in an environment where social security was virtually non-existent, poverty was rife, and a good examination certificate was largely seen as ticket to a good life.
Ozumba met this challenge by formulating a Grundtvigian curriculum to run parallel to the existing exam-driven curriculum. He introduced in our Grundtvig Schools in Nigeria an examinations-free, life-focused Awareness Curriculum that would run alongside the usual academic/vocational curriculum so that students who pass through our schools would be educated, not just to make a living, but to live a useful and satisfactory life, within their communities and nation.
The Awareness Curriculum aims at stimulating and developing attitudes, ideals and values within our students. It exposes our students to activities that aid the development of a sense of self-worth, cultural pride, active citizenship, cooperative spirit, initiative, resourcefulness, critical thinking, fairness, tolerance, and community spirit. Activities that fall under this curriculum include Umunna Meetings; You and The News; You, Democracy and Human Rights; People who Changed their Societies; and the School Police, Court, and Parliament. Some activities are comprised largely of lively discussions and debates (of the type thatGrundtvig termed ‘the living word’). For example, You and The News involves discussion of a current event and how it affects the student as a member of society. Similarly, You, Democracy and Human Rights aims to create a personal and practical understanding of the concepts of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ through discussions of the human rights articles and concepts in the context of daily life activities and experiences, in and out of the school.
He introduced in our Grundtvig Schools in Nigeria an examinations-free, life-focused Awareness Curriculum that would run alongside the usual academic/vocational curriculum so that students who pass through our schools would be educated, not just to make a living, but to live a useful and satisfactory life, within their communities and nation.
Kachi A. Ozumba
Some other activities of the Awareness Curriculum, such as the School Parliament, the Police and the Court, are largely simulations. This fine blend of regular and Grundtvigian contents is the basis for schools run by the Grundtvig Movement of Nigeria. The Grundtvig Institute, founded in 1984, now with a population of almost 500 students, is a residential post-secondary school, which offers the Awareness Curriculum alongside vocational training for self-employment, paid employment, or further studies in Catering and Hotel Management, Fashion and Textile Design, Computer Studies, Office Technology and Management.
Similarly, the Grundtvig International Secondary School, was founded in 1998 as a residential school, which now has a population of about 600 students, and this school also offers an Awareness Curriculum alongside national and international academic secondary school curricula. Both schools have been oversubscribed since 2016, and both have received much recognition for the unique educational work they are doing in our society.
In conclusion, and in the words of Dr. Kachi Esogbuna Ozumba, founder of the Grundtvig Movement of Nigeria: “What Grundtvig did was to help us rediscover values and practices which we had jettisoned to our peril in our breakneck speed to so-called western civilization.”