Meet Henry Anumudu who left a paying job in Abuja to teach primary school children in Abeokuta
The state of Nigeria’s educational sector is saddening. I did not know how bad until I spoke to Henry Anumudu who is a fellow of Teach For Nigeria, an initiative that is going back to schools to teach young kids. Henry and other fellows are making a change in their own little way. YC had a chat with him recently and this is what he had to say about the educational sector in Nigeria.
Please Introduce yourself?
My name is Henry Anumudu. I’m a fellow of Teach For Nigeria, and I teach Primary 5 pupils in Ebenezer Church African School, Ita-Oshin – a public school in Abeokuta.
How was growing up like?
Growing up was a mixture of different emotions and very interesting. I remember that around where I lived, I had this extensive network of friends with which I shared everything. But, at school there was nothing. I cannot remember any meaningful connection made in school.
Secondary school was pivotal for me. It was a boarding school, therefore a time away from direct parental influence. Here I discovered myself to a considerable extent and was able to build certain values I hold dear to this day.
What were your aspirations growing up?
All I ever wanted to do was to live by creating positive value in the world. That has always been my aspiration while growing up. I considered existential questions very early in my life, and I arrived at the answer that life is only worth living if it’s meaningful to one’s self and also to humanity. So, I’ve always searched for ways to add meaning.
What career were you willing to pursue back then?
That has always been a complex question for me. Growing up I didn’t have a career I wanted to pursue — that is, in the traditional sense of getting a job and amassing wealth through it. I tried to come up with titles, but that was just it. However, I knew what I didn’t want to do; waste my life, especially in the pursuit of the ephemeral. Now I’m a teacher. I want the changes we brought in life to be concrete, measurable; making life’s journey meaningful.
What did you study and your work experience?
I graduated from the University of Ibadan in 2014, with a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy. The University years will be described as a time when I discovered myself, acquired new skills, honed existing ones, established my guiding principles. It was a coming-of-age. In 2015, I studied Information Management System at the National Institute of Information Technology (NIIT), Abuja. In 2016, I worked as Communication and Media Liaison for a media company in Abuja.
At the beginning of 2017, I started volunteering about 5-10 hours per week for LEAP Africa. I facilitated leadership workshops for secondary school students where we learned core skills such as communication, goal setting, money management, patriotism and so on.
In 2017 you left a paying job to go and teach, how did that happen?
Yes in 2017, I finally left my job in the media to become a pioneer Fellow of Teach For Nigeria. In Teach For Nigeria, our vision is to ensure that every Nigerian Child has the opportunity to attain an excellent education, and this is only possible if young Nigerians are willing to rise up to the occasion. Now I’m in a primary school in Abeokuta where I teach a class of 82 from not-so-privileged families.
What I’m currently doing is to ensure that each of them gets the best shot at a great future, and the best out of their present situation using all resources in my possession.
Why did you leave a paying job to go and teach?
While I enjoyed working in media, I saw the Teach For Nigeria fellowship as a path to create a true lasting change in the lives of children, especially those children from low-income communities who account for one of the most vulnerable in our country. This also agrees with the way I want to live my life. I want to live it for others and not simply for myself.
Teaching in the classroom is the perfect medium to be able to journey with others, helping and providing support to them. The Fellowship is also a leadership journey. The skills one acquires by being committed in a little classroom and transforming the lives of the children in ones care can also be used in transforming, positively, the lives of a million others.
What is the state of education in Nigeria based on what you have seen?
It’s abysmal. Before entering the classroom, I knew, as every Nigerian knows, that our education system is in a terrible state. Still, I was shocked by what I met. Some pupils in the senior primary cannot read and write, nor are they able to express themselves in English language. The teachers generally lack motivation and drive to begin tackling these problems. The classrooms are crowded, not enough desks, no teaching resource for teachers, and so on.
What has been your significant success since you started teaching these kids?
My most significant success would be the relationship I’ve been able to establish with my pupils. Both in the classroom and outside it. Education is beyond how well a teacher teaches, especially in Primary schools. Why should the child sitting in front of you, in a crowded classroom, want to listen to you? Why should s/he be curious enough to pay attention when she has things to sell immediately after class?
This is where our relationship in the classroom plays a significant role. They listen to me not just because I hold the title of a teacher but because I am a friend, who listens, who explains again and again when they don’t understand, who visits them when they’re sick, who sits with them by the roadside where they sell fufu or soft drink.
With that, we have recorded a lot of progress in our literacy and numeracy levels. And also the pupils are in becoming more empathetic, kinder and respectful towards others. We are on a journey, we are not where we want to be yet, but we’ve definitely left where we used to be.
What can be done to rejuvenate our education sector?
We need the best people in classrooms. Not just intellectually able individuals, but people who are kind, patient, empathetic, selfless. Teaching demands the whole person, so we need teachers who have attained a holistic development. The government is at the center of the problem in the education sector. Teacher training and remuneration needs to be revised. We need to be able to keep qualified and highly motivated teachers, especially in our public schools. This effort lies chiefly on government efforts.
We need much help from the private sector also. Teach For Nigeria is doing an amazing job in transforming education in Nigeria, we need young men and women to rise up and support initiatives like this. Slum2School is another organization doing amazing things in the education space in Nigeria.
Finally, we all need a collective enlightenment on the importance of education. We all know education is important, but I’m not sure we understand how fundamentally important education is to the building up of the person emotionally, physically, socially, intellectually, education is the key to unlocking the creative and problem-solving potentials in people. And if we really want to build a nation, we have to begin our work from the nursery school.
Do you think we can get more teachers like you?
There are people out there who are ready to take up this task. Teach For Nigeria is a proof. I have 45 amazing young men and women, who are also fellows of Teach For Nigeria, working in classrooms across the country to provide an excellent education to children. Later this year, over 200 more will be joining us. What young people need is the platform to serve. Give them that and you’ll be amazed at the length they’ll go, and how selflessly they’ll give.
What are your plans for the future?
I hope to continue working in development, and do my best in making the world a better place. We would all be better off if once in a while we lived in service to others and not simply for ourselves.
Bottom line, we need more Henrys in Nigeria if we are ever going to make a significant change in Nigeria’s educational sector. A country is only as good as its education sector.