“Formative Years: Should We Pay More Attention To Them?” by Isaac Newton Akah

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Formative Years: Should We Pay More Attention To Them?

by Isaac Newton Akah

Early, formative education, if comprehensive and proper, might be the best gift to give a child. I look back to my days in junior secondary school, and I can’t help but acknowledge those were my best educative years. It began when I started attending a private school in Lagos. It was a different world from where I came from. For the first time I was punished for speaking wrong grammar. For the first time I was called to the front of the classroom and asked to explain to my classmates why I left my homework undone.

These things were like reggae to me. Back in the village we knew only of bongo music. I mean: no one ever asked us to submit our assignments the next morning. No one scrutinized our spoken English in junior secondary school. But all that changed. I realized it was important I attempted to answer a question asked by the teacher in class. It dawned on me that a teacher could afford to send you to the library and demand you read a book before going out to play. And, most importantly, you actually needed to listen in class.

It was awkward when I was asked to summarize a teacher’s lesson one day. That day, I had been daydreaming. My punishment for having the effrontery to hallucinate about my sister’s pot of chicken stew, was to read the textbook from where the day’s lesson was taught, and to explain what I had learned. I felt persecuted.

I began to learn of consequences. This new school, I swear, it was a pain in the ass. You couldn’t get away with being wayward or lousy with lessons. I was yanked off my comfort zone. Accountability was demanded here. I still recall the first day I attempted writing my homework. I asked my elder sister, Joy: How do I write my homework please?

She was shocked to find out I never did homework from my former school in the village. She had always lived in the city. She read the questions out for me, and then she showed me the precise portions in the textbook where I could find the answers. She never wrote it for me. I got only 4 out of 10. It was not her fault; it was mostly due to my poisonous grammar.

But I was happy. It was my effort. I was not called to the front of the class to explain why I never wrote my assignment, and I certainly didn’t have a big O written on my paper as my score. I felt like an achiever. I began to write more homework. In time, I began to surprise myself by looking forward to the works. Months later, I would raise my hand in the class to ask a teacher who was leaving the class after her period, why she didn’t give us any homework.

I began to score above average, and then, with time, it became awkward to me when I failed to get maximum score.

These little victories expanded my mind. I saw the dividends of studying, or looking at a difficult question and analyzing it critically. I began to try to impress myself. I made mistakes from my adventures, and learnt from the teacher’s corrections. Textbooks became demystified for me. I learnt the sweetness of being called bright and the teacher having enough trust in you to pick you for a debate.

However, for me, the most remarkable achievement was learning to write essays. Mr. Lawal, my English and Literature teacher, gave us a lot of them to write. Write on All That Glitters Is Not Gold; Do Not Put All Your Eggs In One Basket; My First Train Travel; My Holiday In The Desert.

I guess it isn’t too surprising that I wound up a storyteller today. It wasn’t a conscious journey though, but the moment I decided to pen my thoughts for others to read, my formative instructions and experiences kicked in. The only instructions I had on writing were those I was taught by Mr. Lawal in secondary school.

I guess it makes perfect sense now, that years later, I would in turn take steps to impact those in their formative years. My first published book, Living In Gidi, is currently being given to secondary schools for free. It is my hope that the fiction would inspire them to tell stories. It might not spell out the basics of writing like Mr. Lawal did, but it might encourage them to pick up their pen and paper.

Today, I advocate for a robust formative education. It makes for a solid foundation for the next generation. I could tell you I ghosted through the university. But I’m alright. I owe my literacy to my formative education. I am grateful to those who made sure I learnt; that I put in the right effort and imbibed the right attitude. I’m grateful to my sister Joy. She helped in building this man you see here.

It is my hope that we take the formative years of the next generation as seriously as we take the health-care of the president.

Isaac Newton Akah is a writer of screenplays and novels. He also teaches screenwriting and has helped a few youths galvanize their talents. He has two published books; ‘Living In Gidi’ and ‘Women We Know’. They can be found in electronic format on Okadabooks and Amazon Kindle while ‘Living In Gidi’ is also in hard copy. He also makes audio books. His first audio book ‘Bathsheba’ has been downloaded over 2500 times. He promises to make more.

When he is not writing, teaching or working with a film crew, he is probably cutting up fruits or cooking veggies. Em, or probably traveling.

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