Nigeria Is Where I'll Stay
A Nigerian teacher helps out-of-school children in her hometown
I remember running back from school every day as a 6-year-old child to teach what I had learned in class that day to a row of empty 7UP bottles in my mum’s parlour. I was in grade three. I loved to teach, anyone or anything.
Teaching came naturally to me, so I also helped the other students in my class who struggled with learning or understanding difficult concepts. I held tutorials during my free time and sometimes after class, from elementary school until college. It was interesting to see how all “my” students progressed.
My passion for teaching led me to apply for the Teach For Nigeria fellowship, a two-year fellowship program where young promising leaders are recruited to teach in low-income communities with the aim of fighting educational equity in Nigeria, and I got in!
At my first school, I walked into my grade two classroom, located in the Ota community of Ogun state Nigeria in October 2018, to find 68 kids in my classroom. My initial thought was to run away and pick up the finance job I had been offered or the full master’s scholarship I had waiting for me in a top private university in Nigeria. Not only were there a lot of students, but also my kids had not had access to good teaching and well-trained teachers, conducive learning environments and experiences, or qualitative learning materials. They had little or no exposure to the world outside of their immediate environment and communities, and some of them suffered extreme malnutrition. This was painful to see.
Many also lived in a community where there was no role model for them to look up to and where no one made them hopeful that with education, tomorrow could be better, regardless of their experience or background.
I chose to stay.
I wanted to stay so that at least they would have me to look up to. So that they would experience love, care, and respect and be treated with dignity.
I chose to stay to ignite hope in their hearts and show them that their background should not be a major determinant of their future; instead, they should embrace education and be empowered to soar as high as eagles.
In that classroom, I believed that I could make a change in their hearts and give them my best so they could become the best versions of themselves. Hope and love were the major words in my heart, and I wanted to live it out, so I stayed.
Then one day, while taking a short walk after a full day of teaching, I met some kids roaming about on the streets during school hours. I wondered why they were not in school, so I crossed to the other side of the road and we had such a great conversation. I got to know them, and the sad highlight of our conversation was that their parents couldn’t afford to send them to school due to financial constraints. Every day, they walked around the community until their other friends who could afford to be in school finished for the day. I felt my heart drop and the burden to see kids access education became weightier.
I was lucky. I had access to a private school education all my life and I thought everyone else did, too, but I was all wrong. At the time, fees for the public school cost $4 per term (three months), an amount that wouldn’t seem like much to many Americans, but it was a luxury for these Nigerian families to pay. This was a painful realization for me because I know how empowering education is and the impact it can have on a person, family, and nation. I was hurting to see that these children and their families were missing out on the countless benefits of education.
The burden of the educational inequality in Nigeria led me to start Talent Mine Academy, a nonprofit where kids in low-income communities are provided with fully funded access to quality education and enrichment programs so that they are raised to be leaders and responsible citizens of their communities. So far, I have worked with 100 kids, boys and girls, in the Ota community of Nigeria, including every one of the kids I met that day on the street.
To improve the impact of the work that I do at Talent Mine Academy, and to benefit other communities in Nigeria, I applied last year to the Learning and Teaching Program at the Ed School. Before coming to Harvard, I thought I would turn Talent Mine into an actual school. But after doing an impact cost analysis in a social entrepreneurship course I took with Professor Fernando Reimers, Ed.M.’84, Ed.D.’88, I discovered a better and more sustainable way to provide education to kids in low-income communities. Rather than build schools in places that were already saturated with schools, instead I would work with existing private schools that have the physical facilities and human resources.
Now, just a few months after graduating from the Ed School, our newly developed core programs are:
- THE PRIVATE SCHOOL SCHOLARSHIP SCHEME, where we partner with private individuals and organizations to provide fully funded primary education to our kids in private schools. We locate a private school in their community and get donors to pay for their primary education fees.
- ENRICHMENT PROGRAMS, where we balance the intellectual stimulation that our kids get in the classroom with mentorship, leadership sessions, and life skills development programs around issues like digital literacy, empathy, and being responsible, to transform their mindset and help them be better versions of themselves.
- TEACHER TRAINING, a program we are still developing. It is taking a while because we are brainstorming and reading about sustainable ways to train teachers in the private schools we pair our kids with. Even though we partnered with Schoolinka, a teacher-training platform in Africa, the lack of technology and digital infrastructure in low-income communities in Nigeria has posed as a challenge.
Now, with my Harvard degree in hand (and hanging on the wall of my apartment), I am more equipped with the right skills, knowledge, and expertise, and I am working to develop a model of schooling and learning for kids in low-income communities so that they can access quality education at little or no cost to them.
And I stayed.
After graduation, I never considered moving. Just as I chose to stay during my Teach For Nigeria days, despite the challenges, I chose to stay after I graduated from Harvard. It is important for me to do this work in Nigeria because, at this point, we need good governance, leadership, and accountability more than ever. We need schools and organizations in the education space and beyond to invest in raising the kids who are the promising leaders to make a change in the country and continent at large.
As Nelson Mandela stated, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” For me, that change starts right here, in Nigeria, my home.
Aramide Oluwaseun Akintimehin graduated from the Ed School’s Learning and Teaching Program this past May