How much do you know a child or the child you teach? How much should you know? How much do you understand the factors that make him/her behave or react the way they do in the school environment? And how can you successfully mitigate against factors that make learning in school a difficult experience? These and many more were the questions raised in the year-long certificate course in family advisory that I completed a few hours ago. The programme is run by the Institute of Work and Family Integration (IWFI), currently under the Lagos Business School. This, however doesn’t tell you much of what was, actually, a series of intensive weeks of study, learning, questioning, arguing, and homework, where a rotating set of facilitators helped explore a myriad of scenarios in family and school situations where the advisor’s maturity and understanding of the situation is crucial in resolving conflict and helping the child and the parents. During each session, after lessons and interactions, often involving movies or scenes from media excerpts illustrating particular situations, case studies are presented and discussions had on problems and solutions to the particular case.
This last week in particular was memorable because of the presence of Nigeria’s community paediatrician Dr. Yinka Akindayomi, founder of the Children’s Developmental Centre. Brilliant, incisive, well-spoken, and competent in the area of child diagnostic assessments and treatment, she helped shed a light on an oft-neglected area of child development. Often speaking from a personal angle as a mother of a child with special needs (her child was diagnosed with autism from age of three in 1987), she taught and helped the teachers present to understand both the challenges of children with special needs in Nigeria and the way in which teachers need to respond in order to help the child achieve their potentials. Her organisation, in collaboration with the Lagos State Government passed the first ever law protecting people with disabilities in Lagos State, and created the Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs to supervise and attend to issues relating to people with disabilities in Lagos State. Under this law, it is illegal to deny people with disabilities any social or professional service on the basis of their disabilities. The law also makes mandatory provisions in state buildings to cater for the ease of movement of people with disabilities, among many others.
The IWFI itself is a fairly new organisation, but the scope of their ambition is admirable. According to Charles Osezua, the director of the institute, one of the hopes of the Institute is to be able to do more to encourage Work/Life integration among members of families, particularly those where both spouses work with less time to spend at home with the family. The primacy of the family as the primary place of child formation was stressed throughout the course, as well as the important role of the teachers in supporting and reinforcing the moulding of the parents while they also form the child academically and socially. One of the things I took away from the training is the importance of truly understanding the child, walking in their shoes, and not always presuming to know, without asking, why a particular behaviour remains recurrent. Of course, I also gained a lot of insights into the different developmental issues of the child, and how to cope with them.
Lucky enough to work in, perhaps, the only school in Lagos where Family Advisory (a system where each student and their parent(s) have a teacher whose role is to provide personalised mentoring, interaction, and support throughout each term), I am glad that this training exists. I am glad that the school paid for me, and about fifteen other teachers, to attend. I am also glad that the volunteer workers behind this institute are also reaching out further to the lawmakers and policymakers in the state and at the federal government in order to export this initiative to more schools, particularly public schools where less advantaged students can typically be found. I’m personally impressed and encouraged with the focus on family as the most important place to reach and form the child. The results are likely to bear that out.