Over the past 4 years, part of my work has been centered around fighting for accessible education for students who want to pursue higher studies but have to deal with various barriers. As an international student, this is already a super infuriating territory but it’s still important to reflect on both personal experiences and what others are going through.
As I was facilitating a presentation on Access to Education a few months back, one of the exercises was for everyone to reflect on how they’ve been able to access education so far. I participated in the exercise and all I could think about was the high-end primary school I attended. I had a vague idea of how much my parents were paying but since all my dad’s co-workers also had their kids in this school, I knew it had to be expensive. My bougie primary school served me a different type of lunch every single day, had clean classrooms with air-conditioning, a (marching) band and clean bathrooms to say the least.
It was interesting having this grand treatment while my mom taught students in a public school and I can guarantee you they didn’t have access to a quarter of this pathway. Part of having an accessible education is having well equipped classrooms with chairs, tables, and boards. Students should never have to seat on cold floors to learn.
Although my secondary school was considered razz, I still had access to well-furnished classrooms, a computer laboratory, accommodation, and food, and having this luxury made it easier for me to concentrate in class. The memory that irked me the most however was “resumption day”. Sometimes, a top member of the school administration would say “if you hear your name, stay back after the assembly” other times, they would go into classrooms to call out these same names and I’m honestly not sure which was more embarrassing. We all knew this was a list of fee defaulters and that they were going to receive some sort of punishment for daring to return to the school premises without paying their tuition.
There was something inherently disturbing about seeing some of my classmates being penalized while I sat in class attempting to learn. What was the need to make them cut the overgrown weeds in the school premises? Was that going to make their tuition come faster? I wonder if those students ever discussed these punishments with their families and if they’ve ever gotten over that trauma.
Moving to Canada to start my university career was another eye-opener considering the ridiculous amounts I had to pay in tuition compared to my domestic counterparts. When I realized that my friend’s tuition was still over $20,000 dollars cheaper than mine, I knew something had to be done and I have been speaking up ever since.
My mom’s dedication to teaching and supporting students in the public school system in Nigeria has humbled me into understanding what type of privilege I have. It has also fueled my passion to continue the fight for better education policies because education should be treated as a basic human right and not a privilege.
While my activism might look a little different now, I believe my work is not done until we can achieve fairness for international students and universal access education for all students. The fight continues.