Henry Anumudu, a lean, bespectacled 26-year-old from Abeokuta, Nigeria, quit his corporate job in 2017. After a couple of stints as a volunteer in the education sector, including one as a leadership skills coach at a not-for-profit called LEAP Africa, he decided to become a fellow at Teach for Nigeria in 2017. The fellowship is a part of a global initiative that connects young professionals with underprivileged students. As a fellow, Anumudu taught for two years at a public school in Abeokuta, southwestern Nigeria, chasing a childhood dream.
“Right from my adolescent years, I wanted to do work that mattered…work that would bring meaning, not just to me but to others as well,” Anumudu said. “I really didn’t just want to [focus on] profit for myself, but also wanted to create [value] for others.”
“Right from my adolescent years, I wanted to do work that mattered.”
Anumudu wasn’t sure what he was signing up for until he dove into the public education system through non-profit ventures in the country. “In Nigeria, we always complain, you know, on social media, in gatherings, about how terrible [the education system is],” Anumudu told Re:Set. “Only when I got into [teaching], I realized, ‘Oh wow, this is terrible, much worse than we thought.’” He started off with a class of over 80 students, trying to figure out the nuances of classroom management while working on earning his students’ trust in order to make learning more engaging and interactive for them.
Anumudu was plagued with a dilemma early in his career as an educator. As he tried to think of ways to innovate in the classroom, other teachers and the school management team shot his ideas down. Anumudu explained that he had to fight to introduce new solutions such as encouraging his students to work in groups.
He started Sharing Life in 2018, a non-profit organization that focuses on access to education for low-income groups in Nigeria. It works with the government, local communities and businesses to deliver quality education to students. At Sharing Life, Anumudu focuses on keeping his classroom sessions as interactive as possible and minimizing the divide between education and the local community. The team at Sharing Life collaborates with schools while identifying what is missing in terms of education for students in low-income communities. They also facilitate mentorship and literacy programs. “Some of our current programs include a community-based literacy initiative, a women empowerment program, vocational education for young people and a lifeskills mentoring program,” Anumudu said.
During his fellowship at Teach for Nigeria, it took a bit of convincing and working with other teachers for Anumudu to implement group projects in his class. He intently worked on his rapport with students and focused on two-way communication. “If you look at African culture, when it comes to the relationships between the old and the young…there is a gap…there is no means for two-way communication,” Anumudu said. He encouraged his students to consider him as a friend, someone they could trust. “Other teachers were like, ‘No this would spoil them, they will lose discipline if you do it to your class,’” he told Re:Set.
His approach worked. After being confronted with a literacy rate that was less than 10% in the classroom, Anumudu managed to turn it around to 95% in three years and get his students to feel comfortable reading and writing. “If I would attribute my success in any culture, it would be to that relationship [with his students] in the classroom,” the teacher emphasized. “I believe that because of the relationship I have with the children, they fell in love with the subject [and] what I taught.”
The teacher decided to go beyond the classroom and meet his students’ families. He spoke to them about their kids’ goals, hopes and dreams. “You have to convince [students] with your actions, and not words, that you understand them, that you feel them…you are there for them,” Anumudu reflected. “I would visit them [in] their homes, visit their families, would see their mothers and their fathers. I would talk about their future and about their ambitions…they grew to believe that they could become better people because I believed that they could become better.” While the overall experience was stressful, Anumudu made sure to unwind by reading and taking photos during his free time.
In the classroom, the teacher tries to help each kid work on their strengths. One of Anumudu’s most dedicated students is a 12-year-old girl named Adijat. The enthusiastic student has taken a liking to the camera and is often found clicking Anumudu’s photos for social media. Anumudu encourages her to chase her passion for photography, helping her out with doubts and the art of taking good photographs. “Sometimes, I do wonder if my work really makes any difference in the long run,” he wrote in an Instagram caption, ruminating on seeing his student grow as a photographer. “It’s the little things like seeing Adijat handle the camera expertly that brings me out of my self-doubt.”
In Nigeria, the public education system has received sharp criticism for a lack of access to quality education. A report by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting earlier this month focused on gaping holes in the system by highlighting a school for kids with visual challenges and pointed out major flaws such as refusing admission to students with disabilities, a lack of teaching equipment, rampant corruption in the school and more. As per the country’s University Basic Education Commission, Nigeria currently faces a deficit of 277,537 teachers.
“The image and perception of the teaching profession is really poor.”
Anumudu thinks that Nigeria still has a long way to go in terms of addressing the gap in access to education and providing financial and moral support to its teachers. “The image and perception of the teaching profession is really poor. As a consequence, it does not attract the high-quality candidates it needs,” Anumudu said, adding that the average salaries are too low for teachers. During his time as a teacher, one of the most striking things he’s noticed is the apathy towards education in the local communities. “I believe an intersection [for interaction and participation] between the communities and the public education will make the public schools better,” he said, adding that kids need to be taught about the importance of education right from the beginning. He also thinks that helping teachers know that they are making a massive difference can help. “Somehow, we need to show [teachers] the impact [they’ve had and can make on the system]. Every decision they make, every word they utter today is going to go across years and [in] 10 years’ time, [it will still matter],” he said. “We need to show how important they are.”