This morning I had coffee with a friend who has a daughter, Aminata (name changed for privacy reasons). Because mornings have never been my strongest suit, I went for the low hanging fruit and asked about how her daughter was doing in school. She told me that Aminata wasn’t the most likely candidate for first in her class. Aminata told her mother that her teacher wants her to learn the entire 6th grade book (referring to the curriculum activity book each student gets) and that is totally impossible. I asked what my friend was going to do to get her daughter more engaged. My friend said that she was going to have a real talk with her and explain what it was like for her, and continue to ask her the review of her homework. So I asked if her parents knew how to read and were able to check her homework. She simply scoffed at me and said “No one!”
My friend comes from a family of at least 11 kids. Her and her younger sister are the only ones who went to university. She told me that when she was younger every week she made it her mission to learn the lessons and recitations. She would go out into the bush and practice over and over and over again. The members in her community thought she was going to go crazy with all that studying, but my friend wanted to learn. Even if she had wanted some support at home, she couldn’t turn to her siblings, parents, or relatives because she had surpassed even the ones who went to school for a period of time; the content of her schooling after grade 4 was beyond what any person in her family had been taught. She was so motivated that she was included in after-school tutoring, free of charge, so that her teachers could watch her succeed.
I am not a parent, and I am not an educator. I do have the privilege of working with someone who is always hungry to learn more and do better. I can only hope that when my friend sits down with Aminata she can fully grasp the magnitude of what my friend was able to accomplish based on her own hard work. Aminata’s mother literally plowed the way for the next generation to go to school, to learn, and to create a meaningful life for themselves.