Meet ‘Mama Olodo’ under whom ‘dullards’ became brilliant

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To a Yoruba speaking person, ‘Olodo’ is synonymous with dullards. But here is Mrs Marianne Ariorutsebafor who has been proudly called Mama Olodo during her over thirty years teaching career.

Ariorutsebafor, who recently marked her 80th birthday, is a retired early years and primary school teacher whose strength has been in helping supposedly weak pupils to get better in learning. The Sapele born veteran teacher shared some of her experience with EduCeleb.com early April. Excerpts of the interview are presented below.


Tell us about your educational accomplishments.

I am a teacher. I grew up in Sapele, schooled and taught there before other things.

I attended the the First Baptist Primary School in Sapele, Anglican Women Teachers’ Training College in Benin in the late 1960s, and thereafter attended the College of Education, Abraka (now the Delta State University) for my NCE in the 1970s. Then, I studied Early Childhood Education at the University of Lagos in the 1980s.

I had taught at the First Baptist Primary School, Sapele before going to the College of Education. Then, when I came to Lagos, I taught at Corona Schools for over five years before joining the UNILAG Staff School in 1974. I retired in 1999.

Why do people call you Mama Olodo?

The full version is Mama àwọn ọmọ olódo (literally ‘mother of the dullards’ in Yoruba). It has dual meaning. When I did my Grade II, I was very good. We did a competition between Warri and Sapele and those of us that did well were taken to Abraka College of Education. But at the college, I wasn’t that good. I didn’t know what was happening.

It wasn’t ordinarily comfortable scoring below 75%. But there I was struggling with 50%. With my experience, I vowed to help students that are weak. I was particularly weak in modern maths.

When I joined Corona, I started helping children there. The school largely has foreigners as pupils. I counselled them and reprimand where necessary. When I later joined the Staff School, one problem was that children could not read.

Any child that cannot read would not do well. I spend more time with the weak ones to find out what was wrong and work on it. I believe that no child is dull. It is the question of exposure. If you expose the child to good teaching, the child will pick up.

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In my undergraduate research, I wrote on reading. That exposed me extensively to understanding the challenges children have reading and to get to help children that could not read.

During a staff meeting, the then headmistress, said, “Mrs Bafor, we’ve packed all the olódos to your class” (classes in the school are in arms and named after the teacher).

Primary Three is the most difficult class in primary school as a transition class. The headmistress mandated me to make such children who could not read ready for exams. How things operated was that classes are divided based the scores of children. Those with 85-90 may be in one arm, other with other grade ranges in other classes.

Then, the dreads were assigned to me. I prayed to God for assistance and his answered our prayers on the children.

With the passing of each year, they would would recommend that àwọn ọmọ Olódo be assigned to me.

How did you cope with such children?

I will spend time with them. I had already told the headmistress not to allow the rotation of teachers in my class.

I had to say things in the language the children understand before they can solve mathematical problem. I use actual scenarios they can related with to explain.

I focus my attention on reading. We mixed phonics with reading and writing being the core in primary school.

They children were made to learn how to rule straight lines as I wouldn’t accept any work that is rough. I would threaten them with beating in this case. Some mothers would even bring in cane to use on their children in case their work is rough. And that worked out.

Before long, those children who could not read started reading. And by the end of the term, children who were tagged Olodo, the Lord blessed them and did very well scoring 90-95 like (their counterparts in) other classes.

In years after, parents whose children were even good academically would also want their kids to be in my class. Such led to overpopulation in the classes.

Young children are always very active and can be troublesome. How did you manage the class overpopulation then?

Within the first week in a class, I would have known the first ones, the average ones and the slow ones and would classify them like that respectively. Almost always, I am with the slow ones.

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The fast ones may have done twenty exercises while the slow ones would be in ten. Once those fast ones finish, I assign them story books to read. If they should make noise, they would have to join another group within the class. But most of them would conduct themselves well to avoid that. If you pass through my class, you may not even know that there are children in my class. They’re very quiet and they would do very well.

How do you teach writing?

My children’s handwriting was very good too. With a 2A exercise book, I would take them through learning to write neatly. Rather than the usual capital letter or small letters, I would classify the letters into ‘talk people’, ‘short people’ and ‘people with long legs’. The short ones are 14, long ones are seven while the long leg ones are the rest. I would ask them to pick them and ensure that these don’t get mixed up in their writings.

Though, they learnt with a 2A, their usual 2D exercise books are 2D. I would tell them to use invisible lines to demarcate between the three letter types and not get them mixed up. At the end of the day, their writing gets beautiful. Those who writing are not okay would not be ‘promoted’ to use biro as they are not qualified to produce neat works void of cancellation.

Within that system that you worked, were you able to mentor people to do the same?

The school assigned some teachers to understudy me.

What was the lecturer-student relationship like during your time in the university?

Teachers were knowledgeable but would concede when their students bring up superior arguments.

There was a lecturer in such a situation and he would later come back to the class to correct what I

Before I came to school (at UNILAG), I was already married with children. There were spinsters in our class too. They respected us a lot and took time to teach us even if we don’t understand in the class.

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But from what we hear in the news today, the morals of some of the lecturers are loose. This was not obtainable when we were in school.

Now, I don’t think lecturers would be ready to take corrections from students either.

What do you consider as a major challenge with basic education today?

From where I stay on the outskirts of Lagos, children cannot read. Their spoken English is very poor and that is related to their inability to read. The textbooks they are using are not helping matters either.

A pupil who is starting Primary One would be given a textbook where they have to read sentences. Most of them (in public schools) are coming to school for the first time. How do you want the child to read?

So, memorisation is what is presumed as ability to read. That would take its toll on other school subjects. A child going to Primary One starting with sentences cannot do well. Here, it has to do with whether the author is popular to know how well it will sell. Some of these good authors never sell because they are not popular.

Children cannot read and their handwriting is terrible. Once we can help them to do these through the phonics system, it would get better.

The introduction of technology is very good and we can always improve on that. We did not have the opportunity in our time.

The government in the most recent education policy had included the early childhood education curriculum. How can we strengthen the pre-school education?

Pre-school is great if we have good teachers who know what they are doing. We shouldn’t leave it to school certificate holders. Such people do not know anything about teaching and may not be well positioned to guide them aright.

Then, the school shouldn’t be too expensive so as not to chase parents away. But quality come with money too. Parents almost always go for the cheap ones where children may not get anything meaningful than memorisation.

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