As a kid, he had a big dream and this was to become a master of words and letters.
However, because he always led his class, his teacher had another dream for him, and whatever the then young Adelowo Shamsudeen had in his young mind wouldn’t matter. But all hope was not lost for him. His mother — the only person who shared his dream — was on his side.
This slight hope he had would soon be dashed as Shamsudeen’s teachers soon talked his mum out of sharing her son’s dream.
“Your son is good. Science class is the best for him. We believe he can cope,” Shamsudeen quotes his teacher as telling his mum. And that was all she needed to be convinced. Behold, a new dream was birthed for young Shamsudeen.
It all began in 2003 when he gained entry into secondary school. There, he was the highest-scoring student in his school’s entrance examination, where he missed a perfect score by a whisker.
For this, his teachers believed he was cut for the lab. Whether or not he believed this, too, did not matter.
So getting set by leading his class after being admitted was the rubber stamp his parents needed to steer their drive.
“I was just like that. I remember when we faced students from the senior classes — JSS 2, JSS 3 — we defeated them in quiz and debate competitions,” Shamsudeen recalled.
He finished Junior Secondary School top of his class.
But because his interest was either to become a lawyer or a journalist, he was poised to transit to the Art class. But his teachers still would not have any of these.
After resumption, he resumed Art class, with two of his friends.
“To our surprise, our teachers objected. They were not in support of their best students going to Art class. It was like a blow on them.”
Their thought, he said, was that there are always competitions coming in for science students. So if their best students are in Art class, the school would not be well represented in those competitions.
“We were forced out of Art class and sent to science class,” an apparently embittered Shamsudeen reminisced.
‘No support from home’
But this would not be without a protest from Shamsudeen. His mum, who seemed to be his only hope, was called in to intervene on his behalf. Surprisingly to him, she was convinced too. And she backed down.
“She told me to pursue this new dream that she is very sure I’d perform wonderfully well.” He had hardly completed his last statement when he spilt how bitter the experience was like for him.
“Do you know how it feels like doing something you don’t like? You wake up in the morning, you don’t like something you’re doing, you don’t know how you feel. You feel so so terrible.
“When you’re in science classes like chemistry, physics and you are being taught, you keep thinking ‘why am I here?’ Even though I kept on performing well in chemistry and physics, still, there is this absence of happy feeling there.”
He tried failing by reducing his seriousness towards his academics but he failed at it.
By the time it was 2012, he gained admission to study statistics in Ibadan’s Federal School of Statistics (FSS), a course he also graduated in the University of Ibadan.
But the feeling, the joy, the happiness in doing what he likes was missing.
Now 25, Shamsudeen is gradually chasing his dreams by planning to enrol in the Nigeria School of Journalism. But he can not stop berating the 11 years — strike excluded — of undermining his potentials and chasing shadows.
While Shamsudeen might have been assembling his pieces, Jethro Ibitoye, 21, is not having it easy gathering himself together.
English, a course he not only loves but has studied for two years in Usmanu DanFodiyo University, Sokoto (UDUS), is not his mum’s favourite.
Her preference is Law, and she would do anything to make him study it. So when her son was offered English in the university, she was not the happiest of mums.
She is rooting for law not because she is a lawyer herself or it is a familiar career path, she is doing this, Jethro narrated, because she has friends, relatives and co-workers who are lawyers or have children as lawyers. For her, ”all smart art students are destined for law”.
Parental guidance is putting children through on available choices to reach their potential, correcting them when they deviate from societal values and that of the family they represent and still allowing them make their choices regardless, Ezekiel Fatomilola, an author and graduate of psychology, says.
Although Jethro would be a penultimate student of English in a semester, he has been jostling reading to pass English exams with reading for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, where he chose Law.
The UTME is a prerequisite for admission into Nigerian institutions.
“I’m currently preparing to write another ‘JAMB’ for law. This means I’ll (have to) renounce my current course and go for law either in (my) school or in another school,” Jethro said.
In 2015, he could have easily made his mum’s dream come alive. However, the University of Ilorin offered him Islamic law. Being a Christian without a background in Islamic jurisprudence, he simply turned down the offer. He was glad it happened so but his mum would not give in cheaply.
These back and forth tussle between Jethro and his mum has affected Jethro’s focus, and depression is gradually setting in.
“It is affecting my focus on my current course of study. Whenever I remember that I’ll still write another JAMB, I get depressed,” an emotional Jethro pointed out.
Asked if he has tabled this before his mum, he replied: “I’ve done that. Guess her response is: ‘Look at your brothers: one is an engineer, one a lawyer, what do you want to use your own life to do?’”
Jethro is not alone. Adaobi Nnadozie, 17, was cut in the same web as his. The peculiarity here too is her mum’s persistence against her daughter’s will.
In all of Adaobi’s life, she had always dreamed of becoming a creative writer or a journalist because she likes exploring stories, a passion she fanned from her pre-teen years.
Her mum’s large collection of books was her solace from childhood. In fact, although very little, she said, the only part of Nursing she enjoys is the ‘artsy’ part of the course.
“My life is pretty boring because I live in the stories I make up in my head,” said Adaobi.
Her mum did not believe her dream of becoming a creative writer would earn her lots of money, especially in a country like Nigeria. So she pushed her to science.
To what extent should a parent influence the choice of a child, especially academically? Again, Mr Fatomilola answers this. He says parents can guide their children in choosing but not with force, as enforcing them affects their self-esteem.
“If a child has to take every decision his parents made for him, such a child may grow up depending on others and he may not live up to his potential.”
Maternal interest vs infantry passion
Currently a fresher of the School of Nursing, Usmanu DanFodiyo Teaching Hospital, UDUTH, Adaobi’s mum’s dream is what she is pursuing; not hers. This is partly because she wants to satisfy her mum’s concern and she is scared.
Although, her mum would not have stopped paying her school fees had she chosen to follow her passion but she can not brave it.
“I won’t pour the whole blame on her. I went with the flow too, and I feel bad sometimes for doing that, sometimes I feel like I’m a coward.
“This may sound stupid but I’m scared of failing at what I love. It’s depressing.
It’s actually quite easy to cope with failing at what you have no passion for. I used to join online writing programmes but I stopped because it was sad knowing I might never become a professional writer.”
‘Average’ was the best way Adaobi could describe her performance in school as she has lots of struggles reading for the course because she has to read so much to understand.
For her, the effect of studying nursing has made her unfulfilled. And being the expressive person that she is, nursing has hibernated her flair for expressiveness.
“I don’t have time to do what I love. The profession is very demanding. I don’t have time to write, read as much. Most times, I’m very depressed when I think about it.”
Perhaps, if these were all, she would have had little to grapple with. But, no. Nursing has limited the kind and number of friends she has.
In the school of nursing, she is not appreciated for who she is because they expect her to be one person who likes anatomy, she said.. Rather, they find in her a lover of art.
Told to paint a picture of how a typical depressing day is like, her vivid scenery collage was:
“Like when I was writing my exams, it was frustrating having to read things I don’t enjoy. It makes reading difficult to understand and this makes me feel stupid. Depressive days consist of me being gloomy and feeling sorry for myself. There is also this intense feeling of emptiness.”
She is certain, however, that one day she would leap out of the course that has sucked so much joy from her. When that “one day” would be is vague to her. But for now, she has to keep playing along.
A lot has changed about Jimoh Islamiyah since she first stepped her foot in her current university, University of Ilorin.
She was determined to study paediatrics or “anything medical or clinical line” when she applied in the school, but the school offered her chemistry.
It is common practice in Nigeria to offer students who were unable to attain a particular cut-off mark another course with a lower cut-off mark.
Josiah Ajiboye, Registrar, Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria, TRCN, said when this occurs, students either get overwhelmed by the demands of their new course or make a success out of it.
It seems Islamiyah falls into the former camp.
“I can say I was manipulated into being in science. I was forced to choose chemistry by the school.
“A lot (has changed in me). Truancy, mainly because I don’t like what I’m studying. I lost interest in almost everything around me. I became introverted, too.”
Introvertedness has in return made her school performance gloomy.
“You don’t do well when you hate what you do,” Islamiyah said.
Take chemistry out of her life, and a giant share of her life’s problem is solved, she said. In fact, were it not for her skill in makeup artistry, which she says she will get better and bigger at, her happiness would have been zeroed.
After school, she is not yet sure whether it would be this skill she will pursue or a Master’s degree. “But never Masters in this course,” she said.
Especially when long-lasting and with moderate or severe intensity, depression may become a serious health condition, a WHO report states.
It can cause an affected person to perform poorly at work, at school and in the family, or even lead to suicide: the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds, the average age bracket within which most students fall.
Depression is an affective disorder that comes with depressed mood, loss of interest, decreased energy, low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, and poor concentration. If left untreated early enough, it can lead to school failure, conduct disorder, and delinquency, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, school phobia, panic attacks, substance abuse, or even suicide.
Globally, the World Health Organization, WHO says, more than 300 million people are affected by depression.
Data on the prevalence of depression among Nigerian students is scarce. One study was co-authored by Abdulrazaq Gobir, Department of Community Medicine, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), and Aisha Dabana, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, of the same school’s teaching hospital.
Their 2018 study of 127 undergraduate of ABU shows “58.2% had depression, with 37.0%, 15.7%, 3.9%, and 1.6% having mild, moderate, moderately-severe, and severe depression, respectively.”
Similar research carried out on 870 Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) indicates 7.0% severe depression and 25.2% moderate to severe depression among the respondents.
Different strokes, different folks
Parental interference might have interfered with the mind frame of Shamsudeen, Jethro, Adaobi and Islamiyah but there are exceptions. Adeeyo Ridwan is one of these exceptions.
“My dad bought the School of Science form for me without notifying me. He just told me that he has got the form that I should go and prepare for the exam after JSS 3,” he told this reporter.
“I passed but I had a passion for Business Studies and Mathematics. I was admitted because I really passed very well. So he decided that I should go to a science school that I’d perform better. I followed his directive and I later liked it.”
Ridwan has since then bagged a distinction in Ordinary National Diploma at the Polytechnic, Ede, and a second class upper in the University of Ibadan, both in Computer Science.
Like Ridwan, Salaudeen Abiodun also found a career path after his school — Rochas Foundation College, Oke-Ado, Ibadan — principal insisted he must stay in science class. Although from primary school he had plans to read banking and finance or insurance, eventually, he found love in studying statistics, a course under science.
Abiodun also graduated with same honour as Ridwan in both his polytechnic and university.
Problem not peculiar to Nigeria
According to Ghanaian journalist, Christopher Atitso, like Nigeria, schools in Ghana do not run programmes that help prune students on the basis of what they like doing right from childhood till they reach tertiary institution. Also, cases of parents and teachers compelling students into doing what they like, whether or not the students like it, is rife.
“In recent cases,” Mr Atitso, however, says, “through advocacy and the campaign for child’s right, it is done at a consensus-building with the child.”
Muhammad Butt, a political correspondent with Gourmate News Network (GNN) from Pakistan also said same of his country.
Although, “it’s totally student’s own choice but yes, teachers in high school recommend students with low marks in middle to join art classes and high marks students are asked to join science,” he said.
Meehika Barua, a freelance journalist with Independent UK, said the same of India. In India, she explains, “parents seem to always push them to either medical or law or engineering, and other fields are just not acceptable for a lot of parents. There is a lot of stigma and burden on the students. There is very little education on the fact that there are so many professions nowadays from which you can make a lot of money.”
Mr Fatomilola says parents have to be considerate in how they bring up their children. The interest and ability of a child, he says, should be given priority above the parent’s choice, especially if it is for self-gain.
“Passion and ability bring about fulfilment. When one is absent, even if a child continuously succeeds at such coerced course, he or she will end up unfulfilled as a person and this may ultimately lead to suicide or drug abuse.”
Josiah Ajoboye, Registrar of the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria, says university education should be seen as a means of broadening an individual’s horizons and “not a meal ticket in itself. We have seen successful bankers who read Chemistry at the University.”
He adds that it is when university education is seen in the right perspective that the “craze for some ‘choice’ courses will disappear”.
To this end, Mr Josiah advises the provision of career guidance and counselling services in schools. ”Such services should not be limited to secondary schools; universities should have a Career and Placements Unit to advise their students”, he says.
Career choice, he explains, should depend largely on students aptitude and interest.