Five Nigerian alumni of the Cuban education system have highlighted lessons their home country can draw from the interactive and practical mode of learning in the Caribbean country.
Among these alumni are four sportsmen and women and a medical doctor who have all returned home and recounted their experiences, shared lessons and spoken against the United States’ sanctions on Cuba.
They spoke with PREMIUM TIMES in Abuja on Friday at a roundtable discussion held at the Cuban embassy in Nigeria.
Aliyu Makpha, from Nasarawa State, who now works as a sports administrator at the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports, studied under the bilateral exchange programme between Nigeria and Cuba.
He studied physical and health education at the International School of Sports in Cuba. Mr Makpha noted that learning Spanish, a prerequisite for studying in Cuba, was not difficult. He said speaking the Hausa language was a plus because, like Hausa, Spanish is written the same way it is spoken.
“I had my primary and secondary education here in Nigeria; I was about to go to university when the scholarship came in. I went to Cuba through a bilateral education agreement to study Physical Health Education and Sports.
“Both countries are different in terms of cultural background and system of government, so we should expect that difference when it comes to education – the difference is there.
“Owing to Cuba’s communist ideology, education in the country is free,” Mr Makpha said.
“I am not saying that Nigeria’s education system is bad, but I think we can definitely borrow a few things from the Cuban system.
“Speaking of sports, which is my profession, there is a lot we can borrow from Cuba to improve our physical and health education curriculum because you know Cuba is one of the top sports countries in the world. Nigeria can become the best in Africa and the world.”
Mr Makpha said the Federal Ministry of Sports is looking to diversify its sports focus.
Amina Amanchi from Plateau State also studied at the International School of Physical Health Education and Sports in Havana and now works at the Ministry of Youths and Sports. She credited her athletic skills for paving the way for her to get to Cuba.
“I used to run, that is why my father suggested it to me when they were looking for people to go on a scholarship to Cuba.”
She also commented on the derogatory ways in which people who study physical education are addressed.
“Studying P.E in Nigeria is a bit discriminatory, I hear they call them jumpologists. But in Cuba, it is the other way around; sports is an integral part of their education. I was happy and proud when I went to study in Cuba.”
Speaking of the hospitality she received as a student in Cuba, Ms Amanchi said, “of all the countries I have visited in the world, Cuba showed me the most acceptance and togetherness. They give you the team spirit you need for anything. I never experienced racism, wherever you come from, Cuba is just home.”
“The Nigerian education system can learn to be more interactive and less instructive like in Cuba,” Ms Amanchi said.
The group noted that there are no strikes to disrupt learning in Cuba, even when teachers are not paid.
“The teachers are dedicated to their jobs; they do not mind if they are paid or not but the passion to impart knowledge is a major driver for people in this group.” They advised Nigeria to take some lessons from them.
Juliet Iyen got to Cuba through a federal government scholarship. In Cuba, the stars aligned in her favour as she received a Cuban scholarship to study up to a doctorate.
Ms Iyen narrated how studying in Cuba taught her how to be a one-stop-shop for sports education and needs. She now works as a physiotherapist in Nigeria.
For Ms Iyen, she did not choose Cuba, Cuba chose her.
“I am not from an affluent family. My dad saw an announcement about the scholarship in the newspaper and decided we would get the form, I applied and I was chosen. I did not really choose Cuba but when the scholarship came, I had to go to Cuba,” Ms Iyen narrated.
According to Ms Iyen, the Nigerian education system is not exactly bad. But as she sees it, Nigerians do not love their country enough to see it flourish, unlike Cubans who derive optimum satisfaction from something as little as seeing their flag being hoisted for one reason or the other.
She also lamented the effect of the United States’ blockade on Cuba and how it makes it difficult for students to access commodities from other places.
She called for the sanctions placed by America on Cuba to be lifted, adding that the world is being deprived of benefits they could gain from Cuba due to the blockade.
Emmanuel Anih, who now works at the Cuban embassy in Nigeria, told PREMIUM TIMES that the blockade affects Nigerian students studying and those who are looking to study in Cuba.
“For instance, while we were in Cuba, it was difficult sending money to Cuba directly. You had to send it to Canada, the U.S., France before it got to Cuba. Up till now, you cannot make a direct transfer to Cuba; people who want to go to Cuba for medical reasons also find it difficult.”
He added that for students already in Cuba, the blockade makes it difficult for parents to pay tuition for their children or send money for their upkeep.
Also, “there are things people from other parts of the world can benefit from, which the blockade is not allowing them to.”
Vera Adugwo studied medicine in Cuba. She works as a house officer at the National Hospital, Abuja.
Unlike the others who went to Cuba through a scholarship scheme, Ms Adugwo was sponsored by her family.
“I decided on Cuba because I think their health profession is really good and you learnt a lot; you end up being a really good doctor. Medicine in Cuba gives you a lot of practical knowledge.”
For Ms Adugwo, Cuba is a second home as she grew up in Cuba before moving out.
“I felt it was a familiar place to go back to as I grew up there. My dad sponsored me. We met a Cuban-trained medical doctor in Madrid who gave my dad hints on how Cuba is a great place to study medicine and the privileges that come with being Cuban-trained.”
According to Ms Adugwo, studying medicine in Cuba is quite affordable when compared to the United States, if one is not on scholarship.