By Ucheoma Onwutuebe
I suffered severe bouts of identity crisis in my days at the university. I was enrolled for Microbiology which I studied grudgingly. No one had pre-informed me that the sciences I was taught in secondary school were different from what I would learn at this university. At least in Secondary School, we had a fairly equipped laboratory and students were encouraged to actively participate.
But here in this university, a laboratory which was obviously designed for not more than 100 students would be crammed to the full and running over with more than 300 students who would stand and stare at dust coated apparatuses like tourists on expedition.
Some determined students whose hearts were in their studies excelled amidst these setbacks, but it was all the more frustrating because just a year ago, I had discovered I had a literary bent and nothing ever again in this scientific world of mixing strange powders and cooking bad smelling liquids would hold sway over my mind. I was in dire need of counselling which I am not sure existed in that school.
But a career in the literary world is not one of the few options presented to many Nigerian children. The options are trimmed down to Medicine, Law, Accountancy and Engineering. Any other career choices outside of these is deemed insignificant.
I had applied for Medicine but was eventually studying Microbiology when medicine did not pull through. This is common occurrence in Nigerian tertiary institutions were a course of study is tossed at you, either because you did not oil the proper hands or because you did not meet some mundane criteria. In this way, you have a multitude of students studying and cramming for what they have no single inclination for.
This lack of direction begins at home. Seeing that Nigerian parents can be overly careful for everything, they encourage children to study what would provide more security for them in future and to opt for careers that hold more “dignity”. For instance, it is more dignifying to be a doctor than to be a cartoonist.
It is all the more difficult for some of us who get a career epiphany much later in life, especially when we have already gone neck deep in some vain pursuit. You wonder, how do I tell my folks that I do not want to pursue this career path again? How about the money already spent? How would they handle their hurt ego without making you feel guilty for the rest of your life? How would they explain that a child has, for instance, dumped a career in law for tailoring? How would they excuse away this child’s fall from grace to friends?
After these options are weighed- a young Nigerian spends four to six years of his life invested in nothingness, studying what he would soon forget the definition of once he obtains a crisp certificate. I have often consoled myself that no knowledge, no matter how poorly passed down, is wasted. But what if I was properly guided? What if the counsel provided at home and in school was not so myopic, what if we were told that there was more to life than securing jobs that offer more security?
I have seen young people with theatrical bent not only discouraged but threatened to be disowned by parents just because these parents believe that the only difference between actors and prostitutes is the silver screen. When we were younger, there were friends whose water colours and crayons were seized by parents for the fear that a child would grow up to become a roadside artist.
Nigerian education does not always provide exposure to a wide range of career options, but schools cannot be blamed for everything. Parents also need to guide a child towards her natural inclination.
So in this manner, I spent four years of my life in science labs, hiding in a corner, secretly reading Achebe to the wonderment of my coursemates, and did my grades suffer!
It is relieving to finally pursue what I love and to watch other young people do well in those fields that were previously played down. At least when parents see these prototypes of success, they loosen up and permit their children pursue these career paths.