Building a New Nigeria

Earlier this month I caught a glimpse of a New Nigeria.

It was full of creative, confident and courageous young men and women who were courteous, clever and of upstanding character.

This New Nigeria was compassionate, respectful of the rights of everyone to basic human rights, regardless of creed, sexual orientation, tongue or tribe.

Her citizens were tenacious, yet respectful, dogged and determined yet responsible. They were accountable and transparent. I was so proud!!!!

And while their ascendancy has been momentarily and cruelly interrupted, I am confident that they will be back. Better organised, laser focused on their mission. Unstoppable.

In my privileged position as a Music Educator, I get to interact with future generations of this New Nigeria. The ones to whom the baton will be passed in the not too distant future and I feel the weight of responsibility that lies upon my shoulders and on the shoulders of Educators up and down the country, to do good by them.

To provide them with the tools that they need to realise our collective dreams.

To build their Character, to instill in them the Courage to do hard things. To grow their Confidence to speak up in a room full of strangers. To inspire and ignite their Creativity and to develop their Cognitive skills through repeatedly tackling seemingly impossible tasks.

This is my calling. I have no other purpose.

So today,

I renew my pledge to present and future Nigeria

To be faithful, loyal and honest in executing my responsibility

To serve present and future Nigeria with all my might

To defend her unity

And to uphold her power and glory

So help me God.

Coronavirus, Congestion, Commuting and other Considerations

Like many educators, I have been wrestling with what format teaching should take in the upcoming academic term. Like most countries in the world, schools in Nigeria have been shut since March 2020, and we have only begun to see an easing of restrictions in the last couple of weeks to allow school leavers to sit their crucial end of phase exams.

Up until the lockdown, we delivered over 90% of our lessons in person, mostly in client’s homes or schools. When lock-down happened, we were forced to transition quickly to virtual teaching and have been doing so ever since. Now that schools are set to open in the next few weeks, my team and I find ourselves asking the question, what is the right response for us?

My first thought is that the coronavirus is still very much with us, and even countries like New Zealand who declared an early victory over the pandemic, are currently experiencing a second wave of new infections and are in the throes of a new lockdown.

While it appears that Nigeria (mercifully) has had a relatively easier time compared with other countries such as South Africa, cases are nevertheless still rising. As of yesterday, the 23rd of August 2020, there were over 52,000 confirmed cases. Of these, 2% are linked to foreign travel, 24% are contacts of known cases, while 74% were infected through “unknown exposure” (source: COVID-19 SITUATION REPORT 177, Sunday, 23rd August 2020, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control). I don’t know about you but the high percentage of untraceable infections is of concern to me.

According to this guidance released by the Federal Ministry of Education, schools and learning facilities need to undertake risk assessments to determine how safe it is to reopen for the 2020-2021 academic year. As we are not a traditional school, not all the considerations are applicable to us, but we were able to draw up our own risk assessment based on the Government’s guidelines which we feel is relevant to our unique situation.

KMC COVID RISK ASSESSMENT

  1. Is there a high rate of community transmission in the area in which the lesson is due to take place?
  2. Is there a high rate of community transmission in the area in which the Music Coach resides?
  3. Will the Music Coach able to maintain a physical distance of 2 meters between themselves and other commuters enroute to the client’s home and back again?
  4. Does the Music Coach, the Learner or anyone they are in regular contact with have a pre-existing condition that puts them at higher risk of contracting the virus?
  5. Will the Music Coach able to measure the body temperature of themselves, the Learner and any other persons present at the lesson location with an infrared digital thermometer before entering the premises?
  6. Will the Music Coach be able to wash or sanitise his or her hands conveniently before, during and after the lesson as the need arises?
  7. Will the Music Coach be able to maintain a physical distance of 2 metres from the Learner and anyone else present throughout the lesson?
  8. Are both the Music Coach and Learner able to wear face masks for the entire duration of the lesson without negatively impacting teaching and learning? (may not be feasible for voice, brass or woodwind lessons for instance).
  9. Does the location of the lesson have adequate cross ventilation that does not require the use of a fan or airconditioner as these could potentially circulate the virus in a confined space?
  10. Can the lesson take place without the Music Coach needing to share equipment with the pupil, such as pens, pencils, notebooks, music books and musical instruments?
  11. Where sharing of equipment and resources is unavoidable, can these be adequately sanitised before and after the lesson is due to happen so as not to impact on teaching and learning time?
  12. Is everyone present aware of proper hygiene protocols regarding sneezing and coughing in order to minimise the possible spread of water droplets?
  13. Will the Music Coach and Learner have access to safe and sanitary rest rooms with running water if required?
  14. Are there adequate contact tracing protocols in place at the lesson venue should it become necessary to reach people who may have come into contact with an infected person?

In addition to the health considerations above, we feel that the following logistical concerns are equally important:

  1. Does the increased congestion presently being experienced in Lagos on account of ongoing repairs to the Third Mainland Bridge and the Okada ban allow allow the Music Coach to fulfil their obligations to other clients?
  2. Does the timing of the lesson allow enough time for the Music Coach to return home before the start of any curfews imposed by the State or Federal Government?

With so many factors to consider, my team and I have decided that our default teaching format for the start of the 2020-2021 academic year will be virtual with the possibility of in-person lessons once a month for those clients who want it, provided the risks outlined above can be mitigated.

To make our virtual lessons as effective and impactful as possible, we will adopt both syncrhonous (live) and asyncrhonous tuition methods. This format was used to great effect in delivering our eight week virtual summer camp for which we had fantastic feedback from both parents and children alike.

With regards to when we are likely to return to all in-person lessons, it is not possible to give a specific time frame as there are just too many variables at play. All we can do is to continue to keep the situation under review, with the aim of switching to in-person lessons when the benefits of doing so outweigh the risks.

I have a sneaky suspicion however, that virtual instruction will remain an important part of learning in the future and that blended teaching methods are here to stay.

Till next time,

Mrs O

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Awakening the Dawn

This Psalm conjures a beautiful picture of the Psalmist spending time on his instrument before dawn. Giving God the first fruits of his musical skill.

It is often said that the best time to practice ones instrument is first thing in the morning while the brain is fresh and I am encouraged to see David doing the same.

As a person of faith, I find that my best days are those that begin with quiet contemplation, reflection on God’s word and with prayer but I rarely spend those moments in the company of my piano, my equivalent to David’s “lute and harp”.

I am also reminded of the famous hymn:

“Holy Holy Holy, Lord God Almighty, Early in the morning, my song shall rise to thee…”

I am challenged therefore to include in my morning rituals, this practice of awakening my “lute and harp” that I might awake the dawn.

Thankfully, with the advent of digital instruments, it is possible to do so without awakening the rest of the neighbourhood by wearing headphones. 🙂 🎧

What time is it?

I am currently (slowly) making my way through the Psalms. While meditating on Psalm 110, which is said to be the most widely quoted Psalm in the New Testament, my thoughts turned to eternity and how most people desire to either live forever or leave a legacy that will endure for generations.

So I looked up the scripture which talks about this: Ecclesiastes 3:11 NKJV

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.

…except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end…

As a soon-to-be empty nester, I am keenly aware of the passage of times and seasons and I can scarcely believe how quickly time has flown by… If truth be told, my mind hasn’t quite caught up with what my calender is telling me…. “What do you mean it’s been 20 years since…???”

I hope I have the time and energy to enjoy whatever the next “time” or season of my life will bring. But I am also possessed of the desire to complete my current season well and send forth my children into their next seasons of life from a position of strength.

So while I haven’t got the vantage of God’s view on eternity, I am trusting Him to lead me to fully play my part in this beautiful tapestry He alone can weave of all our lives and destinies, the outcome of which will be an eternal song of His great, mighty and just reign.

And while the memory of my name and accomplishments on earth will fade over time, the enduring story of His goodness won’t. And in the telling of that story, my story is told too.

When the impossible becomes possible…

Male Corpus Callosum Brain Anatomy – blue concept

I have just finished a lesson with one of my young learners where I witnessed a small miracle. A few weeks ago, we started learning scales on the piano and, as is my custom, we started with his right hand only. Gradually his fingers got accustomed to the motion needed to realise the required sound and soon it was time to learn to play the left hand. Again, gradually, he was able to realise this also and we then started on him playing both hands together. The first few times he attempted this, the results were not pretty at all. He stumbled and fumbled and got all mixed up. I left it with him, gently coaxing and encouraging him each lesson to keep trying. And he did. Today he played that scale hands together, effortlessly. It was as if he was always able to play it just like that. The pain and frustration of the past had become a distant memory. And my heart was filled with joy because of what I realise had happened, unnoticed, in his brain to allow him to execute a near flawless scale.

Neurology helps us understand that when playing the piano with both hands, we are forcing both sides of our brains to work together and by so doing, we strengthen the nerve cells that run between the left and right sides of the brain – the corpus callosum. A strong corpus callosum enhances the brain’s capacity to process information faster. By being persistent at learning this skill, my student had strengthened the section of his brain that was needed to process this particular task. And those “brain muscles” are here to stay. The more he continues to practice this and similar skills, the stronger that part of his brain will get and he will be able to use that enhanced processing capability in other areas of life. Not just music.

Neurology tells us that learning to play an instrument permanently alters the shape of a musician’s brain – for the better. So, when we moved on to his next task, which was to play the left hand of one of his pieces, I smiled to myself as he exclaimed – “but that’s impossible!”. Slowly, we worked through each bar of the piece and when we got to the end of the first page, he exclaimed – “actually, that was easy!”. And it was easy – due in part to the fact that his brain recognised some of the patterns in the piece and was able to quickly direct his hands on how to move.

I love the fact that my music room – both virtual and in-person – is in some ways like a laboratory and a gymnasium combined, where I get the satisfaction of watching my learners develop muscles and tone in places they never imagined they could. This is one rewarding experience that I will never tire of. Ever.

Serving Generation Alpha

Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels

The last three months have been intense. It felt like we slammed on the brakes hard while simultaneously manouevering round a tight corner at top speed on the edge of a cliff, not sure whether we would survive the experience.

So, we had our first virutal music summer camp this week, I must say with some trepidation. We have never been here before (neither have 90% of the music education industry). But we made a conscious decision at the onset of COVID to embrace technology and remain as relevant as we could be in the new age in which we find ourselves. And so my team and I worked hard to create a series of Olympic themed music programmes to be delivered entirely virtually.

But this week, we discovered something we were not expecting. We found that the children for whom we were making this transition had arrived at the destination before us. They were settled and comfortable in this digital space. For them, the virtual world has always been home. The rest of us where simply catching up.

The children in our summer camp age bracket are known as Generation Alpha, the first generation to be born entirely in the 21st century. These children have no experience of a world pre smartphones. Their parents are mostly millenials and are themselves, digitally savvy, using technology in a myriad of ways in both corporate and domestic settings.

For Generation Alpha, technology is part of their identity. All the content of our virtual camp is delivered using a myriad of digital tools and I was worried about the technical complexity behind the programme. However, many of the children took to it like a duck to water. The testimonial of this parent below is a case in point:

Having said that, the most popular sessions were those that involved using technology to interact with other children. Thanks to technology, we were able to group the children in all sorts of interesting ways so they could build friendships across school and indeed geographic borders as we had children from outside Nigeria take part. It seems like while Generation Alpha are likely to be the most tech savvy people on the planet, their preference is for technology that fosters human connection. And long may that be.

Next week therefore, we will build in more interaction between our “Olympiads” and incorporate a lot more collaborative activities. I am excited about where this Generation can take us and I look forward to learning as much from them, (and probably more), as they would from me.

While we must take seriously our responsibility for safe-guarding the welfare of our children both online and offline, let us not allow our anxieties to hold them back from experiencing the many positive experiences that technology, used wisely, can provide.

Without A Vision…

6 Months Vision Challenge

So this morning, I was challenged by my journal to envision where I would be in six months time and to schedule an email to myself to arrive on that date, describing where I hope to be by then. As it happens, six months from today will be the 4th of January 2021. The first Monday of that year. I had a lot to write and the email has been scheduled for delivery on that day, thanks to the magic of modern technology.

This made me think about the goal setting exercise my team and I do at the beginning of each term for every one of our students, where we envision and write down what skills we want them to have acquired by the end of term.

The process of thinking through and writing down a vision helps to focus the mind and directs effort in an intentional, often unconscious manner.

The Bible says “without a vision my people perish”. It’s one thing to have a grand vision but this can sometimes be overwhelming and seem unattainable.

Setting micro visions to be achieved within a reasonable time frame motivates and inspires action.

So, go ahead and write that email to yourself. Where would you want to be on the 4th of January 2021 and what needs to happen to get you there?