IKA CHILD AND CULTURAL EDUCATION AND THE ADVENT OF FORMAL EDUCATION
Informal Education in Ika Culture
For ages, the Ika are alive with individual differences in skill or knowledge, and quick to brand the stupid, the slow learner and the man or woman with poor memory. But it appears that they have no word that ‘one is not well designed’. A child’s lesser proficiency is simply designed as ‘not understanding yet’, for example, that he has not yet understood the art of handling his body, his farm implements well, etc. Indeed, the departments of knowledge, which small children are expected to master are spoken of as understanding, imare; such as understanding the house included care of the floor, walls, discarding rubbish into the dust bin or the pit, respecting any property lying on the floor, etc. Understanding the fire meant an understanding that fire will burn the skin or thatch, or light wood, or straw, that a smoldering cinder (small piece of coal wood, etc., partly burnt) would flare if blown upon; that such cinders, if removed from the fire place, must be carried with the greatest care and without slipping or bringing them in contact with other objects, and also that water quenches fire, etc.
From the ancient times, the Ika people believe that it is necessary to give a child training or teaching izi-ihien. Their beliefs about the rearing of a child are usually bound up with beliefs about life itself and how to sustain it.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and
When he is old, he will not depart from it”
Teaching and learning in those days took place in informal study circles, and classes were built around typical life situations in the farm or at home. This was the main tool for imparting knowledge and cultural orientation to the child in the process of socialization in Ika traditional society.
The informal education of the Ika child tended to begin in earnest as soon as he came to the age at which, he might learn better judgment and greater circumspection. The education was in its rudimentary form. it was without a formal agency for education and without a class or teachers; all of life was the school. Education was unregulated and unstructured. There was no system of education as we know it today. Everyone acquired knowledge at his own pace, and according to the experience he has been through. Farming, household work and social values formed the core subject areas of the then Ika child, and the culture patterns involved in these subjects and others in Ika culture were transmitted to the growing child through adult devices such as:
Imitation as a Device of Imparting Cultural Patterns
Imitation is the first principle of progress. The first device through which Ika cultural patterns were imparted was imitation, at times, through demonstration. This was specifically true of facial expressions such as yawning closed eyes, pocked lips, etc. The small child also imitated his slightly older siblings and parents. As the boy child imitated his father, brothers and other male relatives, so also the girls child imitated her mother, sisters and other female relations. For example, a small boy watched his father and other male relatives working on the farm, and would help them in running errands; in this way, he would learn certain aspects of farming. Much of what the child learnt was acquired in real life as opposed to ‘artificial training’ situations of the formal education system.
As the child grew, his traditional teachers comprised his parents, their neighbours and the community in general. This was the educational setting in Ika, where informal teaching was carried on by the primary social groups, the family, the community leaders, artists of all denominations, historians, composers, entertainment groups, carvers, trap setters, and wine tappers, to mention but a few. Each of these groups was recognized in Ika culture as traditional teachers of vocation, and charged with the responsibility of training and transmitting culture from one generation to another. For example, the man who had taught a group of boys to use mburu, ube and esue, bow and arrow to hunt birds or mice had created education by transferring not only the use of implements, but also the incipient technology to them. “One who possesses the knowledge of things possesses the truth about things.” Traditional education, Miller noted. “Is mainly through imitation and is basically self-acquired. Parents and elders only occasionally intervene to induce desirable physical and mental attributes that make for efficiency.” Education went on from dusk till dawn. The immediate physical, social and cultural environment formed the curriculum. The medium of communication was the Ika native language. Rewards were explained on the spot. Emphasis was on conformity with the social values, traditions and customs. Therefore, what happened in this context was necessary to the life of the community at the time it was happening. This enabled the child to acquire language, values, beliefs, tact, occupational skills, etc. He was thus socialized. This system went on throughout life, and it referred to real life objects and situations for the Ika people.
An important element was that the family, as a unit of economic production, provided an appropriate context, in which the child could learn the things he needed to know. The craftsmen’s shop or the farmers’ fields were appropriate training grounds for sons and the household was an appropriate ground for daughters. All aspects of this kind of education were an integral part of daily life.
In this kind of society, the concept of liberal education had no relevance at all. The child and adult were embedded within the extended family, and the child’s education or training was just whatever seemed to maintain the family’s productivity; and in conformity with what the society determined were its educational system, methods and aims.
Also, in the company of the children, a year or two older, the young children imitated play all day in the compound, racing, dancing, running, staggering, making proud of their small achievements and gains with delight and high spirit. The hot sun would not even drive them indoors. The fiercest rain would only change the appearance of their playground into a new and strange delight.
Singing was also learnt through imitation of older children by younger ones. It could consist of monotone chants of very simple sentences, more or less related to each other. A group of the children would huddle together on the floor or in the lawn, and croon those monotonous chants over and over for hours without apparent boredom or weariness.
Similarly, the acts of wrestling, hunting, swimming, setting of traps, sweeping, frying, working, tapping of wine, etc. were learnt by imitation. In addition, little children watched the procedures of certain activities, which they would not be asked to practise until they were grown.
Repetition as a Device in Ika Informal Education
Another device enlisted in imparting informal education was the delight to repetition. Random affection on repetition made an excellent atmosphere in which the child acquired facility in speech. For example, repetition was a very useful medium for teaching Pidgin English to the young children, at the advent of the Europeans. Young me who had gone to work for the Whitemen, or in the African Timber and Plywood Company, (AT&P), Rubber Plantations, in Sapele or elsewhere, for instance, returned to their villages and taught the young boys Pidgin English. The young boys in turn taught the very small boys. It was a common spectacle to see two or three twelve-year old boys gathered about a three, or four year old little boy, schooling him. Some children spoke perfect Pidgin English although they had never been out of their isolated villages, and some without understanding more than a tenth of what they were saying.
Also, through repetition, the small girls learnt to dance by standing beside their mothers and sisters at Agbara dance, for instance. Occasionally, a girl child was incited to dance at home while the mother or a relation tapped on the house floor. Soon, she grasped the very simple steps, for example, feet together and swift movement and return to position, in tune to the tapping or the drumbeat.
When there was a dance, there was an orchestra of drums and gong of various sizes played by the most proficient drummers in the village. The very small boys of four or five settled themselves beside small hollow log ends or pieces of wood, and drummed away indefatigably in tune with the orchestra. In the boy’s home, he would practise making good use of the flexibility of wrist and sense of rhythm learnt earlier.