The Start Them Early Program is a new initiative at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, (IITA). It operates under the Youth in Agribusiness office with a focus on how to advance agribusiness development to secondary schools in Africa. It is aimed at redirecting the aspirations of young people in secondary schools towards careers in modern agriculture by exposing them to viable opportunities in agribusiness at an early stage.
Nine secondary schools have been selected in three countries (Nigeria, DR Congo, and Kenya) to implement the pilot phase of the project.
The STEP team in Nigeria selected three schools within the Southwestern region of the country to implement the pilot phase of the program; Fasola Grammar School, Oluponna High School, and Lead City International School.
Fasola Grammar School and Oluponna High School are both government-owned schools, situated in rural communities, with the former located in a subsistence livelihood setting, and the latter in a market-oriented, mixed agriculture area. The third school is a private school, with not much land area for establishing demonstration fields but high levels of classroom and laboratory instruction.
At Fasola Grammar School in Oyo State Nigeria, the team is currently constructing and renovating some laboratories and classrooms in preparation for modernized training in Agribusiness.
On the 21st of February 2020, the team from the Youth in Agribusiness office visited the school and they share their experiences.
During my visit to Fasola Grammar School with the STEP program, I was definitely not prepared for what I was going to see and the rush of emotions that would flood my being. Firstly, I had a deep sense of pride in IITA for helping the school with basic necessities like water and electricity. Secondly, I felt disappointed in the fact that without the intervention of IITA the school would probably still be at the dilapidated state. Thirdly, I felt a sense of responsibility to reflect on how our actions and inactions affect the generations after us. The STEP program is bigger than introducing agriculture to students in secondary schools. It is a revolution that would promote the development of future national and global leaders from the most unlikely places. We may not have all the resources in the world, but we can support in the little ways we can- Taking out of our time to practice English speaking with a child in our neighborhood. Knowledge remains the greatest gift to give to an adolescent, and if this is delivered in a conducive environment it will definitely go a long way.
Going to Fasola Grammar School on an assessment of the activities carried out by STEP was a breath of fresh air from my day to day routine. It opened my eyes to see beyond what IITA is doing to attract pupils in the school to agriculture at a tender age. It was a moment of reflection on what we could do to improve the learning experience of the pupils of Fasola Grammar School. The school reminded me of a novel titled; “school without walls”. Although Fasola Grammar School has walls it lacks basic infrastructure that could make learning conducive for the pupils. IITA has taken up part of this responsibility but here is a call on more organizations and individuals to assist in giving Fasola Grammar School a proper “wall”.
The trip to Fashola Grammar school on the 21st of February 2020 was an insightful, fun and memorable one. I saw the refurbished laboratories lab, which is now the processing and training center for the school’s agricultural club, the renovated classrooms, staff room, hall, and the dilapidated classrooms the students receive lectures. While I was happy IITA has decided to renovate part of the school, I was also sad seeing the condition, under which the students are being taught. The roof of the classrooms has fallen off, the chairs are broken, no windows, etc. For me, I know we can all make Fasola Grammar School a model college.
Tour to Fasola Grammar School on Friday 21st February 2020 describes the struggle of an average rural pupil to study and excel amidst all odds. If other corporate organizations and well-meaning individuals could support the cause of students in rural areas and provide them with the basic infrastructure needed to enhance learning, then the sky would be the limits for these pupils.
IITA, through the STEP program, is building a state of the art facility at Fasola Grammar School. It is going to be a new learning experience for the pupils and I am proud to be a part of the team changing the narrative.
It was a pleasure having our colleagues with us at Fasola. We exchanged ideas on how to make things better at the school and we are not going to relax until we achieve our goals.