by Tola Adenle


Since I first watched The Scripps National Spelling Bee competition in the 70s, I’ve always been awestruck by the drama of an event that dates back to the 1920s starring kids many of whom are yet to reach their teen years.  While I never fail to take it in when in the States, the challenges of living in Nigeria often make it impossible to see the competition every year.  Last week Thursday, however, I lucked out as the societal stars over Nigeria seemed to have aligned: there was electricity  which meant I did not have to run around on my Rural Minister of Power duty; the program was not replaced an ESPN sports show although the last part where the winner was chosen was not shown but I checked the winner online first thing Friday morning.

By the time Sukanya Roy of South Abington Township, Pennsylvania had correctly spelled cymotrichous – a word with Greek root, meaning “wavy haired,” to win the 2011 competition, a fourth consecutive Indian-American had captured the much coveted trophy and the accompanying prizes among which is a $40,000 scholarship.  The girl who has captured every parent’s heart around the English-speaking word is an eighth-grader [J.S.S. II] who follows in the footsteps of not just the last three consecutive Indian-American winners but in those of EIGHT other Indian-Americans who have lifted the trophy in the last thirteen years.  Since the 1999 competition, nine Indian-Americans have lifted the Bee winner trophy.

Before going further, I’d like to mention a few things about how kids in countries like Nigeria would never be able to compete as long as avenues for discovering and developing talents are rare, and as long as the looting by office holders continuse with impunity.  Here are figures from Vanguard of yesterday on how these “legislooters” shared the N10 billion loan: “Speaker, N100m; Deputy Speaker, N80m; each representative N42m … The sordid details for those who might have missed it in the Vanguard, will be up later today.

Sukanya, was sponsored to the competition outside Washington, D.C. by the Times Leader, a newspaper organization in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania just like the 274 other competitors had their hometown newspapers pick the tabs for their trips to D.C..  The sponsors picked up not only the kids’ tabs but those for their parents, including even the kid from suburban Maryland who lived within minutes of the Oxon Hill, Md. Location.

Apart from a Spelling Competition started by Oluremi Tinubu as Lagos First Lady which she ran alongside her other community project, I’m not aware of anything like this in Nigeria.  In fact, I wondered aloud in an essay in The Nation years ago why the Spelling Competition which qualified the winner to be Lagos State Governor for a day could not be taken over by Lagos State.  Better still, would it not be great if an organization like The Nation group of newspapers can take this project over at the finals while papers from each state that sends contestants take up the local sponsorship.  Very respected and trusted board can run it.  Even though [now] Senator Tinubu did continue the project after her husband had left office, it is too huge an endeavor to be left to an individual.

Another point I must mention in passing is the serious need for re-shaping and restructuring our educational system which may call for experts in behavior modification to find what can be done to get our people more engaged, especially the youth –  in what goes on in the country.  The self-satisfaction at material possessions and the tendency to “leave everything to God” while the country falls to ruins from the utter looting that’s going on has to be addressed.  I know, I COULD NOT spell most of the words the Bee-competitors polished off with minor adorable questions like:  could you repeat the word, please … does it derive from Greek … Spanish… Latin … French?

While young men are thinking of how to come about homes, cars, etcetera that their jobs or businesses cannot bring about and young women whose parents haven’t amassed huge bank accounts are wondering how to get funds for N35,000 (and more) outfits – no thanks to the culture of impunity – kids are pretending at getting an education at secondary and tertiary levels.  I’m sure there must be some university undergraduates in Nigeria who do read books for pleasure but being an avid reader of blogs on Nigeria’s so-called “lifestyle magazines and websites”, I ‘m not sure most can put their thoughts as Sukanya, the 14-year old did after winning:  ”I went through the dictionary once or twice … and I guess some of the words really stuck … It is kind of surreal, it’s just amazing. It’s hard to put into words.”

Do not get me wrong; I’m not talking of the language of the social media.  The suburban Maryland entrant learnt 10,000 dictionary words but they were inadequate to measure up to Sukanya who had gone over an entire dictionary “once or twice”!  Here are a few other words that rolled off the tongues of those kids: “cheongsam”; opodeldoc”,” abhinaya …”

By the way, a now retired Professor of Education at Nigeria’s premier UI once burst into an old Sam Cooke song in my presence – and that of one of her students: “Cupid, pick up your bow, it’s too late, you lost your chance…”because the student did not write her lesson notes as she had been asked and shown to do when the professor learnt she was not ready to be inspected.  One would expect a final year Education Ibadan student to understand the professor’s song as announcement of failure for the subject.  The Professor had stood up, sang and made to leave when my lovely young girl asked me in a plaintive voice: “what does she mean by ‘it’s too late, you lost your chance’?”  I felt truly sorry but don’t know to this day how I burst into laughter.

The following is the citation for the “2008 Annual Awards for non-excellence” for a female University of Abuja student who won Miss Abuja in 2008.  I had read about Ms. Beautiful in a newspaper:

“Miss UniAbuja – For exemplifying the lie of tertiary education in Nigeria:  “My dear, I had dismissed talks of many UniAbj graduates being hardly literate and that your graduates are generally worse than the poor standard until the recent “University Queen” beauty pageant. You were reportedly asked:  what are the recreational activities in your state to which your answer ranks up there with America’s VP also-ran, Sarah Palin, in her memorable incoherent elementary school standard answer to a question during the recent campaign. You reportedly bubbled:  “Thank you.  To me, recreational activity is a rebirth”!  Well, dear, I’m sure banks are already lining up for your services but before then, step forward and take this award which you may not know should be hidden way behind the skimpies in your wardrobe. Who cares, anyway!  This is Nigeria”. [The Nation on Sunday, December 28, 2008.]

How do Indian-Americans do it?  How have they come to dominate what was once a nearly lilly-white affair?  Why does a university in Virginia send scouts to an Indian university every year to get the first shot at selecting graduates to come to America for studies?  Even President Obama has consistently warned that the USA must strengthen its educational system because India, like China, must be taken seriously as India has “some very talented people.”

Asians kids, especially Chinese and Indians, are a disciplined lot and, perhaps unlike other major immigrant groups, the kids tend to listen more to their parents and respect authority; they accept their cultural practices even when they may not subscribe to certain aspects.  They stay focused and ways of life that white kids would rebel against are accepted by them because they see their parents’ efforts as being in their interests.  I remember when Michael Chang, the tennis player first started out in the 80s and his mom and brother were his handlers; it was before Richard and Oracene (Venus and Serena’s parents) showed the tennis world kids can be coached and managed by parents who learn the game rule and care.  There were many criticisms of the Changs:  how will Michael date with his mother always around him, and other such culture-insensitive questions.

There is also the recent Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother which details how this Chinese-American woman raised her two daughters the way she was raised, with strict discipline which pays off.   I must come back to the topic of immigrant “overdriving” their kids as far as American new parenting is concerned because it is a topic that goes beyond Asian-Americans.  Suffice to say here that some people have gone beyond calling Ms. Chua horrible names.  I say “new parenting” because the old method used by the parents of those now calling Chua names, worked.  Definitely, a middle ground must be found but I think in the matter of parenting, kids must be shown and taught right from wrong which is often viewed these days as being “wicked”.



Nigerian newspapers and online news sources
  • 234 Next News site
  • Bella Naija Magazine
  • Business Day Newspaper
  • Daily Champion Newspaper
  • Daily Independent Newspaper
  • Daily Trust Newspaper
  • Elendu Reports News site
  • Emotan Blog
  • Huhu online News site
  • jhova blog Blog
  • Leadership News site
  • Linda Ikeji Blog
  • National Daily Newspaper
  • Nigeria Plus News site
  • Nigeria Village Square News site
  • Nigerian Observer News site
  • Osun Defender News site
  • PM News Newspaper
  • Punch Newspaper
  • Sahara Reporters News site
  • Sun Newspaper
  • The Guardian Newspaper
  • This Day Newspaper
  • Tribune Newspaper
  • Vanguard Newspaper

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