Beyond Free School Meals


By Augustine Togonu-Bickersteth

I have read several write ups about the free schools meals in Osun State and a similar scheme being proposed by the Federal Government of Nigeria and I would like to make some comments.

According to information in the newspapers, the meals served include yam, beans, eggs, fish, beef and fruits which are sourced from Osun farming communities. I would like to add to that list groundnuts, fresh milk and chocolate drinks not only because these are found to be nutritious and part of a balanced diet but also because it could help to revitalize the cocoa trade and bring back the groundnut pyramids in Kano and throw a challenge to our animal scientists, veterinary doctors and food scientists

In a Message to the World Food Summit in Rome, soccer star, George Weah, said: “More Food in Africa would lead to better football in Europe.” Not only “better football” but also better Mathematics, better Engineering and  better Medicine because when African children are well fed not only their  bones are well developed for physical activity like sports but their brains are also well  formed.

When the Americans realized that they had been beaten by the Russians in the Space Race with the launching in 1957 of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, they began to take early childhood Ideas seriously.

We have been beaten in many races by smaller African countries. Is it not time we began to take early childhood ideas seriously?

Besides free meals for Nigerian Children I would also like to propose play grounds, toys and literature for children as it has been variously put forward by the International Board of Books for Young Children, Nigeria Chapter, and the Children Literature Association of Nigeria.

On play grounds, my Physics Teacher in secondary school, Mr. Ayangbayi, then at Loyola College, Ibadan, used to say: ”If you did not attend a nursery school you cannot hope to understand Physics”.

This is an important point he was making. What you find in a playground in nursery school including the swing, see saw,  merry go round, slides, rocking horses and rocking boats and all these can be used to illustrate salient aspects of the foundation discipline of Physics known as Classical Mechanics.

Classical Mechanics is in large part about objects in motion and it was Isaac Newton who said, ”Ignorant  of Motion: Ignorant of Nature”   In fact , I later on saw a documentary  produced by the Germans under the title, Physics Of He Play Ground” It should be noted here that the Germans gave us the word kindergarten  meaning “Children’s Garden”

So far, no Nigerian President has passed through a kindergarten. They all stared from Primary one. Maybe Kindergarten should be made compulsory in Nigeria.

. One had to learn German in order to study Physics in its Lingua Franca. It was German rocket scientists, led by Wernher Von Braun who helped to land the Americans on the moon. Gottingen in Germany used to be the Mecca of Mathematicians and the German soccer team is known as the “German machine” because of the prowess of the Germans in designing machines. A great number of the machines powering the Chinese economy are made in Germany.

.According to Professor Segun Sowunmi,  a Mathematician , now late,  who was Nigeria’s leading exponent of creative thinking, Nigerian children should be  provided with toys that help them to think in three dimensions; this ability to think in three dimensions comes very useful in solving certain mathematics and engineering problems – like in the design of machines for instance .

It was Obafemi Awolowo, the late sage, who said: “One of the badges of poverty is the inability of men to invent and maintain machines”

The Europeans do not grow cassava but they export cassava processing machines to Nigeria and as ex-President Olusegun, an engineer, had observed the Japanese do not eat pounded yam but at one time they were exporting pounded yam machines to Nigeria

As regards literature for children, a study carried out in the United States showed that there is a correlation between the achievement imagery in children’s books and the quantity of steel and electricity produced in the U.S. over a given period.



    We need books with a Nigerian cum African flavour – books that would fire the imagination of Nigerian children.

    Albert Einstein, physicist and the greatest scientist of the 20th century who observed that “Imagination is a lot better than Knowledge”

    From all these points, I hope the early childhood experts, chid right advocates, nutritionists, educationists and scientists would step forward so that these Nigerian children would grow up not only to win the World Cup but also to land Nigerian Space crafts on planets and comets.

    Augustine Togunu – Bickersteth resides in London and can be reached @ [email protected]



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