The Bold Voice of J&K

The Indian School in Lagos; helping strengthen bonds

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Zafri Mudasser
The Indian Language School here, one of the few CBSE-accredited schools outside the country, has not only been a unique centre of learning in this far off West African land but also a place where one can see national integration at its best.
Established in April 1982, the school is of the Indian community, by the Indian community and for the Indian community.
It began with just 90 students in 1982, and in recent years, the strength has been over 2,000. It has classes from LKG to XII and has been holding CBSE Board Examinations for Grades X and XII, since the late 1980s.
“Students who have grown up in ILS are confident, and proud of their Indian heritage. At the same time, they grow to respect and understand Nigeria’s culture and language. They also develop a great fondness for Nigerians – a people who are, optimistic and friendly and full of humour,” says the school’s principal Elizabeth Mathew.
“Our students’ interaction with Nigerian schools, for music, sport, drama, debate and art, have helped them develop friendships and they grow to love Nigeria. In fact, at least a few hundred of our alumni, have chosen to come back to stay and work in Nigeria,” Mathew told PTI.
According to her, the presence of this Indian school in Nigeria has, to a great extent, helped strengthen bonds between the two countries – a bond that has already existed from the 1950s, when Indian businessmen and teachers came into Nigeria.
The school at Oba Nle Aro Avenue in Ilupeju comes under the umbrella of the High Commission of India to Nigeria and is managed by a Board of Trustees comprising eminent industrialists and businessmen.
“Over the years, we have had students and teachers from every part of India – from Tripura to Rajasthan, from Kashmir to Kerala… Understanding and appreciation for the myriad shades of India’s cultural diversity, broaden and enrich the outlook of our students. I personally, have learnt so much more about India, during my years in ILS, than I have ever learnt in India,” says Mathew.Among some challenges she faced as the principal over the past three years, she says were textbooks delay, petrol shortage, unexpected closure of schools due to unrest, and once, even Ebola – 17 cases – when all schools in the country had to remain closed for over a month. She says students passing out from the school have been pursuing a variety of careers including law, music, films, medicine, engineering, defence and fine arts and many of them are very well placed.
“A few of our alumni are even officers in the Indian Army and Air Force,” she says.
Suman Kanwar joined the school in 1986 and went on to become the principal in 1990.
Today, 23 years later, I am older and wiser. I know that to be the Principal of ILS, beside academics, one must know building construction, be proficient at filing affidavits in court, keep an eye on the health of the banking industry and the oil sector.
“Coming from a family of academicians, I was not a novice to the way educational institutions are run. However, running an Indian school in a foreign land has its own distinctive challenges. To begin with, we sometimes faced the problem of non-availability of trained and qualified teachers, especially after the Senior Secondary divisions were established. We managed.
“As all text books came from India, they did not always reach Lagos in time at the beginning of an academic year. We managed. I remember in one particular year, some science and computer science textbooks arrived only at the start of the
second term. We still managed to get fairly good results. However, the 90 per cent mark which was elusive till 1991, was later achieved and the impossible was made possible. Our public exam aggregates rose into the 90s and we have never looked back since then,” Kanwar says.
During her 23-year stint as principal, there were trials and tribulations in the mid 90s when “riots were the order of the day and Nigeria came to a standstill due to political turmoil”.
The school remained shut for days on end and its authorities had to struggle to keep up with the academics.
“Worksheets were sent home like handbills. Many times the local crisis forced us to close school half way through the day and disperse students to nearby Indian houses, till evening, when it would be safe for them to drive home. To steer the school during such times of turbulence was a daunting, yet enlightening and strengthening experience for me,” she recalls.
Things at the administration front too were not rosy, she says.
“That was the time when communication was at a premium. Internet was non-existent and circulars from CBSE about the
change in syllabi would reach us after the examinations were over. There were times when question papers had to be faxed by the CBSE to the High Commission.”

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