Loyola’s Nigerian Connection

At school, whenever we mentioned Nigeria it would have been in the context of a “new teacher from Nigeria.” And it would be a male, Christian teacher who dazzled us with his knowledge, passion for teaching, and affection for students.

K.T. John joined Loyola in 1986 to teach maths in high school. Within two years, by the time he became my class teacher, he had earned a reputation on two counts—the first as a brilliant teacher, the second as an efficient organiser of events.

In 1989, P.A. Mathews passed Fr Pulickal’s tests to become a teacher at Loyola. I have heard that Fr Pulickal asked him to spot three mistakes in an English passage, and he identified four. “PAMs” was a teacher whose diction and gait conveyed that English was as much to be learnt as to be lived.

“PAMs” was followed by “JAMs” (Jacob Mathew) who taught at Loyola from 1991 to 2001. Jacob Mathew, with his charming smile and inventive ability to teach chemistry, was a popular teacher in not just Loyola, but in the whole city. Students thronged to his private tuition classes but his integrity was such that we never heard charges of favouritism levelled against him.

Back in the late 1970s, B.O. Sebastian too came from, I think, Nigeria. As his students would attest, “BOS” (pronounced “boss”) was a very friendly and popular teacher. Unlike K.T. John, PAMs and JAMs, he was young when he joined Loyola. With his cloud-burst smile, he spread cheer and was always among the students—whether playing in the basketball court, directing a play on the youth festival stage, coaching us in mass PT for Sports Day, or strengthening alumni relations at an old boys’ meet. He too was a good organiser of student and staff activities.

Each generation of Loyolites, thus, would have their favourite “teacher from Nigeria”. It prompted me to find out more about this African country 8,150 km from Loyola.

In 1960, thirteen years after India gained freedom, Nigeria gained independence from Britain. Till then, most schools in Nigeria were run by missionaries, with grants-in-aid from the colonial government. After independence, the Nigerian government set up several schools. This is strikingly similar to the history of school education in Kerala: during British rule, there were numerous schools run by missionaries in Kerala, the grants-in-aid system was popular, and it was only after Independence that the large-scale expansion of government-run schools happened, especially in Malabar.

In the 1970s, Nigeria experienced an oil boom thanks to discovery of oil in the Niger delta, and the government set up several schools and colleges. Several people from Kerala and Tamil Nadu migrated to Nigeria and a few other African countries to take up teaching positions.

Britannica tells us

Nigeria’s educational system declined significantly in the 1980s and ’90s. There was a shortage of qualified teachers, and the government was sometimes unable to pay them in a timely manner. Moreover, the number of schools did not increase proportionally with the population, and existing schools were not always properly maintained.

The collapse of the system probably prompted (and was fuelled by) Keralite teachers returning home. An article in The Week magazine mentioned that “a change in governmental policies and xenophobic outbreaks forced them to leave” African countries. Such scattered bits of evidence fit well into what we experienced—it was in the 1980s and 1990s that teachers from Nigeria took up positions in Loyola.

While this potted history of education in Nigeria sheds light on why we had teachers from there in the 1980s, there are other questions which remain to be answered.

What lies behind the success of B.O. Sebastian, K.T. John, P.A. Mathews and Jacob Mathew? (How) did Nigeria prepare them to be stars at Loyola? And also, why Christian teachers?

Nigeria is four-and-a-half hours behind Indian time. But it appears that it was years ahead of Kerala in school education. Or perhaps these teachers were moulded in Cambridge’s IGCSE system in Nigeria, and it helped them fit well and shine in the ICSE system later at Loyola. One day, when I meet these teachers again, these are stories that I would like to hear in detail.

22 Comments

  • Ashok: Was Mr. K.T. John from Nigeria, or was he from Sierra Leone? In one of the few classes he taught us (while he was substituting for another teacher), I remember him telling us anecdotes about Sierra Leone, but not Nigeria. And by the way, what do you mean only BOS was young among the lot? 🙂 PAMs and JAMs were equally young. 😉

  • Really Ashok, I never linked these wonderful teachers to the Nigerian connection…all of them shared one thing in common…some sort of aura. All of us without exception greatly respected these teachers. Was lucky that P.A.Mathews sir taught us in the 6th though he was also the Plus-Two teacher! There used to be an LE or LA(i forget which…i think it stands for Literary Activity or something) class…he introduced us to books beyond Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. About JAMS, what I remember is, not a single guy in class would create trouble in class…it was like nobody wanted to inconvenience this gentleman…but all of us would join him and mutter faintly as he typically wound up his lecture…”Alright boys, lets call it a day”! B.O.Sebastian Sir’s wife Teresa M’am taught us in UKG and she was one of my favorite teachers in school…last year I talked to her over the fone and was pleasantly surprised she hadnt forgotten a single one in our class despite 22 years gone by!

    As always, great post, Ashok.

  • oioioioioiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii ashok chettooooo
    i call for a strike
    u forgot Philipose Chacko sir
    hes still teaching here…..hes 59 something though
    check it up…
    grrr X(

    P.S (well you asked for critisisms 😛 )

  • Deepak, I’ll verify this with K.T. John sir. If it is Sierra L, man, I should quit blogging. I’ll also get beaten up by my batchmates — he was our class teacher for three years. Hope he was just dropping by Sierra Leone to pick up anecdotes. 🙂

    Jiby, LA was the strange-sounding Literary Association, in our time. Yes, yes, “gentleman” — that’s the word to describe Jacob Mathew sir. I was not his student but have met him once, and heard of him more than once. Teresa Madam was my classteacher in LKG. Doesn’t fit neatly into my thesis of “male, Christian teacher” — so, I let that one pass. 😉

    Syam, the best is when each chips in (like Jiby) about a Nigeria teacher he knows, or brings fresh info (like Vishnu). At first, I was surprised by your ‘strike’ call. But your latest blogpost arrived just in time — ‘strike’ is what you seem to have picked up from your new college this week. Monay, ithu SCT alla, Loyola aanu — strike polikkum 😉

    Didn’t anybody among you spent early years in Nigeria when your father/mother taught there? You could enlighten us on the Nigerian system. In college, I had a friend whose father worked as a teacher in Nigeria. Yes, “male, Christian.”

  • Hi Ashok,
    A totally different and interesting blog again. Whether it was Nigeria’s misfortune or Loyola’s fortune we were indeed lucky to have had such great teachers in Loyola. But the xenophobic outbreak you mentioned was prevelant in many African countries at that time. In Uganda it lead to many Indian traders and businessmen (mainly Gujaratis) being expelled from that country. They sought refuge in Britian and recently I heard that the Ugandan government was trying to woo them back in order to rejuvinate a tottering economy.

  • Ashok: Mr. K. T. John’s anecdote about Sierra Leone was specifically about corporal punishment. He once told us how inhumane corporal punishment is in Sierra Leonean schools (as though he were a witness), and how lucky we were to escape it in school. Given that he taught you for three years, I don’t think you could have been wrong about him having taught in Nigeria either; so, he probably taught in both those English-speaking west African countries.

  • Interesting discussion. Thanks to Rahul Warrier for pointing me to this one. Both my parents taught in West Africa for almost a decade, and the earliest memories of my life are in Ibadan state in Nigeria. The early 80s was bad. The economy crumbled and most expat teachers lost most of their savings ( including my parents ). Many moved back to India, some to the middle east, some to southern Africa ( Zambia, Zimbabwe,Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland etc. ), many to Britain, although more Sri Lankans made it to Britain on account of the LTTE conflict. My parents still live and work in Botswana in Southern Africa, and I was there visiting just last year. I suspect the “spark” you are talking about is due to the exposure that anyone would get from being immersed in a different culture. My only message to people who can afford it is: TRAVEL and see the world! Its worth the experience, and holds the possibility of many a spark!

    Later,

    Cherry.

  • Cherry, thank you for the informative and insightful explanation. I am greedy — would like to know more about the “male, Christian” angle. After visiting your website, I am inclined to extend my thesis to “male, Christian, from central Travancore”!

  • Great post. You missed Titus sir. He was fairly young, atleast he looked fairly young. And like all these teachers from Nigeria he had an amazing personality. I remember that every minute of Titus sir’s civics and economics classes used to be fun!

  • Dear Ashok,
    It is great that Loyolites can never forget the good old days and your dear teachers. The matter was forwarded to me by Anish mathew the cricket star of 1980-’81.
    Thank you Ashok for the write up we feel much elated by these and while meeting you or talking to you. Last week your mother rang me up. Teresa Madam too feels happy to know that you are all doing well and remember her often..
    I would like to clarify Ashok that I was not in Nigeria. I was working in one of the Jesuit schools in Bokaro steel city before joining Loyola and both of us were appointed by Fr.Varkey even without an interview since we were working in St.Xaviers Bokaro.before that I was working in the schools run by the Brothers of St.Gabriel (Montfort Schools in Madras). This is for your information…
    I am under treatment for Prostate gland cancer.I am taking radiation from Amrita Hospital Kochi.. Keep me in your prayers.. I am still working as the principal of a school. A big list of old students are keeping in touch and prayign for me..
    i feel sorry that I may not be able to attend the OBA meet organised every year on 2nd OCT.. Bye with lots of love to all from Both of us Bos and Teresa Madam,

  • Ashok, I am amazed once again. Good stuff.

    I was taught by JAMS. Immaculately turned out as ever, he made it a point to mention, “mole is not the short form of molecule”, with a smile on his face. Ask anyone who was taught chemistry by the legendary V C Jacob sir to figure out why.

  • wow surprised to see the teacher comemnting here…
    just wanted to add this…
    the back to school programme was held as preplanned…
    was kinda a bit depressing as only around 100 turned up……..

    dr santhosh rollands (71 batch i think) talked about how we need more people to be active in the alumnni movements….
    and he did mention about this teacher and his ailment. a prayer request was also sent out..

  • Dear Friends,
    Thank you for your prayers. I am taking treatment and our old boys are with me ever. Even Roy Verghese from U.K. is contacting the doctor at Amrita and assisting me. I am having the radiation on regular basis.
    Although I couldn’t come for the o.B.A. I had sent a message of best wishes. We want all our old studnets to come together and stick together and live the life at Loyola for years to come..

    Why don’t you narrate some of the interesting and memorable events of your school days… All the best..BOS.

  • To Mr B O Sebastian
    Sir, are you the same Mr Sebastian who used to teach Std 8 in St Xavier’s School, Bokaro, in 1980s? Thank you

  • ashok,
    i am sorry to see that you’ve left out the incredible ‘mass’ aka philipose chacko sir. he was in nigeria for a good many years. in my years in loyola(by now thw dark ages) he was a sort of person-to-play all-the-jokes-on(hope things are still the same).i still remember the way he’d give ‘estra vark’ instead of imposition and never bother to check if it was done.ignoring ‘noises’, ‘class bunking’ etc was always his speciality.more seriously he was one brilliant maths teacher who got the required results without transforming the class into a demi-coaching centre.
    REGARDS’
    REBEL VAN CROMVELL X11

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