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Mrs. Harriet Ndow: An Indomitable Educationist

Nov 26, 2009, 11:58 AM | Article By: Augustine Kanjia

Mrs. Harriet Ndow needs no introduction in today's Gambia. Her name is already a household name in The Gambia and even beyond. There is no doubt that she has touched many hearts and had helped to make many what they are and still continues to help make others what they want to become.

Society and Development anchorman, Augustine Kanjia, asked questions on her humble beginning, the present and what the future holds.

Enjoy the conversation between Society and Development and the educational treasure of The Gambia.

S&D: Could you please tell me about your humble educational background madam?

Mrs Ndow: After secondary school, I went to the Achimota College in Ghana to train as a primary teacher. I started teaching as a qualified teacher in 1948 at the St. Joseph's Primary in Banjul. After a few years, I went to UK in a place called Portsmouth Training College where I did leadership in the primary school, in 1955. I later went to Oxford to study Teaching and Reading and Mathematics in the primary school including Management. I did lots of training in Girl Guides and became a Girl Guides trainer. In 1963 I opened a school as head teacher - Kampama School. In 1966 I was promoted to Serrekunda Primary School and served there until my retirement in 1981.

S&D: Did you move around the world in pursuit of any other thing?

Mrs. Ndow: I tranvelled widely in connection with women and Girl Guides activities. When we had independence, I worked hard as a woman to contribute to development. This prompted me to serve poor children of Serrekunda.

S&D: What did you do then?

Mrs. Ndow: I established a school and it was existing in a village level, it was the first nursery school in the Kombos. My idea was geared towards the development of the young, especially the poor of society. The first school was St. Joseph's Nursery, which is now Ndow's Group of Schools.

S&D: How many schools do you have in all and what have you helped to develop apart from your schools?

Mrs. Ndow: I have a group of eight schools starting from Day Care to High School. I also helped to develop the Girl Guide Headquarters and I now made their life president.

S&D: Have you any other decoration or award?

Mrs. Ndow: I have ten decorations and awards; some of them include Medal of the Republic of the Gambia by Ex-president Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, and His Excellency, President Jammeh awarded me with CRG that was a full decoration.  Another from the Girl Guides here and overseas, I received some from the St. Joseph's Ex - Pupils here and Senegal, with one from the Sorroptimist, from the Ministry of Education, from the Fajara Club and a Honorary PhD to be conferred on me from a College in UK soon. And in my Church, I continue doing what is expected of me and I continue to hold lots of positions.

S&D: What was the motivating factor behind your involvement in such a venture?

Mrs. Ndow: It was to contribute to development, and I did.

S&D: How did you get the many plots for your schools?

Mrs: Ndow: A friend of my husband saw how I was moving from house to house with my students, he then suggested for me to find out for a land and promised to help to secure. I then went to Sir Dawda Jawara, the then president of the Republic. I filled in a form and I was given a plot of land.
The then Minister of Education then suggested 10 years for children to start school but those with me were 8 years and were doing well. The parents seeing the improvements in their children secured another land. My kids did quite well in exams.

S&D: When did you start seeing good results in your schools?

Mrs. Ndow: It was when my kids as young as 9 top all children in The Gambia in the then Common Entrance Examination. They were quite younger but they defeated those of 13 and 14 years of age that took the same exams.

S&D: Do you know how many people's lives you have changed?  

Mrs. Ndow: Uncountable, my son! I know about 11 well-qualified lawyers who have returned to serve the country and are presently here. Let alone those who are not yet ready to come.

S&D: What about your fees compared to other private schools?

Mrs. Ndow: I cannot change my fees because I would be defeating my intention. I want to feel that poor people have been given the chance. I started with having a school and a school is not a business, otherwise I could have done it better to have more money out of it.

S&D: Do big people or influential people come to see from other establishments on how you are doing?

Mrs. Ndow: Yes! Once the World Bank came to The Gambia and they came to see me. They told me they were sent by the Ministry of Education to find out about schools in The Gambia. When they returned to the US, I was invited on a Global Conference to address them. I was allowed 15 minutes to give the talk and it was really something.

S&D: Why the success in your venture to educating the poor?

Mrs. Ndow: Through hard work and honesty. I always say it is through such that God helps.

S&D: Did you face any challenges in the past before standing on your feet?

Mrs. Ndow: A PPP government Minister wanted to close the school but parents did not agree including many other people. They claimed that there was no fee paid in primary schools but it was lie. My lawyers had proved them wrong. The president had travelled and on his return, he ordered Mrs. Njie, the then Minister to stop henceforth and since then no one has asked me. At that time all the Cabinet Ministers had their children in my schools and were doing so well.

S&D: What disparity is there between age and ability? 

Mrs. Ndow: If you study teaching, we don't talk about age but ability. Children develop at different levels. Age is not important but the ability. I have put small kids in high class and they did quite well. Ability is important.

S&D: What is happening to your good students these days?

Mrs. Ndow: People are now lobbying for my good kids but how I don't know. I think those days and now are different. At first we took everything but we were not doing business but educating. Other schools are doing business. Our problem is not the work. Our schools, sorry to say, have been destroyed by our foreign friends. I have seen a teacher leave my school for D100 difference. Money is the problem and teachers are not stable. We must be ready to give as a teacher but not many of them now. Money, money and money is the word.
S&D: Is your result dropping or has it dropped?

Mrs. Ndow: WAEC will tell you results have dropped in the country. There are a lot of instability in schools. I am proud of my primary section. They are good children. I count on parents' involvement. People like you would deal with education but many will put their money in different areas. People do not have time for their kids only finding money. A child of three sleeps in my house because the mum did not come to take her. Why? In a debate a girl pointed out how her parents leave for the whole day without seeing their children; that is the fact.

S&D: What would be the solution to the many problems?

Mrs. Ndow: Parents should go to schools to find out, they should show interest in their children's education by finding out what is happening in schools because they are part of the system. If I were seeing parents every day I could have been doing better but they think I can do all. I can't go round to 5000 homes to talk to parents. Parents should come and find out about their children.

S&D: Why do you think teachers move?

Mrs. Ndow: Teachers move because of money. They go where the money is. Some foreign teachers have taught with me for 20 years. Teaching is sacrifice but they say sacrifice, when others have houses and cars? I add on my teachers' transport but they still go. My primary and nursery have no problem. I have more than enough of them and they are doing well.

S&D: Leaving your job now, may I know if you had exercised before as you still look still?

Mrs. Ndow: Oh yes, why not! I played lots of games in the past; women were not allowed to play, but I played well. When I rode a bicycle you could see boys running after me after college. I wouldn't say I was the first to ride it but one of the first to ride.

S&D: What keeps you strong?

Mrs. Ndow: God keeps me strong. My strength lies in the Lord. My pensioned friends are grounded, some are dead and some ask me if I can't rest? If you have an old car you keep it for a long time it will require a lot to get it started. I live a normal life. I travelled a lot in the past but now I decided to rest and even rejected my grand child's offer of going to see their graduation. I wanted to stay away from the buzzing. I would love to go to Ghana, which is quite different from London with less buzzing.

S&D: And finally?

Mrs Ndow: I should say teachers should be hard working and honest. When I look at my successful past students I am happy. Some of us are not teachers, we only work because we only look for money. No two people are alike, I never regretted becoming a teacher. Remember, a good teacher cannot be paid.

S&D: I thank you for your hard work and the interview.

Mrs. Ndow: It's my pleasure and God bless you for coming.