Five Cowries offers an inclusive route to education, enhancing teaching skills for positive educational and social outcomes
The Five Cowries Arts Education Initiative (Five Cowries)’s “My Story of Water” programme officially launched at City Hall in London today with a vibrant exhibition of 500 jerry cans painted by Nigerian primary schoolchildren to tell the stories of their connection to water. The outdoor exhibition at Oxo Tower Wharf runs from 1st – 30th September, alongside a photo exhibition of the project at City Hall from 3rd – 16th September. In partnership with Lagos State Waterways Authority, there will also be installations at the Five Cowries Terminal in Lagos, from October to November 2019.
Access to clean water is under unprecedented threat around the world, so it is critical that young people are creatively engaged in exploring their relationship with the precious resource and the world around them. Five Cowries’ “My Story of Water” programme was inspired by London’s Thames Festival Trust’s “Rivers of the World” arts education programme and aims to leverage the arts to offer an inclusive route into education in Nigeria that keeps children engaged and has a positive impact on educational outcomes such as improved numeracy and literacy, as well as transferable skills such as communication, problem solving and creativity.
Nigeria is the second-largest economy in Africa and has the largest population. But of its over 180 million people, 94 million live in extreme poverty, at a time when human capital development is viewed as a fundamental contributor to future socio-economic development. As a result of long-term under-investment in improving human development indices, Nigeria is ranked 177th out of 196 countries for literacy by UNESCO.
Although arts education has been a long-ignored area of study, the role of the arts in improving development outcomes is rapidly gaining the attention of international academics and development practitioners. A recent study by the Brookings Institute provided some of the first and most substantive evidence that arts educational experiences can produce significant positive impacts on academic and social development. Domestic studies into the role of arts in education in Nigeria have shown that families undervalue its contribution to education outcomes and that one of the key barriers to adoption is the price of materials.
Five Cowries was founded in 2018 and launched in April 2019, by muralist, artist, educator and children’s book author Polly Alakija together with Yemisi Mokuolu (CEO, Hatch Ideas). Strategic delivery partners include: Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Teach for Nigeria, Thames Festival Trust (UK), Montessori Centre International, Jackson, Etti & Edu and africapractice.
At the London launch, Polly Alakija, Founder of the Five Cowries Initiative, said, “We have trained 38 ‘Teach for Nigeria (TFN)’ teaching fellows, delivered the programme in 38 schools and engaged 1,600 children directly. Each TFN fellow has such compelling and impactful stories about the programme and its influence on the children’s learning, especially their perspectives on water. We commenced in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, expanded to neighbouring Ogun state and now look to widen our reach to other cities in the country”.
Lagos and London are two of the busiest river metropolises in the world, boasting over 20 million combined international tourists, annually. As key drivers of growth and development, as well as arts and culture, in their respective countries, both cities are strategically placed to drive consciousness about the need for more sustainable approaches to dealing with the environment, especially with the younger population. The two cities depend on their waterways for transport and tourism. The partnership between Five Cowries and Totally Thames helps to strengthen ties amongst the diaspora and promote cultural exchanges and programming that address environmental and climate change issues.
Yemisi Mokuolu, Director, Hatch Ideas Africa, said “The Five Cowries Initiative and its partners want to ensure arts education is an integral part of the educational system in Nigeria and teaching skills are improved for better outcomes. Children’s participation in creative activities needs to be promoted not just across the country, but also globally, and if it improves basic skills such as literacy and numeracy in Nigeria, then it is beneficial for everyone.”
Adrian Evans, spokesperson for Totally Thames Festival, added, “I am thrilled to be associated with Polly Alakija, Yemisi Mokuolu and the Five Cowries team. We have shared ideas and developed complementary initiatives aimed at inspiring teachers to increase the use of art in their curriculum teaching. It is extremely exciting and over the next two years we will be following the progress of teachers in Newham and Lagos in the linked schools that we have established, looking to see how our framework nurtures creative learning techniques within their teaching practice.”
In addition to building teacher capacity, the Initiative has also established a range of opportunities for the work that the students produce, to be showcased both in Nigeria and internationally. The 2019 water theme follows its pilot project in 2017, ‘Flying Flotilla’, in which students produced artwork on canoes; the installation was seen by 1.5 million visitors during its month-long display on the South Bank [London, UK]. This was followed by an installation of painted umbrellas telling stories that addressed various issues around rivers and our waterways, in 2018.