Field work started in earnest for me immediately I arrived Nigeria, after the three weeks training at the University of Sussex, UK, despite the one week Leave given to us all. The reason was not farfetched considering that my portfolio revolved around schools. Schools were already in their fifth week of resumption, leaving me with just about five weeks of school term time before examinations commenced, to meet the target for the pilot study. Fortunately, the letter of approval for research access into the State owned primary schools, was ready before my return. I was taken to the State owned primary school I had mapped out to begin research in, by the representative of the Education Secretary in charge of its Local Government Education Authority. Introductions were made and the reception at the school was very warm and cooperative. I spent the first few days developing a sample frame for the age brackets of interest and a sample matrix that would cover range and diversity to a reasonable extent. Afterwards, I purposively selected my sample, classroom by classroom.
Following the ethical stipulations of the research, I began by introducing myself and explaining the project to the selected group in the first classroom. It was a group of eight, four males and four females, and some of them asked very pertinent questions. Then, the process of seeking their informed and voluntary consent began. I did this by calling each of them separately (I didn’t want a situation where a pupil’s consent or non-consent is influenced by his/her peers), explaining the details of the project again and seeking their consent. Now, this is a first for me – that is, seeking children’s (and parental) voluntary and informed consent in a research that involved them. Prior to this project, I was of the opinion that the school gatekeeper’s consent was adequate and had previously conducted research on that premise. Six of the pupils gave their verbal and written consent, which gave me the permission to begin the process of seeking their parental consent. One of the pupils asked for time to consider the request as well as discuss with her parent. Then, there was the boy who said ‘NO’.
The boy was aged eight but had a smaller body structure compared to his peers. While talking to the group, I noticed that he stayed distracted throughout. In fact, he was the reason I decided to explain the project again when I called each of them separately. As I talked to him, I could see that staying focused on me was difficult for him. I am not a trained psychologist; hence, I would not even attempt psychoanalysis. When I asked him for any questions he might have, he started to speak in English and faltered. Was it a language problem? So, I repeated the explanations in the Yoruba language. Then, I asked him for questions and if he would like to participate in the project. He looked at me for a few seconds and then shook his head in the negative. I rephrased the question, perhaps he misunderstood the question. Again, he shook his head in the negative and this time, emphatically. So, I thanked him and asked him to return to his seat. Yes, I was surprised but I learnt that I should never ‘judge a book by its cover’. Most importantly, I now see clearly the need to obtain voluntary and informed consent from the child. It is not merely because research ethics demands it. It is because the child is a whole and distinct individual, just like me.