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Five Cowries is bringing fun into the Classroom by exploring The Artistic Talents of School Kids



Pupils at Akande Dahunsi Memorial School 2018: “Rivers of the World” for Totally Thames Festival, London

Building self-esteem through engaging with creative activities. Learning to take pride in your work and knowing how to make an impact are invaluable skills needed on the pathway to empowerment

Ken Ade Primary School: learning how to use new materials. For most of the participating pupils, this is the first time they are handling paints and brushes. Given a little space and peace to focus the new skills are quickly acquired.

Albert Einstein once said, “To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play.” Play and fun are essentials for both adults and children in developing creative skills and opening of minds to possibilities. These are even more essential in the early years, during which they contribute to the physical, social, cognitive and emotional well-being of the child, and eventually, the adult.

Play is an expression for a child. An expression is the link between creativity and development. It has been discovered that children who have more opportunities for artful expression are usually considered more creative in adulthood, with a penchant for problem-solving. Artful expression allows the development of a child’s imagination; and engagement in creative activities helps instructors, including parents, perceive and celebrate a child’s uniqueness and individuality.

In recent years, there has been a spotlight on the interesting approaches teachers have adopted for effective teaching – dance, painting, nature visits, etc. For example, Sackey Percy, a Ghanaian creative arts teacher uses dance to inspire and communicate with the children he teaches, which, he says, enables the children to communicate with him freely. Teachers who experiment with their teaching styles help children develop creatively, which becomes evident in their thinking, interaction, and vocational aptitudes.

Teaching Fellow Ibilola Yejide with her class at Methodist Primary School Abeokuta.

At Five Cowries we believe that investing in building teacher capacity is key to making sustainable effective change in classroom pedagogy.



In Nigeria, the Five Cowries Initiative is putting artful expression back in the classroom. By offering an inclusive route to education, Five Cowries intends to make learning fun, which should improve school attendance, as well as literacy and numeracy levels. The initiative was founded in 2018 by muralist, artist, educator and children’s book author, Polly Alakija with co-founders Yemisi Mokuolu [Director, Hatch Ideas] and Damilola Emmanuel [Managing Director, Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA)] in partnership with Teach For Nigeria, LASWA, Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), Jackson, Etti & Edu (Legal & IP Advisors) and Africa Practice (Communications Advisors).

St. Michaels Church School, Ota

Currently on display at the Five Cowries Ferry Terminal: the Five Cowries Arts Education Initiative works closely with LASWA to educate our children and youths on the need to protect our environment and waterways.

In partnership with many other organizations in the public, private and civil sectors – including Teach for Nigeria, its delivery partners, the Five Cowries initiative is intentional about fusing the three Rs (3Rs) of basic education – reading, writing and arithmetic – with the four Cs (4Cs) – critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

For example, with its first programme, ‘My Story of Water’ – a collaborative arts program pairing children from Lagos with other river cities like London and Cape Town – the initiative is creating awareness and helping children understand the importance of water, water pollution and the environmental crisis, which will, in turn, inspire creative ways to address the problem. Children are encouraged to express, through art (painting jerry cans, canoes, etc.), what water means to them while thinking of creative solutions to water pollution and water sanitation.

Ken Ade Primary School “My Story of Water”: all the pupils taking part in this project regularly use kegs to collect water.

The Five Cowries Flying Flotilla display: Totally Thames Festival, London 2017


The theme ‘My Story of Water’ follows from the initiative’s 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. To support the delivery of the arts education program, the initiative’s peer-mentoring program pairs teachers with colleagues across the world and tutors from Montessori International, who share teaching experiences and best-practice in education delivery.


Thirty (30) classes of pupils have been selected from schools in Lagos and Ogun states, to participate in the 2019 program. During the program, children will create a variety of art pieces. These artworks – the children’s visual stories of water – will then be showcased locally and internationally – at SIWI World Water Week in Stockholm, in August; the Totally Thames Festival, in London, in September and an exhibition at the Five Cowries Ferry Terminals, between September and November, across Lagos State.

Lagos, one of Nigeria’s many coastal cities and its commercial hub, still suffers from approximately 25% and 60% drop-out at primary and secondary levels, respectively. Ensuring that all children have access to holistic education has the potential to transform lives and is a vital component in building the human capacity that is central to the country’s future economic development.

Creativity and problem-solving are the keys for a prosperous nation and, as a result, an important investment and responsibility. Children must be encouraged to play and expand their imagination, as they learn the basics for human communication. However, intentionality in the delivery of arts education programs will produce greater results – well-rounded individuals and a holistic educational system.

To learn more about the Five Cowries Initiative, visit
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  1. Adetokunbo Alakija

    May 27, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    Nice work.

    • Marcillina Okalor

      May 27, 2019 at 9:07 pm

      Wow!! This is beautiful

  2. Agboso Kelvin

    May 27, 2019 at 11:37 pm


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