17 November 2012

Nigeria: How Neglect Is Ruining North's Basic Education

Kano — The rot at the foundation level of education in northern Nigeria could not be as a result of lack of funding, but neglect by authorities concerned. Weekly Trust investigates.

Images of blown up roofs, cracked walls, pupils studying in makeshift structures and under the trees are common sights in the North. Aside the lack of conducive learning environment in many schools, there are also are inadequate and unqualified teachers; lack of instructional materials as well as teaching aids in the basic schools across the region.

Investigation by Weekly Trust revealed problems ranging from inadequate classrooms, resulting in congestion with over 120 pupils to crammed pupils in a hall supervised and handled by a single teacher. Some of the classrooms lack chairs and desks, resulting in pupils standing in and by the windows while others sit on the floors.

Weekly Trust also discovered that some pupils lack writing materials and other essential learning tools. Teachers spoke of how some pupils use one exercise book for five subjects and more at a time. However the situation is worse in the rural areas; there are shortages of classrooms, thus forcing pupils to take their lessons under shades of trees. In some villages, it is just a block of classroom for the entire classes one to six pupils, while some had mud houses built with local clay. Some of the affected villages are few kilometers away from the state capital.

In Kaduna the story is that of unqualified teachers and numerous other challenges. A verification exercise conducted by the state government recently revealed that about 4,000 teachers entered the sector with fake certificates. The affected teachers were sacked.

Ibrahim Malumfashi, the Head of Department (HoD) Nigerian Linguistics and Logistics and also the Dean, Faculty of Arts, Kaduna State University (KASU), said other challenges confronting basic education in Kaduna State are those of infrastructure, inadequate manpower and instructional materials among others.

"Lately, when you go round public schools, you find out that most classes are under trees. So if we can channel the money, the resources in that direction I know we will have no problem," he noted.

In some primary schools visited in Tafawa Balewa, Dass, Toro, Bauchi, local government areas in Bauchi State, the problem of congestion was glaring, even as some pupils learn under trees. Some classroom blocks are in dilapidated condition, while some of the pupils study on the bare floor.

The Information Officer of the State Primary Education Board, Kabiru Ali Kobi told Weekly Trust that all the problems were inherited from previous administration. "Under the new chairman, Alhaji Abdullahi Dabo, there is remarkable improvement. We inherited over 8,000 pupils learning under the tree shades, and the number has drastically reduced, because new classrooms are being built in the state," he said.

Whatever progress the Universal Basic Education (UBE) scheme might have been making in Plateau State came to a standstill in April this year when workers of local government councils, including primary school teachers, started a strike to make the government pay them the N18,000 national monthly minimum wage as against the N9,000, workers are taking home now.

Too many classrooms of too many public primary schools had no furniture, forcing pupils to receive lessons sitting on bare floors. The roofs of many of the classrooms had even fallen off. The general infrastructure to be seen in many of the schools cried out for rehabilitation.

A Jos-based non-government organisation, Women Without Walls Initiative (WWWI), could be said to hearkening to that cry last month when it went to one of the schools, Government Primary School, located in the Gangere area of Jos North, and renovated three of the five classrooms of a building that had fallen into pitiable disrepair.

President of the organisation, Pastor Esthar Ibanga has urged government "to renovate these schools and provide furniture where there is need for such."

A Jos-based human rights activist and director of Centre for Advocacy of Justice and Rights (CAJR), Gad Shamaki, said, however, that the UBE has done much for Plateau State. "The state UBE Commission did massive manpower retraining which is a vital component of the UBE programme," Shamaki said, adding that it would be unfair to those managing the scheme for anyone to allege that UBE had not done any good for basic educational development in the state

Weekly Trust learnt that in Nasarawa State, schools are in their worst state of disrepair, with some of them bearing completely peeled roofs. "If you have rusty roofs, some of them peeling off completely, and exposing pupils to sun heat and rain. Would it not be better to place the pupils under trees for lessons?", queried a parent in Akwanga.

The parent - a female - who declined to give her identity, pointed at the Akwanga Pilot Central Primary School, as she expressed shock that government would watch and allow the facility to decay to the extent that it now looks like an abandoned facility in a war-ravaged area.

Ceilings are falling on the heads of both pupils and their teachers, Weekly Trust learnt that whenever it rains, pupils and teachers are brought face to face with their worst nightmare: there is rain water collected from the torn roofs, cascading down to the ceiling, which then empties the storm waters of mixed colour on the heads of the pupils and their teachers.

Along Keffi-Abuja road too, a school in this state could be observed until recently, when Governor Umaru Tanko al-Makura reportedly used his personal resources to intervene. The Tudun Wada LEA Primary School looked exactly like the one in Akwanga, and had its roofs peeled off.

Commissioner for Education, Comrade Hussaini Abubakar had said six schools are being rehabilitated and out of the number, Al-Makura is funding the rehabilitation of five from his personal pocket, while his government is funding only one.

Comrade Abubakar listed St. James' Primary School, Lafia; St. William's Primary School, Lafia; Ashige Primary School, Lafia; LEA Primary School, Tudun Wada and Girls Science Secondary School, Doma and Government Science Secondary School, Nasarawa-Eggon as the schools which rehabilitation programme is being funded personally by the governor.

He said only the Government Science Secondary School, Lafia, is being funded by the state government. "We are carrying out a complete rehabilitation of the girls' hostel block and a classroom block with an attached office. Work is almost complete on the project," the commissioner said.

He said in two of the schools being worked upon by the governor, boreholes are also being rehabilitated to provide safe drinking water to pupils there, adding that there is a contract awarded already to reverse the decay at the Akwanga school.

Like in Nasarawa, the present Kano State government claimed it believes a sound primary education as a prerequisite for academic excellence. Against this background, the state government claimed to have done a lot to improve the quality of learning in the primary schools in the state. It said in the last one year, more than 800 classrooms and 400 offices had been constructed in the primary schools across the state.

The classes which are usually in a one-storey building with offices and toilets are popularly referred to in the state as Kwankwasiyya classes. However, Abdul Abbah Tofa a father of three whose children attends public school told Weekly Trust that there is need for government to do more. He said poor classrooms and other challenges seem to linger on in most part of the state, because of misplacement of priority. According to him, most of the said newly constructed classrooms were yet to be put to use in most places and also the locations of such newly constructed schools were not base on a need assessment procedure.

In Laraba Jigawar Sarki ward of Warawa local government area of the state, Laraba Primary school is the only serving the community for ages, and the school is in a state of disrepair. Ant hill sprang up, covering one of the classrooms. According to the head teacher, Alhaji Yakubu Sarki, the "situation necessitate teachers and pupils to hold lessons outside their classes; as the classes are not in a good shape. In fact, an ant hill has pushed the pupils out of one of the classes. Really our condition is pathetic, and no one seems to be listening to our plea."

Usman Umaru a primary four pupil told Weekly Trust that at times, snakes and other crawling creatures use to send them and the teachers running for their dear lives during classes. "The class with ant hill is ours. There are snakes in that class, we and our teacher use to run from the classroom when they come out," Umaru stated.

It was the same complain about Hotoro North Primary School in Nassarawa local government area of the state. Vice President Hotoron Arewa Old Boys Association, Malam Bashir Abdullahi Walalanbe said every year rainy season is dreaded by parents and guardian of pupils learning at the Hotoron Arewa Primary School, because whenever it rains heavily it means no school for at least three to four days.

The vice president said, though the Hotoron Arewa community members have shown their concerns over the level of degradation of the school's structures to authorities concern, their night mare continues year after year. "Virtually, it has become a perennial incident to us, the school has been neglected by authorities for years despite several requests for assistance made by the community members to authorities on the need to take actions that will save the school from total collapse," he lamented.

However, the Universal Basic Education Commission through its Principal Public Relations Officer, David Apeh blamed the problem on the refusal of some states to access their funds. "We have gone on advocacy visits, met with governors and told them their money is lying with the Federal Government, but some are still not forthcoming," he explained.

Other reporters Boco Edet; Onimisi Alao; Ahmed Mohammed, Bauchi; Maryam Ahmadu-Suka, Hir Joseph, Lafia and Ibrahim Musa

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