Last week in the company of some few friends, I visited a primary school in one of the northern states that prides itself among the leading states in education.
It was a fact-finding mission with the aim of having first-hand information and exploring what kind of advocacy we may embark upon. We visited all the classes from one to six and also places like toilets, library and staff room. All the classes visited from 1 to 6 were accommodating pupils over 100. In some classes there were about 150 to 170 pupils and all squatting on the floor to learn.
No chairs, no desk, no mats, most of the floors weren't cemented while in those cemented, the same potholes one witnesses in our bad roads were visibly seen. The teachers equally were squatting to take roll call and take some notes as pupils were learning.
It was a terrible mess in a school that isn't in a village and equally had graduated seasoned citizens of the state in all sectors of life. My brief discussion with many educationists to lament what I witnessed informed me that I have seen a better school, as many of them don't even have class rooms but pupils are being taught under trees, or many classes are accommodated in one class with pupils facing different corners.
In a class that is supposed to accommodate 40 to 60 pupils but accommodating 170, my mind roared to the health implication. There will be evaporation of heat from the surface of skin, heat stagnation due to overcrowding leading to headache, nausea and at times vomiting.
There will be increase of carbon dioxide and organic poisons from the expired air as well as the decrease of oxygen due to stagnation of air, increased humidity and rise of temperature which are present in an overcrowded class room.
Physical injury are bound to happen as pupils move around due to poor flooring and because many of such schools don't have first aid facilities, the injury could be contaminated with infection such as tetanus and other infective agents and may lead to serious consequences which parents and teachers will not link to overcrowding as being the cause of the problems.
The temperature, heat, decrease in air movement, body odours, bad breath, perspiration, dirty clothes, bad oral hygiene and other sources will all cause bad odours in air making the rooms inhabitable, but the pupils have no choice than to stay there.
Some serious problems that these pupils could get are the droplet infections such as tuberculosis. According to World Health Organisation:
Tuberculosis (TB) is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent.
In 2011, 8.7 million people fell ill with TB and 1.4 million died from TB.
Over 95% of TB deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, and it is among the top three causes of death for women aged 15 to 44.
In 2010, there were about 10 million orphan children as a result of TB deaths among parents.
Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis that most often affects the lungs. TB is curable and preventable. TB is spread from person to person through the air.
When people with lung TB cough, sneeze or spit, they propel the TB germs into the air. A person needs to inhale only a few of these germs to become infected. People infected with TB have a lifetime risk of falling ill with TB of 10%. However persons with compromised immune systems, such as people living with HIV, malnutrition or diabetes, or people who use tobacco, have a much higher risk of falling ill.
Who is most at risk?
Tuberculosis mostly affects young adults, in their most productive years. However, all age groups are at risk. Over 95% of cases and deaths are in developing countries. People who are co-infected with HIV and TB are 21 to 34 times more likely to become sick with TB. Risk of active TB is also greater in persons suffering from other conditions that impair the immune system. About half a million children (0-14 years) fell ill with TB, and 64 000 children died from the disease in 2011.
Tobacco use greatly increases the risk of TB disease and death. More than 20% of TB cases worldwide are attributable to smoking. Common symptoms of active lung TB are cough with sputum and blood at times, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats. Tuberculosis is particularly difficult to diagnose in children.
Another infection that the pupils could get is chickenpox, which is a common illness that causes an itchy rash and red spots or blisters (pox) all over the body. It is most common in children. A child with chickenpox in such classes will easily pass it on to innocent kids. Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It can spread easily.
One can get it from an infected person who sneezes, coughs, or shares food or drinks. One can also get it if one touches the fluid from a chickenpox blister. A person who has chickenpox can spread the virus even before he or she has any symptoms. Chickenpox is most easily spread from 2 to 3 days before the rash appears until all the blisters have crusted over.
Overcrowding, according to many research, is associated with poor performance and also has effect in growth and development of kids. It is my sincere prayer that our educational system conduct studies on the health implication of the rot in the sector with a view to improve learning environment, growth and development of our children.