Nigeria: Inside Plateau Primary Schools Where Pupils Learn Under Trees, in Dilapidated Structures

At LGEA School, Wuseli Central, the classrooms are old, dilapidated and overcrowded. The primary school has existed for over 50 years and currently has about 200 pupils. But the desks and chairs are not enough. There is no library or even a desktop computer and there are no toilets or facilities for recreation and extra-curricular activities. The pupils defecate openly in a bush around the school as their teachers have exclusive use of its only pit latrine.

Inside a classroom shared by pupils of primary two and three, a group of young girls are playing a local game "catch and throw me." The classroom has 89 pupils but has no ceiling or window coverings. The pupils have formed their own furniture out of clay and wood.

Next to the overcrowded classroom is the one for class four. Here, a portion of the roof is blown off by wind and there are large cracks on the walls, indicating serious structural damage. The entire block of three classrooms has no doors, and the blocks of the entrances are crumbling.

Opposite this building lies an abandoned structure. It was supposed to serve as an extra block of classrooms but it was never completed.

On a school day in June when a team from accountability platform, UDEME, and PREMIUM TIMES arrived the school in Ballang zone of Pankshin Local Government Area of Plateau State, the pupils were scattered all over the premises in different groups, playing games.

A commercial motorcyclist, Laban, had taken the reporter to the school and acted as her interpreter. The headmaster had gone to Pankshin town on an urgent assignment, the reporter learnt. It was a Friday, but the pupils had not received any lesson because the teachers were not around. "It is 'Labour Day', the pupils explained to this reporter.

Sarah Dimnang, aged 15 years, is the Head Girl of the school. She conducted the reporter around the decrepit structures. A block of classrooms accommodating classes five and six looks different with green desks and chairs in the classrooms. An inscription on the wall indicates that the building was erected in the first quarter of 2005 as a project undertaken by the Universal Basic Education (UBE). However, the plywood ceiling had fallen off, exposing the skeletal frames of the roof.

Beside it are two broken-down structures. One serves as a pit toilet for the teachers. It has four compartments. The other is the first building in the school, built in 1970, but it has sunk to the ground.

"Labour Day" for pupils and teachers

Some pupils were chatting under the scorching sun as they cleared a field to make ridges. Their legs, faces, and hairs were powdered with dust.

Head boy- Dakup Moris on yellow with some of his classmates on the farm

At the end the of third term, the graduating pupils are given a "Send-Off." It is a day anticipated by these young folks who look forward to going to secondary school. But standing between primary five and six pupils of Wuseli Central and that enviable day is a school "tradition."

According to these youngsters who we met on the farm in their tattered-sea-green uniform, and with hoes and cutlasses in their hands, every graduating pupil must participate in "Labour Day."

They start by moving from house to house, looking for villagers who want their farmlands cleared for planting or weeded.

"We are paid N1,500 for the job", said Dakup Moris, the head boy of the school, who could not tell how old he was. So far that day, they had earned N4,500.

Dakup had difficulty explaining himself in English. His response amused his classmates. He said any pupil who fails to participate in the task will not graduate from the school. It is a tradition.

"I am doing this because I want to graduate, not graduating is the penalty," he said.

'Looking up to the government'

LGEA Wuseli Central was established by missionaries in the late 1960s. It is situated at the top of a hill, which was the settlement of the forefathers of Wuseli indigenes. When the school began, it had only two classes and the pupils were taught by foreigners.

Later in February 1970, Emmanuel Goyang, now the King of Wuseli, or the Ngolong Wuseli, was appointed by the Education Officer of Pankshin local government school board as the principal of the school. One of the first tasks he undertook was to relocate it from the top of the hill to a plain land. This was because most teachers transferred there refused to show up because they dreaded climbing up the hill.

Ngolong Wuseli served as principal for 14 years before his retirement.

In 1975, five years after he was appointed, the government built a block of three classrooms and another block of two classrooms. The block of three classrooms still stands as the dilapidated building occupied by classes one, two, three and four, while the other one has collapsed.

"That was the only time we received intervention from the government", Mr Goyang told this reporter over the phone.

He said the other building with the 'UBEC' inscription was constructed by a non-governmental organisation but he was uncertain about the year when the project was carried out.

"We have applied continuously to the Local Government Education Authority (LGEA) and nothing has been done," he said.

In April, the current headmaster, Nentawe Goyit, who has been with the school since 2016, wrote the Pankshin Local Government Education Secretary (ES), through the School-Based Management Committee (SBMC), requesting assistance for a self-help project estimated to cost N2 million. The SBMC was an initiative of LGAs to eliminate corruption in the implementation phases.

A self-help project is a government-sponsored scheme where members of the community are encouraged to contribute 10 per cent of the cost.

"We applied for N2 million for roofing the uncompleted building one of Wuseli sons started in the school, and we will generate 10 per cent of that sum," Mr Nentawe said. The building he refered to is the abandoned one opposite the dilapidated block of classrooms.

He said the community planned to raise the N200,000 (10 per cent of N2 million) by reaching out to political office holders like councillors and well-paid individuals from Wuseli.

"I fear for the pupils who stay in that dilapidated building especially when it rains because a strong rain or wind can pull down that building," he said.

Mr Nentawe told this reporter how pupils in Classes One and Two alternate lessons under a big tree in the middle of the school when weather conditions are favourable.

"Our major problem now is the structure. In fact, we have only two standard classrooms. There are only five classes instead of six, so we merged Two and Three and they are taught in the same class."

He said only classes five and six have conducive classrooms for learning with a well-ventilated window.

The headmaster's office was built by community members as a form of contribution to the school.

"So we are looking up to the government. We are yet to receive a response from them for the request we made," Mr Nentawe said.

A teacher in the school, Micah Lar, whom this reporter met on the farm, corroborated the headmaster's claims.

"I have been teaching here for over a year as an N-Power ad-hoc staff. There are only seven teachers - two N-power ad-hoc staff and five permanent staff, including the headmaster, but nothing has changed."

Mr Micah said it has become a tradition for class five and six to work on farms to gather funds to sponsor their graduation to secondary school.

The UDEME team reached out to the Pankshin Education Secretary, Irmiya Joseph. According to him, the school has been forgotten by the government.

"I met with the Technical Officer and we went through the files of projects awarded as far back as 1976, the school has never benefited from the government," he said.

"Last week, they released some names for project execution for this year and Wuseli is not among. In fact, the contractors are already on site."

Mr Irmiya said the selection of projects is done at the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB). "Once we submit the pictures and attach corresponding documents, the decision is left at the Board's level."

Pilot Central School, Kadarko

At another Plateau school, Pilot Central School, Kadarko, Wase local government, the story is no different.

Children aged between three and seven years sit on rows of benches under a mango tree. They carefully repeat words pronounced by the teacher and clearly written out on the old blackboard in front of them. The board is placed on a table supported by the stem of a big mango tree.

A little bit distracted by the reporter, the pupils chorus "rat, goat, cow... " These are the nursery three pupils of Pilot Central School, Kadarko, now called LEA Primary School, Kadarko. They are forced to learn under the tree because the school lacks sufficient classrooms.

Like LGEA Wuseli Central, LEA Primary School, Kadarko was established in the 1960s. The school has 10 buildings but only six are in use. The others have weak foundations, blown-off ceilings and leaky roofs. Some of the pupils take their lessons in the open.

Nursery three pupils have their class under the mango tree and scamper into the closest classroom when it rains. The pupils have become accustomed to this method of learning as they sit every day on benches to learn under the tree or join their seniors in primary one when it rains.

This reporter met the headmaster, Poyi Wuyep, sitting among five teachers close to a dilapidated block of classrooms. Beside them is a little boy, about three years, sleeping on the bare floor. The tot appears exhausted and hungry with flies perching on the catarrh dripping from his nostrils.

The headmaster's office was renovated in 2015 as a project under the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). The office had been constructed alongside a block of two classrooms and a store. There is no light as there is no public electricity in the entire Kadarko community.

Mr Wuyep has served as the headmaster of the school for three years. The years, he says, had been filled with many struggles.

"There are not enough classrooms for them to learn because the government has failed to build enough classrooms for us. That is why you can see some of them learning outside under the shade of trees," Mr Wuyep told this reporter.

"Early this year, I wrote a letter to the Councillor of Kadarko ward with pictures depicting the deplorable state of the school. It has been over three months now and we have not received any response," he said.

Mr Wuyep said he plans to write the members of the National Assembly representing Plateau South senatorial district and Wase Federal constituency.

More classrooms needed, not renovation

Interestingly, in 2017, the then-senator for the district, Jeremiah Useni, inserted the renovation of Pilot Central Primary School, Kadarko at the sum of N8 million in the annual Zonal Intervention Projects (ZIP). The project was contracted to Lower Benue River Basin Development Authority (LBRBDA), a federal agency under the Ministry of Water Resources.

A close observation of the facility renovated by LBRBDA revealed that the job was poorly done as the roof was already soaked by rain. The ZIP, often referred to as constituency projects, stated the "Renovation of Pilot Central School, Kadarko." But only a block of two classrooms was renovated.

According to information obtained from the Plateau State Universal Basic Education Board (PLSUBEB)   website, uploaded on February 19, the federal government had made funds (unspecified amount) available for universal basic education in Plateau State. It stated that the Board and the Plateau State Government intended to use part of the funds to cover eligible payments under the contract for renovation and construction of classrooms and offices in some primary and secondary schools across the state. One of the schools captured in the advertisement placed was Central School, Wase.

This reporter would later learn from My Wuyep that his school was previously called Central School, Wase or Pilot Central School, Kadarko. Last year, it was renamed LEA Primary School, Kadarko.

The school was captured and repeated thrice under projects to be carried out in the fourth quarter of 2016 by SUBEB, with detailed specification for the renovation of eight classrooms, offices and a store. The nature of the job would be a "stonework", the document stated.

10 teachers, 795 pupils -no toilet facility, no borehole

Insufficient classrooms was not the only problem bedevilling the school. It does not have enough number of teachers. The school has 795 pupils from nursery one to primary dix, but has only 10 teachers.

The Head Girl of the school, Joy Namzam, a 12-year-old whose ambition is to become a nurse, told this reporter that she hopes to leave the school for a better one because they are not well taught.

Being the last child of the family, she said she does not want to end up on the farm like her parents and four siblings.

Mr Wuyep pointed to the overgrown bush behind the school which the teachers use as a toilet because the school has no toilet. They also lack potable water and so drink from wells, streams or rainwater.

"But the community is very supportive," he noted. "They gave me money that will be able to buy three bags of cement so that we can use it to support one of the buildings that is about to be washed off by flood," he said.

Growing number of out-of-school children

All children, no matter where they live or their circumstances, have the right to quality education, according to Nigerian laws and UNICEF.

However, millions of Nigerian children, especially in the northern part of Nigeria, lack access to quality education. In Nigeria, about 10.5 million children of school age are not in school even though primary education is officially compulsory and free.

In northern Nigeria, the picture is even bleaker, with a net attendance rate of 53 percent. Getting out-of-school children back into education poses a massive challenge.   Providing free education and educational facilities for children in rural communities is thus essential for governments at all levels.

A lot of factors, experts say, hamper the effective implementation of free education and equal access to quality education for all. Poverty, geography, economic barriers, socio-cultural norms and practices are on the top list with rippling effects on the learning abilities on these children.

"The comfort that a student enjoys in the process of learning is a predictive variable that could determine whether a student will be able to concentrate and learn as he should or not," Ali Mamman, an educationist says.

Mr Mamman is a lecturer in the Department of Educational Foundations, Faculty of Education, University of Jos. He believes that granting financial autonomy to the local government is one of the strategies that could be adopted to address this issue.

"We have always had a history where the three tiers of government had their own autonomy in terms of financial control, where the local governments under the educational authority were doing well. Despite limited funds, they catered effectively for existing schools.

"The Constitution and National Policy on Education have made it clear that it is the responsibility of the local government to manage primary schools and that was why the Local Education Authority (LEA) was created to address the issues associated with education at the foundational level," he said.

According to him, the responsibility for managing secondary schools was placed on the shoulders of the state government. However, the joint local and state government account brought about the fallen standard of education in primary schools. The local government before now better responded to the needs of the people because they had control over the funds allocated to them. But now, local people cannot take part in the process of decisionmaking over what they need.

Plateau state budgetary allocations for primary schools

Data obtained from Plateau State Universal Education Board (PSUBEB)   website   showed that the state has over 2,300 pre-primary and primary schools. Between 2016 and 2018, the state education board spent N3 billion as capital expenditures, including construction, renovation and furnishing of classrooms in primary schools in Plateau state.

In 2016, 2017 and 2018, PSUBEB had an estimated budgetary allocation of N2 billion. But documents reveal that in each of these years, the actual releases were N1 billion for implementation of capital projects.

PREMIUM TIMES made several efforts to speak with PSUBEB on issues raised in this report. But Micheal Gowon, the Director Planning and Research at the board, who said he would get back to this reporter, failed to respond to calls and text messages sent to his line for over three weeks.

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