Gusau — Education infrastructure is key to conducive learning in schools as it helps in improving students' educational outcomes.
In Zamfara State, however, thousands of secondary school students have been learning in dilapidated facilities over the years, though presently, the authorities are expressing worry over the decaying facilities and have started taking steps toward addressing the challenges bedevilling the sector.
Some of the crucial facilities that are in a state of disrepair in most schools include dormitories, classrooms, laboratories as well as a number of teaching materials.
A visit by this reporter to Government Science Secondary School, Gusau, showed that most of the buildings are an eyesore, with the roof of a hostel blown away and its windows broken thereby exposing the students to health and security hazards.
One of the teachers spoken to said students in dilapidated dormitories were forced to take shelter or even sleep in classrooms and laboratories whenever it raining.
"There are complaints from the students about trespass and thefts in the hostels because the rooms are without doors and windows. Whenever it is raining, we pity the students. They would relocate to the classrooms for shelter," he said.
At Government Technical College, Kauran Namoda, the classrooms are dilapidated with their roofs blown away.
A father to one of the students said his son had complained to him several times about the 'horrible' situation of boarding students.
It is unfortunate that despite the huge allocations for the education sector, our schools are still not conducive for learning. The horrible situation is affecting the academic progress of the students, he said.
Checks by Daily Trust revealed that in 2018, N13.3 billion was allocated to the educational sector in the state. Authorities said it was the highest received by any sector in the state.
In 2019, N11.170 billion was earmarked for education. Despite the huge allocations for education, the sector reportedly suffers a serious infrastructural deficit in the state.
Apart from decaying facilities, boarding students in many schools are given unpleasant meals while officials connived with contractors to divert money meant for food.
Last month, the state Project Verification Committee under the leadership of Alhaji Ahmad Abubakar Gusau unearthed how the state government was shortchanged of billions of Naira in the school feeding programme during previou administration.
"The number of students being fed was inflated thus allowing the fraudulent officials to illegally siphon N7 billion every year. This is because in the affairs of students feeding in the state, professionals and God-fearingg individuals were removed and the programme was handed to a cabal.
"For instance, we were at the Government Senior Secondary School, Dansadau where we were told that 700 students were being fed in that boarding school every day but we were shocked to find out that the very day we visited the school only 50 students were available to collect their food.
"In the same vein, in Maru Senior Secondary School, we were informed that 1,100 were being fed every day but we found less 100 students. This is in addition to the very poor quality and quantity of food being dished out to our students," Gusau had said.
There was a mild drama earlier when Governor Bello Muhammad Matawalle asked school principals to eat the unpalatable food cooked for students in Government Science Secondary School, Gusau and Government Girls Secondary School, Gusau.
The governor, who said he was not happy with the quality of food he met in the two schools, said "You must henceforth eat food with your students and I will keep you under watch so that those who violate the order would be dismissed."
He noted that the state government has been providing all necessary food items for the students and that it must, therefore, be delivered to them appropriately.
Meanwhile, checks at the state examinations office revealed that 23,000 candidates sat for the senior school certificate examination prepared by the West African Examination Council (WAEC).
In 2015, 23,047 students sat for the exam in 150 schools across the state and 38 per cent obtained credits in five subjects and above including English and Mathematics.
In 2016, 23,484 took the exam and 38.17 per cent got five credits and above including English and Mathematics. In the same vein, 23,733 students sat for the exam in 2017 out of which 32.01 per cent got five credits and above.
On the other hand, 39.5 per cent of the state-sponsored candidates that took the same exam prepared by the National Examination Council (NECO) in 2015 obtained five credits and above while 37.03 per cent passed in 2016 and 48.5 per cent in 2017.
In terms of admission into higher institutions, Zamfara State is among the least according to statistics obtained from the website of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).
For example, in 2015, a total of 5,222 applicants, comprising of 4,067 males and 1,119 females, applied for admission but only 1,303 consisting of 401 males and 902 females secured admission.
By contrast, a total of 24,871 out of 103,724 candidates from Imo State were admitted into various institutions same year. In 2014, 9,373 candidates applied for admission from Zamfara State but only 1,345 were admitted. Osun had 81,057 applicants in the same year out of which 22,453 got admission.
Governor Matawalle acknowledged the fact that Zamfara is among the educationally less developed states among other challenges and is making efforts to reverse the trend.
"Zamfara is still ranked among the educationally disadvantaged states of the federation. When I came on board, virtually all aspects of education were in disarray; even the scholarship support to students had been stopped.
"As a step towards reversing the ugly situation, we have revived the overseas merit scholarship programme for young undergraduates, with the sponsoring of 200 students to study medicine, nursing sciences, medical imaging and other para-medical and engineering courses in India, Sudan, Cyprus and China.
"The state government has already released 100% of their tuition, accommodation, feeding and other upkeep allowances," he added.
Also speaking, the state commissioner for Education, Dr Ibrahim Abdullahi Gusau, said he had visited and assessed the condition of most schools.
"That was how this administration met education in the state. That is why he appropriated 20 per cent of the state's annual budget to the education sector. We are working round the clock to revive the ailing sector.
"We are trying hard to confront the challenges and address them head-on. Part of our action plans is the reconstruction and renovation of dilapidated structures in our schools. These include classrooms, hostels and laboratories.
"We are also planning to recruit more teachers and train and retrain the existing ones. This is apart from our aim to equip the schools with adequate working materials, especially in the field of science," the commissioner said.