Promises of quality education is one of the cardinal issues that public office holders at all levels in the country often ride on to get the mandate of the people. This is always followed by huge annual budget to the sector to show their commitment to the people. But to what extent do these huge annual allocations affect the quality of education and the conditions in which pupils learn? INNOCENT DURU, who recently embarked on a painstaking tour of some public schools in urban and rural areas in three states-Abia, Ebonyi and Cross River-reports that many of the schools are in terrible state of disrepair and are largely fuelling the rising incidence of children dropping out of school in those regions.
Ebonyi State Government House in the capital city, Abakaliki, is by all standards, a beautiful edifice to behold. Everything about the complex says it all that a huge sum of money went into the construction. This goes on to show that the government appreciates a healthy and lovely environment.
But few poles away from the exquisite Government House are two public primary schools that are supposed to serve as reference points to what the government is doing in the education sector. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The sight of the schools makes one to immediately develop goose pimples. The buildings of the schools, Central Urban School 1 and 2 and Urban Community School 1 and 2, are in a shambles and the conditions in which the pupils learn, absolutely unfit for where human beings, especially the young ones who are often referred to as the leaders of tomorrow should be groomed. While the roofs of some of the classrooms have been blown open, making sunshine and rain to have unhindered access to the poor children, some other classrooms are pervaded by sordid darkness.
Regrettably, some of the pupils who spoke with The Nation, said the physical darkness is not so much of problem to them like the darkness that their bestial learning conditions casts on their future.
“We are not happy about the condition but our concern is more about the implication it has on our future. Our foundation is not getting the right fortification and the consequence is bleak academic future for us. Our teachers are doing their best but the system is frustrating them and also making life miserable for us,” one of the pupils said. That was the beginning of a gale of emotional outbursts by both the pupils and the teachers who wondered what happens to the budgetary allocations to the sector in the state.
Findings showed that annual budgetary allocation to the education sector in the state has continued to rise in the last three years without any commensurate effect on the condition in which the hapless pupils study. From a budgetary allocation of N2. 077 billion in 2015 by the immediate past administration, the present administration in 2016 increased the allocation to the sector to N5.909 billion. In the 2017 appropriation, tagged “Budget of Inclusive Growth in Economic and Poverty Reduction in Economic Recession, the economic sector, which includes the education sector got the lion share of N57.7 billion. A pupil of Urban Primary School 1 and 2, who simply gave his name as Uche (not real name), and some of his friends were found battling to arrange for something to sit on even when lectures were going on. Frustration was written all over their faces as a result of their ordeal which they said is a daily occurrence. Uche said the ugly development doesn’t allow them to concentrate in the class because they frequently fall from the planks they put together as chairs. He said: “We hardly concentrate in the class because we always have fears that the planks we place on stones can fall apart and cause serious injury to our bodies. My colleagues and I have always fallen from this dangerous sitting arrangement. This distracts us a lot. I will immediately leave the school for a better one if I see someone that can help me. A number of my colleagues whose parents can pay the bills of private schools have left. My parents are poor and don’t have the means to send me to private school but I don’t like this school again.”
Aside from the bad seats, a female pupil, Julie (not real name), said she is always tensed up whenever there is heavy wind. “Sir, look at the roof and see how some of the sheets are dangling. Wind can violently blow any of them towards our direction and if it comes in contact with any of us, it can inflict serious injury if not death. So, when there is heavy wind, our attention is always on the roof and not on the teacher. See how we are sweating because the sun is coming directly on our head. Even if the roof is okay, the fact that it does not have an asbestos makes it to absorb so much heat which comes down directly on us. It affects our learning. At times, we sleep out of tiredness instead of listening to lectures”, she said. The pupils are not alone in the messy state. Their teachers and even the head teachers are also not left out. Unlike the pupils who have a place to call a classroom, the head teachers don’t have any as the roof of their offices has collapsed forcing them to use an open space as an office. One of the teachers, who did not want her in print because she is a civil servant, was close to tears as she shared her plight with The Nation. Taking our correspondent round the school, she rhetorically asked: “ Is this what a school should look like?” She continued: “You have seen the condition of our pupils, now look at our conditions as teachers and head teachers. Look at the roof of our head teacher’s office. It has collapsed on several occasions and she has always used her personal money to fix it but it is not getting better. When it rains, the office literary becomes a swimming pool as water will gather everywhere.
“The whole office is in a mess. You can manage to enter it now because it is dry season, if this is rainy season, you can’t even go close to it. She has abandoned the office and decided to stay in this open place to stay away from the danger that may arise from the dilapidated office. With all the years she has put into service, is this the kind of place that she should be using as an office?
“The library where the children are supposed to be reading is also in a big mess. Several government officials have come here to look at the state of things and promised that they would do the needful but we have not seen them till date. We don’t have toilets. The pupils enter inside the bush to defecate. If you check the back of the building, you will see the whole place littered with excreta.”
Another teacher said: “We are in a deep mess in this place. Look at the roofs, they have all been blown away. When it rains, the children and we the teachers will have to run away. At times, we would be beaten by the rain to the point that these innocent children will begin to shiver. When it so rains, classes for the day will come to abrupt end. This is affecting the education of the children because when they so miss lectures regularly, they will forget what they have learnt.
“Anytime there is consistent downpour, some of them stay away. In the course of this, a relation who needs a maid or an apprentice may come and take them away. When this happens, the poor parents who are not keen about the children’s education will gladly allow them to be taken away. The population of our pupils keeps dropping from time to time. This is seriously contributing to the high rate of school drop out in the state.”
The situation is not better off at Central Urban School 1 and 2 where the pupils sit on bare dusty floor to receive lectures. The classrooms were pitch dark and were as hot as a bakery. Palpable heat emits from the roofs and the walls, causing the pupils to be sweating profusely. To cushion the effect of the intense heat on them, the helpless kids used everything at their disposal to fan themselves. Some of them who had developed aches in the course of fanning themselves partially loosened their buttons and used their mouths to blow air into their bodies while lectures were still going on.
One of the embattled kids said: “My friends who attend private schools call me a pig because I am always dirty for no fault of mine. No matter how much I try to be clean, the dusty nature of the class will make me dirty within few minutes of entering the classroom.” Chiyenre (not real name), another pupil of the school, appears to have started developing apathy to education because of the condition of the school.
She said: “There is nothing that encourages us to come to school and when we come, everything here kills our interest in education. They make us look like animals and never like human beings. Is this the condition our leaders studied and became what they are today? They are treating us this way because our parents are poor. Our colleagues who left the school for other places tell us they have everything.”
Bemoaning the plight of the pupils, an indignant teacher said: “The environment is not conducive for the children to learn. The classrooms have no furniture. Besides, they are dark and very hot. You can see the kids sitting on dusty floor and fanning themselves. Is that not enough to affect their level of concentration in class and by extension, their interest in education?
“We don’t have any toilet for our teeming pupils. They make use of the bush and abandoned classrooms. This makes the whole place stink. It exposes the kids to health hazards. One finds it difficult to believe that this is happening in an urban setting. With what you see here, you can imagine what the situation will be in rural communities. Ours is worrisome because, we are very close to the government house. It will even shock you that we buy chalks by ourselves. All these are happening here because the children are from the poorest homes in the society. If this were a school of the rich that can make case with them, this would not have been the story.”
A parent of one of the pupils in the school who gave his name as Nmamdi said: “We know that this is not what a school should look like. But we make our children to attend it to fulfill all righteousness because we are really poor. I heard that over 200 pupils in a northern school use a toilet and it sounded ridiculous. But I can tell you that their condition is better because they even have one. Here the children don’t have any. They defecate anyhow.”
A youth leader in the state, Mazi Alex Okemiri, noted that enrollment in public schools in the state is drastically dropping. According to him: “Parents of many pupils entering JSS 1 can’t afford the cost of registration which is about N5,000. After that they would not pay school fees. Recently secondary school pupils were asked to pay N1, 200 as examination fee while the primary school pupils were asked to pay N600. This made many pupils to drop out of school. The governor later said he was going to refund the money to those that paid but that has not been done till date. Governor Umahi should emulate former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, by visiting public schools to personally know their problems.”
“The burden of taxation in the state is making life unbearable for the poor rural people and this makes it difficult for them to meet up with paying their children’s fees. If poor women take farm produce of about N500 to market, they may end up paying N200 as tax. This affects their disposable income and consequently makes their children to drop out of school. It is a common sight in the state to see girls within the age of 14 and 15 who are already pregnant because they dropped out of school.”
A resident, Magnus Ibe, berated the state government for allegedly abandoning education and pumping huge sums of money into construction of overhead bridges in the state. His words: “The bridges are good but they projects are for future use. The money spent on this is more than enough to rehabilitate the dilapidated schools and make our children have classes befitting for human beings. Of what value are the bridges when the future of our children is in jeopardy? Whatever achievement the students record is through personal efforts and not as a result of the support of the government.”
If the condition of learning in Ebonyi State is disgusting, then, that of schools in Abia State evokes pity. Our correspondent who visited some schools in the state reported that they look more like secluded places for rehabilitating people suffering from dreadful contagious diseases than places of learning. One of such schools visited by The Nation is Alaukwu Secondary School located in Umuobiakwa, the hometown of the present governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu. The buildings are without windows and doors with the roofing sheets rotten and embarrassingly fallen apart.
Judging by the repulsive look of the buildings, one will be quick to wager that the place is not a school or that it has ceased to be one. “It is a school.”, one of the neigbours interjected when our correspondent unequivocally maintained that the rusty and dingy environment couldn’t be a school. The neighbour continued: “You are right to doubt if the place is a school. The whole place is deserted because public school teachers are on strike. The state of the school is a slap on the community which is the hometown of the governor. Charity begins at home but that is not the case for us. What you see here tells you the attitude of the government and the predecessors to public school. Our children are schooling in the most bizarre environment. The school looks like where people suffering leprosy or violent mental patients are kept. It is a shame.”
The Nation’s visit to Owoahiafor Comprehensive Senior Secondary School, in Obingwa Local Government Area of the state, was also revealing. Even though the teachers were on strike, our correspondent combed the area in search of the pupils. The effort paid off as some of the pupils cornered by our correspondent relived their unpleasant experience in the school. One of students, Joy (not real name), said: “We always stand to receive lectures because there are no furniture in the school. The entire chairs in the whole school are not up to 30. I pay the sum of N4, 500 as school fee but there is nothing to show for what our poor parents struggle to pay for. They are always quick to send us away from school anytime our parents couldn’t pay the fees.
“When it rains, we always abandon our classes to take shelter in any class that is not leaking like ours. We have just this secondary school and a primary school in the whole community comprising eight big villages. Many students have left the school because of the poor condition. It is mostly those of us that our parents can’t afford to pay higher fees in private schools that are still here.”
Another student of the school, Ebere (not real name), also said: “My parents struggle to pay my school fee of N5, 655. As small as you may think the school fee is, a number of my friends have had to quit because their parents couldn’t afford it. We receive lectures in the most unthinkable manner. We stand to receive lectures and before you know it, we get tired and lose concentration. There is no how we can concentrate by standing up to receive lectures. We don’t feel happy about this because they are putting our future in jeopardy. Education is our right and not a privilege. It is not enough to establish a school without providing the necessary equipment to enhance our learning. If I have my way, I will leave the school for a better one in the city.”
Checks at Amaisii Community Primary School, in Umuokpo area of Obingwa Local Government Area also showed that the education of the pupils has been in danger for years. To get information about the condition of the school, our correspondent embarked on another tortuous search for the pupils and the teachers who were on strike. After a very long time of searching, the efforts eventually yielded the desired fruit by providing a teacher and the head of the parentsteachers committee. The teacher, who preferred to be anonymous, said: “I have taught in this school for many years. We have no chairs from primary one to six. The pupils sit on the floor all through the day. When they come in the morning, they look clean but shortly after they arrive the school, they will look like pigs as dust would have messed up their whole body. This makes them to suffer from cough and catarrh from time to time.
“Apart from dust, hoodlums have turned the dilapidated classrooms to their toilets. They defecate everywhere since they have unhindered access to every part of the school. When as a teacher you open your table, it is the sight and smell of faeces that welcome you. It is the pupils that pack the excreta on a daily basis because we don’t have cleaners to do that.”
She added: “The long hall we had collapsed recently when there was a downpour and seriously injured somebody that was taking shelter in it. If the building had collapsed during school hours, you can imagine what would have happened to the poor children. As we speak now, the few buildings that we have are already weak. We only sit there to teach with bated breath. We don’t have toilets. The pupils hop from one bush to another to defecate. The children are learning in the most inhuman condition. I can bet you that those in government cannot allow their dogs to stay in these terrible buildings called school.”
The School ParentsTeachers Committee Chairman, Chinyere Uzoukwa, said: “The condition under which our children are learning is despicable. They can never learn well in this condition that is not befitting for pets. We have written many letters to the government but got no response. The community is doing its best in supporting the school but the challenges in the school are beyond what the community can address. We want to use this opportunity to appeal to our governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu to do something about the condition of the school.”
The condition in which pupils in public schools in Ababene, a suburb of Obubra Local Government Area of Cross River State, is awful and unimaginable in this age and time. The conditions are simply a mockery of what schools should be. One of the schools, Ababene Primary School IV, is like a local drinking joint. It has just two buildings, one of which has partly collapsed. The other part without roof is covered with dry palm fronds which do not shield the children from sunshine or rain.
One of the pupils in the class said: “ None of us is happy to be in this place. When the sun shines, it comes straight on our heads. When it also rains, it comes straight on our heads. While we can manage to endure the scotching sun to stay in the class and listen to our teacher, it is impossible for us to stay in this kind of place when it rains. We always get drenched and our books soaked with water when it rains suddenly. This makes us to be feverish. When it rains for many days, we would not come to school because there is no place for us to hide from the rain.”
In the other building, the pupils were seen sitting on stones in the course of receiving lectures. Because they have no tables to write, they all turned their laps to one. One of the pupils said: “We are not different from crawling animals because we sit, write and do everything on this dusty ground. Our notebooks are always looking like what pigs trampled upon because of the dusty floor. As students, we are supposed to be looking neat but the classrooms don’t make this possible. We are always not better than mechanics or our parents who go to farms because the dusty classrooms messes our bodies up. This does not make us to learn well. Apart from messing up our books and bodies, the dusty floor also makes us to have cough and catarrh very often.”
Apart from the students, the teachers are also unhappy with the condition of the school. One of them said: “We are suffering a great deal here. We are objects of ridicule and humiliation in the community. Teaching as far as we have it here is not a noble profession. The government doesn’t show any concern for either the teachers or the pupils. Some of us are owed five months salary, while some are being owed more than seven months salary. “Yet, they still don’t deem it fit to provide us with what we need to teach the pupils. We always have to borrow money to buy chalk, diary , registers and other materials since the government is not showing any concern. What is keeping us here is our love for the children and our commitment to giving them a better future.”
Another aggrieved teacher said: “Imagine, our head teachers don’t have offices. Their office was in the collapsed building. Since there is no alternative for them, they now sit under this mango tree. Because of this, they get exposed to all manners of insults. If you discipline a child today, tomorrow, the family members will storm our office under the mango tree and give us the beating of our lives. This happens simply because they have unrestricted access to us under the tree.
“If we are in an office and they need to knock before entering, it would not be like that. People constantly treat us with contempt because the government itself has dehumanised us. if you ask any of the children if they will like to be teachers in future, they will all say God forbid. This is as a result of what they see happening to us. The government should have a rethink and do something about our situation and that of the pupils.”
Pupils are susceptible to health, psychological problems- Medical doctor, psychologist
Enumerating the health implications of the untidy conditions the pupils learn, a public health expert, Dr Rotimi Adesanya, said: “The habit of going to open toilet makes the kids to be susceptible to suffering from water-borne diseases like cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever, Hepatitis A and E. This is because flies feast on the excreta and go on to perch on their food. “The dusty floor can also cause asthma for the kids and for those that already have it, it can worsen it for them. Urgent steps need to be taken to address such unhealthy conditions.”
A psychologist, Diran Abayomi, said, the despicable conditions the pupils are studying, could make them to have inferiority complex when they meet with their colleagues from better schools, adding: “Apart from this, the conditions will impact negatively on their level of concentration. Many of them will not pay attention to what they are being taught. Many of them will ultimately lose interest in education. Another problem that can arise from this is that, since hoodlums sometimes hang out in some of such schools, some of the pupils may begin to imbibe bad characters. This could be responsible for the growing menace of Skolombo Boys in Cross River and militancy in the Niger Delta region.
Our governors are tackling the problems -Commissioners
The Commissioner for Education in Ebonyi State, Prof John Eke, in a telephone chat with The Nation, debunked the claims that the government is in sensitive to the situation in the public schools, saying that the state government has never rested on its oars in the its quest to make public schools attractive to the people.
According to him, “The government of Ebonyi State has renovated more than 100 schools. We constructed and distributed 50, 000 furniture for the children. We have also transformed blackboards to whiteboards. We are also retraining our teachers. We are also paying them salary on or before 15th of every month. We have done our usual promotion to motivate them.
“The project to supply furniture was launched three days ago ( penultimate Friday). As I am speaking with you now, they are being distributed to every school. The government has spent N1.7billion for renovation. We have intervention fund from the Universal Basic Education Commission. Past administrations couldn’t access it because of counterpart funding. While we are renovating and building new ones, we are also setting up some schools.”
His Cross River counterpart, Mr Goddy Ettah, also defended the state government about the situation in some of the schools in the state. He said: “Contracts have just been awarded as an intervention to improve the infrastructure in our public primary schools. Recruitment has also been done to make up for the shortfall in the number of teachers. That is for primary schools.
“Talking about the secondary schools, the government has just taken over about 15 community schools. Before, we had automatic promotion of school principals. When the position of a principal is vacant, the vice principal becomes the principal. Now, there is an interview process. With this, a vice principal cannot automatically become a principal and principal in one school cannot become one in another school. We are trying to put round pegs in round holes and square pegs in square holes.
“We have increased our monitoring and supervision. We have also improved security in our schools. Recently, a team from Canada came to conduct a need assessment to enable the state government know where to intervene. You don’t intervene in a problem you don’t know. You need to know the problem.”
Also speaking, the Abia State Commissioner for Education, Prof Ikechi Mgbeoji, admitted that some schools in parts of the state are in bad state, but added that the government is frantically addressing the situation.
He said: “We have a lope-sided construction of schools in the state. Many schools in Abia South Senatorial Zone are better than those in Abia North. Abia South produced the governor. If you look at schools in this place, they look quite terrible.
“But we have renovated 28 schools across the senatorial zones. We have built toilets each for 13 schools now. We are working on improving infrastructure for the schools. We have also done 13 boreholes in some schools.”