Learning The Hard Way

In rural Adamawa, pupils still attend school under trees

By Iro Danfulani

There are about 60 pupils in the class. But in the classroom there are no tables and no chairs. There are no such luxuries here. For seats, the little ones have stones to rest their behind. They use their laps as desks. But, really, they do not need desks as there are no notebooks, pencils or other writing materials that would require one.

For these kids of between four and five years, the open air is classroom. Luckily, the tree branches above shelter them from the sun. Again, on this particular day, Mother Nature is benevolent to them. The rain that fell ceaselessly the night before had long stopped, leaving a clear, sunny day.

What would have bothered the children and, perhaps, made them ill, in a village where there isn’t even a dispensary, is the damp, cold earth. But they are lucky they have stones that separated their bottoms from the earth.

Welcome to Grim Primary School, Jada local government area of Adamawa State. The school, it would appear, has been appropriately named because there is nothing cheery about the environment or the teaching conditions here.

But it still has the familiar sounds of a school, the repetitive cacophony of the pupils’ recitation echoing through the still morning.

The teacher stands before the class, a whip his only teaching aid. He has a mini- blackboard but would not even think of using it because there is no chalk or duster. He reels out English alphabets to his wards who dutifully repeat them, many of them screaming out the letters as if their lives depended on that action.

With youthful energy and eagerness to learn, the pupils repeat the alphabets, not to please their teacher but determined not to let their parents down. For, it takes a lot in this part of the world for a parent to excuse a child, however young, from the farm to go to school to get an education.

The children know what a great sacrifice it is to be allowed to go to school and would prefer screaming their heads off under the tree than tilling the ground endlessly in the farms at the other side of the village.

Their teacher, Joseph Wagumbi, from all indications, has little formal training. Quite often, he teaches three different classes at the same time, moving from one to another to check the pupils’ progress.

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But Wagumbi tries his best for his wards and at the end of the month has to commute to Jada, the nearest town which is a few minutes’ drive from Mayo – Mbullo, to collect his paltry salary.

In many remote villages in Adamawa State, particularly in the south, most teachers receive small stipends and so, for many, teaching is a little considered vocation.

In villages like Gawi, Mayo-Mbullo and Bura-Tola all in southern parts of the Adamawa State, easy access to education is still largely a luxury and communities are perpetually in dire need of schools.

The pitiable conditions of Grim primary school where there are no toilets for pupils and teachers are an exemplar of the state of education in many rural parts of Adamawa State. The responsibility of developing the education sector is partly borne by the common people, who, full of determination to give their children a better future, do all they can to ensure that schools come to their community.

For example, in Bura-Tola, the people put such a high priority on education that they mobilized and succeeded in constructing two classrooms for the education of their children.

But such self-help efforts, in villages ridden by poverty, are like a drop in the ocean and can never be adequate in addressing the deficiency in the education sector in these parts.

For many years, religious groups, especially missionaries, in collaboration with community leaders, have also attempted to tackle the challenges in the sector but they find that they literally have to build it from scratch.

Challenges
The challenges of bringing education to the masses are huge. Apart from the problem of adequate teaching personnel, lack of school buildings and teaching materials, the government just appears to have lost interest in developing education in the rural areas.

A retired school principal, Inuwa Buba, believes that the government needs to show more seriousness in funding education of young ones, reasoning that therein lies the future of the people.

“While pupils and students are learning under sub-human conditions – without ventilated classrooms, sitting under trees, leaking roofs, no benches, tables, desks, no drinking water, without toilets, there is a need for the investment of huge funds to raise the falling standard of education especially in the area of human development.’’ observed  Buba,  a retired school principal in the state.

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The irony of the situation, however, is that the state of education is not this grim in other parts of the state. In fact, elsewhere in Adamawa State, government efforts in the field of education are continually lauded, even outside the state.

For example, the state has been awarded overall best Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, performing state in Nigeria for the last three years.

In many towns and cities in urban Adamawa, virtually all the all primary and secondary schools have been upgraded with standard classrooms.

Most have been equipped with text books, laboratory equipment and other teaching aids. The state government has also established ten new junior secondary schools across the state as well as ten new girls-only secondary schools. Six new boarding junior girls-only schools have also been established under the Adamawa State Education Master Plan.

Also, 38 secondary schools have been established, while 21 junior secondary schools have been upgraded to senior secondary school status. It is also on record that some 10,000 new teachers were employed to teach in secondary schools recently.

All these achievements by the Adamawa State government under governor Murtala Nyako have been made possible because the state devotes a great deal of its budget to education.  In 2014, of the total budget of N97.9 billion, education has a princely allocation of N10.6 billion, about 10.8 per cent.

But it might well be said that the state’s generous budgetary allocation to education is squandered in urban areas as the pitiful state of the sector in the rural areas shows. While huge sums of money are being spent on building model schools and government promptly pays the SSCE examinations fees for students in the cities, in remote places, there is hardly any school to go to.

While pupils in rural make shift schools have to make do with surrounding bushes to “answer the call of nature”, the government is constructing what it terms “VIP toilets” in primary and secondary schools in the cities.

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But the Adamawa State Universal Basic Education Board, ADSUBEB, says it has great hope about establishing a vibrant new education system everywhere in the state.

The executive chairman of the board, Halilu Hamma, confessed that finding qualified teachers is one of the main challenges in bringing education to remote parts of the state.

Hamma explained that in response to the increasing demand for teachers at the grassroots, ensuring qualitative education in public schools, exposing NCE graduates to relevant practical experience in their chosen careers and employment opportunities, the state government is planning to recruit additional qualified teachers.

He said the appalling state of education in many parts of the state was worrying and assured that the state government will not allow the situation whereby children sit on the floor or under trees to continue.

He regretted that in spite  of the huge amount of money claimed to have been spent  on developing primary education by previous administrations,  there are still over  four hundred primary school in deplorable condition and begging for total renovation as pupils could be seen taking lesson under shade of trees.

He said that the board inherited over 600 primary schools without infrastructure, adding that the present administration has been able to renovate almost about two hundred while planning the establishment of 54 additional primary schools across the state.

To address the problem of teaching staff and revamping the ailing sector, the board chairman said the state government has approved the recruitment of over three thousand teaching staff for primary schools in the state (as at end of 2013).

He said the board needs no less than N21 billion to fix primary education in the state and bring it at par with other parts of the country.
He, however, did not say where the state government would get that kind of money or if it would be ready to devote that much to salvage the all-important education sector.

In the meantime, while government sources for the funds to fix education, pupils in remote and not so remote parts of the state will have to make do with receiving lessons under the shade of a tree.

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