© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Travails of Owerri children in public schools
In spite of the Imo state government’s policy aimed at promoting free and qualitative education statewide, several schools in Owerri, the capital city, still lack basic amenities that make learning convenient. ABBA AMOS, who visited one of the public schools, reports.
GABRIEL sits fidgeting at his desk, trying to finish his class work before the break-time. The obvious cause of his discomfort is not the math problem he is struggling to solve but the sweltering heat in the decrepit, overcrowded classroom.
His eyes are glancing from his book to the door as he considers making a binary decision: Get fresh air outside, or remain in the classroom and bear the suffocating heat. He chooses the first option.
It is not unusual to find public schools in Imo State with infrastructural dysfunction that makes learning stressful for pupils.
The 12-year old JSS 1 student of Urban Development Secondary School in Owerri municipal, a public school owned by Imo State government, is obviously disturbed by the dilapidation of the school building, which makes sitting in the classroom unsafe for the students.
Most classrooms are close to be in ruin, and mostly without windows and doors. The roofs are caving in, begging for prompt rehabilitation.
There is no toilet, so pupils have to go to the bush near the school fence to relieve themselves whenever they are pressed.
“I was disappointed with the school when I first arrived,” he told The ICIR.
According to Gabriel, the youth corp members serving in the state donated plastic desks to the school, yet pupils were asked to pay N4,000 for it.
Gabriel’s classmates who spoke to The ICIR confirmed the extortion by the school management.
Notwithstanding, most students have limited option because the public education in Imo State is still deemed to be free.
Somehow, public school is still a relief to most parents who cannot afford to send their children to private schools.
AN ISOLATED SCHOOL
The ICIR reporter paid a visit to Urban Development Secondary School in May. The school gate hung unsteadily on its hinges, as one section swaying slowly to the rhythm of the afternoon wind. Beyond the gate post is an untidy blocks of uncompleted classrooms and dilapidated buildings, without windows and doors.
Francisca Ekubo, the principal of the senior secondary arm of the school says the population of students which is currently over 2,000 has put a strain on the school facilities.
According to her, Imo State Universal Basic Education Board (IMSUBEB), the agency responsible for funding the free education scheme in the state, has not included the school in their budget plans for a long while.
She said the borehole that used to supply water in the school was sunk by UNICEF, but it was later vandalised by hoodlums.
“Now, there is no water, no toilet or power supply. We barely receive money from the government nor do we get support from donor agencies or philanthropic old students who have graduated from this school,” she said.
An official of Imo SUBEB in Imo State who requests for anonymity, says the board has not upgraded any infrastructures in public schools in Owerri metropolis in recent times.
This situation has made learning difficult for most kids in the state.
Okechukwu Iloh, a senior student at the college said it is difficult to learn in a school plagued with ill-equipped workshops and dilapidated infrastructure added to ever increasing student population and under-equipped teachers.
Technical schools across the country were established by government to respond to the country’s socio – economic challenges. This grim reality confronts most public primary and secondary schools in owerri, a development that has affected students performance in national examinations.
A Corp member, Hezekiah Ibem serving at Government Technical College, Owerri told The ICIR about his experience when he was posted to the school.
“I requested for the prescribed textbooks to be able to teach the class I was assigned, but I was told that the library don’t have those books so I’ll have to borrow from the students or look for other alternatives. So, the library exists only in name,” he said.
In a recent report released by the World Bank titled World Development Report 2018: “Learning to realise education’s promise” co-launched in Abuja by the World Bank Group, Federal Ministry of Finance and the Federal Ministry of Education reveals a looming “learning crisis” in global education, pointing out that schooling without learning was not only a wasted development opportunity but injustice to children and young people worldwide.”
The report states that fourth grade (primary four) pupils in Nigeria were asked to complete a two digit subtraction, but more than three-quarter of them were unable to solve it.
Also among young adults in Nigeria, only 20 per cent of those who complete their primary education can read, the report stated. “After several years in school, millions of children cannot read, write or do basic math,” the report further stated.
Recommendations from the report included that government should “initiate policy steps that would resolve the severe learning crisis to ensure education eliminates extreme poverty and creates shared opportunities and prosperity for all.”
Mrs Ekwem, a school administrator and principal at Boys model secondary school, Owerri said the shoe string budget that comes to her school makes it difficult to initiate any apparent repair on the downgraded facilities in her school, which has stalled it’s growth.
“The salary we are to receive at the end of the month, is paid inconsistently. Sometimes we get owed for months and what the government pays us varies. Sometimes it is 70 per cent or even less than what we are expected to earn. When you don’t get paid, the motivation to give your best to the job or students is not considered, coupled with the unfavourable state of infrastructure in the school. “This is our current reality, we are all bearing the brunt of a dysfunctional system,”she said.
At Boys Model Secondary School, a boys boarding and day secondary school located in a hippie residential area in Owerri called ” World Bank “, life can be compared to squalid refugee camps not much different from that in the Internally Displaced Persons’ camp.
The quality of food is bad, and there is absence of sanitation facilities in the school, therefore students fall sick too frequently.
Attempts to interview officials of the Ministry of Education in Owerri was not successful. This reporter also attempted to reach SUBEB Chairman in Imo state, but without success. “We do not talk to journalists,” said an official at the statistics department.
Notwithstanding, Imo states is among the five states that emerged the best performing states in the 2016 West African Senior School Certificate Examination. The state recorded 76.46 per cent in the WAEC rating.
However, Mrs Halimah Akanbi, a girl-child education advocate who led a media campaign “Educate the jungle” that went viral on various social media platforms in 2015, tells The ICIR that government’s efforts in supporting the global sustainable goals in Nigeria is commendable but a lot needs to be achieved.
“It is good that government’s drive to support global sustainable development goals with good policy initiatives but without providing the requisite parameters for it’s execution, no matter how noble the policy might be, it won’t produce the desired results. The focus of government should be structural improvement of existing infrastructure in our schools to ensure that kids brought to school will remain in school,” she submits.
President Muhammad Buhari, at a summit in Abuja in November last year, advocated a “collaborative” effort between government and development partners to commit themselves to realising the sustainable development goal on education which is the fundamental human right of the Nigerian child.
Analysts say that meaningful development can only take place in the realization of provision of qualitative education, if the government promtes free, quality, equitable and inclusive education and rehabilitate basic infrastructure in public schools.
Emmanuel Nzota, a sustainable development goal advocate in Owerri says the fourth goal of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) can be achieved when Nigeria’s focus is shifted to learning rather than schooling to realise its objective.
“If we can teach our students invaluable skills outside the rigid curriculum we have, that would make them useful outside the classroom and benefit their society. For goal ‘four’ cannot be achieved without learning taking place, else the free education objective will be defeated,” he said.
In a report released by Budgit, a Nigerian civic social enterprise, the Nigerian government has spent N1.4 trillion as subsidy payment for petrol in 2018 which is still in its first quarter, compared to the proposed N605.8 billion for education in the 2018 budget.
” You have to inquire and ask questions to prioritise your goals, if the government does not do that, then there will be no headway, ” Halimah Akanbi said.
In a time when Imo state government is posturing that free education is a cure-all pill to address illiteracy and build a viable economy in the state, but it needs to understand that providing basic infrastructure in its public schools is the solution to half of the problem.