These are not the best of times in Nigeria, a country officially confirmed to be in recession. Since its inception, it had been an arduous battle for survival for citizens, organisations and even governments at all tiers. In this report, GEORGE OKOJIE looks at the plight of school pupils bearing the brunt and efforts being made to tackle signs of the hard time.
When Professor James Tooley, a professor of education policy at Newcastle University said in his scintillating book entitled, ‘The Beautiful Tree’, that privately educated pupils do better than their peers in government schools, even after socio-economic background is taken into account, he did not have Nigeria in mind.
Overtime, the views he expressed in the book that chronicled a personal journey into how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves seemed to be echoed in the condition of things in many public schools in Nigeria where school pupils do not only walk to school barefooted, with tattered uniforms but also subjected to the mockery of their peers from affluent background.
The prevailing circumstances aggravated by the current economic downturn in the country have become so glaring, following the resumption of schools across the country.
Observers say the trend, if not quickly reversed to put the pupils back on track, may have spiral effects on the long run at the basic level of education if the citizen are deprived of education due to the inability of their parents grappling with the present economic reality to fund it.
All over the world, primary education has been regarded as the most important as well as the most patronised by people. This, perhaps, may be due to the fact that it is the foundation of the whole educational pursuit, which is expected to provide literacy and enlightenment to the citizens.
By and large, education has been widely accepted as the best legacy a country can give to her citizens. In stressing the importance of education experts have opined that education is a human right that should be accorded to all human beings solely by virtue of being human. More so that its attainment no doubt improves the development of any society.
Nothing paints the picture of the signs of hard time in the country better than the way Victor Oyebade, a pupil of Ayangburem Primary school, Ikorodu captured it when he told LEADERSHIP Weekend that “We have resumed in my school but I have told my parents I will not go back to my school because anytime I come to the schools without wearing sandals or shoe, people will always be laughing at me and I will be ashamed and be crying.
“Sometimes I will leave the house and go and hide on the road till school will close for the day and also come back home. When I told my father to buy me shoes and books to go to school he said there is no money that things are difficult in the country and said they have not paid his salaries for a long time.
“It is now that government has given me shoes and education materials to study with that I can now go back to my school and start learning happily. I like what Lagos State Government has done for me.”
The young Oyebade is not alone in this. Kabiru Adbulahi, a pupil of Ketu Comprehensive School said his parents were already considering sending him to learn a trade because they could not afford to buy educational kits for him.
“My parents said I will go and learn how to repair motor before his friend came and said the Lagos government will provide books and kits for pupils in the state before he said I should go back to school. That is why I am here to collect mine. I have collected it and I thank government for this help.”
Giving hope to teeming pupils in Lagos, the wife of Lagos State Governor, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode said it was disheartening to know that majority of pupils in public primary schools lacked shoes and socks to wear to school, adding that the intervention of her foundation was aimed at addressing such heart-breaking development.
She said the distribution of shoes and socks to 175,000 public primary school pupils in Lagos State by her foundation, Hope For Women In Nigeria Initiative (HOFOWEM) was in response to the problem.
She surged the parents to send their children to school rather than use them to hawk to avoid the dangers involved.
According to her, the initiative tagged “Project Bright Steps”, and the decision to distribute shoes and socks to pupils was one of the ways to motivate the young ones, boost their self-esteem, help them appreciate their self-worth, encourage them to be proud of themselves, and most importantly equip them.
She said aside the positive impact such would have on the education of the pupils, it would also encourage local production of shoes, and thereby boost the economy.
The governor’s wife said, “Unfortunately, walking without shoes has led many children to get sick, lose their feet to bacterial infections and other life-threatening diseases. It is essential for these children to wear shoes. Wearing shoes is not a luxury, but a necessity.
“As a mother, I am deeply passionate about children. Some lucky ones have the necessary support, while others have very little support of nothing. HOFOWEM realizes that many children do not have the opportunity to wear ordinary shoes. Yet, this is something that we take for granted.
“Properly equipping our children for school plays a great role in boosting their confidence level, morale, concentration and overall performance.
“A properly kitted pupil has higher chances of doing well in academic studies, because he/she is better motivated, more confident and has higher self esteem, which translates to better academic performance,” Mrs. Ambode said.
“These pupils represent the future of our state and the country, and we will continue to do our best to motivate them for excellence,” she stressed.
She added that her pet project, HOFOWEM, was borne out of a burning desire to touch lives and be a source of hope and relief for the less privileged in the society, saying the ongoing scholarship scheme is aimed at funding undergraduate programme of some of the brightest students from public secondary schools in the state.
For, Dr. (Mrs) Oluranti Adebule, the Lagos State Deputy Governor who is also in charge of education supervision in the state the, present administration has earmarked N10billion for upgrade of infrastructure and others in public schools, adding that other public spirited individuals and organizations should take a cue and assist the government in whatever way to motivate the pupils to study.
Adebule added that the education and moulding of children who are the nation’s future leaders required collective effort.
She said “These materials will give succour to these children and help them unleash their full potentials in life.
“Our administration will continue to ensure that every child enjoys quality education that will transform their lives for a better and brighter tomorrow.”
Adebule urged non-governmental organisations and well-meaning Nigerians to support government’s efforts in providing basic education needs and making schooling conducive for children in the state.
The Chief Executive Officer of HOFOWEM, Ms. Oyefunke Adeleke said the foundation’s main goal was to transform lives, adding that the distribution of shoes and socks to the pupil was one of the ways of making positive difference, give hope, support and empower as many as possible.
The education Secretary of Amuwo Odofin Local government Reverend (Mrs.) Atinuke Oguniyi said the role the state government is play to ensure children have access to basic education is worthy of emulation.
She said, “The schools in Lagos now has a hierarchy for emulation because of the steps the present administration led by Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode has taken. With the efforts he is making , in Lagos state he is giving the parents motivation to send their children to public schools and they are very regular.
“Take for instance the distribution of shoes and other education materials by Mrs. Akinwunmi Ambode is another kudos to Lagos State Government. It has never been done before. All the pupils in the whole schools in the state will be given starting with the Nursery and primary schools. The physically challenged are not left out.
A parent and Lagos Civil servant, Jimoh Tunde said the responsibility of training and feeding children is becoming very difficult in the country, saying he has been compelled to adjust the feeding patterns of his family.
“The situation is so bad that sending children to school is very difficult. Schools have resumed by my children have not been able to join their colleagues. I have a family of five , with several other dependents. Food stuff is very expensive to take three-square meals is not possible. We then had to work it out It is either breakfast and dinner, or lunch and dinner,” he said.
Another parent, Mr. Raymond Akeyesi said the school his children attend have increased their tuition to cushion the effect of the harsh economy and would have to pay an additional N20,000 for the tuition of his two children in private schools, saying he has decided to withdraw them to Lagos public schools.
“The way out of this idea of increasing tuition fees at the beginning of every session, is for the government to intervene and build better schools. It is because of the situation in the country. Things are getting better in Lagos Government Schools .They have invested in infrastructure and even went to the extent of giving pupils shoes and other education materials.”
“Many pupils may be withdrawn from schools because of increment in tuition due the poor economy which is also affecting schools. We are in difficult times and schools are only reacting. Schools do not operate in isolation of the society. The same fuel, diesel and foodstuff are bought in the market.
“There is justification in the increment but it is going to have a negative effect on parents. People are being owed for months and businesses are folding up. The worst hit in the situation we found ourselves are students.”