For those, who attended primary school when the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme was introduced, nothing could be heart-warming than the experience of those good old years. It was perhaps, the golden era in which government’s attempt to make basic education available to Nigerians went beyond mere rhetoric and political claptrap.
I attended primary school when new school blocks were built, when quality textbooks and exercise books were supplied free of charge to children of the rich and the poor alike. It was an era when teaching and learning aides were supplied to schools irrespective of whether they were located in townships or in villages.
It was Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo that introduced the policy and some Nigerians who occupy strategic positions in government and business today owe their success to the opportunity offered by the UBE programme. That was many years ago.
For the avoidance of doubt, the major goals of primary education are to achieve basic literacy and numeracy amongst pupils, as well as establish foundations in science, mathematics and other social sciences.
As expected, primary education is provided in schools, where children are taught in steadily advancing classes until they complete it and move on to high school or secondary school. Children are usually placed in classes with one teacher who is primarily responsible for their education and welfare for that year.
This teacher may be assisted to varying degrees by specialist teachers in certain subject area often music and or physical education. The continuity with a single teacher and the opportunity to build up a close relationship with the class is a notable feature of the primary education system.
To achieve the stated goals requires a manageable pupil/teacher ratio. In Nigeria and other sub-Saharan countries, the ratio of 30 to 39 pupils per teacher has been adopted.
Traditionally, various forms of corporal punishments were integral part of early education but the practice had come under attack, especially by wealthy parents who considered spanking as a taboo.
In sub-Saharan Africa, school fees consumed nearly a quarter of a poor family's income. Such payments also include indirect fees such as Parent-Teacher Association and community contributions, textbook fees, compulsory uniforms and other charges. Fees kept school children out of the classrooms.
But with the Millennium Development Goals initiated by the United Nations, especially Goal 2, member countries were expected to ensure that by 2015, children including boys and girls complete a full course of primary education. As part of measures to achieve this, the Federal Government of Nigeria launched the Universal Basic Education and fess where abolished by state governments and the Federal Capital Territory Administration.
But ending school fees has not provided the magic wand as the surge in enrolment has thrown enormous challenges to the entire learning infrastructure, from the physical building, to the class size, to the teachers.
This week, our team of reporters consisting of Catherine Agbo, Nanna Selkur and Rose Ada went back to primary schools, not to be enrolled though, but to see how far the forces of change have impacted on the schools which serve as the springboard for child development and character molding. The reports sent in are worrisome. The objective was to find out how primary education is faring in the FCT which is the nucleus of governance in Nigeria.
This is with the hope that the results of findings in the FCT would mirror the reality in far flung parts of the country. Come with us as we take this excursion into the womb of education in Nigeria as we present to you:
The Triumph, the Pains and Tears of Primary Education in the FCT
Locating the Local Education Authority (LEA) Primary School, Narai, Karu should ordinarily be an easy task. But that’s not the case.
Right in front of the gates, commercial transport operators park their vehicles barely leaving space for one to drive into the school. The sign-post that should direct a visitor into the school is partially covered by lowered branches from a tree, while traders and transport operators, who compete for space to do their businesses, block the other half. Pupils and teachers literarily push and shove in order to gain access to the school.
The school, which has perhaps produced prominent citizens, was established in 1942. At the time it was established, there might have been no market or motor park located in the area. But today, ubiquitous traders, drivers, touts and sundry criminals have like tsetse flies, pitched dangerously by the school premises and even taken over parts of its right of way.
When a visitor steps through the mass of goods strewn on the ground and humans milling round the gates, he is greeted by a neat premises. But this is just a camouflage. Pupils are seen passing urine behind a block of classrooms and this appears to be the tradition, as stench oozes into the Assistant Headmaster’s office.
The school playground is also nothing to write home about. What used to be a swing is a caricature of some sorts and a see-saw that almost fell on some of the pupils who tried to play with it. To complete the circle of decay, the football field is bare with no grass or any sign or markings to show that it could be used in playing football.
It is not different with the classes, as there are no markings indicating the class, administrative block, library and other offices, as is the case in other schools.
The headmaster, Mallam Madiu Lapai, who spoke with LEADERSHIP, said the school has a population of 1227 pupils consisting of 665 females and 562 males with 47 teaching staff and eight non-teaching staff in a ratio of 26 pupils to a teacher.
Lapai, who would not discuss the challenges of the school, however, said the teachers have been giving their best in the service of their fatherland.
He said the Local Education Authority recently provided some textbooks which were distributed to the pupils. However, he noted the school needed more instructional materials but to ensure that pupils are given the best form of instruction, teachers improvised teaching aides.”Our teachers make the best of what is available and sometimes improvised,” he said.
On why sporting facilities were so scanty, the head teacher said land was a problem in the FCT. According to him, it was difficult to create a proper sporting grounds in the school etched on a rocky terrain.
However, an executive member of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, who spoke to Leadership, said LEA teachers were not owed salary arrears. But the union leader decried the disparity between LEA teachers and others hired under the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).
According to him, many of the LEA teachers were yet to receive their monetisation arrears and were also being owed 40 per cent of the 32 months rent subsidy, as well as six months arrears of the last salary increment by President Goodluck Jonathan. She lamented, “LEA teachers receive salary late while our counterparts in UBEC receive theirs promptly.”
If the story of the LEA Primary School is pathetic, then that of the LEA Orozo is even more pathetic. The school, which was established in 1979, is located along an express way. It has a population of 800 pupils with about 40 in a class and 29 teaching staff. A breakdown of the pupil population gives an average of 27 pupils per a teacher. But this is again a camouflage. It was observed that due to the limited number of structures in the school, two classes were merged resulting in 80 pupils cramped into a poorly ventilated classroom.
Perhaps the government was aware of the hardship faced by the school and awarded a contract for the construction of more classrooms. The contract has gone awry. Speaking on the deplorable condition of the learning environment in the school, a staff who pleaded anonymity said the school authority was compelled to merge some classes when construction work on the new block of classrooms started. He lamented that the contractor had left the project site since October 2010 and has not retruned.
Like his counterpart in Karu, the staff complained about the preferential treatment given UBE teachers against the LEA teachers, who he said have served for upward of 20 years.
LEA Orozo, just like many other public primary schools in the FCT has no sporting facilities, no garden and a playground. But one of our reporters who had visited the school sometime in 2010 observed that there were improvements in sanitation and general outlook of the school.
In 2010, when LEADERSHIP visited, the school was not fenced and so it became thoroughfare for residents of the area and a refuse dump. A pupil who spoke to our correspondent said residents of the area still flung bags of refuse into the school premises.