It was a moment of emotional outbursts as students of Ojota Junior Secondary School, Ojota, Lagos State, relive their efforts at getting educated. ODIRI UCHENUNU-IBEH writes.
“If I had my way, I would stop going to school because everything about my classroom disgusts me. The floor is always dirty. The ceilings are falling down. There are no adequate seats in the classroom. I can barely hear what the teachers say while teaching us. We are so many in the class,” Eunice Bello, 11, lamented.
That might have explained why Bello performed poorly in her first term examination.
“My performance was so poor that my mother started crying. I have told my parents to please change my school, but because they have no money to send me to private school, I have to manage going to Ojota Junior Secondary School, (Ojota JSS), Lagos State,” the young girl lamented.
“When I was attending a private school, I could read and write. I could understand what my teachers were teaching me. But here at Ojota JSS, l barely hear myself. My classroom is always noisy, dirty and there are no enough seats. We are about 80 in the class. Once the teacher leaves, the class becomes a rowdy market.”
That is just a part of the whole picture.
From afar, this correspondent sights the ramshackle, often disorderly block of classrooms of Ojota JSS, which appears to be an abandoned building. The dilapidated building reeks of rancid stench. The floor of one of the classrooms filled with sand seems it has never tasted concrete. It is dirty looking, unkempt, occupied by decrepit furniture and a roof that looks ready to be blown away by the slightest thunderstorm.
Inside this mess, these young and supposedly tomorrow’s leaders are expected to learn in a modern Lagos.
The junior secondary school in one of the most popular places and along one of the busiest roads (Ikorodu Road) in Lagos is an eyesore for the self-styled mega city.
“Worse still, you need to see us (the pupils) whenever it rains. We all squeeze somewhere in the middle of the classroom,” Bello told LEADERSHIP.
Her desire is very simple: at least, a befitting face-lift for the school. That desire was roused when some officials from the Lagos State government visited the school.
“I was so excited,” the pupil explained, “when the government officials came to my school to inspect it. We learnt that very soon government will build a better school for us. I can’t wait to see that day come to pass.”
Bello is just one of the many pupils in the school learning in indignity.
Eleven-year-old James Simeon’s experience further illustrates the state of things in the school.
One day, young Simeon suddenly took ill and began to throw up. He explained why: “We were in the classroom that day and as I looked around I saw faeces on the floor. It made me sick.”
With a ceiling giving way under worn-out corrugated sheets, the pupils have to endure searing heat of the scorching sun which not even their teachers are spared of. They also face another element; that is the rain.
Veronica, a JSS 2 pupil said, “Our teachers leave immediately they finish teaching us. Despite the fact that our classrooms are half-way built, the sun produces intense heat, especially during the dry season.”
According to Veronica, the intense heat often results in many of the pupils dealing with “dry cough, rashes, and catarrh.”
“One of my classmates has asthma. He always finds it difficult to stay in the classroom because of the dusty, laid-bare floor. I pity him a lot. He cannot withstand the dust in the classroom. He is always rushed home most of the time (after suffering an asthma attack),” the pupil stated.
Veronica’s experiences echoed Bello’s angst. Her classroom’s roof is a leaky cover. Sometimes the pupils have to huddle in groups to avoid being fully drenched and to sometimes keep warm.
Her first time in the school was better imagined than experienced, having to deal with the stench of urine and that of faeces.
“Initially, when I got admission into JSS1,” Veronica recalls, “I could not eat in the class. This is because I would throw up. But now, I am used to the odour. Is it the smell of urine or that of faeces?”
Shrugging her shoulder, she adds, “It doesn’t bother me anymore!”
Pointing to a building just a stone throw away, Veronica discloses why she is no longer bothered by the squalid state of her classroom: “Because by September this year, I will be in JSS 3 and the building adjacent to my class will be my new class.”
If only the Lagos State government could build a new classroom or renovate the dilapidated ones, Ojota JSS would be one of the best schools in the state, says Mustapha Mohammed, a 13-year-old.
The JSS 3 pupil is looking at the bright side of the school.
“The reason I said that,” Mohammed tells LEADERSHIP, “is because our teachers are doing the best they can to teach us, even under terrible conditions.
“If the school is in good shape, I am sure they would like to stay with us in the classroom and monitor our progress.”
Money is the only obstacle preventing most of the pupils from leaving the public school for private ones, parents who spoke with LEADERSHIP on the condition of anonymity said.
Yet, they have not resigned to the so-called cruel fate of life. Rather than wait for the state government which primary responsibility is the security and welfare of its citizens, “We, as parents, have agreed to donate money for the revitalization of the school,” a representative of the parents says.
Very good intention but empty pockets have always been the albatross of many communities that seek to do what their government should do in the first place.
“But most of us have not been able to pay,” the parent’s spokesperson says. “We are, therefore, calling on the government to come to our aid. Please come and revamp Ojota JSS, so that our children can study in a conducive environment.”
It is a different tale for another school on the premises with Ojota JSS. Ojota Senior Secondary School, renovated by Zenith Bank Plc, boasts of dignified building, conducive classrooms, teaching aids and an ICT centre.
LEADERSHIP investigations and survey of some teachers in Ojota JSS revealed that since 2014, the management of the school has been writing to the state government for its “revitalization”.
Developmental Rights Of A Child
The impact of a highly effective learning environment on learning outcomes and academic performance cannot be overemphasized.
Hence, the reason why Article 6 of the convention on the rights of a child (CRC) recognizes that every child has the inherent right to life and all states or parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.
What this simply means, according to stakeholders at a two-day media dialogue on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) at 30, in Lagos, is that the survival rights of a child is the right to life and to have the most basic needs like adequate standard of living, shelter, nutrition and medical treatment are meant.
On the other hand, the development rights of a child means “the rights enabling children to reach their fullest potential like education, play and leisure, cultural activities, access to information and freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” as stated at the workshop.
Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF, Sharon Oladiji, said the principles enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the AU Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child was promulgated in Nigeria as the Child’s Rights Act, (CRA) in 2003.
Oladiji further pointed out that the CRA incorporates all the rights and responsibilities of children and specifies the duties and obligations of government, parents and other authorities, organizations and bodies.
For instance, Part II, Sections 3 to 18 entrenches the following fundamental rights for the child, like the rights to survival and development.
The UNICEF child specialist said: “It states that every government in Nigeria shall strive to ensure that every child is provided quality education and hygienic and sanitized environments, adequate nutrition and safe drinking water, combat diseases and malnutrition, support and mobilize through local and community resources and the development of primary health care for children.”
While education is the key to the future, the Oladiji explained that it all starts in the classroom. According to her, the classroom should be a place for play, learning and growth, adding that from there children develop skills they can use in adulthood.
“Every child deserves to learn in a conducive learning environment that poses no threat to their health and safety and enhances learning outcomes and academic performance,” Oladiji noted further. “All children, no matter where they live or what their circumstances, have the right to quality education.”
She, however, admitted that is not the case in “most public schools in Nigeria” where promising, less privileged students are subjected to “poor, hazardous and difficult learning conditions due to inadequate infrastructure”.
It is in view of the indignities committed against children that the Head of Child Rights Information Bureau at the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Olumide Osanyinpeju, said a comprehensive statement on children’s right that would be binding, under international law, became necessary.
Osanyinpeju also acknowledged the uphill task of bringing to fruition the total realization of children’s rights in the society, especially in rural areas where the majority of Nigerians live, adding that there is the need to protect the rights of children at the risk of deprivations of basic social benefits, in exploitative and difficult circumstances and even mortality.
He said, “We are thus at that point where we need to understand that lack of access to basic developmental, survival, protection and participatory needs is an infringement on the rights of a child. Thus, the need to ensure that children are empowered all round to take their pride of place in our society and the world at large.
“This is a realization that all children have a right to better life, an opportunity to survive, develop and reach their full potentials; and this can only be attained by upholding the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There is growing evidence that investing in our children would ensure national development because the future of any nation lies in the hands of the future generation.
As the nation prepares for the commemoration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child November 30, Osanyinpeju called on stakeholders to focus on promoting all opportunities that will help children to attain their full potential.
He urged the media to promote the rights of the child and to stimulate government at all levels to take deliberate and decisive action in formulating polices on the CRA and ensure the implementation by states yet to adopt and domesticate it into law, enhancing the rights and well-being of the Nigerian child.
Lagos State government responded to the squalid standards of infrastructure of Ojota JSS 1, 2 classrooms.
The Deputy Director, Public Affairs in Lagos State Ministry of Education, Adesegun Ogundeji, said one of the state government’s policies is to make teaching and learning conducive for teachers and students.
Ogundeji told LEADERSHIP that officials from the ministry had visited the school, identified the problem of poor infrastructure.
According to him, a report had been written and recommendations were made on the best interventions for the school.
The school children can now eagerly look forward to seeing their school take a new look. But such eagerness must be tempered with Ogundeji’s response regarding when the renovation would take place.
“It is at the stage of government’s approval and availability of fund, so that we can then award the project to contractors and work can begin,” said Ogundeji.