• Enugu primary school where pupils and lizards study together
FROM ALOYSIUS ATTAH, ONITSHA
The community is Nkerefi in Nkanu East Local Government Area, Enugu State, but their middle name is ‘suffering and underdevelopment’ owing to government neglect and the poverty ravaging the people. While it is acknowledged in the famous quote of Francis Bacon that “knowledge is power,” that power is yet to be tasted, muchless enjoyed, by the people of this area, as far as education is concerned.
A recent visit by the Education Review to Nkerefi only served to remind you of that famous song from the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti: ‘Suffering and Smiling.’ To visit Nkerefi is to be ready to weep for what the people of the area are passing through to acquire basic education. While they have been accustomed to their inaccessible roads that have reduced them to motorcycle riders since cars and vehicles do not ply their roads during the rainy season, a visit to two schools that serve the vast population of the four communities that make up the town is tear-provocative.
Some of the common denominators that bind the two schools together include dilapidated structures, shortage of teachers, non-availability of school desks and other teaching aids. At Igwebuike Primary School, Ohuani Nkerefi, schoolchildren study in a structure that can best be described as “a tragedy waiting to happen.”
The building, the reporter was told, used to be the staff quarters to some menial labourers during the colonial era but was later converted to classroom blocks. In the school, cracked walls, leaking roofs and broken floors serve as prominent and permanent features.
Lizards have a field day
Lizards and other rodents have a field day running around the classrooms and premises. In fact, from the crevices on the cracked walls they, sometimes, struggle for attention with the school pupils. They nod their heads in agreement as teachers pass some information and knowledge to their pupils. At other times, they distract the pupils’ attention by engaging themselves in hide-and-seek during school hours.
As part of its efforts to remedy the ugly situation, the community commenced the construction of a classroom block but along the line, shortage of funds crippled the project and the structure collapsed after some years.When the reporter visited the school, he discovered that goats from the community have also converted the structures into a place of rest after grazing. In the process, they litter the place with their droppings.
Painting a graphic picture of their predicament, the Head Teacher of the school, Ogbuefi Felicia, voiced out their frustrations this way: “When I was posted to this school as Head Teacher in 2012, I met the buildings in terrible condition. Since then, I have written several letters to the state education authorities through the local government and also met with the traditional ruler of this community and some stakeholders in Nkerefi about the condition of the school.
“There is no classroom block. What we are using here is the former staff quarters built before Nigeria’s independence. We are suffering from lack of classroom blocks, teachers and desks but I thank the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) of the school. When I came, the children were sitting on bare floor but it was the PTA that made the few desks here available. There are no tables and desks for the teachers but our major problem is provision of adequate classroom blocks.
“We also lack adequate manpower here. I used to have six teachers working with me but through transfers, five of them were moved out while three were moved in. Out of the three transferred in, one is seriously ill, leaving me to boast of only three teachers at present handling nine classes from ECC (Early Child Care) 1 to 3 to Primary 1 to 6 with more than 200 children.
“For now, one teacher combines Early Child Care 1, 2, 3 and Primary 1, the other one handles Primary 2 and 3 classes while the third teacher handles Primaries 4 and 5. I also hold the chalk not minding the fact that I’m the Head Teacher; so I teach Primary 6.”
Urgent appeal for government help
At this juncture, the head teacher handed out words of appeal to the government: “Let the government come and assist us because we need their help in many areas, especially in the area of provision of infrastructures. The roof of the classroom is very low to the extent that as the sun shines, it now falls directly on our heads. Under such condition, we cannot have effective teaching and learning. When it rains, we also run for cover. In addition, we have the problem of insufficient staff. If government could assist us in these areas, I would be happy.”
But in the midst of the glaring deficiencies, the pupils still find time to enjoy themselves as they run out of the classrooms to engage themselves in different plays and games the moment the bell for break time/ recreation is sounded. A Primary 5 pupil, who identified himself as Kelechi told the reporter that he has never seen a computer in his lifetime though he hopes to leave the village someday to further his education in the city so as to become an engineer, his dream profession.
At Enuovuvu Comprehensive Secondary School, Nkerefi, it was the same sad story when the reporter visited. Only two out of a six-classroom block constructed for the students are in use at present because four other classes have broken down while there are fears that the entire building may collapse completely during the next rainy season. The school has no functional science laboratory or library while students loiter about at the mercy of few teachers whose morale is also dampened. Though the Principal of the school, Mr. Chukwu C. O, was not around, on the day thatEducation Review called, an English language teacher, Igwe Arinze, gave a glimpse of the situation.
“As you can see, the block was built but due to one or two reasons, the part that we are not using now collapsed about five years ago,” he remarked. “It’s been like this since then and we fear it is almost coming down completely. The building is dilapidated while there is no government presence in our school. The materials and textbooks are not here too but we still try to cope with the situation though it has not been easy. We also lack teachers because I’m the only English teacher here while there is a corps member assisting, at present.”
Community leaders lament their plight
A stakeholder in Nkerefi, Hon. Joel Nwegbo, National Assistant Secretary, Ohuana Amofu Development Union, one of the autonomous communities in Nkerefi added his voice to the common lamentation when he said: “Seven years ago, the school was built, but look at the situation we are facing. The building and everything in the structure show that it was constructed with substandard materials.
The students now have no other option than to run for their safety by abandoning the classrooms and even the parents have withdrawn most of their children here. The signs have been there for a long time but no help is coming from anywhere.”
Christopher Njoku, former Public Relations Officer, Nkerefi General Assembly, and member of Imoha Autonomous community also said: “We are neglected in Imeoha autonomous community, Nkerefi. Whatever developmental project you see here, if any, came about as a result of communal efforts. We have never seen any assistance from government except in 2000 when they brought electricity but today it is not functional. The building that was supposed to be the classroom block was initiated by us but all our efforts for the government to assist us complete the project has not yielded any fruit.”
Psychologist, on the effects of learning under non-conducive environment
A clinical psychologist, Dr. Franklin Onyejekwe, in a chat with Education Review warned that such situation has both medical and psychological consequences on the lives of the schoolchildren.
“Performance is affected by the environment. Home background also has effect on academic performance,” he warned. “For example, Graetz and Goliber (2003) summarized a research in which it was discovered that overheated spaces breed hostility while high student density is linked with low student performance/achievement. Most of our schools have no light, no sufficient facilities, no sick bay and no ventilation. Under these conditions, the health of the students including the teachers may be adversely affected which will in turn reflect on the students’ performance. Let the Government of Enugu State and other states still toying with educational infrastructure declare a state of emergency in that sector.”
Help is coming soon, says Enugu Education Commissioner
When Education Review contacted the Commissioner for Education in Enugu State, Prof. Amaechi Okolo, he offered hope that the government’s critical intervention in the education sector in the state will go round the 472 communities in the state. He added that those who have not received attention like Nkerefi should not only be patient but also write a formal letter presenting their requests to the government.
“We are aware of the problems in some schools and we have made a vow that no school will be neglected,” he said. “I came on board in 2013 and first discovered that some projects that were supposed to have been executed since 2009 were abandoned. It was a big setback but we had to face the task squarely. In 2014, we commenced the renovation and building of modern classrooms with desks and furniture in 493 schools in the state. The project is ongoing and very soon, we are working hard to access our UBEC money tied down in Abuja to the tune of N3 billion and I want to assure you that every community will be reached.
“I will like the schools in Nkerefi to do its own work by reporting to me and we shall send our monitors to evaluate their claims. In 2014, Governor Chime approved that all secondary schools in the state be upgraded but my appeal is for the people to have patience with us. We have not reached all the communities yet, but our target is that all will receive the touch of government. The summary is that we are addressing all the issues systematically and must get positive results. Have patience, we are coming.”