We are really suffering. In the hostel, there is no light and the toilet is not in good condition. We are facing some problems in the sickbay. There is not enough drugs to offer to the sick students and they won’t let us go home to be treated. And also, in the dining hall, the food is not enough and they cancel too much tables and let us to go without food. The food is watery and tasteless and sometimes we see things inside it but we eat it like that. That is better than soaking garri. In JSS2 block, the classes do not have windows and doors. The ceiling is rotten and sometimes we don’t even have chair in the classroom. There is no fan and good regulator because it is not usually secured. During prep time, there is no bulb in the class and sometimes the generator usually have problem. Sometime there is no good generator and the scarcity of diesel in the school. (Musa, 13)
The excerpt above was taken from the student diary of a secondary school student in a Unity school located in a state capital. The situation is even worse in regular public schools and LEA schools in both rural and urban communities. I have several other student diaries from the students with very similar complaints and horrific things I cannot even write about here.
There is nothing normal about children sitting on the floors or under the scorching sun to learn or going days without food. Students are at risk every day and face near death experiences sitting under collapsing and dilapidated buildings in schools. This is not an exaggeration. There is an issue of both quantity and quality of facilities available in schools. Even with the clearly unsafe physical structures, in most schools, these structures are not nearly sufficient to accommodate the student population and so students have their classes in alternative locations like under the tree and other open spaces. For a more comprehensive analysis of the state of school facilities and issues of education quality in Nigeria, you can read a report from EDOREN Nigeria here.
The sad part about what I have described above is it is taken as “normal” and the way things are both at the school level and at a policy level. At the policy level, when questioned about these issues, stakeholders repeatedly mention the issue of insufficient funding, low budgetary allocations as well as diversion of funds as major challenges. This explanation is not as simplistic as it sounds but involves a very complex politicised process which makes positive change in this direction almost impossible to attain. But again, what I am concerned with is the normalisation, overlook of these issues, misplacement of priorities and a ready “excuse” for problems. No Funding = poor infrastructures and life goes on. For stakeholders who are genuinely concerned about these issues, there is a feeling of hopelessness about any glimpse of progress in the Nigerian education sector. An education policy maker I spoke to sometime ago said, “I really do not know where we will start from with the education issues in Nigeria. Where exactly please? No matter what you do, you find yourself at square one.”
Everyone finds a coping strategy to deal with these problems. At the school level, students have found several ways to deal with the problems they are faced with in the school. If there is no food in the dining hall, they drink garri and survive on their “provisions” for days. Girls are pressured to engage in illicit affairs with boys/teachers who can provide food from outside the school or sneak out of the school premises under disguise just to look for something decent to eat. If there are no toilets, students ease themselves in nearby bushes. Parents see these glaring problems when they take their children to school but say, “it is part of learning, when you come home, you will eat well.” Because of this kind of attitude, these problems may not be tackled quickly. I am therefore not necessarily raising awareness about these issues because we know them too well but I am concerned with questioning our response and attitude.
If you are a student reading this, this is to tell you that several things not in place. Do not accept it as the way things are or look for ways to “manage” and endure it. Speak up and ask questions about issues that affect your welfare in school. If education is a global right, quality education must be the focus.
We need to stop looking for alternatives and cushions to deal with the issues. Parents, question the school authorities, do not just take your children to school leaving them in nearly collapsing building because that is what is available. Teachers and principals, question the education boards about the state of facilities in the schools. Do not accept appointments and teach in classes when things are clearly not in place. Hold the government accountable. Nothing is changing because everyone is complaining but at the same time looking for ways to cope in the midst of the problems rather than actively engaging stakeholders and authorities responsible for creating change.
Inside Public School Series is written by Noelle Omesham Oputa. A PhD student at SOAS, University of London also a Gender, education and Child protection Activist