Educating Nigeria’s Children
Nigeria is home to over 10 million out-of-school children. VeryLoudYouth’s Tolu George takes a look at the people and policies that affect primary and secondary education in parts of Lagos state, Nigeria. The following report is compiled from his interviews.
Students in Public School
Goodness Chukwuemeka is one out of hundreds of thousands of students who attend public school in Lagos. At 16, Goodness had to repeat her first year of Senior Secondary School (SS1), because she failed mathematics. From a poor family of six, with a father who sells provisions and a mother who makes a living from selling pap, Goodness has to attend public school because her parents cannot afford the fees for a private school.
‘We have qualified teachers, but, they only teach students who sit in front of the class.’ She says. ‘The rest strain to hear the teacher’s voice. It’s a public school. Teachers here do not care whether you live or die. No chairs, nothing to sit on. Chalk boards are not good. It is really horrible in the school.’
Another student, Blessing Ekundayo, 14 came to Lagos from her native Kogi state (in 2010) to assist her aunt. Blessing attends a public school close to her house. She says she’s attending a public school because her mother does not have the funds to send her to a private school. Every three days, Blessing fetches an average of 20 gallons of water — from a distance of about 200 feet from her aunt’s house — and takes care of her aunt’s three children. She is not deterred by the (at times) excessive chores. Last term, she came 3rd in a class of 56 students.
In Blessing’s class, students sit on the floor. She struggles with seven people to sit on a bench meant for three people. Although Blessing does not have the required textbook for the new term (her guardians refused to buy her textbooks), she wants the government to provide good toilets, good classrooms, chalk-board dusters, and markers for learning.
Private schools in Lagos
An alternative for most poor students like Blessing and Goodness may be to attend a “one-building” private school. School fees in these small private schools are not as expensive as that of standard private schools. The average one-building private school costs N13, 000 per term and can be better furnished than public schools. However, the quality of teachers at these schools may not be comparable to those in the public schools. This is because many private school teachers have only completed a Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination or SSCE — usually taken in the last year of Secondary School. And some are not approved or regulated by the government.
Moyin Olayinka, now a student of Yaba College of Technology, attended Sesam International School — a school which operates in two 2-bedroom flats. Moyin does not feel that going to a school as small as hers had any negative effects on her academics. According to her, many of her classmates gained admission into university. That they had a small building did not stop the proprietor from employing good teachers. She believes that schools like hers should not be destroyed until the government has ensured a high level of education standards and infrastructure in public schools.
Shoyinka Peter is principal of St. Apex College in Alagbado, a rural area on the outskirts of lagos. Even though he has 10 years of experience teaching at a local secondary school, Shoyinka does not have all the qualifications necessary to be a teacher — he has only just gained university admission to study political science. He does however, believe that he is much better than his counterparts in the public sector. He says, ‘I have met public school teachers that call themselves graduates. These people can’t defend common topics. They give notes to students to copy, they don’t go to class to teach.’ He continues, ‘But, teachers in private schools like mine teach because there is a passion to help the children.’
Mr. Felix Komolafe owns a private school in Lagos. Armed with three degrees in Education, which includes a degree from a teacher training college, Felix set up Komfex School in 1996. He says, ‘I established this school because I want to influence lives and build young people to become functional members of the society in all professions.’ Still, Komfex school may not be conducive for learning — the school is located in an uncompleted building. He claims however, to employ qualified teachers. ‘I have graduates who work for me. Out of 36 staff teaching here, I have 25 graduates working. In fact, I have a teacher who has a second degree working here.’
Felix believes that schools like his are necessary. ‘I believe we stand as mediators between the rich and the poor,’ he says. ‘Some people do not want their children to attend public schools, yet they do not have enough money to send their children to private school. My school is just acting as an intermediary, and I can say boldly that we are doing more than those schools collecting high amounts.’
Teachers in the Public sector
Living on a meagre salary and three children to care for, Mrs. Olayinka — who lost her husband some years back — insists that her teaching experience has been helpful in raising her children. She believes a teacher’s motivation should never be compensation. ‘I consider teaching a very good profession. But, here in Nigeria, it is a relegated profession,’ she said. ‘If I say because the government is not paying well then I won’t teach very well, that would be wrong. If I teach these students well, God will reward me.’
Mrs. Olayinka commented on unprepared teachers and families too. ‘Some teachers are lazy,’ she points out. ‘You can imagine a teacher skipping syllabus… most teachers see topics that are very difficult and instead of researching on it, they skip it.” She continues with a sigh, “Some students wait until it is time for exams before they read their books, some party too much, and some have to hawk their parent’s wares. Some students are so poor that they have to do menial jobs before coming to school in the morning.”
On the role of parents and government, Mrs. Olayinka says, ‘Some parents don’t buy books for their children, some don’t buy food, and others deliberately let their children sleep at late hours.’ She continues, ‘The fault may even be that of the government who put 400 students in a room as small as a kitchen. How about families that do not speak English? How do you want the children to understand what is being taught them in class?’
Mrs. Radison Faka holds a National College of Education (NCE) certificate in English and teaches at a public school in Alakuko, a rural area on the outskirts of Lagos. She believes that the government can do a lot more for public schools. ‘What the government can do, is build more classrooms so that we can follow the UNESCO standard of 50 students each in a class, which will allow for effective teaching and learning. In my own class, for instance, there are 57 students and I share a classroom with another teacher.’
Mrs. Abosede Otun, a former head teacher of a public primary school now Special assistant to the Lagos state Governor on Primary education agrees that there are issues in public schools. When asked about the the lack of furniture and space at some of the schools, she said. ‘Yes, they get bad frequently. This is because children play a lot. They jump on these benches and chairs and break them. I can tell you authoritatively that the government gives money to schools for these repairs. The schools, therefore, do not have to wait until the government comes to fix everything. They can take the little money allocated to them to fix the ones they can fix, but you find that most of them don’t.’
Conclusion and Policy/Program Suggestions
From the interviews, it is clear that infrastructure and teacher preparedness is largely taken for granted. While teachers at the public school report that their chairs and tables had been destroyed (during the elections), it did not appear that classrooms had many safe furniture even before the elections. And no one bothered to report the damages until we showed up asking questions.
More questions arise about the quality of teachers, and about teacher salaries. According to Mrs. Otun, teachers make on average, N54,000 per month. That is about $250 every month — almost $4000 less than their American counterparts.
On the matter of teacher qualification, a well structured professional development program for public and private school teachers can go a long way. Also, programs and regulations aimed at improving student learning should target teachers, students, and families. Below are some examples:
- A well funded exchange program where highly qualified applicants (all public school teachers) swap places with equally qualified private school teachers.
- A program where students at high performing schools are offered scholarships or academic stipends for peer tutoring at select schools during long breaks.
Further, schools should provide a conducive environment for learning. Salaries, even, if small, must be paid as promised. Parents and guardians play a strong role too. Private/Social collaborations can create programs to help parents understand concepts important to developing the whole child; like health and mental health, safety and socio-emotional needs, learning disabilities, and so on.
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