SOS – Save Our Schools

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Edidiong Udobia

IMG-20150807-WA0015Perhaps, the greatest emphasis ever laid on education was in Tony Blair’s speech in October 1996, when he said “ask me my three main priorities for government, and I tell you: education, education, education.” Then, an American philosopher, John Dewey further added that “education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” Juxtaposing these two famous opinions, one can confidently say that education is a basic need for human survival. No matter how much emphasis is laid, certainly, the importance of education cannot be overemphasized.

In September 2012, the United Nations Secretary-General launched the GlobalEducation First Initiative (GEFI) to spurrenewed efforts to reach global education goals. The initiative focused on the following three priority areas; putting every child in school; improving the quality of learning and fostering global citizenship. In the words of the Secretary-General, “when we put Education First, we can reduce poverty and hunger, end wasted potential – and look forward to stronger and better societies for all.” These subtle words further underscore the importance of education to every society.

Also, UNESCO, UNDP, UNICEF and the World Bank launched the Education for All (EFA) movement at the World Conference on Education for All in 1990. EFA is a global commitment to provide quality basic education for all children, youth and adults. The target was to universalize primary education and massively reduce illiteracy by the end of the decade. However, ten years later, many countries were far from reaching the goal so in the year 2000, the international community met again in Dakar, Senegal and affirmed their commitment to achieving Education for All by the year 2015.IMG_20150729_122503

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As a perimeter to measure the success of EFA, the world bodies set the following six goals; expanding early childhood care and education; providing free and compulsory primary education for all; promote learning and life skills for young people and adults; increasing adult literacy; achieving gender parity and improving the quality of education. With less than 5months to the end of 2015, many countries, including Nigeria are still far from making any remarkable achievement in this regard.

For instance, according to the 11th Education for All Global Monitoring Report by UNESCO, “Nigeria’s education sector faces such able ak future that it will definitely not meet EFA’s Goals 1, 2and 4 by the year 2015”. The report further revealed that“ Nigeria is one of the only 15 countries projected to have fewer than 80 per cent of its primary school age children enrolled by 2015. In addition, Nigeria’s out-of-school population not only grew the most in terms of any country in the world since 2004-2005 by 4 million, but also had the 4th highest growth rate”.

Apparently worried by this trend, the Akwa Ibom State Government in 2009 introduced the free and compulsory education policy.  The people of the state received the news with so much ecstasy. For parents who could not afford basic education in the four walls of the class room for their wards due to lack of finances, the policy was a big relief. The state government even went further to sign the Child Rights Act into law, which made it criminal for any child to be denied basic education. However, today, the policy has become the biggest threat to quality basic education in public schools in the state.IMG-20150808-WA0005

Education is one thing while quality education is completely a different thing. The difference between the two is clearly captured in UNESCO’s EFA six goals, as goal II focuses on providing free and compulsory primary education for all, while goal VI focuses on improving the quality of education. Also, UN’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) focuses on three priorities areas with the first two being to “put every child in school” and to “improve the quality of learning”.

It is on record that prior to the advent of free and compulsory education in Akwa Ibom, public schools were partly managed with funds internally generated by the schools through PTA levies and other miscellaneous charges. But with the introduction of the policy, schools were prohibited from charging the students for any reason. Hence, public schools became completely dependent on the subvention from the government for its day to day running.

Investigations reveal that the subvention which is paid on the basis of three hundred naira (N300) per head (student) is hardly enough for the day to day running of schools even as the state government has not been consistent with the payment. It is reliable gathered that the situation is so bad that many school heads find it difficult to provide basic needs as little as chalk for their teachers. Alternatively, few concerned and well-meaning school heads have been forced to cater for some of their school’s primary needs with their personal money.

Recently, the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly passed a Bill prohibiting companies from advertising their products on schools’ fence under the guise of painting or beautification. But in their reactions, many school heads frowned at the law. According to them, since the schools cannot afford to paint the fence due to lack of funds, the companies should be commended for helping to give the schools a befitting outlook. They further opined that with the current state of things, maintenance of school facilities and infrastructures is no more an option for them.

A case study of MESCO

The lamentation of school heads apparently explains the reason behind the current infrastructural decay in many public schools in the state. Talking about infrastructural decay, one school that seems to be in the lead is Community Secondary School, Mkpat Enin (MESCO). Located a short distance from the Mkpat Enin local government Secretariat, the school occupies a massive landmass. The school which can literally be described as ‘a child of circumstance’ was established in 1978 by five communities of Mkpat Enin, IkotObio Akwa, Ikot Abai Ufon, Ikot Ekpe and Nnung Ukim in order to alleviate the sufferings of their children.

Narrating the history of the school recently, Chief Oku Charlie Akpan from Ikot Ekpe village, recalled that students from the five communities and other neighboring villages had to cover a distance of over 20km every school day to attend Regina Coeli College, Opobo Town (now Ikot Abasi). He said that besides the fact that some of their children who had to trek the long distance usually get tired by the time they get to school which made learning less interesting to them, the host community, the then Opobo Town was a hostile terrain.

“Because of how our children suffered, these five communities came together and decided to establish a school. Where the school is located now was a palm tree plantation so before we could build anything, we had to uproot the palm trees with our hands. If you look around, besides the classroom blocks and offices, you will see some uncompleted buildings which have never been used. Those were meant to be dormitories because our original plan was to build a boarding school but due to lack of funds, we had to suspend that plan and since then, nothing has been done about the school”.

Sadly, the school which was a toast in its heydays is now an eye sore. For instance, it is on record that in the past, Community Secondary School, Mkpat Enin was a school to beat in science and sports competitions. But today, the school has no single laboratory as all the buildings used for lab purposes have completely collapsed and overgrown by weeds. Presently, the school cannot boast of any sport facility. The present state of the school is very disheartening and it is said to be responsible for the recent fall in academic performance of the students, significant fall of student population and candidates for external examinations.

A team of newsmen visited the school during the just concluded May/June West African Senior School Certificate Examination. During the visit, which was on a rainy day, the team observed that while students were writing their examination, some were seen carrying umbrellas in order to prevent their sheets from being soaked by raindrops from the leaking roof, others scrambled for space anywhere the roof did not leak. Speaking to newsmen shortly after the examination, one of the students who pleaded unanimity, said “this is the best hall in our school that is why we are writing our exams here. When it rains our exam sheets are soaked.”IMG_20150729_122519

Another part of the school which is fast dilapidating is the staff quarters comprising a duplex and two bungalows. According to reports, the host communities made it mandatory for every principal posted to the school to reside permanently in the staff quarters and one section of the duplex was specially allocated to the principal. Besides proximity, this arrangement helped the principals have a close watch on the school and they were accessible to the public. It also helped reduce the level of criminal activities and vandalism within the school premises to the barest minimum. But with the recent development, the school could no longer maintain the quarters. Since then, what the school has been having are ‘visiting principals’ and without a good security system, the school had since become a choice destination for vandals and criminals.

The infrastructural decay in the school can be categorized into two grades; Grade A and Grade B. Grade A comprises structures that have completely collapsed like the School library, the Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Agric and Introductory technology laboratories. Others include the duplex in the staff quarters and some classroom blocks in both junior and senior sections. While Grade B comprises structures that are near collapse like the principal’s and vice principals’ offices, the staff room, school multi-purpose hall and the rest of the existing classroom blocks.

After all attempts by successive managements of the school to draw government attention to the situation have failed, the old students under the auspices of Old Students Association of MkpatEnin Community School (OSAMESCO), recently convened a meeting with school management and the five host communities. The historic meeting, which was the first of its kind since the creation of the school, had one agenda; to discuss and proffer solutions to the imminent collapse facing the school. In the words of the Interim Committee Chairman, OSAMESCO, Mr. Mbet Ekah, “this is a campaign to bring back our alma mater”.

IMG-20150808-WA0011In her address, the school principal, Mrs. Ima B. Umoh commended the old students for bringing all the stakeholders together in order to discuss matters concerning the school. Mrs. Umoh, who disclosed that she was recently posted to the school, lamented over the poor condition of the school, appealing for urgent intervention. She noted that besides the infrastructural decay, that there are other factors militating against the smooth administration of the school such as funding, vandalism and incessant criminal activities. She therefore solicited for the support of the government and other relevant stakeholders in order to help bring the school up to standard.

In the course of the meeting array of issues were discussed and various decisions were unanimously taken – these formed the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting. One of the most critical points in the communiqué was “that the school management, the host communities and the old students association will as a matter of urgency, write separate letters to the State Governor, Deacon Udom Emmanuel; the Commissioner for Education, Elder Aniekan Akpan; the Commissioner for Rural Development, Rt. Hon. (Barr.) Ekong Sampson; the member representing Mkpat Enin in the State House of Assembly, Hon. Otobong Ndem and the chairman, House Committee on Education, Rt. Hon. (Barr.) Onofiok Luke,  calling their attention to the deplorable state of the school and appeal for urgent government intervention through their offices.”

Sadly, Community Secondary School, Mkpat Enin is only one amongst the many public schools in the state facing this ugly tide. Considering the fact that the infrastructural decay in public schools worsened after the advent of the free and compulsory education, it is therefore pertinent that the present state government as a matter of urgency, reviews the policy with the aim of improving on it. The government must ensure that public schools are well funded in order for them to function at the maximum level. Most importantly, without bias, the government must identify every school that is facing imminent collapse and ensure a timely intervention. This is a distress call on the Government of Akwa Ibom State to save our schools.

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