Friday the 3rd of June, 2016 was just another day and it had been a busy one at work for me. So here I was exhausted and on my way home. I carried my hand bag on one shoulder and my lap top bag with all my working tools heavily on the other shoulder. I matched down the stairs walking all the way from the third floor. Just when I stepped outside; I caught a glimpse of secondary school students marching towards my office building in a protest. This was a warning sign that something was seriously wrong…I mean I can’t remember the last time students in secondary school took to the streets in protest. So I had to wait a while to be sure it was even safe to step outside the gate even though their grievance was not targeted towards me or other people on the street.
Finally they gathered at the gateand angry chants about the new state government policy to have a public-private ownership of some of their schools (Public schools). These children felt that their parents would not be able to afford the fees when this policy goes through. In fact many of their parents who work in the public service have not been paid their salaries for months. And rightly so in my own opinion this new policy would definitely affect the number of children of low income earners who gets the privilege of been educated.
This protest was to be the first one, as on Monday the 6th June, 2016 more students joined the protest.This time some leaders of the Nigerian Labour Congress(NLC), Oyo state chapter where in custody of the Police over an alleged disruption of a stakeholders meeting held with concerned government officials on the matter of the new policy. As far as a number of people were concerned it was simply an attempt by government to shelve their responsibility towards the people on education.
The protest became somewhat destructiveas students were alleged to have attacked some government buildings. Right now Public Schools in the state have been closed down to prevent further escalation of the conflict.
It is worrisome that half the time the school year calendar timetable of public schools are disrupted and spent dealing with one crisis or the other between the state government and teachers or Labour Union. Pupils supposed to be in school are loafing around and getting engaged in truancy.
How did we even get here? The question is, do we want “our children” to really get an education? Our founding fathers left legacies that we are still all benefiting from, why can’t we consolidate on providing something much better.
I look at many institutions that had been established over many decades, structures of these buildings have endured the test of time over the years. Ask our generation and those that are behind to construct an institution that is meant to serve generations yet unborn and we come up with buildings that soon begin to crumble/crash.
Education is one non -negotiable legacy we must continue to give to generation after generation. It should be made affordable and accessible to all. Children should be in school and not on the streets protesting!
Which way Oyo State?Would our public schools become in-affordable to many children and their parents? It is not about what is convenient but about making the right sacrifice now so that we can have a better future.
All Children matter; no matter their level in the social strata
It is a school day; teachers were having a hard time controlling the large number of students they had to teach per class. Many of the students hardly pay attention; some don’t even show up for classes. The teachers have their hands full coping with over 120 students in each class. It is a herculean task, exhausting and emotionally draining experience each day. Added to the task of educating these children are many cases of juvenile delinquencies. One of the teachers of a public school whom I would call, Mrs Terry had just finished a lesson and walked towards the staff room to take a quick break before her next class. She sat down at her table trying to catch her breath. The throbbing on her temple reminded her she was yet to take her breakfast. Underneath her desk was a food flask sitting comfortably in a small basket with a bottle of water. Mrs Terry picked up her flask and the bottle water; wiping the spoon on her skirt to clean up any likely dust that must have settled on it. The cement floor of the staff room was badly broken and only traces of it was left; the floor was very dusty and sandy. She began to munch the jollof rice she had brought from home.
Other staff members who had just finished their lessons too soon started walking into the staff room. There were murmurings and exclamations about the nonchalant attitudes of their students with many only able to communicate in the indigenous language. How was a teacher supposed to teach subjects in the English language; how would they even be able to write and pass the WAEC (West African Examinations Council) at the end of the day? Mrs Terry in between eating her food replied that the children’s daily drama was bad enough without any display from their parents. Barely had the words gone out of her mouth when a student whom I would call Deborah walked with her mother matching in behind her looking very angry. They both matched straight to Mrs Terry’s table. Other teachers exchanged that knowing amusing look; another drama of a parent defending their wards blindly was about to unfold. Deborah’s mother pointing accusing fingers at Mrs Terry demanded to know why her well behaved daughter had been labelled as being pregnant. She pounced to the left and to the right calling on the name of God and sending curses the way of the guilty teacher. Mrs Terry was not perturbed; it wasn’t the first time she would be faced with such angry parents who protected their children to a fault.
She braced up herself and faced mother and daughter squarely explaining why she suspected Deborah might be pregnant. Mummy Deborah screamed and explained in no few words about how they were a very religious family; how her daughter even led the morning prayers and Bible reading. Not only was that, she was the daughter of a pastor! Mrs Terry smiled in sympathy then Deborah was asked to lie down on a desk in other to show her mum proof that she was actually pregnant. By this they meant signs that a young girl was pregnant. It is said that some women can discern whether someone is pregnant even if it is a few days old. In the midst of questioning, Deborah confessed to being pregnant and her mum almost fainted. Deborah further revealed that a fellow school girl who was more experienced had taken her to see a Baba(Spiritualist) to hang the pregnancy. In scenarios like this the spiritualist does something to ensure that the stomach of the pregnant woman or girl doesn’t shoot out until very late in pregnancy. I don’t know how this works but I am told that these things actually do happen. This time Mummy Deborah was surely going to faint; she stood muted and shocked. Teacher’s then began to counsel her on how to best help her daughter through this.
Deborah’s story is just one case out of many school girls who get pregnant while in school. Many of them end up dropping out of school while others struggle to continue a midst the distraction of nursing a bay. Another example was a JSS2 school girl whose mother comes to the school at noon every day to request that she be released to go and breastfeed her baby at home. The circle continues as this young mother might end up dropping out of school and soon her daughter might also get pregnant while in JSS2 or 3 too. Teachers of these public/government schools(with exceptions of the bad examples) do their best in trying to mentor their students particularly the girls but not much can be achieved when they have to deal with over 120students per class. Many times also parents are not willing to collaborate with teachers in making a success of their daughter or son’s education.
There have been incidences of parents like Deborah’s mom coming to slap or beat a teacher and nobody is charged for assault. A story is told of a teacher who was actually thrown down the stairs by an angry parent. She spent months in the hospital with a broken leg and nothing was done about the guilty parent. As a result of incidences like these teachers in public schools decide to mind their business, mostly just doing the job as best as they can. They simply refuse to stick their necks out to go the extra mile. I’m told that teachers even have to make certain daring statements in order to protect themselves against student’s assault. A teacher who was posted to a notorious public school on her first day had to state categorically that she was a no nonsense woman. How did she do this? She told them that she heard that some of them had knives and guns they used to harass teachers with. She then told them that she was married to a soldier and also owned a gun which she was willing to use on anyone who dares harass her. After that declaration her job of teaching the students with their cooperation became easy. Now this might be going to the extreme but that’s her own way of protecting herself. It’s important to remember that majority of the lower class and some middle class send their children to public schools thus a large number of juvenile problems the society would have to deal with.
No wonder then the high rate of teenage pregnancies that occur in our public schools;
No wonder the many dropouts;
No wonder many young drug addicts produced by these public schools.
What then is the way forward? There should be continues forum between teachers and parents to enable them discuss their concerns; Girls and Boys should be sensitized the more about the importance of education to their future and proper behaviour in school. The bulk stops on the government’s table. Serious attention should be given to education at the primary and secondary level. Many public schools lack the necessary infrastructure to provide an enabling learning environment. Government should also protect the rights of teachers in these settings. It is not right to have to work in an environment one feels unsafe. Policies should be put in place to address these issues. What other measures should be taken in order to have girls and boys give an undivided attention to education and to make school safe for all?
Meaning of Words:
Jollof Rice – Popular Rice dish in Nigeria and other African counties- Its recipe include Tomato sauce, pepper,vegetable oil and other garnishing depending on ones choice
WAEC – West African Examinations Council (Student gets a secondary/high school certificate)
JSS – Junior Secondary School ( Junior class in secondary schools)
“A woman, a girl in whatever country, there are expectations and there are scripts that society writes that needs to be followed. My parents made me see that the world is open for a lot of possibilities if I work hard”. Addis T.Yallew