Few days before the Children’s Day – the only day particularly set aside to honour children and lay emphasis on their education – Saturday PUNCH set out to seek the experiences of pupils in some schools in some rural areas. Of course, school children in rural areas usually have experiences that are different from their urban counterparts.
The journey took our correspondent to Ifo Local Government Area of Ogun State.
At Olayemi Village, located few kilometres from Lisa, the site of the 2005 Bellview plane crash, St. Saviour’s Anglican Primary School stands in the middle of a forest.
St. Saviour’s is a two-block primary school. The two blocks have three classrooms that can best be described as sheds, and a decrepit headmaster’s office.
The teachers’ offices are in each of the classrooms – a corner with a table and chair.
A commercial motorcycle, who took our correspondent through the thick forest that led to the school, had to stop about 50 meters to the school.
The reason was obvious, getting to the school had to be done on foot because every space surrounding blocks of classrooms was overgrown with a forest of grasses as high as four feet.
Crossing from where the motorcycle stopped to the front of the blocks required a lot of will power.
Something becomes immediately obvious to any visitor to St. Saviours – the scanty number of students and teachers.
But a teacher soon enlightened our correspondent on the reason for this.
“Do you think any teacher would want to come here? Even many parents around here avoid this school and prefer to take their children to schools in the nearest big town,” he said.
Those who do not have the wherewithal to take their children to schools far from the area are the ones who bring their children to St. Saviour’s.
The teachers at the school would not speak on record and the headmistress had left for the Ministry of Education in Abeokuta.
In Ogun, teachers are not authorised to speak on record to the press without an authorisation from the State Universal Basic Education Board.
The classrooms at St. Saviour’s are merely rudimentary. They look at least 40 years old.
The walls of the building housing Basic Kne and kindergaten pupils has a gaping crack on it, revealing the mud bricks under the coat of age-old cement.
The roof is a tattered mess of rusty roofing sheets that has numerous holes through which sunlight stream on to the heads of the young pupils.
“What happens to these pupils if it suddenly starts raining?” our correspondent asked one of the teachers.
“Anytime it starts to rain, we quickly rush them into the other two classes with better roofs,” the teacher answered.
The answer further explains how the school is able to manage with just three classes even though there are Kindergarten pupils and those from Basic One to Six in the school.
Our correspondent soon learnt that the first classroom – the worst – is for Kindergarten and Basic One pupils, the second for Basic Two and Three pupils and the third for Basic Four to Six.
To test how this works, our correspondent entered the classroom housing Basic Four to Six.
The pupils immediately all stood up to perform their memorised greeting, “Good morn……ing sir. You are welcome to our midst. God bless you.”
There are three rows in the classroom.
“What class are you?” our correspondent asked a pupil on the first row.
“I am in Primary Six,” he answered. When another pupil was asked on the second row, he answered, “Primary Five.”
On the third row, a pupil answered, “I am in Primary Four. Each row is for each class.”
There is the same set up in the Basic Two and Three classroom.
But that of the Kindergaten and Basic One pupils is another matter entirely.
The pupils sat haphazardly, each perching where he or she could get a space. Those who could not find a space on benches with their little friends, took up vantage positions on the bare floor as they sang, “A for Apple, B for Ball…”
Then our correspondent learnt about a scary issue -snakes big and small, sometimes drop from the leaking roof, which has no ceiling.
Our correspondent asked a pupil in one of the higher classes about the snakes.
The boy said in Yoruba, “We kill many snakes here all the time. Snakes are normal here. We see them regularly in our classrooms.”
He pointed to some of the gaping holes in the asbestos ceiling of his classroom. “They sometimes drop from those places,” he said.
Because of the ceiling in their classroom, theirs is a better place than that of the Kindergaten and Basic One pupils whose skulls are not protected from the heat coming down directly from the roof.
Our correspondent stepped outside the classroom for a moment and observed that truly, the classrooms were tempting abodes for the snakes, which may need a warm place.
The thick and high bush surrounding the classrooms are barely three feet away, an easy reach for any snake that needs a warm bed.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the head teacher’s office was particularly a tempting abode for some of the snakes, making the poor woman to abandon the office altogether.
“She has stopped staying in the office because of snakes. She sits in the classrooms when she needs to work. Even if the headmistress has a document she needs to take in the office, she is always careful to check the door posts and corners of the office first before she enters, in case snakes are hiding there,” our correspondent was told.
“Bring your cutlasses tomorrow. We need to do some work on this bush,” one of the teachers announced to the pupils of the higher classes.
It did not seem to our correspondent that the pupils would have the power to make any difference if they were to start clearing the nearest bushes.
“We cannot just sit around. We still need to do something. Of course, these pupils cannot do much on this bush, but they will try what they can,” he said.
St. Saviour’s has a plain football field in the front of the classes, with two goal posts. But no child dares to play on the field.
The bell rang at 11am. It was break time.
All the pupils trooped out of the classrooms.
“Where are they going?” our correspondent asked a teacher.
“They are going home, of course. There is nowhere to play here and no food vendor comes here. So, what will they be doing around here at break time? They will come back to school after break time,” he said.
As our correspondent watched the students jump into the grassy field on their way home, they cut an eerie sight.
Our correspondent was able to see indeed how dangerous the overgrown field was as the pupils moved through it. Most of them could barely be seen above the tall grasses.
“Not to worry, they are used to it. Most of them grew up on farms,” a teacher said.
Saturday PUNCH could not confirm how old St. Saviour’s Anglican Primary School was. But it is doubtful if any further work has been done to develop the school since it was created.
Few kilometers to St. Saviour’s is another rural school, St. Paul’s Primary School, Oluke, which has also suffered years of neglect.
Both schools surprisingly have a lot of things in common. Like its counterpart at Olayemi, St. Paul’s has two blocks of classroom as well but not as old as that of St. Saviour’s.
The worst classroom is also dedicated to the Basic One students in this school.
The block housing the young pupils is an eyesore that speaks of years upon years of neglect.
Half of the roof of the building had become so rusted and eaten away, that it was obvious that if nothing was done soon, a strong wind may rip off the remnant of the tattered roofing sheets altogether.
Reading words on their blackboard with enthusiasm, the young pupils had no idea of the danger looming over them.
Our correspondent noticed a piece of old asbestos hanging precariously over the young pupils as they sat in the class.
Most of them sat on small plastic chairs they brought from home because the school’s wooden benches that were still in good condition would not contain all of them.
When our correspondent visited St. Paul’s, the teachers said there had been a “circular from SUBEB” that directed them to ensure no “strange visitor or journalist” was allowed to make any findings in the school.
It was obvious the pupils in St. Paul’s are not likely to suffer the menace of reptiles as much as the St. Saviour’s pupils. The vicinity of the school was not so overgrown with high and thick bushes.
It is doubtful that those who included universal education as one of the millennium development goals, thought about it in terms of the kind of education the pupils in schools like St. Paul’s and Saviour’s are receiving.
One thing is sure, though. These pupils will never look back at their primary school years with relish when they grow older.
They will wish something had been done to help improve the environment in which they studied.
Commissioner for Education in the state, Mr. Segun Odubela, said it was not surprising that the schools were in such deplorable conditions.
Odubela said, “These schools have suffered many years of neglect. But I can assure you that work will get to them.
“Our plan is to reconstruct and renovate about 1,490 primary schools throughout the state. Currently, we have touched more than 400 of them, which you can independently verify. Work will get to the schools in those villages soon. They only have to exercise a little patience.”
Read more: Punch