How non-supervision promotes teachers’ indolence in Lagos riverine schools
Lagos is surrounded by water and there are pockets of islands scattered across the city. In some of these islands, there are primary schools, whose teachers commute daily from the mainland. In this report, GBENGA SALAU, who visited five primary schools located within the riverine communities, Tomaro-ilado, Sabokoji, Igbologun, Itu-agan, Ilashe Seabeach and Bishopkoji in Amuwo-Odofin Local Government area, reports how the tough terrain not only prevents teachers from being punctual but also results in absenteeism.
David Idowu’s excitement new no bounds. After graduation, he had yearned to be gainfully employed, so when he received an offer to teach with the Lagos State Government, he believed he had been compensated for his long wait. Even when the posting came and that he would be teaching in one of the primary schools in Amuwo-odofin, the excitement of the new job was still glowing on his face, though he would be connecting the school he was expected to teach from Badagry, since he stays in the Oko-afo area of Lagos. Twenty months after David was posted to teach in one of the primary schools in the riverine area of Amuwo Odofin Local Government, he is questioning his good fortune. Recalling his first visit to the school, Local Authority Primary School, Tomaro-Ilado, Idowu said “the journey not only took hours, but I also realised that apart from the stress, it would eat deep into my take home pay.”
Undaunted however, he took up the challenge, seeing it as a test of perseverance and assuming that his posting would only be for a while. Narrating his experience, Idowu says he may not get to school on time despite the fact that he leaves home by 4am and spends over N1500 on transportation daily. He was however frustrated that after putting in so much energy and money to be get to school punctually, on getting to the jetty to pick a boat to connect Tomaro-Ilado, he might also have to wait for an hour for the boat to fill up before crossing the river.
This means getting to school late, pupils sometimes missing the first and second classes and he arriving at school already tired and not psychologically fit to teach the pupils. Due to the shortfall of teachers in the school, Idowu teaches a combined class of primary 5 and 6 pupils who are at the receiving end of his reduced output as a teacher. With the daily journey telling on him, health wise and financially, as well as his inability to deliver on his primary assignment, Idowu decided to secure accommodation within the community.
Idowu’s experience is one of the many narratives about teachers working in riverine communities across Lagos state. Teachers, both single and married, face the same challenges but married teachers who live part-time on the islands, usually leave on Thursdays to join their families for the weekend, only to return late on Monday mornings. Unfortunately the pupils pay the highest cost for this situation.
Further interaction with some of the teachers, revealed that some of them come from as far as Ojo, Badagry, and Alagbado, with the last two locations being two extreme ends of Lagos. One of the teachers based in Badagry, said when he was posted to the community, he knew it would be pretty difficult to give his best, so he complained to the regulatory body, State Universal basic Education Board (SUBEB) but the agency was not willing to do anything about it. He claimed he was told to accept the posting because if he rejected it, somebody else, also Badagry based, was willing to pick up the job. According to him, he accepted it, thinking it would not be too demanding a task but he regretted the daily effort because the first few weeks drained him financially and psychologically.
Another teacher, who spoke under anonymity, said the awful state of the Mile 2-Apapa Road has also not helped matters, as it has compounded their plight connecting the communities. “You know, we do not earn much and we do not get special allowance for teaching in these communities, so we do not have the financial capacity to take bikes daily to navigate the traffic,” she said.
Findings revealed that teachers in riverine communities used to enjoy special allowances but the practice was stopped. Ironically, when the Ministry of Education was contacted on the same issue, the ministry said the allowance existed, but was not sure if it had been cancelled for primary school teachers since SUBEB now takes responsibility for primary school activities.
The head teacher of one of the schools, in a chat, stated that there is an arrangement among the teaching and non-teaching staff, which allows them to come two or three times a week. This, he said, was necessitated by the daily transportation cost, since many of them stay far away from the community.
One of the teachers, who spoke with The Guardian, revealed that usually they do not finish the syllabus. This, no doubt, implies that the pupils are made to sit for exams and are probably promoted despite the limited knowledge they gain each term and by extension, each session.Attempts to get results of primary six pupils in Oriade Local Government, in order to compare the performances of pupils in riverine area with those on the mainland, were not fruitful.
The HOS School Services, Oriade Local Government Education Authority (LGEA) told The Guardian that she could not make the results available, rather she suggested that the reporter should go to each school to obtain their results.A staff of the LGEA who spoke under anonymity said the results of pupils in riverine areas is usually poor and cannot be compared with those on the mainland. On what could be the reason for the huge disparity in results, he declined to comment, because providing the reasons would be indicting not just the teachers but also those with the responsibility of supervising the teachers.
A parent in one of the riverine communities said many of the children who attend public primary schools, do so because their parents cannot afford to enrol them in private schools where the teachers are serious.The Guardian gathered that while some teachers were posted to riverine communities, some of the teachers including non-teaching staff actually lobbied to be posted to such communities, because nobody supervised them, thus leaving room for truancy. The source said some of the teachers, especially women, who often lobbied to be posted to riverine areas, are those who are not competent and only accepted the teaching job to give them time to trade on the mainland. When this reporter toured five primary schools, only one head teacher was available, while many of the teachers were absent and it was gathered, that this is the norm.
Findings revealed that those from the education districts and SUBEB who should supervise the teachers, were usually very reluctant to visit schools in riverine areas due to their fear of water, and the belief that the boat would capsized.A parent revealed that Mondays and Fridays are usually the worst days for many of the pupils, as many of the schools are left empty, sometimes with non-teaching staff taking over as teachers and management staff.
Also, of all the schools visited, only L. A Primary School, Ilashe Sea-beach has what could be described as staff quarters. Though there are about ten staff in the school, four teaching staff including the head teacher and six non-teaching staff, all of whom stay outside the community, the school could only boast of one room self-contained apartment for the staff. In the other schools, teachers who needed to stay in the communities rented apartments locally, although this reporter verified that some of the teachers converted what was supposed to be offices and sickbays into staff quarters, especially in Itu-agan and Tomaro-Ilado.
Chief Noel Atodjinou, a parent and former General Secretary of Sabokonji Community, said government often neglect those of them living in the riverine communities, adding that government and its agents seem not to be bothered about the plight of people in riverine communities. He frowned at the practice of the state government often employing teachers from outside the communities, instead of utilising trained teachers who lived within. Atodjinou said the most frustrating aspect of it is that there are never adequate teachers in any of the schools. “You will be surprised that in some of the schools, the non-teaching staff number is double that of the teaching staff.”
SUBEB however said the state government policy is very clear: “Teachers can be deployed to serve in any part of the state as far as SUBEB is concerned. We have not tagged our primary school teachers. So we cannot stop what we have not started.” According to SUBEB, there is nothing like riverine teachers in the Lagos State Primary school system.
To complement the efforts of the state government, the community associations and the parent-teachers association, employed some teachers but they were asked to leave, because the state government was not comfortable with the levies being charged the pupils by the associations, to off- set the payment of teacher’s salaries.
Commenting on why teachers go late or are absent from school, Professor Aloy Ejiogu, an education consultant at the University of Lagos, wondered if teachers deliberately went late to school or if the circumstances were beyond their control. He said teachers are human beings and they should not be sent to work without providing the enabling environment. “Every worker, teacher or no teacher, deserves a conducive environment to work in. You do not send a teacher to a school that is 20 km away from his home and expect him to be at work on time. In similar communities, you have transport systems that work. When I was a student in England, I lived 15 miles away from the university and I was never late to class because there was a good transport system.”
He said government should improve the transportation network for everyone, not only for teachers and provide decent accommodation for teachers within the schools, especially in tough terrains where accessing such communities is a challenge. “How do you feel, if you are a teacher and you spend six hours on the road before getting to the classroom, what kind of teacher are you going to be?” according to the professor, with good working conditions, truancy will be a thing of the past.
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