Delta’s and Bauchi’s brutal schools

How much our public schools are not yet primed for the production of the geniuses and patriots of the future is often borne out by the insalubrious developments in them that have become their regular features.

This is not a blight that is peculiar to the public tertiary educational institutions. Their sad fate roils the public imagination simply because the teachers at this educational level easily find a voice under the auspices of their associations such as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to express their perennial grievances.

In fact, at the primary school level, we are confronted with the locus of the nation’s educational crisis. It is at this inchoate stage of the development of the children that they are deprived of the pleasures of learning as their teachers contend with their existential challenges that are aggravated by the neglect of the government.

In most of these primary schools, there are no qualified teachers. They have become sites for the proliferation of people who have been compelled to take to teaching because they lack opportunities elsewhere.

Even in places where there are teachers, there are no facilities for pupils to learn. Pupils learn in ramshackle classes without a roof or under trees where they are at the mercy of the elements.

Worse, most of the teachers pass through this system. We are thus confronted with a Sisyphean cycle of ill-trained teachers training pupils who would later become teachers themselves.

Enter Okotie-Eboh Primary School 1, Sapele Local Government of Delta State. The school recently gained public attention, albeit for a negative reason.

The head teacher, Mrs. Vero Igbigwe, sent one of her pupils, Success Adegor, home for not paying her examination fees. But what she probably thought was a punitive measure taken in the secure environment of her school was soon to become public knowledge that has imperilled her job.

In a viral video, the young girl has been seen demonstrating the kind of grit that is not usually associated with children of her age. She would not leave the school premises quietly.

On the way, she complains about the brutality of the school that would send her home even though she is not opposed to paying the fees that her parents are yet to give her.

In a bout of defiance, she wonders why the school would elect to send her away and ignore the option of flogging her that she would have readily embraced.

The Delta State government is incensed by this development. It has already suspended the head teacher in order to investigate the matter. While the action of the state government might serve as a face-saving measure, we must go beyond it to avert a recurrence of the ordeal of Success.

For there are millions of pupils like Success who have been gamed by our government; children whose chances of education have been truncated by uncaring leaders.

The government is intervening because the case of Success is now in the public domain. Why were there no checks against her plight before now? What the state government considers as illegal examination fees have gone unchecked because their collection has been done over the years with the active connivance of government officials. Or would the state ministry of education vouchsafe a lack of knowledge of such an illegal collection? Or how do officials of the ministry think that the heads of such schools run their operations when there are no subventions from the state government? Even if there were subventions, do the state officials not capriciously reduce them in order to cater to their greed? And after the heads of the schools take their own cue from those above them and get their own share from the subventions, what is left for the running of the schools?

After all, the heads of schools might consider such stealing as an easier means of augmenting their miserable incomes than selling groundnuts and puff puff to their pupils.

Before blaming and sanctioning the head teacher, the Delta State government under Governor Ifeanyi Okowa should accept culpability for her action.

Like its counterparts in other parts of the country, the Delta State government has not been consistent in the payment of teachers, especially at the primary level.

Until the recent elections, the state had been associated with a less-than-stellar history of owing teachers and local government workers.

The complaints of this category of workers were often met with the response that it was their local governments that owed them. If it is outside the remit of the state government to cater for the primary schools, why has it become so interested in them now? Why does it not consider itself immune from the embarrassment the Success matter has provoked? So, beyond the head teacher, the state government should punish its officials, especially those in the education ministry who have been colluding with head teachers to rip off pupils and their poor parents.

A week after the scandal in Delta State, we were assaulted with almost an identical miasma of corruption and neglect in the educational system of Bauchi State.

The scandal in Bauchi broke at the right time. Politicians in the state are busy striving and bickering over how to clinch the levers of power.

Thus, the photograph of pupils of Class B of Dawaki-Zainuwa Junior Secondary School sitting on the floor while being taught which appeared on the front page of this newspaper last Monday is a searing rebuke to the government of the day and warning to those who seek to replace it that they have much to do to engender good governance.

In Bauchi, the seemingly worn-out idiomatic expression that a picture is worth a thousand words has been given unimpeachable expression.

What kind of governance exists in Bauchi State when the state government cannot produce common chairs and tables for its pupils? Is it a government that cannot meet these basic needs that would provide water, roads and health facilities for the citizens? If real or perceived enemies make a mincemeat of Governor Mohammed Abubakar on account of this photograph, he deserves no pity – he has only hoisted himself on his own petard.

Faced with the plight of the pupils of Bauchi, we cease to be persuaded that a free breakfast or lunch is the overarching scheme that is needed now to incentivise primary education. Or would the pupils of Bauchi enjoy the so-called school feeding scheme of the Federal Government while they are sitting on the floor?

Now, let us discountenance the photo-op Success has offered celebrities. Their offers of support and those of other noble citizens are commendable. But we should note that the scholarship up to the university level they have promised Success is not the best response to the crisis in the public primary schools.

Nor does she need the so-called support from her local government. Did the local government meet the needs of the school before now? The outspokenness of Success and her quest to be educated would only be better served if other children like her have access to educational opportunities.

The lot of public primary schools and secondary schools could be dramatically improved if there is a state policy that makes it mandatory for government officials to send their children to public schools.

If government officials were aware that they could no longer cocoon their children in some swanky private schools abroad, they would do everything legitimately possible to improve the lot of public schools in the country.

In that case, the corruption of state officials may be stymied as the idle funds that they would have stolen would now be invested in education. They would no longer find enough funds to steal to set up their private schools. And even if they succeed to still steal, such schools set up with looted funds would no longer be profitable.

Instead of those expensive private schools, the citizens would rather patronise their public counterparts that are not only affordable but clearly boast high quality.

Teachers would no longer be owed. The pupils would no longer be fated to being taught by ill-qualified teachers as the leaders would embrace a policy of recruiting only the best personnel for the schools of their children.

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