By Longtong Ibrahim
Kaduna (Nigeria) – Governor Nasiru El-Rufai of Kaduna State, northwest Nigeria, declared a state of emergency in the education sector soon he came into office, by introducing free and compulsory basic education, as well as announcing free feeding of pupils and distributions of uniforms to all secondary students in public schools across the state.
He also made the sector one of the priorities of his administration, where he stressed, ‘no child of school age should be seen on the streets hawking during school hours’.
The Kaduna school feeding program commenced fully on Monday 17 January, 2016, and the Commissioner of Education, Shehu Usman Adamu pointed out that each pupil will be fed a plate of meal worth N50 daily. In the school feeding programme, about 1.8 million pupils are expected to be covered, with a budget projection of N9 billion annually.
No doubt, education is the cornerstone for the development of every nation, so, investing in it will create an avenue for the advancement of any given society and securing its future.
Reports by Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitions and Equity, (CREATE), notes that over 60 million children of primary school age are not in school, mostly in sub Saharan Africa and South Asia.
According to UNESCO, 40 percent of children aged 6-11 in Nigeria do not attend any primary school, with the northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate; it added that, despite a significant enrollment in recent years, it is estimated that about 4.7 million children are still not in school.
In an attempt to fight illiteracy and extend basic education to all children in the country, Nigerian government introduced the universal basic education scheme, by passing into law the compulsory, free universal basic education (UBE) Act in 2004.
Pronouncement by governments in the country on provision of free basic education and even free feeding in some states Kano, Osun, Lagos, etc, has led to increase in enrolment rates. These are laudable policies which will not only boost school enrolment and attendance, but also ensure education for all and create a better future for them and the country.
However, poor learning environment has remained one greatest challenge in the educational system in the country.
The challenges range from inadequate or unavailability of school facilities like classrooms, weak infrastructure, as well as teachers, to handle the high number of school children, hence the expected result becomes less effective.
In Kaduna for instance, Governor El-Rufai during the flag-off ceremony of the free feeding programme noted that, the feeding intervention was necessary to boost nutrition, health of the children, and also encourage school attendance; stating further that the free feeding program will expand access to education and ensure that every child have nine years of free, decent basic education, no matter the income level of their parent.
This development has attracted lots of commendations from various stakeholders within the state and country at large. It has also attracted lots of pupils and students’ enrolment, which is now affecting the quality of access and the effectiveness of the program.
A visit by AFRICA PRIME NEWS to some of the public primary schools within communities of the state shows that the free feeding program has begun in earnest and has attracted great influx of pupils’ enrolment; it was also noticed that most of the schools have stopped offering admission to children, because government has already stopped capturing pupils in the school feeding programme.
Inadequate infrastructure and other facilities like chairs, desks, classroom buildings, toilets, as well as teaching aids were also noted in schools visited.
In UBE primary school, Layin Biliya, Rigasa, a ward in Igabi Local government Area – the number of pupils has sharply risen up from 2,234 to 19, 954 – this has drawn the attention of the aid organisations and more than 20 other community volunteers to help in crowd control during food distribution.
AFRICA PRIME NEWS observed that the school has only eight classrooms for its over twenty thousand pupils; most of the pupils are seated on the floor inside their classes; those who do not have the opportunity to be inside the class were seen seated on the ground in the open field of the school compound.
The school also has limited teachers; no toilets facilities, and the walls of the school fence were used as chalk board by some teachers who were conducting class outside.
More than 80 percent of the pupils were not wearing the Kaduna adopted green and white uniforms – they were expecting the State Government to provide them with school uniforms [the state government however only promised secondary students uniform].
Most pupils roaming were seen carrying plates for collecting food, instead of books and other writing materials.
AFRICA PRIME NEWS also observed that when it was break time (feeding time), some street beggars in the area were pushing their way into the school to get some share of the food.
Food distribution took more than the 30-minute break time, and immediately the pupils collected their meal, majority of them left for home – it was difficult for the authorities to control the over twenty thousand pupils divided into morning and afternoon session.
The population of pupils made the food sharing process difficult – the children struggle, they get out of control – the little ones were trampled upon, many of them sustaining various degree of injuries in the process.
School Unit Coordinator of Red Cross of Igabi Local Government Area, Safiliyu Adamu Bawa, who has been providing support in crowd control said by the end of week two of the school feeding programme, the organisation has recorded more than 260 casualties, comprising of the wounded and those who fainted.
Headmaster of the school, Joseph Audu while commending the state government’s feeding program said, “to reduce the pressure of population, the pupils had been shared into morning and afternoon school session.”
He admitted that pupil population does not make the environment hygienic for feeding, noting that, the school needed more classrooms, as well as renovation of existing facilities to make the environment conducive for learning.
“Even before now there is a need; in my office the table is 3 legged, not to even talk of desk and chairs in the classes,” he added.
Chairman of the School Based Management Committee (SBMC) Idris Sheriff called on Kaduna state government to post more teachers to the School.
Noting however that there is no space for expansion, he advised the government to purchase a building close to the school where the owner have agreed to sell the property for the school expansion.
Sheriff also called on parents to provide their wards with uniforms and books, and not to wait on government for such.
Amina Halilu, a concerned parent, urged El-Rufai, to as a matter of urgency stop the feeding programme, even if it is for three months and provide classrooms for the pupils, emphasising that children cannot learn anything in the present condition.
At another primary school in Ungwan Maigero, a community in Chikun Local Government, pupils population was about 170; all pupils were receiving their teachings in an open field, under the trees – ceiling board was used as blackboard.
AFRICA PRIME NEWS gathered that parents have asked their children not to eat the food provided by vendors under the scheme on grounds of hygiene.
This stemmed from government’s failure to honour its promise of engaging food vendors from the community, as obtained in other areas. [the Commissioner for Education had in a media briefing promised to address such cases within two weeks, but as at the time of filing this report, it was still being reported in a number of other schools].
A member of the Maigero community, who declined from giving his name, decried the state of their school saying, several calls on the state universal education board to come and erect school structure yielded no results.
He appealed to the Kaduna government to convert money meant for feeding of pupils in their community to capital votes and raise structures to enhance learning for their children.
He said, “for example we have about 170 pupils and if the N50 for food can be converted to building of classes, at least in a month we will have almost N170, 000 and in three months we may get more than a 500,000 – that will go a long way in helping us have structures for this children.”
He added that a structure which was started some time ago was brought down by rain, during the last rainy season, and since then, the pupils were been taught in an open field, exposed to the harsh weather.
Cases of decayed infrastructure and inadequate facilities were observed in a number of public primary schools visited, including Narayi LGEA primary school in Chikun Local Government Area and Tudun Wada LEA Primary School on polytechnic Road, in Kaduna South Local Government Area, where most pupils were seen seated either on bare floor or on broken chairs taking lessons.