Gains and pains of primary education in the North
It is obvious that solid foundation is necessary for the attainment of sound education, this gives credence to why any government that desires impeccable education for its citizens must give adequate attention to primary education through provision of infrastructure and conducive atmosphere for learning. But these seem to be lacking due to the neglect of the sector by various state governments apparatus saddled with the responsibility of running primary schools. Hence the standard and enrolment continue to slide, thus creating the opportunity for private ones to thrive despite the high fees they charge.
From all indications, enrolment into public primary schools in Plateau State has dropped drastically over the years due to total neglect by the government. At a particular time, teachers were on strike for close to one year as a result of non-payment of salaries coupled with parlous state of the schools across the 17 local government areas of the state.
These, more than anything else, had forced quite a number of parents in the state to lose confidence in public schools and to embrace private schools which have now become lucrative business. A teacher who craved anonymity, said the number of private primary schools within Jos, the capital of Plateau State, outnumbered the public ones, saying that many were presently taking the advantage of government’s attitude to enrich them by establishing ramshackled schools all over the state.
A retired primary school headmaster, Anthony Galadima, said government destroyed primary education in Plateau State and in other states in the north, adding that some state governments gave more priority to tertiary education than the primary, considered to be the foundation of education.
Said he: “What is the basis of giving more priority to tertiary institutions while the primary considered as the bedrock is neglected? At a point in time in Plateau State, the government was focusing more on tertiary institutions while primary schools were in shambles and teachers on strike for close to one year. It is a thing I know very well; no senior civil servant or political office holder in this state have their wards in public schools.
“I challenge them to give me one that can come and tell the people that my child is in any public school. Public primary schools have become schools for their house girls and the poorest of the poor in the society. This altitude of government officials is killing the schools because if they had their children in these schools, they would give them more attention and priority,” he said.
A director in the State Ministry of Education who spoke with the Nigerian Tribune on condition of anonymity said the situation was terrible before the present administration came on board, adding that enrolment figure few years back had cascaded from 623,000 to 398,000 as a result of neglect on the part of the government.
According to him, most of those who dropped out then joined their parents on the farm while quite a number of them who lived in communities where there were illegal mining joined in the illegal business, adding that despite the efforts of the present government to revamp the sector, quite a lot of them are not willing to return to schools because of the money they are making from the mining sites.
Nigerian Tribune investigations revealed that most of the primary schools on the Plateau cannot boast of qualified teachers. Prior to the coming of Lalong led administration, the state government sacked 1,000 teachers due to incompetence. The governor then said the government kept battling with the menace of teachers with fake certificates, adding that some persons, who had no business in the education sector whatsoever, were teaching in primary schools.
They had to go then because they failed to upgrade their certificates to National Certificate of Education, being the minimum requirement for teachers in primary school nationwide. They were among the 7 000 teachers that were asked to improve upon their status, but failed to do so, five years after, they were given the grace to upgrade their educational qualifications.
An education consultant, Gabriel Ibrahim, said all these were the reasons many did not want to put their children in public schools, adding that the state government had made the sector unreliable that those who wanted the best for their children would not want them to attend such schools.
“It is not only in Plateau State, the state of primary schools is deplorable, apart from few state governments that are trying to salvage the situation, others are busy playing politics with the pathetic situation. Though the present administration in Plateau State may claim things are getting better but many parents are yet to be convinced that their children can get the best from public schools. For this reason alone, the enrolment has continued to drop,” he claimed.
But contrary to the belief that enrollment into public primary schools has dropped drastically , some of the teachers who spoke with the Nigerian Tribune posited that there was a slight increase in the intake in recent time. They attributed this to the economic recession in the country which made it difficult for them to pay tuition fees of their wards in private schools.
A teacher, Tabitha James, said enrolment was gradually picking up again as a result of economic situation in the country, adding that teachers were more committed than before because their salaries were regularly paid and they were being monitored by the supervisory bodies from the State Primary Education Board.
“Like in my school which is within the state capital, there is an increase in student enrolment. When we resumed last September, quite a lot of parents came to enrol their wards simply because they could not afford the fees charged by the private schools. To sustain the tempo, we are appealing to the state government to provide basic facilities because payment of salary alone cannot solve the problems,” she said.
A source close to the State Primary Education Board, debunked the claim that the enrolment was going down, saying in the past two years, there was an apparent upsuge in the enrolment of children in Plateau schools.
The source declared thus: “Between 2010 and 2011, 489,421 pupils enrolled in public primary schools, and from 2014 to 2015, the number increased to 552,359. What surprises me most is that a high percentage of children enrolling in public schools are from the private schools.
“This means that parents and stakeholders have once more started to appreciate the environment of the public schools as conducive for learning.
“Although some experts in the education sector have argued that the massive exodus may be because of the downturn in the nation’s economy, I wish to say that quality education is highly considered by Nigerians before monetary value,’’ he said.
Speaking with the Nigerian Tribune, the chairman, Plateau State Universal Basic Education Board (PSUBEB) Professor Mathew Sule, said that the state witnessed progression of 3 per cent between 2016 and 2017, representing male 275, 870, female 260, 980 with the total of 536, 850.
According to Sule, the monitoring and supervision of teaching and learning activities by PSUBEB management contributed immensely to the increase in the rate of enrolment and renovation of classrooms across the state, adding that the Board had continued to educate and sensitise parents on the need to send their children to school.
He added that the state government’s deliberate efforts at encouraging public school enrolment, had led most parents to transfer their children from private schools to public schools.
He, however, said that the increasing movement to public schools and the drop in the rate of out of school children had brought to the fore the challenge of lack of classrooms for pupils and expressed regret at the overcrowded nature of most public schools, citing UNESCO’s report that the state had a ratio of one teacher to 80 pupils per class, as against its standard of one teacher to 40 students per class.
The board chairman, therefore, called on the state government to facilitate the speedy completion of the ongoing construction and renovation of classrooms across the state to address the classrooms shortage.
“The government has been organising training and re-training of teachers to upgrade their skills, so that they can teach better. Government is also paying attention to welfare of teachers to further stimulate their interests, allowances are paid as at when due. Plateau is the only state in the North- Central that is up to date in salary payment” he said
To encourage the teachers to perform better, Professor Sule said the state was organising the best teacher award for all teachers in the 17 Local Government Areas of the state, adding that the school feeding programme introduced had also helped to increase the number of enrolment in recent time.
Professor Sule said any parent who refused to send his child to school would face prosecution, adding that the government was trying to provide an enabling environment while parents should reciprocate the gesture. “There is no tuition fee, any teacher or headmaster who demands for such should be reported to the appropriate authority,” he stressed.
However, the Nigerian Tribune findings revealed that there were quite a lot of drop out pupils in the state especially in the rural areas. The recent visit to some of the mining sites in Riyom and Barakin Ladi Local Government Areas of the state revealed that quite a number of children who were of school age were cynosure of all eyes at mining sites trying to eke out a living.
A community leader, Danjuma Dan Galadima, implored the state government to carry out sensitisation exercise to enable parents to see the need to send their children to school while those who dropped out could return.