Locked up school furniture in Sokoto: Who is to blame?

Over the years, majority of people have placed the blame of challenges in the education sector on government at all levels but the discovery of school furniture kept in a school in Sokoto while students sit on the floor to learn raises the question of culpability on the part of other stakeholders. YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE writes.

The importance of education has been reiterated at every opportunity and by many over the years. Indeed, education has been described as the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world. And the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan once stated that, “education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.”

It is therefore an incontrovertible fact that the development of a nation depends on how well it has developed its academic sector. But in Nigeria, in spite of the tremendous importance given to education, the situation is not what it should be and stakeholders have continued to condemn the perceived rot in the Nigerian educational sector.

Over the years, there had been dearth of infrastructure in various public schools across every state of the federation; insufficient learning aids, lack of furniture, inadequate classrooms and so many other deficiencies militating the progress of education. This affects the students negatively and leads to poor academic performance as well as well as loss of interest and poor attitude to academic activities.

Various ratings of the academic sector, both local and international had always put Nigeria far below average. In fact, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in an assessment of the Nigerian education sector stated that the education system in Nigeria is one of the worst education systems in the world.

For this thriving rot, there had been trading of blame among stakeholders with many putting the bulk at the door of government. In fact, not long ago, teachers in Ondo State through the chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUSS), Mr. Dayo Adebiyi, called government at all levels to tackle the rot and decadence bedeviling Nigeria’s education sector.

But often, events have shown that other factor aside government carelessness is responsible for the situation in the academic sector. An example of this situation can be traced to a recent event in a public school in Sokoto state. Pupils of Hafsat Ahmadu Bello Memorial Secondary School in Sokoto, had been suffering just to get education.

They struggle to grasp the fine points of teachings while sitting in uncomfortable postures on the bare floor in postures that are not medically good for them or conducive to learning. For them, the popular saying that you don’t have a shovel and use your hand to pack dirt is not applicable. This is because though they are used to sitting on the floor, there are hundreds of chairs and table locked up few blocks away in the school compound.

So while the students suffer through school sitting on the floor, a large number of chairs just lie fallow in the school compound and have become part of the outside fixtures of the school. This went on till few days back when a committee set up by Governor of Sokoto state, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, to implement the state of emergency declared in education visited Hafsat Ahmadu Bello Memorial Secondary School.

The committee discovered that students learn in discomfort; only a few classes in the school have enough seats to accommodate them and students had been taking lectures while seated on the bare floor. Most use prayer mats to protect their white tops from getting stained by the dusty floor while others come to classes with extra wrappers that they lay on the floor before sitting for classes.

The committee was dumbfounded that while pupils had to endure hardship to learn on a daily basis; combating continuous body pains, 200 sets of classroom furniture were locked away, unattended to and left to rot a few blocks away in the school compound.

The visit of the committee to individually assess problems of various schools and make recommendations to government on how best to address them however signaled an end to the suffering of the pupils in the school as an order was made that the furniture be unlocked for pupils use.

Speaking on the discovery, Dr. Shadi Sabeh, who led members of the School Needs Assessment sub-committee to the said school said that, “upon visiting the Hafsat Ahmadu Bello Memorial Secondary School, Sokoto, students were seen taking lectures while sitting on the floor. To our amazement, a few blocks away, 200 new classroom furniture were locked away unattended to. We immediately ordered that the furniture be arranged in the classes in need and the school management was admonished to always prioritise the need of the students at all times.

“So while the government has provided facilities, the school management will decide not to utilize them. The school managers must key into the new vision for better schools or all our efforts will be in vain,” Sabeh stated.

The pupils in the school could not hide their joy as they took the lead in arranging the chairs in their classes by themselves, looking forward to a better academic experience devoid of discomfort.

This situation in Sokoto buttress the point raised by a school of thought that government alone cannot be blamed for the bane of the education sector as often, other stakeholders take decisions that contravene government’s policy and vision of making education a joyful experience and encourage every child to go to school.

Against the backdrop of knowledge that the government alone cannot face all the inadequacies in the education sector, the Sokoto state government aside provision of infrastructure, went into agreement with foreign donor agencies to ensure that the state’s education sector moves to the expected level.

This came in the way of a pledge by the United States government, through the Agency for International Development (USAID). The agency has pledged its continuous support for the education sector in Sokoto state especially at the primary level, by signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the state government.

The Five-year memorandum was signed by the USAID Mission Director, Michael T. Harvey and the Governor of Sokoto state,  Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, just after a committee put in place by government discovered that some students in the state had been learning under a harsh condition; sitting on the floor while the school authority locks the government provided chairs outside.

The MOU sets out the shared and individual commitments for collaboration in the education sector made by both USAID and the Government of Sokoto while it also provides a framework for mutual accountability for educational activities in Sokoto State.

It also supports the Sokoto state government’s goals and targets in its education sector strategic plans and establishes a preliminary plan for joint monitoring and evaluation of progress.

“The United States commends Sokoto State for its extraordinary efforts to provide greater learning opportunities for its children. This MOU will expand the partnership between USAID and Sokoto State to improve primary education in Sokoto,” said USAID Mission Director, Michael Harvey.

USAID supports Nigeria’s efforts to improve the quality of and access to basic education.  Currently, USAID implements two activities that support Sokoto State efforts to improve the education sector: the Northern Education Initiative Plus and the Leadership, Empowerment, Advocacy and Development.

These activities build state and local government capacity and systems that will teach approximately two million primary school children how to read and allow nearly 500,000 children the opportunity to attend classes in community-based learning centers by the year 2020

The Sokoto state experience is a pointer that the searchlight beamed on the rot in the education sector should not only be shined on government but also on other stakeholders; school authorities and management, teachers, agencies, parastatals, parents and even students.