In Lagos, public schools grow, teachers, students groan

public schoolsThe running story of the growing confidence in Lagos public schools and the attendant challenges is aptly captured by the “no pain, no gain” mantra. TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE captured the groans of the growth.

FUNMI Ajileye (not real name) is a female SS1 student of Ijaiye Housing Estate Senior Grammar School in Ifako-Ijaiye Local Government Area of Lagos State. She obviously enjoys schooling but certain situations in her school are worrisome to her. She told Saturday Tribune that her class alone has up to 160 students. She has other critical narratives as regards the question of overcrowded classrooms.

“Most of our classes, especially SSI and SS2, have up to 10 arms (A-J) each, and each class has 80 students or more. And because of space challenge, some of these classes only exist on paper and not in physical form of a classroom setting,” she disclosed.

For example, SS1 ‘A’ and SS1‘B’, she explained, “are two separate classes on paper but in reality, they are merged into one classroom as a science class with no fewer than 160 students all together.”

“That is how SS1 ‘C’ and SS1 ‘D’ and some other arts and commercial classes are equally structured,” she added.

The implication of this arrangement, according to her, is that most of their classrooms are so clumsy that teachers cannot move freely during periods of teaching.

“Even some of us sit on the windows, on broken furniture or stand when classes are going on. Those who have permanent seats and are a bit comfortable among us are those who came early enough on resumption day to secure space; others are on their own,” Funmi noted.

Aside from converting part of the JSS blocks into temporary classrooms, the school with only 225 students (101 boys, 124 girls) at inception in 2011 now has more than 2,000 students.

Experiencing a similar situation of classroom congestion crisis is the State Junior and Senior High School, Oyewole, Agege. There, JSS1 and JSS2, for instance, have ‘A’ to ‘H’ classes with each having a minimum of 80 students on paper, whereas only about five physical classrooms really exist at each level.

Some students of the school, it was gathered, sat on bare floor to write their examination last term while others used their laps as tables.

These schools are not alone in this kind of condition among public secondary schools in Lagos, especially in the urban centres where enrolment figures are higher.

The Lagos State government, Saturday Tribune gathered, has invested a lot in making adequate infrastructure available in its public schools. Ironically, the improvement in the schools and the daily increase in the population of the state continue to put a lot of pressure on government efforts and resources.

The state government’s projection at the moment is that none of its schools would have more than 30 students in a class by 2020.

Problematic growth?

Lagos State has a total of 349 junior secondary schools and 322 senior secondary schools with a students’ population of 337,724 and 229,980, respectively, according to its 2017 Annual Public School Census.

And the students per classroom on the average as of 2010, across-the-board, stood at 87 in junior and 68 in senior classes, as also claimed in its Annual Education Sector Performance Reports.

In the report, which captured the entire 20 local government areas of the state, the government put the average number of students in junior and senior classes in Ojo at 129/82; Ajeromi-Ifelodun, 123/75; Shomolu, 123/79; Kosofe, 103/94; Agege, 105/73; Alimosho, 96/78 and Badagry, 100/65. It was in Lagos Island that the classroom population at the period was the lowest – about 65 in junior and 48 in senior classes.

The government then projected that before or by 2015, the situation would have become normal in all its schools. But its forecast did not come anywhere near the target. This probably caused the government to make a fresh projection that classroom-student ratio at JSS and SSS would be reduced from between 1:70-80 to 1:30 by 2020 while the teacher-student ratio would be reduced to 1:25 at all levels by the same year.

Eight years after the first projection and two years to the new deadline, the situation appears worse at both junior and senior levels.

A visit to Oregun Senior and Junior High School, Oregun; Lagos State Model College, Badore and Meiran; Idi-Araba Senior High School, Mushin; Yewa Junior High School, Agege; Alakoto Junior and Senior High School, Ajeromi; Agidingbi Grammar School, Ikeja; Ifako Comprehensive Senior High School, Gbagada; Bolade Senior High School, Oshodi and Ojokoro High School, Ijaiye, just to mention a few, would authenticate Saturday Tribune’s position.

Class size is critical to learning and teaching, according to experts. Teachers in government schools in Nigeria routinely work (minus extra lesson) six hours daily.

Besides writing detailed lesson notes, teaching, tutoring and attending professional meetings, teachers are expected to give and grade class work and homework daily, keep students’ statistics, write progress reports, fill out the report cards and be in contact with their students’ parents.

So, like workers in garment factories of yesteryears, they also take home on a regular basis, school work, which they combine with their household tasks and at their social groups and communities.

This means that the average committed Nigerian teacher has a lot of responsibilities to discharge daily.

According to educationists, in crowded classrooms where one teacher contends with so many students, quality of education suffers.

 

Smaller classes, better students –Experts

Research reports by experts have shown that students in smaller classes develop positive attitudes and perceptions towards their studies, classmates and their teachers. They also function effectively as members and leaders of groups, learn basic skills and subject matters easily, fast and think creatively. A lower classroom-students ratio has been proven to be ideal for secondary schools (and for other educational levels) in order to maintain high standards and improve the quality of learning and teaching.

But where students are not comfortable in the process of learning, experts have found, there will be poor assimilation and performance in examinations, even in productivity after graduation. It will also make teachers find it very difficult to give adequate attention to individual students, the marking of their scripts, among other tasks.

The Head of Department, Educational Foundations, University of Lagos, Professor Ngozi Osarenren, is in support of this research. She said it would be difficult for effective learning and teaching to take place in an overcrowded classroom.

She expressed shock at Saturday Tribune’s findings that some students still sit on bare floor and on windows in Lagos schools. Osarenren, who is a former Commissioner for Education in Edo State, said no student in any Nigerian schools, including those in the remotest part of the country, let alone Lagos, the “Centre of Excellence,” should, in 2018, sit on bare floor, let alone write examinations in that condition.

In the same vein, a former English Language teacher at the Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED), Otto\Ijanikin, Lagos State, Mr Francis Jegede, said no teacher could perform magic if the condition is not conducive because teaching and learning is a feedback mechanism from teacher to students and vice versa.

According to him, part of the learning process is for teachers to ensure that learning has actually taken place after a teaching session.

“Teaching is not all about dishing out information. It is a two-way communication between the teacher and the student. A teacher must be able to identify students according to their abilities to assimilate in order to further help those who may be deficient in one area or the other and this can only be effective in schools with reasonable sizes of students to classes,” he emphasised.

But where all these are lacking, he added, there would be problems and the problems would manifest in the science laboratories, libraries, dormitories, and even in toilets.

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Teachers’ grief

Interestingly, some Lagos public school teachers opened up on this. They disclosed to Saturday Tribune, on the condition of anonymity for fear of sack, that they only give their students home work to fulfil all righteousness because they would not bother to mark many of their scripts, much less assess their performances for possible corrections.

One of them, a female, said: “I cannot kill myself. How many scripts will I mark when I’m not a machine? I have more than 85 students in one class and we have eight arms, which means, I have about 680 students in all to attend to almost every day.”

The implication of this scenario for this particular teacher is that spending only five minutes with a student per day on paperwork (outside the actual teaching hours) will take four hours and seven minutes per week out of her schedules. While it takes only a very passionate and hardworking teacher to sacrifice such valuable time, the quality of the learning that is expected to take place within such a time frame will be very minimal.

“That is why what I do in most cases is to ask the students to exchange their scripts among themselves and mark, or I don’t bother at all. It is only during examination that I know marking of scripts is a must for score grading,” the teacher added.

She also shared a recent experience which was occasioned by the huge student population in her school. “I ran into a male student who came to empty his bowel in the teachers’ toilet because the students’ toilets were all occupied at the time. Although I warned him against using the teachers’ toilet again no matter the level of his discomfort, I knew in my mind that the shortage of toilets caused his action.”

 

Students’ stories

Some students equally told Saturday Tribune that due to their huge population, their computer labs, provided under the Code Lagos Scheme, where they are supposed to learn ‘coding’ and internet usage are hardly opened for them.

An SS1 student of Ojokoro High School, Ijaiye, who said she was not computer literate yet, noted that they were only being taught computer in theory and not in practice in her school.

Available statistics shows that Lagos has been trailing other states like Abia, Anambra, Edo, Rivers and a few others in the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE) conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) in recent years.

Checks by Saturday Tribune revealed that the state oscillates between the sixth and 10th position among the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory.

The statistics obtained from WAEC for the 2014, 2015 and 2016 editions of the exam illustrates this position. It shows that out of total 146,564 students from the state who sat the exam in 2014, only 67,219 (representing 45 per cent) of them had credit passes and above in five subjects, including English language and Mathematics, leaving it in the sixth position.

The statistics also shows that the state moved to the sixth position the following year, having had 48.02 per cent of its students score the mandatory five credit and above, but went back to the ninth position in 2016 with 64.31 per cent of its candidates making five credits and above.

The implications do not end there. The wellbeing of students and teachers in overcrowded classrooms and school environment also suffers and, sadly, this issue is hardly mentioned by public school regulators or other stakeholders.

 

Health implications

A community health expert at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the press, said students in congested classrooms, like in every other crowded place, are prone to respiratory and other infectious diseases like tuberculosis and skin rashes.

According to the medical personnel, overcrowded environment reduces the quality of air individuals breathe by limiting the availability of oxygen and also increases the chances of body contact and these can badly affect an individual’s health.

Huge classroom population contributes to the lack of discipline displayed by students of public schools. It makes proper monitoring of their movements and other activities difficult for teachers. Although the government makes class attendance mandatory for every student, it was gathered that most schools don’t mark students register every day any longer. They do so once cumulatively, on a weekly basis. Little wonder then why many students are still on the streets or at best hanging around school premises at 9.00 or 9.30 a.m., while some don’t even report in school at all, whereas their first lesson begins officially at 8.15 a.m.

“That is why a moderate classroom is desirable,” Professor Osarenren, emphasised.

The Data Centre of UNESCO Institute for Statistics, in its 2008 report, stated that of all the 189 countries around the world, Nigeria was among the four that had the most overcrowded classrooms in its secondary schools. Other countries in this category were Pakistan, Eritrea and Malawi.

The actual number of students recommended by UNESCO for a single classroom is between 30 and 35 and any classroom that has an extra student is considered to be overcrowded and not good for learning and teaching.

A former Nigeria’s Representative to UNESCO and Emeritus Professor at the University of Ibadan, Michael Omolewa, shed more light on the global agency’s position on benchmark. He said a small classroom would give learners the opportunity to be reached at the individual level by their teachers, who would monitor their performance in both learning and character development.

Through that, he added, teachers would quickly identify the challenges posed by learning, as slow learners could be encouraged to catch up with the school work without negatively affecting the performance of more capable learners.

“And we can only achieve this in a moderate classroom,” the professor of education history insisted.

 

UNESCO code

But in Lagos (with over 20 million population, according to the state census), only in private schools does this recommendation seem to have a meaning. Even in private schools, findings have shown that the situation is not a way of compliance to the directive but because of their fewer enrolments when compared to public schools and the economic hardship which compelled many parents to move their children to public schools where they pay almost nothing.

The chairman of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Lagos State chapter, Alhaji Wasiu Adunmadehin and his predecessor, Alhaji Akande Kamaldeen, confirmed this assertion. They said hardly could any private school, as of today in the state, boast 30 students in a class.

They told Saturday Tribune that it was true that many members of their association across categories in and outside Lagos State had lost many of their students to public schools because of the last recession in the country which, they said, citizens were still grappling with.

“This is an unfortunate scenario as we cannot help the situation because we will have to pay salaries, rent, utility charges and various forms of levies to the government,” Adunmadehin stressed.

Before now in the state, many parents preferred sending their children to private primary schools for reasons ranging from quality teaching to closeness to homes (as public schools are always located far away) and later, to public secondary and tertiary schools as they grew older.

 

Changing times, changing figures

The 2017 statistics compiled by the state government confirms this practice,  showing five out of six primary school pupils attending private schools while only one out of three students attend private schools at the secondary level. The current economic realities, investigations have revealed, has pushed the statistics further down in favour of public schools at both levels.

Deputy President, National Parent-Teacher Association of Nigeria (NPTAN), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, confirmed this but was quick to add that the development was not a sufficient reason for government to allow its schools be overcrowded in Lagos or any other state in the country.

He said it is a statutory responsibility of government to provide quantitative and functional education to its citizens, especially at the primary and secondary levels, while the private schools perform complementary roles.

“That is why we often appeal to government at all levels to build new schools and provide more classrooms and other basic infrastructures that will make learning friendly in our schools. That is the only way we can have more children, especially those on the streets, in schools and secure our future as a country,” Chief Ogunbanjo stated.

Even at that, Ogunbanjo, who doubles as the coordinator of the South-West zone of the NPTA, does not put the blame solely on the Lagos State government, saying the state’s increasing population on a daily basis aggravated the situation.

According to him, thousands of people migrating from all kinds of places to Lagos daily and swelling the population create problems for the government.

“That is why, in a way, I believe the government is trying but it has to do better as having 120 students or more in one classroom is unwholesome,” he added.

So, what should parents do in a situation where the government appears to be helpless? Ogunbanjo has an idea: parents should get involved. He said it is unfortunate that many parents don’t want to spend a kobo on their children’s education on the excuse that government is running a free education policy.

“They just want everything free whereas everything cannot be free and the government does not help the matter either as it has politicised almost everything in order to appear popular before the masses.

“Government will be quick to tell parents not to pay money to any school, claiming to be running a free education policy when, in fact, their schools lack functional amenities. Parents should be able to provide at least chairs and tables and a few other basic needs for their children. That, in a way, will lessen the financial burden on the government,” the NPTAN chieftain said.

 

We are building more ‘17+I’ –Govt

But when contacted, Deputy Director, Public Affairs Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Education, Mr Olusegun Ogundeji, had a different view on the issue of overcrowded classroom situation in the state.

He said it was not as if government was not aware that more students now attend public schools because of what he called improved facilities and service delivery. He described the influx of people, especially children of school age, from other places to Lagos as a real challenge.

These two scenarios, he noted, had really caused the over-subscribing of public schools (by students either on transfer from private schools or new enrolment) in the recent times in the state.

Nevertheless, Ogundeji said the government had really invested in education at all levels in the state.

He pointed out that government spent billions of naira on a yearly basis to fix some of these challenges as it intensifies efforts to build more classrooms, renovate the ones in bad shape and supply furniture across the state.

According to him, the government is more interested nowadays in building two-storey buildings of 18 classrooms, otherwise known as ‘17 + 1’, than the usual bungalow classrooms.

He listed some of the two-storey classroom structures which had already been completed or under construction to include Ikeja Senior Grammar School, Bolade-Oshodi; Yewa Senior High School, Ikorodu; Bariga Junior Grammar School, Bariga; State Junior High Scool, Alimosho; Senior High School, Mile 2; Amuwo Senior Grammar School, Agboju and Odofin Senior Secondary School, Mile 2, Ojo and Angus Memorial High School, Somolu.

He added that 40,000 units of students’ furniture had also been distributed to various schools in the last 12 months and same number being planned to be added before the end of 2018.

But Ogundeji disagreed with the claim that students are still sitting on bare floor and windows during lessons and examination. He said it is not true.

 

A clarion call

However, Omolewa, Ogunbanjo, Osarenren, Adunmadehin, Ogundeji and others believe that support and cooperation must come from the private sector, corporate organisations, faith-based groups and philanthropists to overcome the cases of overcrowded classrooms and other problems confronting public schools all over the country.

They said it is obvious that government alone cannot provide quality and academic-friendly schools for the teeming Nigerian children, including those on the streets.

As stated earlier, the Lagos State government’s projection at the moment is that none of its schools would have more than 30 students in a class by 2020. Whether that is achievable or not is a matter of time.

 

 

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