Beauty and the beast: A tale of two schools

They are two schools. But a look at the schools present a contrasting fortune. One is private, the other is public. ONWUKA NZESH I and CALEB ONWE report

 

It is often said that education is the greatest legacy one can bequeath to one’s children. It is also regarded as the greatest investment a nation can make on its citizens if it must raise the quality human capital needed to drive its socio- economic and political growth for overall national development.

Annually, the Federal Government of Nigeria devotes enormous resources to education but sadly, this is not enough to meet the challenges in the sector. Since the colonial times, western education has been embraced by Nigerian communities in varying degrees.

Some have taken it as a priority while others still lag behind because they do not seem to fully understand the grave implications of living in ignorance. Although education is on the concurrent legislative list, neither the federal nor the state government has done enough in the sector.

This was the reason the sector was liberalized to allow private sector participation, which had begun to produce outstanding results. The recent commissioning of Brookstone/Northern Coalition of UK Universities (NCUK) International Foundation School in Abuja was a source of excitement for the city.

It is the icing on the cake for Brookstone Schools, which has, for many years, provided quality nursery, primary and secondary educational opportunities for young Nigerians. The school is a private initiative, designed to provide state of the art facilities to produce a conducive teaching and learning environment.

For those parents seeking the best university education abroad for their children and wards especially in the United Kingdom, a new vista has opened with the commissioning of the Abuja Centre of Brookstone/ NCUK as they have direct access to 16 Universities in the UK after a year foundation school. It is a more modern version of what used to be known as the Higher School Certificate (HSC) programme.

The commissioning coincided with the First Educational Fair of the School in Abuja as well as a celebration for winning the Best Academic Award at NCUK Partner Conference 2016. Chairman, House Committee on Basic Education and Services, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, who was at the ceremony where the award was presented, noted that Brookstone had achieved a rare feat in the country.

The NCUK has over 30 Centres globally, including partnerships in Kenya, UK, Ireland, China, Japan, South Korea, Columbia in South America, but gave the award to Brookstone International Foundation School for being their best academic partner in the world. Mohammed, said that education is the bedrock of civilization and that Nigeria and Britain have always had a healthy partnership, especially in the education sector.

He said the private sector participation had become very essential in education as the government cannot do all that is necessary to ensure quality education for all. He commended the Chairman of the Governing Board of Brookstone Schools, Mr Kalada Apiafi and his wife, Betty for their vision and tenacity of purpose in setting up the school. According to the Mohammed, it would be impossible for the teeming youths in the country to get the right type of education unless the government created an enabling environment for private sector participation in the sector.

“Definitely, what you should know is that whatever you’re doing, people are watching you. So, I believe that hard work was translated here today and the award, I wish them well. But it is the beginning of better things to come for the school,” he said.

The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Paul Arkwright, who was among the several dignitaries at the event, said it was wrong for people to say the United Kingdom does not give visas to students wishing to study in the UK.

According to him, over 90 per cent of visa request from Nigeria is approved. “Some people think that perhaps, the UK government approach to Nigerian student, that we don’t want them in the UK is wrong. Indeed, we value very highly Nigerian students.

“I don’t know how many Nigerian students you think are currently studying in British Universities. It’s about 18,000. That’s the fourth largest international group. I don’t know whether you know that over 90 per cent of all visa applications to study in the UK are approved… not rejected, approved, for Nigerians who want to study in the UK.

“There’s been an increase in 8 per cent in the number of students since 2009/2010 and we do hope the growth will continue as awareness of the quality of the overall education experience in the UK continue to increase.”

Marketing Development Executive for NCUK, Andrew Straughan, disclosed that Brookstone got the award because: “Throughout the three years we have worked with them, they have continued to display the very highest quality both in terms of the academic support they can give to their students and also through the pastoral process. “We feel that Brookstone demonstrates the key qualities which is why we thought it was very apt to give them the award. It is an award to be very proud of for Brookstone and we are happy to give them the award too,” he said.

Chairman, Board of Governors, Mr. Kalada Apiafi, said the International Foundational Year is a progression of the school’s strategic plan. “We started our Nursery and Primary in 2003 and we proceeded to open the secondary school in 2006.

Then, we partnered with NCUK to establish an international foundation year Programme in 2013. And here we are setting up an international Foundation Year Programme in Abuja in 2017,” Apiafi said.

The abandoned school

A few kilometres away from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), in the neighbouring state of Nasarawa, is a community, called Jigwada. The community is home to several indigent people, whose major occupation is farming. They are mainly peasant farmers born and bred in the rural community.

Many are illiterates and seem comfortable with their lives as farmers and pastorialists. However, some of the natives, who appear to have seen the benefits of education and want to bequeath a different legacy to their children, are worried that the opportunity for this new dream to be realized may have been mortgaged by self-serving politicians, who only come to the community to canvass for votes during electioneering campaigns.

Their fears are not unfounded and the evidence of lack of government attention not farfetched. There is a total abandonment of the only basic education facility in the community – the Local Education Authority (LEA) primary school built in 1976.

The school, with a population of about 261 pupils and eight teachers, has only one block of two class rooms, with no single desk or chairs for the pupils and their teachers. In each of the two classroom, one could see that the pupils sit on stones hewn from rocks.

The residents of Jigwada, especially those who cannot afford to send their children and wards to the private schools in the city; are not only worried that this 41-year old dilapidated primary school is an obstacle to their dreams, but that there seem to be no ray of hope for the community.

One of parents, a man who identified himself as Usman, said that many people have withdrawn their children and wards from the school, for the fear that the old building could collapse on the children and cause unquantifiable damages.

“My people are taking their children away from the school to other places; they don’t want a situation where the building will fall and kill the children. As you can see, if the rain falls heavily, the remaining part of the structure could fall” he said. The parents are so worried that one of the partially collapsed mud block classroom which is still used by the school, may collapse during the next rainy season on the pupils.

Some of the staff of the school, who spoke to Inside Abuja, revealed that the only motivation they have teaching in the school, is the destiny of the pupils that are at stake if they abandoned them. One of the staff, a man who pleaded anonymity, confided in this reporter that the government does not care about schools in the rural communities, hence, the children sit on the floor to take lessons.

He expressed doubt that government was actually serious about meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. The fourth goal of SDGs, which is to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning” is acutely under threat going by the rate of neglect and decay in the school.

On a visit to the school, Inside Abuja observed that the pupils were in high spirit and displayed interest to learn, but their innocence and pristine desire to obtain quality education as the foundation to securing their future, appeared to have been sacrificed at the altar of insensitive leadership.

The state of the school does not support the claim that the Nasarawa State Government is among the states implementing the Universal Basic Education ( UBE) programme in Nigeria. Another staff of the school, who also pleaded anonymity, told Inside Abuja that the school and the community have called the attention of government to the gory state of infrastructure in the school, but no positive response has ever come from there.

“I cannot mention how many times we have cried to the government through the Local Council. We have also done a written complaint which we submitted at the Education Secretariat in Lafia, the state capital. The language those in authority have been using each time we talk about this school to them is we are coming.

“When I came to this school, there were some desk for the pupils but overtime, the desks and chairs got broken because the classrooms were not secured. Drug addicts, who come to hide in the school destroyed the desk and chairs, and the debris were later packed away by some people around the school vicinity and used as firewood.

“The pupils sit on the floor, the heaps of dust and stones which you can see inside the classrooms are their seats. They place their books on their laps, as table. Even the teachers do not have seats. The few seats we have here for teachers were bought by the teachers”

“If it begins to rain, we usually take the children away from the collapsed rooms without roof to the places that have roof. We have primary 1-6 managing these two classrooms” she said.

Inside Abuja learnt that once it begins to rain, lessons are abruptly brought to an end, to avert tragedy that may arise from building collapse, since no one can vouch for the integrity of the building, made of mud blocks over 40 years ago.

Inside Abuja also observed that the manageable two classrooms, were donated to the school through Education Trust Fund project of 2004. This is attested to by the already fading inscription on the building.

Intervention on the way

The continued tears of the school and community for help may soon dry up, with the coming of a Non Governmental Organisation, The Great Johnson Foundation, which has indicated interest to give a face lift to the abandoned school.

Chairman of the Foundation, Mr. Ahkere Johnson, who was in Jigwada, recently with his team to flag off his ” school support program”, said that his unflinching belief that development of human capital was an enormous task that should not be left to the government alone, motivated him to move his school rescue train to the community. Johnson noted that based on his research, “public schools represent a crucial opportunity for the development of social cohesion in Nigeria communities.

“There is almost no other arena in which people of diverse ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds come together and interact so closely and continuously. Public schools provide an essential place in which trust between groups can be fostered and relationship strengthened” he said. He promised that work on rehabilitation of the school will soon start.

Politicking with peoples’ destiny

Meanwhile, the Chairman, Interim Management Committee(IMC) of Keffi Local Government Area, Mr. Ismaila Nuhu, in whose territory, the abandoned school is located, denied the fact that the school was neglected by government.

Nuhu, who was thankful that the Foundation has come to reduce the burden on the shoulder of his council, however, said that the decayed infrastructure in the school was not a peculiar feature of the LEA School, nor the characteristics of all the governmentowned schools throughout the country. “The school is not neglected. If it is neglected, you will see it. This is the characteristics of all schools in Nigeria”, he said.

On allegations that there was an order purportedly from the state government, that the media should not be allowed to show the dilapidated structure to the public, the IMC chairman, also denied it, stating that if the state government was not comfortable with the intervention of the Foundation, he would have declined the invitation to be at the flag off ceremony.

The Chief Inspector of Schools in the Council, who simply identified himself as Abdulkarim, said he would not talk to the press, because he had no authority to talk about the abandonment of the school.

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