Our "Schools", Their Bell, ABTI


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Our “Schools”, Their Bell, ABTI




Jaafar Jaafar






June 28, 2006



“Ban bulo na!” (Give me my block!) I shouted at the boy who sat on the half of nine-inch block I was sitting before I went out to ease my self. The boy who wanted to manipulate my “seat” got tired of sitting on the bare potholed floor of the “class.” As his one-upmanship nudged him to resist my order, raging with juvenile pugnacity, I yanked him off the “seat.” Even the blocks were however, not in abundance. In a class of fifty, some sat on the bare floor, others blocks, while the rest came with mats from home. No single chair, save our teacher’s, in the class apart from a heap of mangled pipes packed at the farther end of the “class.” You could only start sitting on a chair when you reached class three. The foregoing happened in 1984.


I remember my life as a pupil in a public primary school in those days. I could still see the image of the long muddy road I had trodden along with my brother to school. We tarried, played, before we reached the school. The songs we rhapsodised were however, a parable of some sorts. And when the school is out, it was the same ritual of lingering, singing and fighting that always accompanied us home. I could vividly remember almost everything: my school bag, adorned with Bazooka chewing-gum stickers, was a contraption of a sort slung invariably by my shoulder like mobile barber. My slate protruding from the bag that housed few dog-eared books, small trophy-like sharpener, stumps of pencils and many other bits and pieces every other child of my age was wont to carry.


Even at that time, the teaching condition was in poor state. Yet the quality of the education took exception. Even though the classes were not ergonomically designed, as in ABTIs, the teachers were qualified, caring, and good-natured. It surpassed what is present today. The teachers are not like haughty domineering “teachers” of today.


Deterioration of primary school education and higher education is no new story. The root could be traced to the time when the proliferation of private schools becomes the order of the day. Popcorn, Maradona (forgive the pun) and all that university, and Aunty this and that private school built by rich men, now become the major source of good education. The influx of these Aunties is one of the culprits that killed the standard of primary education. Apart from these types, lies another category that our leaders now squander billions (sorry, secure loans) to build – the likes of Bell and ABTI. It is not because of inverted snobbery many Nigerians hate to hear them but because of our leaders’ double-standard. I am sure the owners of these schools would not hire unqualified teachers as they do for the public schools. Will they? They will not kill their business by leaving the schools without proper hygiene, water and chairs as they so wilfully leave public schools. Much to the indignation of Nigerians, there is dearth of virtually everything in public schools while their counterparts wallow in breathtaking abundance. They can make Bell and ABTI of international standard but they neglected our schools in a sorry state. Is this the love you have for Nigeria? To display the said love to the masses, the leader even had the audacity to say he can die for the country (with his tongue in cheek). Which country? The love you have is for Bells and ABTI not for common man!


It is, however, a trite to say that this country is at a standstill, retrogressing, etc. The condition of 80s is still present. A visiting European scholar in the 80s once said that Nigerian laboratories reminded him of a war-ravaged structures and he would forever remember a practical chemistry session where titration was taught without a drop of chemical! I will like this scholar to come back and see well-equipped laboratories at ABTI and Bell! He must be green with envy – Envious of Bells not of ‘new Nigeria.’ Shame on you!


The reflection, or, uglier reflection, of those days stunned me when I visited one primary school in my area recently. What took me down the memory lane to narrate the foregoing was clear reminiscence of my primary school days. In the school I visited, one young girl in a tattered over-patched uniform was having a brawl with another one who reserved a “seat” (the same kind of block I sat more than 20 years ago!) for her brother, an afternoon student, who was going to occupy it because their shift comes immediately after the morning classes. Do Bells students know anything like “afternoon shift,” earthen-ware block? The answer, everyone will give, is no. This “shift” first started in the 80s when the school enrolment began to beat the schools’ capacity. The contraption I referred to as my school bag was far better than her N1 polythene bag. On the other hand, the ‘well blessed’ and digitalised ABTI, Bell, et al students sling their laptops over their shoulders and one expensive school bag (in vogue) they call Samsonite (each cost more than N30, 000)! She was not wearing the usual school sandals and fine white socks the well-manicured Bell pupils wear but flip-flop – unlike her well-cared Bells counterparts, she was terribly unkempt. Contrary to the fully air-conditioned Bells and ABTI classes (they televise with glee on AM Express), the classes were bare and some of the windows are broken, yet about 100 pupils are cramped in. The toilets, aside a swarm of maggots and flies that filled the place, were extremely nauseating sight. The pupils, and indeed the parents, live a miserable life. Not in synch with their well-fed Bell counterparts, their stomachs are replete with hunger because the school feeding programme that atleast assuages the hunger of these underprivileged children is not in operation.


More worrisome, apart from the said condition, was the problem of unqualified teachers. The teachers, baked briskly by colleges of education, whose culinary ‘skills’ of baking the most half-baked graduates is worst than that of our universities, are merely glorified pupils. You will see a teacher that can’t speak good English let alone teach his students. They can not read (not make) a simple English sentence not because they are not intelligent but because their parents can not afford private schools. A pity. My friend, an engineer, was “privileged” to get a teaching job in one of the public secondary schools recently. He complained bitterly to me that the situation shrinks his horizon because the students are dim-witted and daily assignment is new to them, extra lessons too – no challenge at all. They hate his class because they do not understand English. “As a Physics teacher, I don’t know how to explain molecule, circuit, diode, transistor, etc in Hausa,” he lamented. He was even contemplating about going back to his former employer – Aunty blah blah private school where the students comprehend better.


In those private schools a leader takes his children to, the teachers are painstakingly vetted before being appointed. You can not pay, from your pocket, amateur tutor to teach your children but you can pay, from the state coffer, unqualified teachers to teach the poor man’s children rubbish! You can not take your children to public schools but rather take public money to pay their stupendous fees. It’s too unfair. I have achieved a lot in education, the leader will boast. Pray, if you have done well in this respect, why don’t you transfer your children to public schools? Education is expensive even in America, the leader will reason. Do Nigerian workers earn what their American counterparts earn? You should have elevated the salary or improve the per capita income of Nigerians. What doesn’t suit us should not be done to us. All I believe the panacea to this problem is that our leaders to bring their children to public schools, so as to get a clear perception of the rot. But in as much this neo-Apartheid exists, the situation will deteriorate the more, and such double-standard can not pass the test of good leadership.



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