Behind the shabby school building, gathered with my peers during leisure period, we ransack tangled heaps of broken chairs and desks like scavengers. In a school of over 1800 students, each student is responsible for his/her chair and table as the available ones are insufficient to occupy the huge number of students. Like cavemen, we apply stone to rotten nails on damage school furniture, crafting chairs and tables on which to sit. The unlucky one would have to place placards and cartons on the floor when there are no more vacant seats in a classroom where we sit jam-packed like sardines. Under these shameful conditions, we acquired knowledge that scarcely managed to take root. No wonder mass failure has become inevitable at public schools. At the ring of the dismissal bell, we burst out of our various classes like a prison break, excited that another day’s sentence is over.
Almost every public school student in Nigeria faces these conditions. During the ‘’hands across the ears’’ days of education, passion burned in the eyes of the students. Seeing the benevolent red chalk mark on a child’s wooden slate brought immense joy to the hearts of their Nigerian parents. The biggest accomplishment of every child then was to return home from school with that precious pass mark; knowing pretty well his or her good grade earns him or her praise from father and a jolly plate of food from mother. This past standard of Nigeria’s public school reflects the impact of the missionaries and schools they established across the country. But, ever since the government took over academic power from the missionaries, the value and prestige of public schools gradually declined- from the decrease in the quality of learning to the dwindling allocated education budget.
One of the major factors responsible for the deterioration of the country’s education sector is the inability of the levels of government to take responsibility for public schools. For instance, primary schools are rarely established by the Federal Government. The state government on the other hand, places more importance on accrediting private schools which they consider one of their major sources of revenue. Thus, the burden of public schools falls on the local government, who then offloads this burden on the host communities where these schools are situated. Sadly, the Universal Basic Education suffers most from this negligence because primary education is not fully controlled by Federal, State, or local government. Another factor hindering the efficacy of public schools is overpopulation. In a country where the birth rate is higher than the death rate, where majority live below poverty line, educating an average Nigerian child becomes a heavy task to his or her parents. Despite an increase in the establishment of private schools across the country, due to their humongous fee, their addition cannot relieve public schools of over population. The inability to afford private school fees gives most lower-class families little choice than to enroll their wards to public schools where the child will have to trek several kilometers from home.
Subsequently, over-population, results to overuse of academic infrastructures and facilities. With precious resources scarcely given to public schools in Nigeria, learning has become a matter of survival of the fittest. Students compete for seats and facilities, compete for teachers’ attention, and compete for the usage of academic materials. Only few can navigate this intellectual jungle of knowledge acquisition. The unfortunate students must repeat classes over and over again. After repeating a class for three consecutive years, they will be flushed out into the dam of out-of-school kids; resulting in an eroded society with half-baked literates constituting nuisance and tarnishing the image of the country. Indeed, ignorantly pronounce that Nigerians are academically sound and most are performing outstandingly in their field or profession. But the increase in the population of public schools students, contrary to the number of academic infrastructures and facilities provided, will see the country breeding a huge number of poorly educated citizens who will outnumber the fully educated ones in years to come.
Under the recommendation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), at least 15% to 20% of the nation’s budget should be allocated to the education sector which, positively impacts national development. Unfortunately, our education sector has languished below 10% of the national budget for the past several years. We treat education like a stray dog waiting patiently for scraps and bones to drop from the rich man’s table. Thus, the poor budgeting gives birth to poor funding which educates poor citizens in poorly equipped schools across our poverty stricken nation. In Diaspora, we boast of being the most educated African immigrants. Yet, our inability to access standard and up to date educational facilities due to poor funding makes education more theoretically sound and practical.
Lack of dedicated teachers adds to the woes of public schools in Nigeria. As the saying goes, “a hungry man is an angry man.” The poor welfare of teachers relates directly to their lack of dedication. You can’t expect productivity and outstanding performance from a teacher who uses a belt to suppress his starvation. Teachers are paid poorly and untimely to an extent that it becomes a norm in the teaching profession to protest, rally and wail into the ears of the government before getting their hard-earned income. According to research in 2015, of the more than 1.7 million applications for university admission, less than 5% applied for courses in education. The teaching profession has become a one of the most rebuked job in the country. This happens to be the case because the welfare of teachers is ignored and the teacher, in return, shows little interest in the welfare of the students. Sadly, some of these teachers, who deserve favor, value, and respect, must work secondary menial jobs to make ends meet. The staff rooms have become a mini-market where wares are paraded from desk to desk in what I describe as ‘’staff room hawking’’. Uncertainties, self-doubt, job insecurity now loom over teachers, and few incentives to work are crippling. The effect of these issues on the students is moral decadence.
However, teachers alone should not be held responsible for moral decadence among public school students. Parents, as well as society, are part of the contributing factors to this problem. Charity begins at home. Thus, the first set of people to influence a child’s personality is the parents. Unfortunately in this era of early and unexpected parenthood, some children fall victim of poor parenting. Unlike the days of yore, when parents did everything in their power to raise their children morally and academically, today’s parents care less about their children’s moral and academic development. They perceive sending the kids to school as an escape route from responsibility. In terms of disciplinary action, they spare the rod and spoil the child.
Eventually, they unleash their untrained wards to the society and school. These aforementioned factors and others have seen the glory of public schools vanish into thin air. Students, teachers, parents, and government alike, see education as a burden imposed on them rather than the path towards a brighter future. Nothing keeps them motivated. Nothing fuels their synergy and nothing boosts their morale. They see no reason to embrace literacy, not dilapidated school buildings, not the teacher’s low incentive to work, and the outcome of it is nothing but poor performance during the students’ final year exams. In conclusion, it is high time the government and other stakeholders of academic sector take responsibility. They should realize that well- educated citizens will foster national growth while the poorly educated will bring about national disaster.