An Overview of the problems besetting Public Primary Schools in Nigeria

First Primry School in Nigeria

By Segun Ogunlade

The fact that many public primary schools are no longer what they used to be is pathetic. Many things have changed about the public primary schools between late 90s up to early 2000s. Unlike before, private schools, both standard and sub-standard, are proliferating and this has worsened the way education in a public primary school is now conceived. Now, being a pupil in a public school seems to be for children from low class homes where the parents are not the educated type as most children from middle and upper class families are enrolled in private primary schools. This is because public primary schools are in plain deplorable state. Being enrolled in a public primary school is now treated with disdain. In some cases, the pupils feel inferior to their counterparts in private schools. The fact that parents are now afraid to send their children to the public primary schools where they themselves attended early in their lives shows the degenerative condition of the schools.

Primary education is vital to a child’s life. It is the foundation on which her academic life is built. The days she spends in the primary school are part of his formative years and it is a well-known fact that one’s formative years are very important in the type of person one will become as an adult. But, government at all levels appear to have lost interest in the primary education of children that are enrolled in public primary schools. Many of these schools were practically wrestled away from their original owners, resulting in the government taking more than it could fund. This accounts for the poor facilities in many of those schools. Perhaps it would have been better if some of the schools are still funded and controlled by their original owners.

According to the Compendium of Public School’s Basic Education Profile Education Indicators 2018, only five out ten classrooms are in good condition. This is in cases where classes are not under held in open air or under trees. Apart from the dilapidated conditions of classrooms in many schools, the number of teachers available to teach pupils is inadequate. The National Policy Education (2013) states that Early Childhood Care and Development Centres should adopt a caregiver-infant ratio of 1:10 for Crèche and a ratio of 1:25 for Nursery.  It also states that the teacher-pupil ratio for primary education should be 1:35. But the global ratio according to United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) should be 1:25.

However, available facts show that many public primary schools in Nigeria have a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:40. This means that a teacher is teaching 40 pupils at a time. In some cases where the school buildings have suffered great dilapidation and pupils still have to be taught, the number could be greater. Apart from this falling short of the global standard of 1:25, it also falls short of the national standard of 1:35. The resultant effect is that the teachers have more workload than is necessary; thereby hampering the quality of information they pass down to their pupils.

Very few people want to be teachers these days. Many youths want to work in offices and earn better salaries. Like the policemen, many of the teachers in public primary schools are disgruntled. Taking up the role of a teacher is their last hope of salvaging their situation as against doing what they love. It is more or less like they are being forced to do what they are not trained to do. For me, the days of passionate teachers are gone. This is partly due to the value that is placed on the profession.

A survey in 2009 attested to this fact. According to the survey, over 65 per cent of lecturers in colleges of education said that majority of their students were not interested in taking up the teaching profession. In 2020, the situation is still the same. As I have mentioned earlier, teachers wish they could work where they would get better salary. With many state governments owing their workers salary, it is not surprising that many of the teachers have developed their own side hustle such as petty trading and founding their own schools.

The effect of teachers having side hustle is that many of them usually spend a considerable chunk of time meeting their business needs that they forget they are teachers. As the Yoruba would say, ogata, ogaota, owoalaaruape (translated loosely to mean whether they do what they are being paid to do or not, they would still collect their salary) Well, this is common with almost everyone working for the government from the local government secretariat to ministries and agencies where there is poor supervision. It is this assurance that people in government service have many that make them have a low sense of responsibility regarding their jobs. It is also why many of the teachers don’t have their children enrolled in the primary schools where they teach, but have them enrolled in private schools where the teachers are not like them.

The qualification of many of the teachers is also disturbing. Apart from the fact that many of them are not happy with their jobs, a good number of them don’t have a degree in education. When one considers the fact a person only has to score 100 out of 400 in Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination to get admission to a college of education, it shows the level of intellect of those that are training to become teachers. That’s why in a World Bank Survey in 2018 which covered 435 public and primary schools and 2,968 teachers, it was discovered that half of the mathematics teachers couldn’t achieve 80 per cent or more on the tests they give out to their pupils. Again, about 60 per cent of mathematics teachers in primary four couldn’t subtract double digit. Many of them were also deficient in the use of English as a teaching language.

To make matters worse for the pupils, many of them spend a large amount of their learning time on activities that are not related to their learning or because the teachers are absent to teach. In the World Bank Survey, it was a reported that a teacher in a public primary school was absent for about 25 per cent of the scheduled teaching time. This means that on the average, pupils were taught for roughly three and a half hours out of the five hours or so that was scheduled for teaching. Sometimes, the pupils are made to clear the fields and some spent most of the morning period cleaning because they were late to school. Since children are often distracted, they often play away that they forget they are in school.

The fact that millions of elementary school-aged children in Nigeria did not participate in education at all thereby making Nigeria the country with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world is disturbing. It shows a continual neglect of primary education by the government and it doesn’t augur well for Nigeria. For the lack of education for its children weakens the Nigerian system at its foundation. The future of Nigeria as a country depends on these children whose education is neglected at the present. Hence, there is a need for government at all levels to step up intervention in basic education in Nigeria by increasing investments in the children that are said to be the leaders of tomorrow.

It is not good that public primary schools in Nigeria are largely underfunded, often boast of poor facilities, have teachers that are inadequately trained and uncommitted in many cases, thereby falling short of international standards despite its numerous resources. For a country like Nigeria where the population is increasing, the government needs to have infrastructure to meet the educational needs of the emerging population. Gone are the days when it takes a whole village to train a child. These days, it is the whole country that needs to train a child because education has evolved beyond the village level. Instead of using a large chunk of the country’s resources to service political offices, basic education should be supported for the country to have a future.

Also, teachers training should be taken seriously. As they say, you can’t give what you don’t have. If the teachers are poorly trained and far less intellectually equipped than they should be, there is no way they could be catalyst for sound education. Besides this, they should be properly remunerated to cut down their level of distraction. Value must be attached to the teaching profession so that it doesn’t become a dumping ground for men and women that only need a means of surviving instead of having passion for the job. Their job is as important as that of other professionals that get fat salaries.

In addition to this, supervision of teachers should increase. If necessary, the government should install biometric machines in schools to monitor truancy among teachers who have a low level of responsibility. It takes real discipline for anyone to do what is right when no one is watching, especially when it seems as if you are being forced to do it. Teachers that didn’t take their job serious should always be reminded that they have a responsibility to the children under them and there is need for them to do their job well.

If the country fails to educate its young ones, it will affect all of us. Education is an important ingredient in the making of a great nation.

God bless Nigeria

Segun Ogunlade writes from Port Harcourt