SPECIAL REPORT…. How Lagos teachers brave the seas to teach at the Forest of Warriors
At the presentation of the 2018 national budget in Abuja last week, the Nigerian government allocated 7.04 percent of the 8.6 trillion budgets to the education sector, a far cry from the 26 percent national budget recommended by the United Nation.
Same week in Kaduna, Governor el-Rufai was forced to sack over 22,000 teachers for allegedly failing examinations set for primary four students.
In spite of these, there are still teachers in the sector who still brave the odds to impact students. Ripples Nigeria’s investigative team led by Kelechukwu Iruoma and Akin Obakeye visited Snake Island in Lagos to unravel what teachers in Igbologun secondary school are doing to deliver quality education.
It’s Monday morning at Igbologun (Forest of Warriors), a village on Snake Island, a suburb in Lagos; Gambo, the vice principal of Igbologun Senior Secondary School, clutches two bags as she struggles with other passengers to alight from a 15-seater wooden boat.
She had boarded the wooden boat at the jetty side of Coconut, somewhere off the ever busy Apapa port in Lagos metropolis. Gambo is one of the teachers who brave the seas to teach in Igbologun Secondary School, a school located on the Island in Amuwo Odofin local government.
Snake Island derives its name from the snaky way it appears on the map, contrary to the view of the presence of many snakes. The journey to the Island begins from Coconut bus stop to the jetty. Water is the means of transportation with either wooden or fibre boat run by engine. Wooden boat operators charge N100 per passengers while charter of fibre boats cost about N1000 for 15 passengers. With a wooden boat, it’s about 10 minutes drive while it is five minutes with fibre boat.
The island houses a shipyard called Niger Dock.. As one approaches the island, passengers are greeted by motorcyclists who strive to carry them. There are three major villages on the island: Igbologun, Igboeseyore and Igboisu, and other 13 neighbouring villages, according to the Chairman, Board of Trustees (BOT) of Snake Island, Alhaji Gamorudeen Bolarinwa, who refused his picture be used.
The registered BOT was established to administer the day-to-day activities on Snake Island and to create a platform where people can use to relate to the community.
According to Bolarinwa, Snake Island was established over 300 years ago and was founded by one Okoisu, a hunter. Okoisu with his two brothers came from Olofin, in Ogun state to settle on the island. He settled specifically on Igbologun. Over time, he asked his two brothers, Akeisu and Oyibolaberun to go and settle in the two other villages.
The population of Snake Island is 500,000, said Bolarinwa and further said that the people of Snake Island are into fishing and farming.
Snake Island has been in existence before Nigeria became a nation. Yet, it lacks basic social amenities like schools, good roads, hospitals, among other things. The first building on the Island to behold is Igbologun Secondary School, located in Igbologun, one of the villages on the island. That is where Gambo teaches.
On the Lagos state school portal website, it is stated that Igbologun Senior Secondary School was established in 1986 by the then military government in Lagos State in collaboration with NigerDock Nigeria Plc. But a former teacher, Olawale Ogunbiyi (not real name) who taught in the school for years told Ripples Nigeria that the school was constructed by Niger Dock without collaboration with the government.
Igbologun Junior Secondary School, on the other hand, commenced activities on the 6th January 2003 after the split of Igbologun secondary school into Igbologun junior and senior secondary schools. A senior teacher in the junior school who preferred anonymity for fear of being victimized said teachers face a lot of challenges to deliver quality education to Igbologun students.
Teachers abandon their families to empower students
Igbologun secondary and primary schools are the only government-owned schools on the island, and with the huge number of students attending the school from the three villages and other neighbouring villages, teachers go through strains to meet the educational demands of the students, especially in Igbologun secondary school.
The majority of the teachers do not live on the island. Some live distance away from the island, and to run the daily activities of the school effectively and to increase the literacy rate of the community, some of the teachers abandoned their families to sleep in the school till the weekend
A teacher in the junior school who prefers anonymity said, “Staff working here come from very far distance. That is why you see some of them will come on Monday, and will not go back till Friday,” adding, “You know the traffic jam in Lagos, so they have to stay here, spend four or five days before they get back to their families.”
Teachers who come to school daily, as Ripples Nigeria was told, spend much on transportation due to the traffic jam along Apapa road. On a trip to Coconut, if a teacher does not board a motorcycle, he may end up spending up to an hour on the road from Mile 2.
School converts classroom to bedroom, pleads for staff quarters
At the school, a building which used to house classrooms was converted to temporary residential rooms for teachers who do not go home to sleep. Ripples Nigeria, in the course of the investigation, noticed that teachers sleep in the building. The principals of the junior and senior schools had mattresses in their offices.
Ogunbiyi confirmed that a classroom building was converted to bedrooms by a former senior school principal, Mrs. Oke, for teachers who lived very far so they could find a place to sleep.
“She built it on her own; with her own money. Some of them have to sleep there because of the distance to reduce cost. The school has a lot of space to play with. It can be a school complex. They do not have seats but the population is manageable,” Ogunbiyi said.
The senior teacher revealed that teachers in the school need staff quarters to sleep after each day’s activities so that they can stop sleeping in the school.
Limited teachers, double tasks
There is a huge shortfall in the number of teachers. Ripples Nigeria gathered that due to phobia of boat rides, since it was the only means of transportation, some of the teachers failed to accept redeployment to the school, thereby compelling available teachers to teach more than one subject.
“We have so many subjects that I can tell you have no teachers,” said a teacher. I have not seen any teacher that teaches one subject. Economics, social studies, IRK, Civic Education and physical health education have no teachers.”
“Government is not doing enough to support the teachers based on what I have seen because we have held meetings and the principal has been requesting for more teachers. The government will tell them that they are about to employ teacher, that they cannot just employ teachers because of a particular school, and that it will be a general decision,” he said.
Ogunbiyi said that the school has always had qualified and professional teachers. “They have professional and qualified teachers. I had a Masters degree in English while I taught there. I still have colleagues there that are Masters degree holders. The Geography teacher is a Masters holder, the chemistry teacher has two masters degree. He is doing his Ph.D now.” The corps member also reaffirms that the school has quality teachers but lacks quantity.
Between 2011 and 2015, sub-Saharan Africa needed to recruit about 225,000 additional teachers per year to achieve universal primary education, according to a report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The region accounts for 57% of the global total need for additional school teachers, or 63% if the deadline is extended to 2030.
“Nigeria has by far the largest gap to fill because enrolment is low. Between 2011 and 2015, it needs 212,000 school teachers, 13% of the global total,” the report said.
“The greatest teacher shortages are in sub-Saharan Africa, which needs a total of about 17 million teachers to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030. About 6.3 million primary teachers are needed: 2.4 million to fill new teaching posts to accommodate all children and 3.9 million to replace the teachers expected to leave the profession. At the secondary level, the region must recruit 10.8 million teachers by 2030, including 7.1 million for new teaching positions and 3.7 million to replace those who have left,” another UNESCO report says.
Every education system is only as good as the teachers who provide the hands-on schooling. Study after study has confirmed their critical role in improving education quality and learning outcomes, which is why SDG 4 calls specifically for a major increase in the supply of qualified teachers.
Old buildings, no seats, windows, ceiling, electricity
The classrooms do not have 21st-century environment to impact. Ripples Nigeria observed that the school classes do not have seats, windows, electricity and ceiling. The white boards are old and need to be changed.
The corps member said the classrooms are not conducive. “For learning to take place, there must be conducive classrooms. There are classrooms and there are no seats. Some of the students are sitting on the ground and the population is high. You will see like 60 students per class and they do not have seats,” he said.
Some of the students whose parents can afford to construct seats do so and the students take the seats back home after each term and bring them back when next term begins. “As a child is promoted to the next class, the child is carrying the seats to the next class and the other class will be empty and it is left for those coming to that class to come with their chairs. If they do not have chairs, they will seat on the ground,” he said.
“They need to put windows and provide seats for them to make the classes look conducive for them. Without that, they may not get what they want, “ he added.
While light is constant in teachers’ offices, laboratory, computer room and the classrooms-turned bedrooms, no electric power is available in any of the utilized classrooms in the school despite the availability of two standard solar generators donated to the school by Niger Dock.
Ripples investigation revealed that the community has not had power for months. Students, however, use the laboratory, computer room and the teachers rooms for study and to iron their school uniforms.
According to a study conducted by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), about 90 percent of children in Sub-Saharan Africa go to schools that lack electricity. “Collectively, 188 million children attend schools not connected to any type of electricity supply—a number of people greater than the populations of Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia or Japan. Put differently, almost one child out of every three goes to a school that lacks electricity,” the report says.
In the study, more than 65 percent of schools in Nigeria do not have electricity and schools without electricity tend to perform more poorly than electrified counterparts. As one study noted, “extremely poor infrastructure has an effect on teachers, as well as pupils.”
‘No life jackets, we have to buy’
N100 and N500 are being charged each passenger who boards a wooden or fibre boat at the jetty respectively. For quality education to be delivered, the teachers feel if provided with a boat to convey them from the Coconut jetty to Igbologun jetty, they would be glad to carry out their teaching functions happily.
The teachers also complained of lack of life jackets to keep afloat in water in case of the boat capsizing. “I suggest that the government provides teachers with life jackets because of the risks on the lagoon. Nobody has a life jacket here that was provided by the government except they use their money to buy jackets,” the teacher said.
Corps members refuse to serve in Igbologun
A National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member serving in the school and who craves anonymity said he was posted to Ajeromi-Ifelodun local government but was sent to Igbologun secondary school, which is under Amuwo Odofin Local Government, to serve.
“I told them this school is not under Ajeromi but I was told to serve here,” said the corps member. He added, “Amuwo Odofin does not want to send corps members here. This is the problem they are having.”
“There was a time they (school authorities) told me to get them corps members through my Local Government Inspector(LGI) if I had the link or influence. Yet, they have not seen any positive outcomes,” he said.
“I have seen corps members who rejected this place (Igbologun secondary school). There are two corps members who were sent to this school. They were in my stream. They sent them here and they said they cannot stay here because they had phobia for the lagoon,” he said.
“The other person complained that he was sick. He had his orientation programme in Kano state and because of the sickness he now had to relocate to Lagos, so he could not stay and be crossing the sea from where his uncle staysto this place. He begged the principal to reject him.”
‘Niger Dock has tried but it can still do more’
Ripples Nigeria gathered from teachers in the school and the BOT Chairman that Niger Dock brought in four teachers on contract, due to lack of teachers, to assist the school in delivering quality education. Niger Dock pays the teachers and takes care of them. It was gathered that two of the teachers stay on the island.
“Despite the fact that Niger Dock has done a lot, they have contract staff here. They are four contract staff from Niger Dock. We have computer, English, Yoruba and business study teachers for the junior school,” one of the teachers said.
“Two of them are staying here in this village. They are from this village. The other people come from a very far place,” he said.
Alhaji Bolarinwa said that Niger Dock is expected to implement corporate social responsibility functions, and he thinks they can do more than what they are doing. “I learnt they hired four teachers to complement the government teachers they already have. But they can do more. I know they can do a lot of other things there because they are on that island making good money.”
“Niger dock should be able to come in and put another school there. How much will it cost them and equip the school with both teaching and non teaching materials?” he questioned.
High rate of illiteracy on the island
The people on the island are into fishing and farming. Hence, their priority is to make money and survive and not primarily education. “These students are in a riverine area and you know the people in riverine areas how they are.
They are the people that live in ghetto. They are not well disciplined,” the corps member said.
“The literacy level of people in the community is low,” said Bolarinwa. He added that the people of the community are only interested in fishing and farming. “Their forefathers were not formally educated and they were engaged in fishing and farming and that is what they passed on to their children. Lately, some of the parents are beginning to know that they need to educate their children. As we speak the literacy level is still very low. Not many people are educated on the island, only a few are educated,” he lamented.
He said if the government or non-governmental organizations or private companies can take up this challenge to build more schools for children on snake island and the 13 neighbouring villages, it will go a long way to alleviate illiteracy. Many of the children on the island are not in school.
According to Nigeria’s Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, Nigeria has about 65 million to 75 million illiterates, describing the figure as unbecoming and high, considering the country’s population.
No country wants to have a high number of illiterate people in their country. In fact, the more illiterates there are, the more the country does not develop well, an essay reported
Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children globally, with over 10.5 million children, according to UNESCO and of this, Lagos State is said to share 33,000 of the number, as noted in a 2014 DFID report. Until action is taken to provide quality education to children in rural areas like Igbologun, there will still be many children who are out of school.
No vocational/technical school in Igbologun
Ripples Nigeria observed that many of the students who live on the island do not attend Igbologun secondary school. They pass through the stress of crossing the lagoon to attend school elsewhere. Some of the students told Ripples Nigeria that the reasons they do not attend the school are because of the high population in the school and lack of vocational training.
“There is a huge difference between Igbologun School and the technical school I attend because we learn skills. Because there is no technical school here in Igbologun that is why we (he and his friend) attend a technical school outside the community,” said an SS2 student who only referred himself to as Akin.
Bolarinwa agrees that building a vocational or technical school could help children in the community to discover their potentials.
“The government and private sectors can come in and put vocational training or technical schools on the island so that we give the children the urge to want to acquire the education and also the training,” said Bolarinwa.
He said if they do that, the children will become useful not only to themselves and their parents but also to the society. “If you give them education and vocational training, when they finish, they will work with individuals or companies who will give them the opportunities,” he said.
Students lack the willingness to learn
The corps member who spoke to Ripples Nigeria said despite the fact a good number of the students are registered to attend the school, only a few come to the classroom. “Instead of them to learn they will be looking at you and the teachers are not meant to use stick on any of the students. So for you to impact them educationally, it is very difficult. We the corps members in particular, they (students) do not respect us.
“Students in the school are used to money. That is why they are not ready to learn,” he said. He said that is not encouraging the students to learn, adding that parents do not even care about them.
“At least 50 percent of the students are ready to learn. But what is affecting them is the environment. They do not have a conducive classroom. For them to learn, they must have good classrooms. You can see that the classes are open. Anybody that is passing will just distract the classes.
Parents, students speak
An angry parent who refused to mention his name lamented the unfavourable condition on the island told Ripples Nigeria that his children attend Igbologun secondary school. He said if not for the difficult situation, none of his children will attend Igbologun. “The condition we are in is nothing to talk about. You can find anybody anywhere just to survive. That is why I am here. I am not supposed to be here. I am very angry at this country. We are just slaves in our country. I am not happy at all,” he lamented.
A student who identified himself as Tobi and studies outside the community said he does not attend the Igbologun school because his parents do not like the school.
While the students are carried free by the boat riders, teachers are not. However, before the students are carried free, they must have life jackets. That is the condition to be carried for free. A life jacket costs about N9.000 and that is what parents must buy to ensure that their children are carried for free. “If I do not have life jackets they will not allow me,” said Akin.
Free rides for students can only be possible when an individual charters a boat. “We get free boat rides every day. We always have to wait for people to charter boats before we can enter and until we see people charter we will not go to school. Sometimes we go to school late,” he said.
“We are here to regulate and ensure enforcement of orders”
The Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) official who spoke to Ripples Nigeria at the Coconut jetty said LASWA only provides free boat ride and jackets for students adding that some of them are also given free life jackets. He said that the duty of LASWA is to supervise the work in jetty and further said that LASWA as an enforcement agency ensures that there are life jackets.
Asked why they do not provide free jackets and boat ride for teachers in Igbologun secondary school, he said “The teachers have not applied for life jackets. The community has its chairman and beach master, the person that coordinates all the boats. We are enforcement agency to ensure that they wear their life jackets. If we find a child or teacher not with life jackets, we walk the person out until they find life jackets.
A boat rider named Afolabi Kosoko said they have many teachers at Igbologun that come from outside to the school. “We carry some of the teachers for free. We have a union and sometimes, they ask us to carry the teachers and students for free and ask them to get life jackets. Some of them don’t enter the free ride because if they see that they are late considering the distance they are coming from, they will like to enter fiber boats,” said Kosoko.
BOT requests for more schools
The BOT Chairman thinks as the villages grow in population, they should have more schools. “I think that one (school) may not be adequate to cope with the growing population of the school children. The community deserves to have another secondary school, to help the community and the neighbouring villages.”
“Some of the children who are not going to school may be encouraged to do so when they see another school in place. I think that an additional school should be built amongst the 13 villages.
By Kelechukwu Iruoma