Bauchi school where pupils learn under trees, defy reptiles, rain

ARMSTRONG BAKAM writes on the challenges, including inadequate classes and teaching and learning materials and lack of WASH facilities, among others, faced by pupils of Gudum Hausawa Primary School, located in the Gudum Hausawa Community of the Bauchi Local Government Area of Bauchi State

One of the teachers of Gudum Hausawa Primary School, who craved anonymity, said ruefully, “For over 13 years since the establishment of this school, we have had to battle a lot of challenges, especially during the rainy and harmattan seasons. During the rainy season, we battle reptiles. There have been many times that the school would come to an abrupt close for the day because the children saw a snake within the compound.

“Sometimes, snakes would fall from trees and we learn under the same trees. Twice, snakes had fallen from the trees while we were teaching the pupils and that would be the end of school that day. One of the times, the female teacher vowed that she wouldn’t go back to teach again.

“Now, we are getting into the harmattan season and these children don’t wear sweaters or cardigans, so they’ll come to school in the cold and will stay outside. While teaching them, you’ll see them shivering because of the cold and you’ll be teaching them but they won’t even hear what you’re saying because they are cold.”

According to the teacher, the school is currently in a dilapidated condition and not conducive to teaching and learning.

Investigations by our correspondent revealed that the Gudum Hausawa Primary School was first constructed in 2009 by the then Chairman of the Bauchi Local Government Area, Ali Garu, but began operation in 2010.

When the school was established, only one block of two classrooms was constructed and handed over to the community although there were primaries one to six.

The remaining classes were left abandoned, but nature intervenes as there are some trees within the school premises, whose shade serves as temporary classrooms. For the 13 years that the school has existed, the trees have served as classrooms for pupils of four classes.

Investigation revealed that despite producing and sending seven sets of pupils into secondary school with the eighth set to be graduate in a few more months, the school has remained a shadow of it old self. The pupils were all produced while learning under the trees.

Our correspondent reports that since Senator Bala Mohammed came on board as the Bauchi State governor on May 29, 2019, he has made efforts to improve the situation of education like in other sectors, which he inherited from his predecessors.

The governor declared war against the falling standards of education when he became aware of the level of decay in the sector.

While speaking at the inauguration of the State Education Steering Committee and school enrolment drive at the Government House under the chairmanship of the Emir of Bauchi, Alhaji Rilwan Adamu, the governor said the desire to raise the standards made his administration to “build over 5,000 classes across the 20 local government areas of the state; many others were also renovated and infrastructure, especially desks, provided for the pupils.”

Mohammed, however, acknowledged that there was still a lot of work that needed to be done in terms of enrolment of pupils into school just as he lamented that the state had the highest number of out-of-school children in the country. He also acknowledged that many schools were still in a dilapidated condition.

He said, “It is a shame to be enumerated among the states with the highest prevalence of out-of-school children. Even when we can build 5,000 classes, we are still not there. Teachers are showing irresponsibility sometimes, maybe out of poverty or lack of supervision, monitoring, and supervision, you’ll see some teachers loitering in the town doing achaba (commercial motorcycling) because they have taken a loan and they have to work so that they can pay back.

“You go to a school with 10 or 29 teachers, but you’ll only see one. We have a situation where a local government chairman has told us that on paper, they have over 700 teachers but actually, they have only 50 teachers. In some schools, they don’t even have a teacher. So, even when the kids go to school, there is nothing for them to do. They only play and go back home. This is a very sad situation.”

The governor added, “We are all to blame. We have teachers, who are enumerated, and we are just pocketing the money for teachers in our pockets, either as traditional rulers or as high-level politicians or people who are supposed to be big people in the local government.

“This has been happening for many years since the creation of Bauchi State and we know it. It is bad for us to benefit from this situation; this is blood money. We cannot benefit from this kind of scourge – ghost teachers –and it is happening everywhere. We, the politicians have failed and that’s why we are bringing his royal highness to make sure you take corrective measures.”

Speaking at another stakeholders’ meeting on education, the governor warned that local government chairmen, special advisers, commissioners and all government appointees who have any dilapidated school in their domains and refused to bring such to his notice would be dealt with.

While commenting on some of the problems faced in the Gudum Hausawa Primary School, the teacher said during the rainy season, the school misses many days of academic activities due to rainfall.

He said because there were no adequate classes and even the two available were in a dilapidated state, the teachers used to tell the pupils to go home so that they would not be drenched in the rain.

The teacher explained, “During the rainy season, the moment we see heavy clouds gathering, we tell the children to go back home and there will be no classes for that day, even if academic activities for the day are just starting. Because even the two available classes have holes in the roofs and are leaking.

“If you ask the four classes outside to join the ones inside as a way of running from the rain, you won’t be able to control the pupils because there will be chaos. So, we’ll just ask the four classes to go home and we’ll continue teaching the other two classes and even then, those in the classes are not spared, especially if the rain comes with a strong wind, the pupils will be drenched in the rain because there are no doors and windows.”

He said sometimes the teachers would be under the tree teaching the pupils and “Fulani herders will be passing and they’ll just lead their cows inside the school environment and this will disrupt teaching and learning activities for the whole of that day,” adding that the whole school would be in disarray and the pupils would take to their heels out of fear of the cows, causing an end to schooling activities for that day.

He added that other times, they would be teaching the pupils and because the school is located by the roadside and has no perimeter fence, articulated vehicles would be driving past the school with sand and the children would become distracted and would start looking at them.

“For the classes under trees that are close to the farms around the school, there are other times that when the wind blows, you won’t know what it is, but immediately you’ll just see rashes on the bodies of these children as if it is an evil spirit because immediately the wind blows on the children, the children will develop the rashes. It was just this rainy season that we didn’t have that experience, but every year, we usually have such an incident,” the teacher added.

When our correspondent visited the school, it was observed that some of the pupils were coming to school with mats, sacks, or cartons with which they sit in the dilapidated classes and outside under trees to learn.

It was also observed that the blackboards used for teaching the pupils outside the classrooms were often tied to trees.

When the teacher was asked, he said that they had no other option but to tie the blackboards to the trees saying, “While writing on it, if you’re not very careful, it’ll just fall or, sometimes, if you bend down to write, you can injure yourself.

“There was a day I almost had a dislocation because I was on the top of the roots of the tree writing, suddenly, my leg twisted, but thank God that nothing happened to my leg but I felt serious pain.

“The two available classes are not in good shape because their roofs are leaking, there are no windows and doors and there is no floor, so the pupils bring sacks, mats, cartons, nylons, and stones to sit on or they sit on the bare floor that is broken and dusty.”

Even though there are no fewer than 520 pupils in the school, there is no perimeter fence and water, sanitation and hygiene. Since there are no toilets in the school for teachers and pupils, the teachers, who are mostly women, have to go to houses in the community to ease themselves, while the male teachers either go to the bush to relieve themselves or bear it until they close for the day and get to their respective homes.

The pupils, on the other hand, have no choice but to go to nearby farms and bushes to answer the call of nature.

“There was this day we just saw them on top of the hill behind the school; when I asked what they were doing there, I was told that they went to defecate there. I immediately followed them and warned them never to go there again. Imagine if a child falls from there and dies or gets injured, the parents will say that this happened in the school,” the teacher stated.

According to him, another problem is that of transportation for teachers to come to the school. It was learned that because of the recent fuel subsidy removal, which has caused a hike in transportation fares, teachers now find it difficult to go to school to teach since some of them come from long distances.

He said because of the problems in the school and those associated with transportation, some of the teachers had sought transfer to other schools leaving, their positions vacant as no replacement had been made by the authorities concerned. He added that out of the 15 teachers in the school, seven had been transferred, while one was on study leave.

“These problems that we have in the school have discouraged a lot of pupils from coming to school; some of them have dropped out. These have reduced the population of pupils in the school. Some of them stopped attending the school and moved to the school in the nearby village because that one had been renovated and it looks more like a school than ours,” he stated.

On efforts made to ensure that the problems were addressed by the government, the teacher said during the administration of former governor Isa Yuguda (2007-2015), stakeholders made several efforts to bring the plight of the school to the attention of the authorities and went to the State Universal Basic Education Board many times.

He said, “We even met one of the engineers there, who promised that our school would be included in the action plan for 2015. The then SUBEB chairman was going round schools to see their conditions and came to our school twice that same year (2015). We told him the problems we had in the school although most of them were very obvious to him and to everyone who visited the school. He took notes and even journalists in his entourage conducted interviews about the school and left.

“He still returned that same year to the school and we still reminded him of our requests the last time he visited. There was a staff officer, who came with him that day and he requested that I visit SUBEB to see him and when I went, at that time, we also had a shortage of teachers. So when I went, he gave us more three teachers.

“Since then, there was nothing else up till the immediate past administration of Mohammed Abdullahi; there was nothing, no help for us although they kept coming. Even during the first tenure of this administration, they kept coming but we’ve not seen anything yet.

“The surprising thing is that I didn’t expect that during the administration of Isa Yuguda, the government wouldn’t grant our request, especially to build additional classrooms for our school.”

However, during the visit by our correspondent to the school, it was observed that there was a new structure of a block of two classrooms erected within the school.

Upon inquiry, our correspondent was told that a serving member of the National Youth Service Corps in Bauchi undertook the construction of the classes as her community development project.

The new structure has been completed while the roof, windows, doors and others are being fixed.

The teacher stated, “This corps member learned about our plight and decided to come to our aid by providing us with additional two classes. The structure has reached an advanced stage; they are about roofing it, and then doors and windows will be fixed. After that, the plastering, flooring, and seats are what are left before we start using them.

“We are happy and excited about this new development because part of our biggest problems will be solved. Even people who come from the metropolis and are passing will stop and tell us that they are happy about the new classes that are being built for us. The pupils are very happy and you’ll hear them arguing among themselves about who uses the classes. The entire community is happy about this and sometimes, they’ll spend the whole day at the school just watching the workers.

“We can’t express our level of joy for this new building that is being built because we have been thinking of buying some wood to divide the only two classes we had so that we can make additional classes. But even the money to buy what to use to divide them had been a problem, so we just shelved the idea.”

He appealed to the Bauchi State Government to come to their aid, “because this school is in a suburb of the metropolis. From the metropolis to this place is barely two kilometres, but it has been abandoned for all these years without any intervention. This is about 13 years since this school was established, but we have only two classes.”

Speaking on the matter, the Sarkin Gudum Hausawa, Malam Umar Tukur, also lamented the condition of the school saying it was impeding the development of the community.

Tukur said, “I appeal to the state government to help us and build additional classes for us and even renovate the ones we have. Most of the pupils sit outside under trees to learn. It is even now that a corps serving in the state decided to build two classrooms because of her pity for our children and to ease their sufferings, because the school is by the road and the children are suffering from dust, cold and rain.

“We have supported her and we are very grateful to her for this project, which has almost been completed. The things left to be done to complete the project are not much.

“We plead with the government to also recognise what this corps member has done for us in this community because she has done so much for us that we will never forget.

“In the past, the school wrote to the government and we also wrote, and we know that the government has limited resources and many issues to attend to, but we beg the government to consider us and come to our rescue so that our children can have access to basic and quality education in a more conducive atmosphere.”

When contacted, the Public Relations Officer, State Universal Basic Education Board, Mohammed Abdullahi, said that the board was aware of the plight of the school and many others across the metropolis.

He said the government was making serious efforts to address them.

Abdullahi said, “If you recall, the governor recently expressed anger over the state of some schools in the state and even before then, he had directed that we profile all schools that are in bad shape and give him, especially those in the metropolis and the outskirts; they are over 80 schools that are to be given a facelift and the Gudum Primary School is among them.

“What happened is that we are trying to merge our projects into two, 2022/2023. And UBEC’s policy is that we must complete a one-year project before commencing another. You see, anytime from now, we will access the next intervention; it is in the pipeline.

“We’ve taken inventory of all these schools and we’ll do our best to ensure that the problems in these schools are addressed.”