Teachers and parents in Maiduguri are concerned about the large number of children who drop out of school during the wet season.
Although there are mega schools in the capital and the largest city of Borno State, there are still many children who cannot fit into classrooms and, if they go to school at all, many, especially those from primary 4 down, are taught in open-air sheds under trees.
In the rainy season these children are often packed into already crowded classrooms, often leaving one teacher in charge of more than 100 pupils.
“It is an impossible situation. There is just no way one teacher can cope with so many pupils. It is not good for the children and it is not good for the teacher,” a primary school teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
Because of years of conflict – mainly attacks by extremists from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and the Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād (JAS), more commonly referred to as Boko Haram – millions had to flee their homes and have ended up living in internally displaced persons’camps or host communities.
Maiduguri is home to thousands of these people and this has resulted in many more children entering the city’s school system.
The teacher said parents were worried about the overcrowding in schools – but what they were most concerned about was the health of their children.
“Walking to school in downpours often causes illnesses, such as colds, flu and even bronchitis,” he said. “And many streets within the Maiduguri Metropolis lack proper drainage systems, leaving large areas of stagnant water at the entrances of houses, shops and schools. On their way to – and leaving – school, children often play in the water and many get ill.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said stagnant water was a leading cause of malaria in Nigeria.
Stagnant water is the perfect environment for mosquito larvae to grow, the larvae needs water rich in microorganisms so they can feed and stagnant water contains a variety of bacteria and parasites, the WHO said.
The teacher said at his school – as well as at others in the city – the management tried to overcome the problem of stagnant water by spreading sand over it, but it was a quick-fix and did not last for long.
“Besides,” he said, “there is stagnant water all along the road to the school so children still come into contact with it.”
He said what was needed was a long-term, permanent solution. Frequent downpours, flooding, a lack of drainage systems and poor management or misuse of existing draining systems caused large areas of stagnant water to form.
He said only the federal and local governments could take care of the problem because schools did not have the capability or finance to deal with such issues.
Speaking about overcrowded classes, the teacher said: “Having more than a hundred pupils in one class is also one of the reasons parents allow their children to miss school.”
He said despite the high number of mega schools in Maiduguri, there were still not enough classrooms for all pupils.
“Many are still taught in open-air sheds under trees. In the wet season these children need to be accommodated in existing classrooms that are already full. It is not possible for one teacher to work with so many pupils in a class.”
He said: “These days there are many more children who need to go to school. But, with the increase of the city’s population, and especially the large number of internally displaced persons who live here now, there are not enough schools to accommodate all the children sufficiently.”
He said: “Not only is it difficult for a teacher to work in overcrowded classrooms, it is also difficult for children, who cannot concentrate properly. And, if one child is sick, it could mean many others will get sick too. This is another concern for parents and it could be a reason for them keeping their children at home.”
He said the large number of internally displaced persons in the city meant there were hundreds more children who had to be accommodated.
“It means there has been a huge increase in the number of children needing to be educated. Every child needs basic education – we are teaching the leaders of tomorrow. It is imperative that children get the education they need.”