Education Humanitarian

Teaching and learning in the school of hard knocks

Baba Abba Ali loves his job – he’s a teacher who tries to make his lessons not only informative and instructive, but also fun because he wants the kids in his classes to enjoy their schooling.

The trouble is that he’s got 3,897 eager internally displaced pupils, many of them orphans, who all need his attention.

Ali is the head teacher and the only permanent staff member at the Dalori 2 primary school in the internally displaced persons’ camp.

“I have been teaching here for five years now. There used to be more teachers living in the camp, but most of them returned to resettle in their ancestral homes in the Bama Local Government Area in Borno State.

“I started teaching in this camp around 2018 when I came to see my sick mother who lives here. Everyone knew I was a teacher. The children loved hearing me read and lots of them used to follow me home wanting me to carry on reading to them. The authorities in the camp begged me to teach them. So, I started. There were so many children, I could not cope but I taught as many as I could,” Ali said.

“At the start there were just so many pupils and we had only two classrooms. It was impossible to teach all of them. Then the Nigerian Army, the United Nations Children’s Fund [UNICEF], the Restoration of Hope Initiative [ROHI], Plan International and other humanitarian aid organisations got together to help us. They gave us learning materials and equipment and built nine more classrooms.

“But, although we are really grateful, 11 classrooms are nowhere near enough for 3,897 pupils and we need far more learning materials and equipment. ROHI have given us 15 teachers on contract. We teach the children in shifts for several hours a day. We teach five subjects: English, maths, basic science, computer literacy and social studies. Having the extra teachers here is really good but I am dreading the time when their contracts end. I will have to carry on teaching alone; we do not have any permanent teachers.’’

Ali said he entered a class, wrote and read to them and then had to rush off to the next class. “Shift work such as this enables us to give all the pupils something new to learn each day. But we need permanent teachers and more classrooms. The children love learning new things. They want to get educated. And so we carry on doing classes in shifts.

“There are some orphanage schools in town. I went there to ask them for help to sponsor some pupils in the camp to go to the Mega Schools. They took a few children, mostly girls. But we need more help. I’m trying my best but I can’t do it all,” said Ali.

Most of the children had no parents as they were killed during the insurgency and some were separated from their parents and did not know where they were.

“Parents cannot afford to send their children to schools outside the camp, so there is a desperate need for more classrooms, teachers and equipment. I want authorities to help these children who will be the leaders of tomorrow. They are being denied access to quality education. We beg the government and humanitarian agencies to do more for the children in this camp.”

Sometimes when classes finish for the day, you can see Ali surrounded by lots of laughing children all straining their necks to see a video on his phone, which is held up by a wooden board in the centre of the classroom.

Ali said he could not do that every day, but occasionally he played funny videos for the children just to make them laugh and enjoy themselves.

“These are the children of the insurgency. They have seen bombs going off, experienced violence and trauma. They have been displaced and, in many cases, have been forced to flee from their homes with only the clothes on their back. Many have lost both parents. The videos are funny and they make the kids happy.”


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