By Ehime Alex
Until recently, the Central School Obioma in Udi Local Council, Enugu State, Nigeria, was in rack and ruin. Like schools in many communities in other parts of the country, the old structure, built with mud and thatched roof, needed more than just a facelift. Although, it had, over time, undergone renovations, not the type that could give it the modern look or help in assuaging the plight of the pupils, teachers and the community.
Transformation came when a philanthropist and prince of Udi kingdom, Mr Ike Chioke, decided to rebuild the 85-year-old CS Obioma to lift the quality of education in the community to meet global standards.
It was officially openedon Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
“My initial thinking to re-model the building started in 2017,” said Chioke, who is the Group Managing Director of Afrinvest West Africa.
He had wanted to donate a computer centre and library, but realised that it would be a wasted effort doing so. In fact, that could have been tantamount to leaving the computers and books in the mercy of rain and sun.
Concern for education
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, about 10.5 million Nigerian children between five and 14 years of age are not in school, though primary education is free and compulsory as contained in the Universal Basic Education programme in Nigeria, launched in 1999.
Only 61 per cent of six to 11-year-olds regularly attend primary school, said UNICEF, and only 35.6 per cent of children aged 36 to 59 months receive early education.
While education deprivation seems terrible in Nigeria, owing to various economic and socio-cultural bottlenecks, it has even become nauseating in the northern part of the country as a result of insurgency.
“Our programme advocates education to be prioritised and targets children, who are least likely to receive an education,” said UNICEF. “The expected outcome of the programme is that all children access and complete quality education, within a safe learning environment, gaining the skills and knowledge for life-long learning.” The United Nations agency argued that the task could be achieved, among other means, by creating an enabling environment for learning.
As clearly expressed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in its Sustainable Development Goal 4, there is need to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all” by 2030.
The UN agency disclosed that “more than 262 million children and youth are out of school. Six out of 10 are not acquiring basic literacy and numeracy after several years in school, while 750 million adults are illiterate, fuelling poverty and marginalisation.”
Education in Coal City
A 2016 data from Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Education, the latest available report for that matter, on the ‘Out-of-School Children (aged six to 11 years) by State and Gender’ showed that out of 635,899 children in that age bracket, 343,616 were out of school that year. This could have heightened by now.
In December 2020, at the RISE Education Summit in Enugu State, the Coal City, stakeholders highlighted that the key problems in the state’s education sector included poor governmental supervision, absence of school-based management committees, misalignment between the curriculum and the job market, poor remuneration for teachers, inadequate rewards for student’s performance, insecurity and lack of water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure.
Similarly, a report by the RISE Nigeria team showed that in Enugu, the number of classrooms needing repairs rose by 30.6 per cent – from 35.9 per cent in 2011 to 66.5 per cent in 2013, quoting a data collected by the Nigerian government and the United Kingdom-funded Education Sector Support Programme from 2012 to 2016. Worse still, enrolment rate also declined from 239,235 in the 2011/2012 session to 177,375 in the 2013/2014 session.
Founded in 1941, the Central Primary School, Obioma, where about 91 primary schools coexist in Udi, is a building set up by the missionaries, who first visited the town possibly to advance Western culture.
The old L-shaped structure had taken the look of a plastered concrete wall and the roofing had undergone changes; from thatched roofing to corrugated metal roofing sheet, but no ceiling. The wooden doors and windows were later changed to metal.
During the dry season, the sun’s heat would sear through the walls and perforated roofs to scorch the pupils. During the rainy season, water permeates the opened walls, causing the pupils and their teachers cold. In the harmattan, the pupils’ fate could be imagined. Before Chioke’s intervention, the sorry state left of the school structure deserved nothing better than total re-modelling.
That little bold step
With the continuous decline in the quality of education in Nigeria, “I decided to deliver learning materials to support students and sponsor skill acquisition programmes in my hometown of Obioma,” the Afrinvest CEO told Financial Street.
According to him, that little step led to a bigger vision to rebuild the school and improve the learning condition of pupils.
Chioke’s first attempt to get the permission of the Enugu State Universal Basic Education Board suffered a setback.
“I wrote to them (SUBEB), but they responded that I needed to get the whole villagers’ approval first,” he said.
Formerly known as St. Theresa’s Primary School, the new Central School,Obioma, can be described as a state-of-the-art facility with eight blocks of classrooms, measured as wide as 42 square metres; six by seven metres per classroom.
“It is designed to have eight blocks of classrooms for about 300 pupils, a library with a sitting capacity for 56 pupils, a clinic, an Information and Communications Technology centre, a conference hall, a staffroom, headteacher’s office as well as male and female restrooms,” Chioke also noted.
The re-built U-shaped structure, which gulped N100m, is also designed to take up to 40 pupils in a class, with cooling fittings and electronic teaching boards.
A son of the soil, Chioke began his primary education at the school in 1970.
“Knowing that education is critical to development, my view about life is that you cannot enlighten someone without educating them. The most important part of that education is at the primary level,” he noted.
The ICT centre, equipped with 30 computers, and the library designed to seat no fewer than 56 pupils, is expected to aid learning and enable them conduct basic research work. He said, “Once kids can get a decent education at the primary level, then it is easier. By the time they get to secondary school, they already have an idea of what they want to go into, whether vocational or skills acquisition.”
There is also a plan to instal solar power to run the school and ensure constant electricity supply.
Chioke added, “We intend to put in place a playground for kindergarten and re-touch the existing village football field to a standard pitch.”
The hope that the new-look CS Obioma will start educational transformation needed in Obioma kingdom and the communities in Enugu is a gesture other well-to-do indigenes can imitate to promote the agenda of the UBE programme across their own communities, and Nigeria at large.