How Tuition-free School Impacts Lagos Slum Community - Educational News
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Adeyemi Adejoke
Ebonyi State University (EBSU)
400Level, Nigeria.

A school in the slums of Bariga, which started three years ago to train children for stage shows, has metamorphosed into the only regular school offering basic education to the community. SAMPSON UNAMKA reports on how the school is the bright spot in the community which lacks basic amenities.

But for Bright Achievers School, there would have been no primary or junior secondary school in Isale Akoka, Bariga Local Council Development Area (LCDA), a fishing community in Lagos State.

Founded by Seun Awobajo, with the sole objective of creating a seaside cottage theatre group to groom young talents in the community eight years ago, the group later turned into a school three years ago, offering basic education for free to the children during the day, while training them in art, poetry, dance, music and stage drama in the evening.

Awobajo told The Nation that he started teaching the children after discovering some of them were not literate.

“When we opened the cottage theatre, a lot of children wanted to learn how to dance, sing, engage in art and learn poetry. But, unfortunately, some of them were not educated and preferred fishing to going to school. They preferred playing around or scavenging on the dump hill, picking empty bottles and selling stuffs than going to school,” he said.

Awobajo explained that their failure to attend school was because there was none in the community of about 15,000 people.

“It is not that they do not want to go to school; it is because some of them cannot afford the fees and even the public school is about three to four kilometres away. So, for a child to go to school he or she has to spend a minimum of N400 per day, which is a disadvantage to them. They also don’t want to go to a far place but could not cope in their art academy. So I asked my team to start a free school here and convert the early section of theatre to free school. Then from 4:00pm till night every day and also weekends are for theatre arts,” said Awobajo.

Bright Achievers School which started with 27 children now has over 140 children in the nursery, primary and junior secondary school (JSS1-3) classes.

There are 15 teachers who teach across all classes. Awobajo said some of the teachers have requisite teaching qualifications, like the National Certificate in Education (NCE); others are degree holders, while two have second degrees. Regardless, he said they get trained monthly – thanks to a foundation, which upgrades their skills for free.

“Some of the teachers have National Certificate in Education (NCE), Bachelor of Science Certificate (BSc) and two Master’s students. We also have volunteers who come from the community. But it is compulsory that every teacher with BSc must go for teacher training every month. We send them to Learning As I Teach Foundation (LAIT) where they train teachers to be 21st century teachers”.

Save for the cleaner, who earns N15,000, teachers in the school earn between N18,500 and N23,000.

With the children paying no tuition fees, Awobajo said he depends on friends and well-wishers or his personal funds to run the school.

He said: “For now we are still hoping to get some financial aid. But since we started we have not had any financial support or aid yet. And l have been worried if we will be able to sustain this. We have had series of fake promises from the government. Former Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode promised and did nothing about it; and Bariga Local Government Development Council Chairman has promised and also has not done anything. I asked a couple of my friends to support me and contribute a thousand naira a month and to get 10 of their friends to contribute a thousand a month and yes; we struggle to pay them and we struggle when I go broke. I sometimes take from my personal bank account and get some money from my friends.”

Like most structures in the community, the building that houses Bright Achievers School is made of planks. The structure is basically a large rectangular hall that is partitioned into classrooms, crèche and space for storing drums and other equipment used for theatrical performances. The floor within the building is sand, like it is without. The roof has no ceiling boards and fans hang down from the ceilings by long poles. The school does not have its own toilets but shares the two communal makeshift toilets built by the community over the Lagos lagoon.

With its facilities, Bright Achievers School does not meet the criteria for formal approval by the Lagos State Ministry of Education. However, seeking approval for the school is not Awobajo’s immediate priority but impacting lives with the little resources he has.

“Of course it is not government approved yet but it is going to be, we shall one day work towards it,” Awobajo said when asked about the school’s approval status.

He continued: “I am not too concerned about the approval. I am more concerned about the impact. I have a lot of children here who have not been to school before and we are still learning the basics. The Lagos State laws of getting school approved come with requirements about infrastructure that have to be in place. I cannot wait until I gather such money to help my community. I have to start with what I have. I hope that one day Mark Zuckerberg sees us; or Dangote will use us as their Corporate Social Responsibility. Am using this opportunity to beg well-meaning Nigerians to come and support us. It is becoming very cumbersome.”

Despite being a free school, getting the children to learn is not a tea party. Awobajo said he has to be creative about stimulating their interest in education.

“I practically go door to door to pick the children. There is some enticement I do through dance and sometimes in the evening I put up a show; they all gather they want to be involved. I ask them to read they can read ,I ask them little questions they can answer, then play with them and then ask them to come the next day over to the school some of them are scared but we make the teaching fun and our approach is fun. Every Wednesday is sports, from 11am and there are different sports we engage in and these activities happen for two hours at the field.”

Thirty-seven of the children attending Bright Achievers School also live with Awobajo. The 28-year old Creative Arts graduate of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) said the children remind him of his own childhood and how he was raised by strangers.

He said: “I finished from University of Lagos. But I remember vividly that I was raised by those who were not my parents. They picked me up in a gas accident at the age of two or three. I did not know they were not my parents until the age of nine when I was getting to JSS 1. So from all my primary school education I was bearing somebody else surname but they kept on looking for my real parents because of the location and they could trace it.

“So they changed my name when I was entering JSS1. They traced my family and it was really worth it. I was told I lost my father. Some weeks to my wedding I met my biological mother. It has really an interesting journey growing up in this community in Bariga. I discovered that there was so much that needed to be done and if they can do that to me, not knowing me from anywhere, I feel the burden to do more than they did. I have 37 children who live under my roof currently and I am responsible for their accommodation, feeding and upkeep.

“Some of their parents are not in Lagos; some incapacitated; some are late. I do not like calling it an orphanage or disabled home. These are just children from the community and they need help .It is an open thing and it is a privilege that they gave me and I feel like doing more. Just imagine any of them can be president tomorrow it will natural for him or her to do the same and make the world a better place”.

Pupils, parents teachers speak

Thirteen-year-old Misturah Abdul Rahman is a JSS 1 pupil of Bright Achievers School. The daughter of a sand seller and trader she said she liked the school because they were well taught.

“I have been a student of Bright Achievers since last year, I was attending Ansar ud deen Nursery and Primary School. I moved from my previous school because my primary school teacher informed me about the examination going on in Bright Achievers, when I wrote the exam I passed and qualified. So he said if I’m interested in the school I should tell my parents. Ansar ud deen does not have a secondary school and I live in this community. I like this school because the teachers here teach students well. They behave well in the sense that they take their teaching seriously unlike in Ansar ud deen. I live in Bariga here with my parents, My dad is a sand seller, my mum is a trader and after school hours I go to my work place, where I learn hair dressing,” she said.

Another JSS1 pupil, Kehinde Mafimisebi said he was attending a public school before changing to Bright Achievers School.

I started second term in JSS1 here. I used to attend Eletu Odigbo Junior High School at Abule Oja. I prefer Bright Achievers to my former school because they can teach. At Eletu Odigbo we were too many in the class so when they are teaching you, and you are in the back you would not understand what the teachers are teaching. But here you can comfortably hear what the teacher is teaching. In Eletu Odigbo they do not give us assignments but here they do. My father is late and my mother has stroke and since the school is free it is good for me,” he said.

Ilori Aduragbemi, a JSS2 pupil does not live in Isale Akoka but does not mind trekking the distance to the community to attend the school.

The 12-year-old said: “If I had an opportunity to rename Bright Achievers, I will rename it ‘small but mighty’, because as you can see the school is small, but as small as it is, what they teach us is mighty. They take us out for excursion; we have been to African Artist Foundation AAF and other places. My father is a military man, and my mum is a trader. I don’t stay in the community, I trek down from my home to school.”

One of the volunteer teachers is a medical doctor and psychologist who does not wish to be named. The graduate of Madonna University and UNILAG, said he was directed by the Holy Spirit to the school to offer his skills for free.

He said: “Actually, I am not doing it for the money. I have other things that will fetch me money. Surely, since it is a free school they might not have enough money to pay me. In fact, I work in places to augment myself. I am doing this because I derive more joy in doing it.”

The teacher, who teaches, counsels and offers free medical services to members of the community called on the government to support Awobajo’s project to take more children off the streets.

“The governmental system we have in Nigeria does not support much of the humanitarian work we have around. What I expect the government to do is to assist more, in taking more children off the street and support this Initiative anyway they would, creating more social amenities for the community, providing potable water for the community, providing sound health care. There is no hospital near this community, so most people that fall ill are sent to me to treat, and send recommendations of drugs to me. So the government should do well in making the community a better place and it will help the school,” he said.

Chairman of the school’s Parents Teachers Assocation Mr Gbenga Balogun said it had done a lot to educate many children who would have been fishermen or scavengers.

Balogun said: “Most of the children in the environment, before go to the waterside to catch fish; they also go to the refuse dump to pick refuse but as soon as the school commenced in this environment, parents withdrew their children from schools outside this area. Even, children told their parents they want to go to this school and that they do not want to pick refuse. They left their former ways of life and came to this school and, by the special grace of God, the school is doing fine and most of the children are doing fine.”

He added that because of the school, the pupils and their parents began relating with one another.

Awobajo’s appeal

Awobajo is happy about the school’s modest achievements. But he lamented the lack of government’s presence in the community. He appealed to Nigerians to support the community and the school. He expressed the desire to get potable water for the community and good toilet for the school.

He said: “My next target in this community is to take away this floating toilet because those are the same toilet we all, including the students, make use of, and there is no water it the community. They cannot drink this water; it is for bathing .We have to go and fetch water from a public borehole which is very far away. We need a good pipe-borne water in this community. Basically health-wise our immune system is God.

“We are the government. We are in a country where we have to produce your security yourself, water, road and accommodation. The government is losing, if you put the infrastructure in place you get tax; now you are not putting infrastructure and you get no money. So, I will rather appeal to my fellow Nigerians to come and support what we have here in Bariga. It is called Bright Achievers School. You can come and support nothing is too small, nothing is too big. A thousand naira a month will go a long way.”


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