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Schools in the Market?

Posted by By Tayo Agunbiade on 2006/06/30 | Views: 624 |

Schools in the Market?

The recent announcement by Anambra State Governor, Mr Peter Obi that he was going to build schools in all major markets in the State is an unusual measure to say the least.....

The recent announcement by Anambra State Governor, Mr Peter Obi that he was going to build schools in all major markets in the State is an unusual measure to say the least. But one can’t deny the fact that it would undoubtedly create opportunities for those who may have missed out of schooling at an earlier stage in their lives to catch up on their education.

The regional and gender disparities in school enrolment in Nigeria are well known: in general the northern states have lower enrolment rates than their southern counterparts. Females also generally have lower enrolment rates than males, particularly in the northern states. However figures from the Federal ministry of Education show a gender disparity reversal in some southern states such as Anambra, Enugu and Imo where boys no longer proceed to secondary schools resulting in a higher percentage of girls than boys in secondary schools. According to the news report, Anambra State is known to be the state with the highest number of school dropouts, especially male children who elect to trade instead of going to school. Governor Obi’s initiative is clearly geared towards addressing this problem.
There are huge dangers if a society either inadvertently or otherwise allows illiteracy to fester. Numeracy and literacy are the two basic foundational components of education and everything possible should be done to prevent them from come under threat. The lack of education has been identified as one of the many faces of poverty and it has therefore become imperative to introduce measures that would ensure adequate access to education and simultaneously address poverty. If a person has missed out on the early stages of education this should not be a reason for permanently shutting them out of the education pipeline. Reasons for poor attendance of school include inability to purchase the necessary school requirements such as uniforms, textbooks, school levies etc; economic factors which lead children to abandon learning for earning and other reasons which border on the social, religious and cultural.

Initiatives to address the problem of lack of education are always welcome. Indeed these kinds of programmes are necessary if we are to achieve the goals set by the Education for All. Albeit unusual, the establishment of schools in a market is an innovative idea. Its target group are the young boys and girls who have missed out of their formal education and opted – either voluntarily or forced by circumstances - branched into economic activities to earn a living. It would obviously require a lot of awareness campaigns, planning and strategising to ensure that the schools in the markets initiative deliver its set goals. Public enlightenment campaigns to increase awareness on the overall importance of the young traders etc to attend the schools. The street wise traders need to be convinced about the need to be literate in order to function fully in today’s world regardless of how deep their pockets may be. Market managers also need to be carried along in the consultative process of the initiative and should be regarded as stakeholders in its long term success.

Several questions arise about the everyday management of a school vis-a-vis the bustling environment of a market. Can a true learning environment be created within the walls of a market? One wonders about the practical modalities of the initiative. For instance would the school develop a separate curriculum geared towards entrepreneurship and vocational skills or concentrate on the regular science and art subjects or embrace a combination of both? Or would it just focus on imparting just the basic literacy and numeracy skills? Whichever path is chooses to follow its important that the schools offer conditions of high quality of teaching and a proper learning environment.

Those driving the project should hold consultative sessions with the focal group to see what are the general areas of interests and inadequacies that need to be addressed by the schools. There’s not much point in the whole exercise if the schools don’t add any value to the lives that have already seen the world so to speak! The initiative may also want to address some of the reasons proffered for the reluctance of some parents to send their children to school in the first place. For instance besides poverty-related issues and the need to earn a sustainable income into poor households, another reason given is the lack of relevance of what is being taught in schools in terms of functional and practical skills to the realities in present day Nigeria. Functional and practical skills should form the core of the school curriculum.

Whatever route the schools choose to embark upon, there needs to be a great deal of research and deliberate planning before full and meaningful implementation can be achieved. A hasty and badly planned policy to meet any political exigencies may backfire. Such an initiative must by all costs avoid being used as a political tool to favour certain interest groups.

The schools may actually serve as models to set the standards for teaching life skills that would enhance the lives of those already involved in one trade or another. They could also introduce new aspects of learning to others within the communities. In short, the schools if properly managed could become agents of change and address the needs of the communities in which they exist such as high drop-out rates, illiteracy, and poverty alleviation. If the building of schools in markets successfully reduces the high number of drop- outs from schools, it may well be emulated by states in similar situations.

Over the years, several initiatives have been introduced to address the problem of lack of access to education. Special focus has been given to vulnerable groups such as nomads, special needs children and children from poor households. The Free School Meal Programme for example targets public school children and aims to reduce drop pout rates as well as tackle malnutrition. Programmes of this nature gulp a lot of resources and may require the support of the private sector for sustainability and required impact.

The larger picture of initiatives such as this is poverty alleviation and ensuring that no child is deterred from attending and completing school. This by extension contributes towards the development of the nation. Some 20 years ago the World Bank described education as a central element to development and outlined its significance in three interrelated ways: as a basic human need, as a means of meeting other basic needs and as an activity that sustains and accelerates overall development.

This description of education is still very much relevant today. The nation has continued to seek ways and means of educating its people to enable them to participate and contribute meaningfully in the development not only of their immediate communities but the nation at large.
Clearly whatever a state or any actor can do to provide second chance educational programmes is always welcomed.

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