Kaduna Free-Feeding Program: Challenges To Quality Access
In an effort to further strengthen the basic education scheme and boost literacy level in the country, the Kaduna state governor, Nasir El-Rufai, declared a state-of-emergency in the education sector by introducing free and compulsory basic education, as well as free feeding of pupils and distribution of uniforms for all students in public schools across the 255 wards of the state.
The governor also made the sector one of the priorities of his administration, where he even stressed that, “No child of school age should be seen on the streets, hawking, during school hours.”
The school feeding program commenced fully on Monday 17 January, 2015, while the commissioner of education, Shehu Usman Adamu, pointed out that each pupil would be fed with meals worth N50 per day, and school uniforms to be provided to students in the secondary school section. In the feeding program, 1.8 million pupils are expected to be fed, while a budget of N9 billion is expected to be spent annually on the program.
Education, they say, is the cornerstone for the development of every nation; as such, to invest in it would create an avenue for the advancement of any given society as well as securing its future.
Reports by Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitions and Equity (CREATE) noted that over 60 million children of primary school age are not in school, mostly in sub Saharan Africa and South Asia. According to a study carried out by UNESCO, 40 percent of children aged 6-11 in Nigeria do not attend any primary school – with the northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate. It also added that, despite a significant enrolment in recent years, it is estimated that about 4.7 million children are still not in school.
In an attempt to fight this illiteracy and extend basic education to all children in the country, the Nigerian government implemented the basic education scheme by passing into law the compulsory free Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act in 2004.
Pronouncement by governments in the country on provision of free basic education and even free-feeding in some states like Kano, Osun and Lagos, among others, has also led to an increase in enrolment rates. These are laudable policies, which will not only boost school enrolment and attendance but also ensure education-for-all and create better future for them and the country.
However, poor learning environment has remained one greatest challenge in the educational system in the country.
The challenge ranges from inadequate or, unavailability of, schools facilities and classrooms, weak infrastructures and insufficient teachers to handle the high number of school children; hence the expected result becomes less effective.
For example, Governor El-Rufai during the flagg-off ceremony of the free-feeding program, noted that the feeding intervention was necessary so as to boost nutrition, health of the children, and also encourage school attendance; stating further that the free-feeding program would expand access to education and ensure that every child has nine years of free, decent basic education, no matter the income level of their parents.
This development has attracted lots of commendations from various stakeholders within the state and country at large. It has also attracted lots of students’ enrollment, which is now affecting the quality of access and the effectiveness of the program.
A visit by Conscience Triumph to some of the public primary schools within some suburb communities of the state shows that the free-feeding program has begun in earnest and has attracted great influx and enrollment of pupils. It was also noticed that most of the schools have stopped offering admission to children because government has already stopped capturing in its school feeding program.
Acute shortage of infrastructures and facilities – ranging from lack of chairs and desks, classrooms, toilets and teaching aids – were noted in most of the schools visited.
In UBE Primary School, Layin Biliya, Rigasa (a ward in Igabi Local government Area), the number of pupils has gone up from 2,234 to 19,954 – a tremendous rise, indeed.
When Conscience Triumph visited the school, it had eight classrooms with limited teachers and without toilets facilities; most of the pupils were seated on bare floors inside their classes, while others who did not have the opportunity to be inside the class sat on the dust floors in the open ground of the school compound. The walls of the school fence were used as “blackboard” by teachers.
More than 80 percent of the pupils were not wearing the usual green-and-white uniforms, as they’re expecting the State Government to provide them with school uniforms as promised. Most of them carried only their plates to school, instead of writing materials.
The lack of school uniforms for the pupils has opened an avenue for non-pupils to infiltrate into the school for free meals, as it was observed that as soon as it is time for break (time for feeding), some street beggars in the area try as much as possible to push their way into the school to get their own share of the food.
Food distributions also take more than 30 minutes of the break time, and immediately the children collect their meals, they leave for home.
The mammoth population makes the sharing process difficult; as the pupils struggle for the meals, they get out of control and, in the process, the much younger ones get trampled upon, thereby sustaining various degrees of injuries.
This ugly situation has also attracted members of the Nigerian Red Cross and more than 20 volunteers within the community to assist in crowd control and offer First-Aid to injured victims when the need arise, during feeding periods.
Coordinator of the Red Cross school unit of Igabi local government area of the state, Safiliyu Adamu Bawa, explained that they have so far recorded more than 260 casualties. He called on government to make provision of classes to make crowd control easier.
Headmaster of the school, Joseph Audu, while commending the state government’s feeding program, explained that, prior to the commencement of the program, the school population was 2,234 pupils for both morning and afternoon sessions, but that it has now registered 19,954 pupils.
He added that, the enormous population does not make the environment hygienic for feeding, noting that, the school is in dare need of classrooms, renovations and provisions of infrastructures so as to make the environment conducive for learning.
“Even before now, there is a need; even in my office the table is 3 legged, not to even talk more of desks and chairs in the classes,” he added.
The chairman of the School Base Management Committee (SBMC), Idris Sheriff, expressed concern over the high number of pupils in the school with limited infrastructures. He called on Kaduna state government and the Ministry of Education to send more teachers to the school and build additional classes; noting however, that government should come and purchase a building close to the school where the owner has agreed to sell out to the government.
Sheriff, however, called on parents to provide their wards with the necessary items for schools and not to wait for government for provision of the books and uniforms.
Amina Halilu, a concerned parent, further urged the government to as a matter of urgency stop the feeding, even if it is for three months, so as to provide classrooms for the pupils, stating that the children cannot learn in that (existing) condition.
At a primary school in Ungwan Maigero, a community in Rido Ward, the population is about 170 pupils, and the pupils receive teaching in an open environment, some of which sit under the trees – with the sheets of ceiling boards used as blackboard.
It was also gathered that parents have asked their children not to eat the food provided by vendors under the scheme on grounds of hygiene. This could be as a result of the failure of government to fulfill its promise of engaging food vendors from the community as obtained in other areas – just as it was stated by the education commissioner in a briefing before the commencement of the program, that such cases would be addressed within two weeks.
A community member, who pleaded anonymity, decried the state of their school, saying that several calls to the State Universal Education Board to come and erect school structures yielded no results.
He appealed to government to convert the money meant for the school feeding of pupils in that particular school (at Ungwan Maigero) to raise structures, in order to enhance proper learning of their children.
According to him, “For example, we have about 170 pupils, and if the N50 for food per child per day can be converted to building of classes, at least in a month we will have almost N170,000 and in three months we may get more than N500,000 – that will go a long way in helping us raise structures for our children.”
He added that a structure was started but at a point brought down by rain during the last rainy season, and the pupils are being taught in an open ground and are exposed to harsh weather.
In LGEA primary school, Narayi (a ward under Chikun Local Government Area), parents were seen around coming to plead for the admission of their wards, which the school authority refused to acknowledge, saying, it was a directive by government not to offer admission during session until the commencement of a new session.
With a population of 2,615 pupils, most pupils are seated either on the floor or on broken chairs for classes.
While commending government’s efforts, Headmaster of the school, Bala Barde, said the feeding program will encourage the children and retain them in school by making the child to concentrate, while in class. He also urged the government to make more provisions to enable the school admit more children.
Similarly, LEA Primary School on Polytechnic Road, Tudun Wada, in Kaduna South Local Government Area of the state, there was also a rise in student enrollment; it was also observed that the school has inadequate chairs and desks in their classrooms and, while some pupils are seated on chairs, others sit on bare floor during class period.