‘In-coming minister should visit schools to see our problems’

Hajiya Zainab Alhassan Zaku
Hajiya Zainab Alhassan Zaku is the Principal of Government Day Secondary School, Wurum-Sambe Jalingo in Taraba State. In this interview, she says inadequate teachers and basic infrastructure are among the many challenges of secondary education in the state. Excerpts:
  What challenges are secondary schools facing in Taraba State?
There are so many challenges facing public schools in Taraba State. Some of the schools have not been fenced; no drinking water and many lack qualified teachers. In some schools you will find out that only a teacher and few youth corps members that are manning the management of teaching. So it is really against the ethics of the educational background because these corps members are not trained teachers and if you want them to be good teachers, you have to give them orientation. And with the introduction of new curriculum which includes teaching of entrepreneurship subjects, when we don’t have enough teachers in those subjects how can we run them? The policy is also saying that children should go for e-learning, but we don’t have power supply in our schools, even the schools in the urban areas are only trying to cope with the situation not to talk of those located in the rural areas where there are no good roads, power and water supply, no adequate accommodation for both students and teachers. These are some of the areas that I will like the government to come to our aid.
It has been said that the quality of teachers we have now is affecting the performance of students, what is your take on that?
Really, we have that problem; the teachers need good training. They are also inadequate; we do not have enough qualified teachers who know the ethics of the profession. You can look at your position as a teacher and ask yourself if you are trained. If we can have trained teachers the issue of examination malpractice in our schools will be addressed. Teachers are not supposed to encourage exam malpractice. This is an area the government needs to do something. Government should improve on the quality of services being delivered by our colleges of education through provision of facilities and adequate funding so that they can produce good teachers.
 What about teachers’ welfare packages?
We don’t have any welfare package apart from our salaries. Sometimes they give little money for transportation and sometimes we are given the bus to fuel when we are going for training or workshop. We have to invest heavily; they say education is an investment so we have to invest in order to build the nation. If really Nigeria will get better, teachers should be looked after, even in schools we give remuneration to prefects to encourage them to sit up in their portfolios.
Now we are talking about insecurity in our schools, the schools are porous, they are not fenced, everybody can come in; no logistic, no protocol unlike our days that before you come into the school you have to go to the teacher on duty and table why you are in the school. So it is important that all schools have security men who are educated so that they should know who comes in and out but so many schools don’t even have a security man and the schools are being abandoned at the close of the day and hoodlums take over as hideouts.
All these are problems: lack of water is there, lack of health facilities, the boarding schools should have a sick bay like private schools, in fact the private schools are coming in because of all these laxities. If government should give us all these facilities those schools wouldn’t be there - all the hype about them is because of the facilities and attention being giving to students. The same teachers that are teaching in public schools teach in private schools with the same curriculum.
The free education that most governors say they are giving, is it obtainable in your state?
Is there free education anywhere? I know only in Imo and Kano states that governments are feeding students. I think they are trying because feeding is very important. Students can never pay attention to learning with empty stomach. With the displacement of people in the country, we have a lot of students in the school who are not paying school fees. In my state the ministry sent some students who are the children of displaced persons and some of them have to use their personal dresses to attend school.
How many of such students do you have in your school?
About 10 students because it depends on where the parents or guardian want them to be because of proximity to their residential areas. They are picking up gradually because they came few weeks to the exams. The problem is that we don’t have their records to see where we can come to their aid. Some students are coming to school without textbooks, writing materials or having just one exercise book in 14 subjects. I will love the incoming minister to visit schools to see things for him or herself and compare them to the years back; honestly we have problems, there are so many principals who use their strength to see that things are in place - that is those yearning for the nation to be developed.
How will you assess the attitude of students now and in the past?
Honestly there is a big gap, in our days you have to collect your report sheet, do your assignment and participate in other extracurricular activities. It is a must, each and every one of us must belong to a group or society in the school, no students is left on his or her own but nowadays our students don’t even care, you have to beg, even the selection of prefects you have to plead with some of the students to take the position.
In the past, community leaders visited schools and interacted with students to know the problems facing their schools, does this still happen in Taraba?
Most parents don’t come to check what there wards are doing these days. In our days you need to get your report to your parents, now the parents are not encouraging the principals; it is a challenge to all schools. I have so many results that are piled up which students have not collected and parents don’t even come for them. So how do you move the nation with this, these are nation builders of tomorrow.
The communities are the parents because they make up the composition of the community, they don’t come on visit, even the resource persons are also a problem, they lack the zeal to do their primary work and this is a problem. We believe that the incoming government will be able to work out something for the better. It is important that whoever is coming in as a minister should look into these issues seriously because students are the future leaders.
Drug abuse among secondary school students is on the increase, what is your assessment on this?
We have children even in our homes who get involved in drug abuse because of peer groups, this boils down to our relationship with our children, we don’t take care of them or watch their movement. So it is a problem. Students watch bad movies even in school on their phones. The entertainment industry is also not helping matters especially their dressing mode. We want them to encourage our youths in a modest way. 

 - Daily Trust 

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