Arikime: A public school with 18,000 students, but only 41 teachers in Yobe State

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By Kasim Isa Muhammad

Malam Zakari Yakubu (not his real name) is a teacher at Arikime Primary School in Potiskum, Yobe State. He looks like he is in a lot of pain, evidence of how hard it is to run a school with more than 18,000 students with only 41 teachers.

Every morning, the 18,000 students, mostly present daily, swam into the gate, making their way into various classes to wait for teachers who had already been overwhelmed by the huge number of students they could not attend properly due to their shortage in numbers.

All 41 teachers have a workload that is five times higher than they can handle. The teachers are not enough to attend to such a huge number of students. Yet, from the looks of things, Yakubu sounding worried said there is no sign even after more than two decades of a democratic government that things will change for Arikime Primary School.

“The school needs about one hundred and twenty-six (126) teachers to be able to cope with its challenges,” Malam Zakari, who has been teaching for many years in the primary school, said.

“We have about 126 classrooms in the school. As you can see, most of the classrooms are empty due to the lack of adequate teachers. We have 98 latrines, but despite this number of latrines, the students have resorted to open defecation because two of our boreholes are no longer functioning,” he said.

“Meanwhile, we have only two boreholes here in the school, which means that the water is scarce for students to find what they can use for the toilet. The government should refocus on rebuilding water tanks for the school and upgrading the standard of the school by employing more teachers for the development of education in Potiskum and Yobe State.”

A student’s toilet entrance at Arikime Primary School. Image: Kasim for The Citizen Reports

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) suggests that countries work toward a ratio of no more than 20 students per teacher in pre-primary schools.

In what it called a “State of Emergency on Education”, the Yobe State Government said it started working in 2019 to “restructure education” in the state. The state governor, Mai-Mala Buni, reiterated that improving education and making sure that everyone is safe in the state are his administration’s top priorities. That was three years ago. And in 2021, the state government in its annual budget allocated N28.7 billion (17.5% of the total budget) to education. Yet, the educational sector in Yobe State has remained stalled with numerous setbacks and no critical changes have been implemented in the educational sector of the state.

In the course of this investigation, The Citizen Reports gathered facts about the age-long traumatic experience of the school.

One of the teachers who also sought anonymity told our reporter that on the worst of days, you will find three hundred students in a class, adding that about 98% of the students have no chairs to seat nor a table to write on; they are all seated on the floor. “We have about three hundred students in each class, and sometimes it becomes so hard to teach them properly in that way, so we usually separate them into two and teach them differently,” he said.

“We have enough classes to accommodate about one hundred and fifty (150) students, but due to the lack of teachers, we have no option other than to teach them in our way and wait for a response from the state government to save the future of these students by adding enough teachers,” Ali said.

While a lower number of pupils to a teacher is always better, the progress made in lower-middle-income countries demonstrates that 20:1 (i.e., one teacher per twenty pupils in a class) is an achievable target for low-income countries.

Our investigation further revealed that the classes of Arikime Primary School in Yobe State are alphabetically arranged from A-N with large numbers in each. According to the school records obtained by The Citizen Reports, with a total number of 18,193 students, the teacher-to-pupil ratio in the school is 1 teacher per 444 students.

“This is pathetic because we are in a state of emergency in education, but with such things happening, it must be scary,” said Zakaria.

The pupils in Arikime Primary School aren’t from the Airtime community. Parents from low-cost areas, Sabuwar Kasuwa, Tandari, and Boriya residences in Potiskum all come to be enrolled in the Arikime school. By building two or more public schools and hiring more qualified teachers, the area’s education problems can be lessened.

Zakaria said that the teachers, in addition to the overwhelming number of students they have to attend to and overwork every day, also receive their salaries late.

“Yes, we receive salaries late despite our efforts in dedicating our time and energy to teaching such a large number of students. We need an enrollment of teachers into this service because we cannot handle it like this. The students are also in a devastating situation as we lack infrastructural development and an adequate source of funds to manage the school,” he said.

While adding that there are a few people who volunteered to help the teachers, he said the volunteers show little or no commitment, unlike the full-time teachers who are duty-bound.

“We have no authority over the voluntary teachers even if they skip at any time they wish, as they only serve voluntarily,” he said. “The Yobe State government needs to wake up and do what it’s supposed to do about the state of education, which is getting worse.”

Citizen Reports tried to get the Yobe Commissioner for Basic and Primary Education to say something about this, but he was not available.

But when we reached out to the Vice Chairman of Potiskum, Adamu Hamza Ngojin, he said the reporter should have sought the consent of Potiskum LGA before conducting the investigation. He intimidated and verbally harassed the reporter; hence, no positive response was obtained from him.

Based on what this investigation has found, the huge number of students in the Arikime primary school was due to the lack of other schools in the area. And this cannot be a reason to keep a chunk of pupils in an unventilated class in the name of learning. The children of Arikime, like many other Nigerian children, deserved a conducive space for learning.

The state government can do more, and it can start by building at least two public schools in Arikime to meet the needs of the community’s overpopulated children.

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