Migrant Farmers Primary School, Mbiafun Ubot Oko, where one teacher tutors classes 1- 6.

By Itoro Bassey

Arduous from start to finish, the journey to and from Mbiafun Ubot Oko, a hilly community in Ini Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, South-South Nigeria, last week, was a real eye-opener.

The journey was sequel to a report of abysmal shortage of teachers in public primary school in Ini Local Government Area brought before journalists during the October congress of the Nigeria Union of Journalists.

Sitting in front of the only classroom block at Migrant Farmers Primary School, Mbiafun Ubot Oko, where this reporter first visited, was a lonely woman – a school teacher who was quietly supervising some few pupils cutting grasses.

She did look cheerful. Although she claimed that two other teachers were on their way to school, it was what this reporter perceived as a cover-up, apparently not to expose the sad situations of teaching there. The truth she was trying to hide was eventually exposed, the fact is that she was the only staff on duty on Tuesday, November 1, 2022.

For three years, this dedicated teacher has been riding her motorcycle through the rustic roads, two hours from her hometown Ibam Edet, to get to at Mbiafun Ubot Oko.

Mbiafun Ubot Oko is a home to scores of families who are largely farmers. Most children in this village attend the government school which is in dire need of help: infrastructure, access road and most importantly, teachers.

Recalling the time when she was transferred to the school in 2019, this teacher said she met two other colleagues who had been managing pupils in the early education classes and those from primary one to six lumped in one classroom everyday. “These pupils were in their hundreds”, she said. All of them in an intense struggle to learn at least a thing from these two teachers of all subjects.

“Right now, we are three teachers in this school. But, I want to be transferred from here. The school is like a pigsty. There are times I come for work and I would become depressed. If the government sends more teachers here, we will be happy”, she lamented.

But as this reporter left the Migrant Farmers Primary School, wondering why a government that claims to pay premium on education would allow teachers work in an atmosphere of uncertainty, he arrived at yet another school facing a similar level of an unpleasant work environment.

At Mbiafun Edem Enio, about 35 minutes’ drive from Mbiafun Ubot Oko, the only government primary school in the village – Methodist School, has three teachers: the headmaster, his deputy and one female teacher managing over one hundred pupils. Two teachers were, however, seen on duty on that day.

Story of Akwa Ibom schools where one teacher tutors all classes Pupils doing compound work at Methodist School, Mbiafun Edem Enio. (Credit: Itoro Bassey).

“Presently, I’m holding from ECC (Early Child Care Development Education) one to three, together with primary one, two and three, while the deputy head teacher is handling those in primary four, five and six”, said one of the teachers.

The teacher further revealed to this reporter that a colleague used to work alone, teaching pupils from primary one to six before her transfer to the school in 2020.

The teacher advised that “If we have up to eight teachers, it will help to reduce our workload, because some classes would have been divided into two.

“The ECC classes one, two and three are supposed to be managed by two teachers. Each class, from primary one to six, is supposed to have one teacher.

“We don’t write note of lessons. How would a teacher who is managing the pupils from primary four to six, and who is juggling the roles of deputy headmaster, compound master, Agric master, and so on write note of lessons?”

This teacher also confirmed to this reporter that there are other schools with only the head teacher working without any assistance. One of such schools, this reporter learned, is Methodist School, Mbente-Nkari, where the head teacher is said to be the only teacher managing over two hundred pupils from primary one to six.

“When I was at PCN School, Ibam Ukot, it was just me and the head teacher who were the only teachers on ground. Presently, Lutheran School, Ekoi Ikpe, has two teachers. And that is according to the headmistress”, she disclosed.

As if that was not mind-boggling enough, a second teacher who joined the conversation added: “If I am teaching a lesson prepared for primary four pupils, for instance, that lesson would be a revision to the pupils in primary five and six.

“If I want to teach those in primary five, primary five lesson would be a new lesson to primary four and five, and a revision to primary six, while a primary six lesson would be a new lesson to primary four, five and six respectively. That’s how our pupils survive here”.

It was further gathered that more community schools in the local government area suffer teacher shortage, other forms of inadequacy, as well as absenteeism of one or two teachers that are even insufficiently available in such schools.

An investigation spanning more than one week reveals that public primary schools in the urban areas of Ini Local Government Area have a somewhat fair distribution of teachers, as opposed to what obtains in the rural areas where quality education is an illusion.

Data gathered by this reporter from the five clans of Ikpe, Itu Mbonuso, Iwere, Nkari and Ikono (Odoro Ikono and Ukwok) show that out of the 46 established government schools in Ini Local Government Area, only six can boast of having between five and six teachers, including the head teacher, per school.

These schools are: Methodist School, Mbiabong Ikot Udofia; Government School, Mbiabong Etim; PCN (Presbyterian Church Nigeria) School, Odoro Ikpe; PCN School, Ikpe Ikot Nkon; Methodist School, Itak Ikot Obio Ise and St. James School, Nna Enin.

Others, the locals reveal, have between one and four teachers, depending on the location. These are: St Patrick’s School, Ikporom (4 teachers); St James School, Ibiono Usuk (3 teachers); Government School, Nkana Itie Ikpe (4 teachers); Migrant Farmers Primary School, MFPS, Ikot Uko (2 teachers) and MFPS, Ogu Itu Mbonuso (3 teachers).

This sorry state of teachers’ strength in public primary schools in Ini Local Government Area was said to have remained a trend since 2019 when there was a massive retirement of primary school teachers without any corresponding recruitment by the state government to fill the teaching vacuum created by the retirees.

• Mbiafun group of villages bemoan the situation

Mbiafun group of villages comprise Mbiafun Ikot Abasi, Mbiafun Ubot Oko and Mbaifun Eyehedia. Methodist School, Mbiafun Edem Enio and Migrant Farmers Primary School, Mbiafun Ubot Oko, cater for the education needs of children in these communities, including those around the area.

Akwa Ibom schools where one teacher tutors all classesEteidung Udo Ise Udo, village Head of Mbiafun Ubot Oko.

Children from these villages who have completed their primary education trek more than one hour daily to attend Odoro Ikono Secondary School in Mbiabong Ikot Udofia, a faraway village. This is because there is no secondary school located within their areas.

“We have written several letters and forwarded several photos of the school to government to transfer teachers here, but there hasn’t been any response”, the PTA (Parents/Teachers’ Association) Chairman of Methodist School, Mbiafun Edem Enio, Elder Inyang Mendie, said while lamenting over the state of affairs.

“On Wednesday, last week ( October 26), I was at the education secretary’s office at the council headquarters. We have also written and requested for teachers who are natives of our village.

“An NGO visited us recently and gave our children free school uniforms. This school is more than one hundred years old”.

Elder Mendie, who, afterwards, pointed at the unfenced school compound, said the village is also concerned about the regular invasion of the school farms by criminals and lack of water for the pupils to drink.

Following the seriousness of the matter, this reporter also sought audience with the Village Head-elect of Mbiafun Ikot Abasi, Eteidung Joseph Anyang Udo.

“The high levels of teacher shortage, as we have in Mbiafun, would undermine the quality of schooling and learning. It has reduced our confidence in the school, and I can tell you that it has reduced pupils’ attendance”, Eteidung Udo said in Ibibio Language.

“We cannot ask our children to go to a school where there are no teachers. We have suffered the absence of teachers in our schools for the past three years. And not only that, we need a secondary school in this area”.

Eteidung Udo’s counterpart, the Village Head of Mbiafun Ubot Oko, Eteidung Udo Ise Udo, said the school in his village, Migrant Farmers Primary School, was built through his community’s effort.

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“We are sad because government has not posted teachers to teach our children in the school. The few teachers who were posted here quickly worked their transfer back to town because of the bad road.

“I have seen teachers who were posted to this place. But they left. We built the school ourselves before the government came and formally established it. They have not added anything to it since then.

“We are suffering because we don’t have any godfather in government. We have been supporting and voting for the PDP government in Akwa Ibom State since 1999, and there is nothing to show for it”.

Eteidung Udo Ise Udo however called on the concerned authorities to transfer qualified teachers to public primary schools in Ini Local Government Area to ensure smooth impartation of knowledge to children since they are the leaders of the future.

Eteidung Udo Asian Umobong is the village Head of Itak Ikot Obio Ise, Ini. He retired as a school headmaster 25 years ago. When this reporter called at his palace, shortly after visiting Methodist School in the village, he recalled that there were eight teachers working in his school while he was still in service.

Akwa Ibom schools where one teacher tutors all classes Eteidung Joseph Anyang Udo, village Head-elect of Mbiafun Ikot Abasi.

He said: “Government should not manage schools as offices where chairs, files and tables, which are non-living things, are kept. They should remember that school teachers tutor and look after the children who are living things”.

• Teacher absenteeism is irresponsibility – SUBEB

The State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) is the agency charged with the responsibility of implementing education policies espoused for public primary schools in Akwa Ibom State.

At his office in Idongesit Nkanga Secretariat in Uyo, last week, Iniobong Akpan, the Executive Chairman of SUBEB, while reacting to this reporter’s inquiry on the matter, spoke amid claims of teacher absenteeism in public primary schools in the state.

Mr. Akpan argued that “teachers don’t report to schools” after they must have been transferred, a development he said has been one of the problems of the primary schools’ Board.

He explained that education secretaries in each local government area lead the management system in the area of supervision of schools to ascertain teachers’ attendance at work, among other things.

“We have received such reports. But by the time we give you the list of teachers in that school, you will shout”, Akpan said indicating that one would be amazed at the number of teachers recorded for each school.

“In every local government area, they have what is called the School-based Management Committee which is headed by a village head. If there’s an issue (like shortage of teachers), they’re supposed to report to SUBEB.

“In some of the schools, the head teacher would tell you that teachers don’t report for work. When we receive such reports, we send the Board member in charge of schools to go and check to identify such teacher, or we suspend the teacher”.

Sir John Udoh, who is the Board member in charge of Schools Service Directorate, was blunt in his admission that teachers who are absent in their workplaces are irresponsible.

Udoh said: “We are about to set up a Disciplinary Committee to bring to book teachers who have been transferred to schools and who have refused to resume in their new places of assignment.

“I cannot say this (report of shortage of teachers) is correct because we have done transfers. The essence of transfer was to balance where there are lapses”.

Although the SUBEB officers did not explain whether or not erring teachers have been identified or disciplined so far, they however acknowledged that the low distribution of teachers in Nkari Clan happened because teachers were scared of going to work there since the communities are known for increased boundary crisis.

They added that the SUBEB management was considering posting teachers who are natives of Nkari Clan to schools within the communities.

It could be recalled that the Akwa Ibom State Government had announced the recruitment of additional 1,000 teachers for public primary schools early in the year, at the inauguration ceremony of new members of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) in Uyo.

Governor Udom Emmauel affirmed during the ceremony that “primary education is key to development of any society and it is the priority of government”, saying the new recruitment was part of his administration’s effort aimed at giving a new lease of life to the educational sector of the state for the benefit of residents.

However, less than seven months to the expiration of Mr. Emmanuel’s tenure, issues surrounding that recruitment exercise are still unclear; while the issue of teacher shortage in public primary schools Ini Local Government Area remains real, large and growing, and perhaps worse than what people had envisaged to befall the area.

Given the present circumstances surrounding teaching and learning in Ini Local Government Area, and perhaps, in other local government areas which cannot guarantee quality education to pupils, one might be made to question the sincerity of the state government on matters of education, and even the much hyped free and compulsory education policy which has variously been described as a mere statement of intention.