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Saturday, September 21st, 2019

Two Lagos schools where pupils, affluence and poverty share a fence

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by December 24, 2016 General

TOBI AWORINDE writes about Gbagada Primary School and Grace Schools, two Lagos-based schools with opposing social status located beside each other

Boluwatife Oguntimehin is the only pupil of the Lagos State-owned Gbagada Primary School who has unlimited access to Grace Schools, a private primary and secondary school for the elite located next to her school.

A thick, tall concrete fence separates both schools.

After school hours, she visits her grandmother who lives and works at Grace Schools as a matron, before her mother comes to pick her up.

Oguntimehin’s classmates envy the primary six pupil because she gets to see the life they envy.

Every morning, while pupils of Gbagada Primary School trek and take public transportation to school, they see pupils of Grace Schools being chauffeur-driven in sleek automobiles.

Some of these exotic cars have tinted glasses with blasting air conditioners and pupils from the public school only catch a glimpse of them when they alight from the moving luxuries. As they step out of their air-conditioned cars, they step into their equally air-conditioned classrooms.

When school closes by 2 pm, Oguntimehin walks into Grace Schools while admiring the lush gardens and beautiful classrooms that are a sharp contrast to her school’s sandy ground.

While waiting for her mother, the jovial 10-year-old mixes with kids in the posh school and even has friends among them.

“Some of my friends in Grace Schools are Turu (Primary 2), Udoka (Primary 5), Gogo (JSS 1), Bolu (JSS 1), Ayodeji (SSS 2), and Solade (SSS 3). The ones in junior and senior secondary school live in the boarding house while school is in session,” Oguntimehin innocently told our correspondent.

Despite the fact that she is from the government school next door, she said it has not affected the way her rich-kid friends relate with her.

Daily, Oguntimehin is exposed to the difference in both worlds. She told our correspondent that she had heard tales about London and America from her friends in the rich school.

According to an SSS 3 pupil of Grace High School, who spoke to SUNDAY PUNCH on condition of anonymity, trips by his schoolmates to top tourist destinations across the globe are commonplace.

He said, “My schoolmates go on such trips occasionally. They pay between N200,000 and N300,000, depending on the destination, and the school handles everything (the logistics).

“Some have gone to Singapore, Dubai (United Arab Emirates), and Togo. Some pupils also went to China. The trip usually lasts two weeks. They travel during the long holidays.”

Apart from their trips abroad, the pupils visit important institutions and conglomerates in Nigeria. The Grace pupil added that they recently took an excursion to the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

“Recently, those of us in SSS 3 also attended an event where foreign-based universities came to showcase their courses to pupils interested in applying,” he said.

But these luxuries do not come cheap. This much Oguntimehin knows. Her parents withdrew her from a private school for not being able to afford one-tenth of the amount Grace pupils spend on foreign trips.

The 10-year-old told our correspondent wistfully, “I used to attend Novic Private School until last session, when the school fees were increased to N25,000. My parents had to choose the government school closer to home. But Grace School is even more expensive than my former school.

“My mummy walks with me to school in the morning. Other times, she gives me N300 for transportation and lunch. I use the transport fare to come to school with a commercial bike.”

A tale of two schools

Gbagada is an expansive residential neighbourhood in Somolu Local Government Area, Lagos State, including the exclusive Phase I, Phase II and Medina estates, which extends to either side of the Oworonshoki-Oshodi Expressway.

Gbagada Primary School and Grace Schools share a fence in Phase I.

Situated at No.3, Ajidagan Street, Gbagada School occupies a compound with a smaller state-owned school, Ajidagan Primary School.

According to www.lagosschoolsonline.com, the official online portal for schools in Lagos State, Gbagada Primary School was established on September 26, 1980.

The portal reads, “Twenty-two classrooms were built, while pupils of seven classes were sent from Pedro and Mahanif-deen primary schools.”

Originally called Gbagada Primary School I, 18 teachers were said to have been drafted to the school. The portal also listed the needs of the school as: establishment of a school library, instructional materials, sport equipment, teachers’ tables/chairs, computers, and a gardener.

On our correspondent’s first visit to the school in early November, a flurry of commercial activities could be seen just outside the school premises. There was a queue of commercial tricycles, popularly known as keke, waiting to pick up passengers. At the front of the keke queue was a small group of commercial motorcycles commonly known as okada.

Three cars marked with road signs and the names of different driving schools lined the side of the street where the school is located, while an amateurish photographer with a makeshift canopy perched outside the wall of the school beckoning on passers-by to snap “instant” passport photographs.

With gated entrances on either end of the yellowish school fence, a group of traders individually selling a wide variety of fruits neatly arranged in wheelbarrows had occupied one of the east gates.

Outside the west gate stood a white and green sign reading “Gbagada Primary School.”

Through the brown, fragile-looking, metal gate, four pieces of playground equipment, including a rusty monkey bar and a steel play tunnel, could easily be seen dotting a side of the school block.

The two-storey school block was easily swallowed up by the surrounding vast land of white sand and patchy grass.

Most of the 22 classrooms appeared to be locked with only five occupied. In each classroom, the doors and wooden windows were flung wide open for ventilation since there were no ceiling fans. Pieces of half-torn writing and cardboard paper, notices and visual aids hung indiscriminately from the yellowish walls.

The classes had wooden desks and chairs for the pupils and an upholstered chair each for the class teacher. In some classes, the seating arrangement was so crammed that pupils sat sideways from the blackboard, which made for hindered mobility.

On the other side of the compound of about 150 square metres stood a much smaller school block, a bungalow, belonging to Ajidagan Primary School.

To the right of the school, where Grace Schools is located, it was a different story altogether.

Located at Plot 241 Ajidagan Street, the only way into the school is through a menacing, opaque, black gate bearing the life-size school logo, manned by two male security guards clad in crispy white shirts, black combat trousers and black hats.

The school’s expansive piece of land was surrounded by a pink wall adorned with manicured shrubbery. The front of the school was devoid of any activity. There was not a parked car in sight.

Inside, all the buildings were painted the same bright pink as the fence. An assortment of neatly arranged vehicles, including about half a dozen white school buses, filled the concrete parking lot. Across the parking lot from the main gate was another gated driveway into Grace Children’s School with a building on either side of the entrance. Another uniformed security guard manned the internal gate.

The headmistress’ office was a few paces from the second security post, past air-conditioned classrooms with two mobile policemen stationed on the veranda outside, and what appeared to be an assembly hall with a capacity of up to 500.

The walls on the inside of the building were also pink and green.

A large sandpit in the centre of the building, out of which grew a twisted tree, housed some colourful, plastic playground equipment. The kerb around the playground had matching yellow, red and green colours.

In the white-walled office of the headmistress’ cheery secretary was what appeared to be a list of daily transportation fees for the pupils. Although the duration for the payment was not stated, the fee ranged from a minimum sum of N33,000 (Gbagada residents) to a maximum amount of N96,000 (Island residents).

Behind the primary school stood the imposing four-storey Grace High School building with the same pink and green painting.

The school website reads, “The schools were established in 1968 and 1994 respectively by the visionary Deaconess Grace Bisola Oshinowo.

“The schools boast of an enabling and conducive environment with world-class facilities for intellectual, academic, spiritual, moral and physical development of a child. We are poised to produce godly students who are the future leaders of our dear country, Nigeria.”

School of the lowly

It is obvious to passers-by on Ajidagan Street, where the private and public schools are located, that there is a big difference between both schools.

A business café employee, Ronke Adepoju, told our correspondent that the two schools typify the harsh realities of life. According to her, she sees pupils of Grace Schools being driven to school every day in SUVs and posh cars, while pupils of Gbagada Primary School often walk to and from school.

She said, “In fact, some Gbagada Primary School pupils cannot afford schoolbags, so they have to carry their books and writing materials in plastic bags. The difference is clear.”

When asked if she had seen pupils of both schools socialise and interact, she laughed and said, “Pupils of Grace mingling with those of Gbagada? How? It’s not possible! You see those traders selling watermelon out there? Their children go to Gbagada Primary School. It’s the school of the very poor. You cannot compare both schools at all.”

A driving school instructor, Saheed Ashimi, whose car was in front of the public school, expressed sadness over the feeding of children there.

Ashimi told SUNDAY PUNCH that the recession has made it harder for parents of the public school pupils to provide balanced meals for their children.

He said, “Before, the children would buy food of N50 and manage it. Is there any value in N50 anymore? Now, N100 is not even enough. When you have three children in the school and you’re giving them N300 every day, it’s a major burden. There is no money out there again.”

The Nigerian economy is in recession following dwindling oil revenue and mismanagement of the country’s resources. The N18,000 ($57) national minimum wage now has little value due to depreciating value of naira and inflation.

Ashimi, 40, said although his three children are not pupils of Gbagada Primary School, he would never be able to send his children to Grace.

“For a parent like me to send my child to Grace School, I would have to save up for 20 years,” he noted.

Similarly, a photographer outside the public school, Tobi Adeoye, complained about the effect of recession on the pupils.

“The Federal Government promised to feed these children but we have yet to see the food. I don’t know what one will teach a hungry child that they will be able to assimilate.

“Those in power don’t understand what the masses are going through. Maybe they think every pupil is like that of Grace School. Some children cannot even afford textbooks. But where there is life, there is hope,” Adeoye said.

The Federal Government had promised to feed 5.5 million pupils nationwide but this has yet to take off.

A keke driver and father of two, Victor Nwankwo, who picks passengers outside the school bemoaned the decline in patronage from pupils.

“The children trek a lot these days. Grace pupils go home in school buses or their private cars. So, it takes the grace of God to make N1,500 that I can take home every day.

“Government says ‘no school fees in public schools,’ but by the time you calculate all the additional expenses the school demands, it’s a lot,” he said.

Similarly, a telecoms vendor opposite the government school, who spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed.

According to her, the standard of education in Gbagada, like in most government schools, is very low.

She said, “Pupils there cannot be asked to bring gadgets as they do in private schools like Grace. Children in the public school are given N50 for snacks, but that can only pay for one pack of biscuits. A pack of noodles is N150, not to mention spaghetti that is between N200 and N250.

“For some pupils, even when their parents give them money to board a keke, they would rather sit on each other’s laps so they can have some extra change to buy snacks.”

The vendor, who appeared in her 20s, stated that Grace School pupils do not have to worry about such problems.

“Grace has designated school buses for the primary and secondary schools. For most of the other pupils that don’t use the school bus, their parents or drivers come to pick them in nice cars,” she said.

The teachers at Gbagada and Ajidagan schools said they sometimes have to buy snacks for the children.

The Head Teacher of Ajidagan Primary School, Mrs. Olagunju, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the provision of free education by the state government does not guarantee the pupils all the resources they require to excel.

The middle-aged woman said, “Government is giving free education. It is giving the pupils textbooks and uniforms. The parents are not paying for tuition because this is a public school. They are only expected to buy notebooks.

“They only pay a certain amount once in a while, perhaps N500, to cut the grass around the school grounds. We can’t call that school fees. Buying notebooks and writing materials is compulsory.

“But not all parents can get notebooks. Some can only afford 17 books. Some would get 10 and some pay for eight. It is usually based on how financially capable they are.”

A teacher at Gbagada Primary School, who spoke on condition of anonymity, hesitated to comment on the salaries of teachers. The staff member said despite the hardship the teachers also face, they do what they can to support their pupils financially.

“These are not easy times and the salary is too small to meet simple needs like providing for the family, unlike our peers in schools like Grace. It is not easy for us, especially with the economy, but whenever a child is hungry and we can afford to buy him or her a little meal or snack, we do so.

“We are confident that the government will soon start its ‘one meal a day’ feeding programme for public schoolchildren as promised,” the teacher said with a smile.

An academic haven

In comparison, the lifestyle of pupils of Grace Schools can best be described as privileged. Getting into the school to talk to the pupils and teachers was a Herculean task as the security guards scrutinised all visitors.

According to an SSS 3 pupil of the school, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the pupils live a sheltered life.

“I think many of the pupils in my school, particularly those in junior secondary school, are pampered. Besides that, everything about the school is good,” he told SUNDAY PUNCH.

The secondary school has about 400 pupils and 50 teachers. His class has 18 pupils.

He said, “The school just employed new teachers and my school fees increased this year. The difference between SSS 2 and SSS 3 pupils’ school fees is a lot because of our forthcoming West African Senior School Certificate Examinations.   In SSS 2, we paid about N300,000 for one term. A set of uniforms is about N20,000.”

Though the pupil noted that he has attended Grace Schools for 15 years, he was unsure of the name of the next-door public school.

“There’s only one other private school that I know close to my school. There are about 10 public schools in the area, but I am not sure of the name of the public school beside mine. I’ll have to find out, but I think it is called Gbagada Comprehensive.

“Pupils of Christ the King International School, a private school across the expressway, come for sporting events once in a while. Pupils of Christ the Redeemer Secondary School, another private school, come as well. Recently, we had a school fellowship programme and Christ the King was invited. Christ the Redeemer was also invited but they couldn’t make it,” he said.

Speaking on the transportation facilities offered by the school, he said, “I don’t know how many buses the primary school has, but the secondary school has about five. There are pupils who live on the Island. A few of them are my classmates.”

The teenager was, however, quick to point out that he did not take his available  lifestyle for granted.

“I know some pupils have complained over time that their parents said the school fees were becoming too high. But I know that, generally, in the school system, children have changed schools this session because of the recession.

“I remember a teacher telling us on the first day of school that we should thank God that our parents can still pay our school fees, that many pupils were being transferred to other schools because of the recession,” he noted.

After completing his secondary education, he is hopeful of getting a scholarship to study in the United States.

“Some pupils in my school that chose to study in the United Kingdom recently sat for Cambridge International Exams,” he added.

We love the life of Grace School children — Gbagada pupils

Like Oguntimehin, Gbagada Primary School pupils long for a better life.

Ganiyu and Ganiyat Abdulyekim, 11-year-old twins also in primary six, said they used to receive N20 each as pocket money every day. According to them, their parents increased their allowance with the rise in market prices, but it came at a cost.

“Our pocket money used to be N20. We would come to school by bus for N50 each then. Though our pocket money is now N50, we have to walk to school,” Ganiyat said.

Precious Dania, 10, also treks to school.

The primary six pupil said, “I have been a pupil here since I started primary school. My pocket money is N100. I used to take a bus to and from school for N100. But I walk now. It takes about 30 minutes.

“But I wish I was in Grace School. I would love to be driven to school every day.”

Samson Ewebiyi, a Primary 4 pupil in the school, also said he walks to school and that his lunch money had dropped from N100 to N60.

“I use it to buy rice worth N20 and biscuits. I walk to school but I wish my school had a bus that took me to school every day like Grace. I also like to play football, but my school doesn’t have balls,” the nine-year-old added.

Helen Abbah is one of the few lucky ones. Her mother prepares meals that she takes to school. The primary four pupil said, “My pocket money is N50. It used to be N100. I bring some food from home also.”

‘Both schools should interact’

A former Minister of Education, Professor Tunde Adeniran, stressed the importance of a cordial relationship between pupils of both schools, while encouraging the schools to develop trust through active socialisation.

Adeniran said, “I believe that the pupils should be given the type of orientation that will make them relate with one another as citizens of this country. The teachers and proprietors should try to encourage them to appreciate the humanity that is in all of them, to love their neighbours no matter the circumstances of birth and upbringing. ”

Asked to comment on efforts to improve the standard of education in Gbagada Primary School, the Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Ministry of Education, Segun Ogundeji, said, “I know that a lot of renovation and construction work of new blocks of classrooms are going on in many schools. But I will not be able to tell you whether Gbagada is a beneficiary of the current work going on.”

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