Written by: The Bridge on Monday, August 18th, 2008
The Palmgrove School or “Palmgrove Christian Seminary” as it is called, is a private school that is owned and managed by the Palmgrove Community. It has a capacity of teaching about 1000 children from kindergarten to high school. The Palmgrove School employs about thirty six teachers. There are also about 12 non-teaching staff, such as administration and management, at this school. This school was built by the Hutterite Church to try to help the needs of education in Nigeria. Many miles were pedaled in the Bike-a-thons by Hutterites at home to help raise funds for this cause.
Around 1994 the Hutterite Church funded the first school building. It was a two level building constructed of cement blocks and a very strong foundation. The roof was built using rafters of wood and topped with cement tiles. The tiles were made by the Palmgrove boys because Palmgrove has its own small tile-making shop. They later added an assembly hall to this building. This gave the school a T-shape. Like most schools in Nigeria, there is no glass or netting in the windows. After a few years another building was built, this one being a single level building. Single level buildings seem to be preferred by other public schools because they are cheaper to build. Unfortunately there was also an attempt made at building housing and offices for teachers This didn’t get far; lack of funds or a change in priorities have stopped that project and now there is only the faint outline of the walls left. They also have a big soccer field attached to this school. It is used for different events such as competition and training.
The main goal of this private school is to give children an opportunity to get a better education than the public schools offer. The public schools in Nigeria are not well controlled, meaning that a teacher will not take a personal interest in the progress of the children they are teaching. They teach because they need a job. In some cases the teacher may not even show up for class. There are other private schools around, but they tend to be unaffordable to the poorer people. It is only with the constant support and financial assistance from the Hutterite Church that this school can afford to have low fees and still afford good quality teachers. They have tried to balance the wages of the teachers with the student fees, but it only drops the number of students because they can’t afford the price. In such a case the student would then just go back to the public schools.
All the students have to wear a uniform. The uniform has to be supplied by the student. This means that they will have to have it made by a tailor so that they can match the exact color and style of all the others. The students also have to supply their own desk. Some of these students will then carry their desks home again. At Palmgrove School a lot of students leave their desks at the school because there is a security guard on the school grounds. The students also have to provide their own transport to school. Those that are lucky enough to live close by can walk, but the rest mostly get there by piling seven children on one motorbike. On top of all this, the students still have to pay for their text books, writing paper and pencils. All this is added on top of the student term fee. Generally all schools have these same requirement and so all these extra costs are seen as normal. In fact, in the public schools the students still have to pay their own text books, transportation, and writing material.
The grade system works something like this. First there are two years of Kindergarten where a child starts at the age of three. These two years are optional and not required by the state. Next are the six primary years, P1 to P6. After this are the three junior secondary years. This is called JS1 to JS3. Then there are the three final years of senior secondary which are called SS1 to SS3. In total, a student will go to school for twelve years and an additional two if they include kindergarten. There are three terms in one year with each term lasting about four months. A JS1 to JS3 student going to Palmgrove School will presently pay 3,000 Naira which is about $30 USD for one term. A SS1 to SS3 will pay 4,000 Naira which is about $40 USD for one term. These fees are always being changed and adjusted. As it is, a student going to Palmgrove school starting from P1 to SS3 will spend around 1,260 $USD over twelve years. Of course this number will have gone up in twelve years. In the public schools the SS1 to SS3 students have to pay a small term fee so the government schools are not entirely free.
There are about five hundred students attending Palmgrove School now. The method of teaching is almost entirely on a blackboard. There are about fifty students in one room. This requires the teacher to be very strict and loud. As I mentioned, there are no glass windows in the building so the next door class can be heard too clearly. In some cases, the rooms have no ceiling and so it is even louder. The students then write down everything so that they can study at home. The students are usually given home work on the weekends. Something to note, is that Nigeria’s national language is English and so the teachers have to teach in English. All the text books are in English. Most of the teachers are themselves struggling with English, so the students find it hard to understand them. This means the students also get a poor education in the English language. It goes without saying that the level of education these children get does not compare to the Canadian standards, but it is quite sufficient for someone to go on to a higher level of education here in Nigeria. That is if both the teachers and the student take their schooling serious. Like everywhere else, there tend to be students and teachers mixed in that are wasting their time. Palmgrove Community has about fifty of their own children going to the Palmgrove School.
All teachers have to have qualification of some sort in order to teach in Nigeria. They are then paid according to their qualifications. A teacher can teach with just a high school level of education. The next level would be three years of university. After that there would be a bachelor’s degree. Presently a teacher with a bachelor’s degree would get 12,000 Naira per month which converts to about $120 USD. A three year university education would get that teacher 7,000 Naira per month which is about $70 USD. So a high school level educated teacher would get about $50 USD per month. As of right now, Palmgrove has three people employed at the school. One is a licensed teacher, and the other two help in the non-teaching staff with the administrative work.
It is also a state requirement that a school has to provide a nurse for the children. Palmgrove Community has a joint venture where they share a nurse with this school. This is to help the school so that they can afford a nurse with a fairly good reputation. This has its problems because the school doesn’t meet its end of the payment but still sends the children to the nurse when they are injured or sick. In fact, it’s more like Palmgrove is paying for both the nurse and the supplies that are needed.
The government controls or checks the schools by giving exams to all the students in JS3 and SS3. That means that all students write tests only if they enter into these grades. If a student doesn’t pay the term fees, they will not get the certificate to proof that they have passed the exams. This is somewhat strange because a student can go to school for the whole year and not pay anything up front. When the student wants the papers or certificate, they won’t receive it unless they pay. Without these papers the student will not be able to go on in his or her education. It does happen, however, that a student’s family has fallen into hard times and can’t pay the fees. That student will then not be able to continue in a private school because there is no proof of having written and passed the exams. There are often stories of corruption in some schools where the teacher is bribed for these papers.
Every private school varies in the way they do things. The government encourages all the school to have at least one day of competition or tournament. They call this Interhouse Sport. That day consists mostly of physical competitions such as running races, soccer, jumping and many other competitions. One interesting competition is marching. Many schools spend a lot of money and time training the best marching team. They then compete at the local village to see who is the best. It seems that uniform design and style play the biggest part in this event.
There is recess twice a day. The children are allowed to do what ever they want during recess. However, the children are expected to attend compulsory exercise twice a week. This happens at 4:00 pm after school has closed.
The school grounds are quite large and on these ground there are garden plots. These plots are for the teachers. The children are required to weed and sow these gardens for the teachers and sometimes when one goes to school one sees a whole class of children weeding a garden.
There is also a fence all around the school premises. It is constructed of wire mesh. However, like all schools they like to have some style. The Hutterite Church has lately paid for the start of construction of a cement brick wall and steel gate. This is to give the school a more professional look. The work is underway right now. That means they are making the bricks right at the gate and mortaring them into place.
The Palmgrove School has not been without its share of problems and struggles. In fact they are on a constant balance of not being able to pay the teachers’ wages, adjusting term fees, losing students, and doing repair or improvements to the building or school grounds. The Hutterite Church is helping in little ways, but mostly the school is expected to manage by itself. The fact that there are students coming to Palmgrove School shows that they have something good to offer. One person said “the children are forced to learn”. What he meant was that the teachers push the students to learn. This seems to be one of the big advantages of going to a private school. There is also presently a teachers’ strike in all the public schools. This does not affect the Palmgrove School because they are private. The Palmgrove School is one of the better things happening here in the Palmgrove Community. As the saying goes” Give a man a fish and you have fed him for the day. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a life time.”