It was happiness galore for pupils of a school in Ajegunle recently, when one of the world’s foremost technology companies renovated their once-decrepit classrooms, writes Solomon Elusoji

One sunny morning this month, scores of primary school pupils – dressed in blue uniforms – huddled under a small white canopy erected opposite some blocks of newly painted classrooms. They could barely sit still, their voices a joyous cacophony. “Our school don fine,” one of them, a boy – probably five, definitely not more than eight years – proclaimed, revealing a set of missing teeth.

About two years ago, a block of classrooms had been destroyed at Tolu Primary School in Ajegunle, Ajeromi-Ifelodun Local Government Area of Lagos, after a torrential downpour and more than 300 pupils had to move to Oremeji School 1 in Mokola, a few blocks from their original site. “I thought we were not going to come back,” one of the kids told THISDAY.

The renovation of the classroom, however, was undertaken and funded by a technology company, SAP Nigeria. They re-roofed the building, painted it and supplied it with furniture and teaching materials.

 “The condition of these classrooms was an eyesore,” the school’s Parent Forum Chairman, Felix Nwabueze, said. “We tried to make some little amendments but the breeze just blew everything away. But now we can see that God is good and we want to appreciate the vessel God used to do this. We did not know them from anywhere. But when we heard that they wanted to do something like this, all the parents jumped up in happiness. I am very happy that it happened during my tenure as Chairman. What we need now is continued assistance.”

 

For the love of service

Every October, SAP embarks on a signature Corporate Social Responsibility initiative tagged – Month of Service, where it devotes resources to charitable causes like renovating classrooms and supplying equipment to underprivileged people in society.

In line with this global CSR programme, SAP Nigeria, over the years, has invested in funding “particular areas of education that correspond to improving the learning outcome for underserved young people,” according to a statement from the company.

In 2015, SAP Nigeria funded the provision of 12 units of toilet facilities in Primary Schools in Victoria Island, Lagos. In 2016, the company also set up a 16-seater fully equipped Digital Learning Centre in Lagos Model Primary School at GRA, Ikeja. This year, they decided to go to rural Ajegunle.

“If there was ever an intervention that would make a difference, this school was it,” a SAP statement said, “which was the reason SAP Nigeria decided to intervene as part of its Month of Service 2017.

“Any right thinking organisation has to be interested in education,” SAP’s Marketing Manager for West Africa, Juliet Omorodion told THISDAY. “As a company, we are always looking to create the maximum possible impact and this was very important to us because the pupils were squatters and they couldn’t learn properly.”

The intervention was facilitated through AYECI Africa, a non-profit organisation committed to improving the learning outcomes of resource-poor children in underserved communities.

AYECI’s founder, Ifeoma Adibe told THISDAY that completing the project was an herculean task given the rascally nature of the project site. “Financially, it was way over our budget because materials were stolen, contractors from the local government ran away,” she said. “But because we had already started, we just had to finish. The only reason I am happy is because of the children who will benefit from this. This means that more children will have more access to better education.”

She promised that SAP, the sponsors of the project, “will be doing monitoring and evaluation to ensure that everything we have put in place is well utilised. We also hope that the school authorities will be able to appreciate and maintain the facility.”

According to a statement on its website, “SAP is at the centre of today’s technology revolution. The market leader in enterprise application software, SAP helps organisations fight the damaging effects of complexity, generate new opportunities for innovation and growth, and stay ahead of the competition.”

 

Not yet uhuru

Ajegunle is one of Lagos’ most iconic ghetto communities. It has a reputation for producing music and soccer superstars. The likes of Super Eagles’ legends, Samson Siasia and Emmanuel Amuneke are said to have been discovered on its sandy grounds. But the quality of education in the community is a throwback to the dark ages.

“Wherever you go in Ajegunle, you see young boys sitting in groups discussing all manners of issues,” Zika Bobby, writing for one of the national newspapers, said last year. “Football, fashion, how to make easy money, women, booze and sex are usually the most common topics. You will hardly hear them discuss education.”

When THISDAY visited Tolu Primary School this month, during the unveiling of the newly renovated building, one of the school’s instructors, Adeshewa Simeon said one of the main issues is a lack of teachers. Simeon was posted to the school by the federal government’s N-Power as a volunteer instructor in April, but she has assumed a full-time role. “I don’t have a choice,” she said. “And it can be very difficult, especially when we were squatting with the other school.”

The Parents Forum also told THISDAY that the school needs more teachers if the pupils are to start reaping the fruits of the renovation that has lifted its spirits.

Meanwhile, the Education Secretary of Ajeromi-Ifelodun Local Education Authority, Solomon Aboluwodi told THISDAY that he was delighted at the unveiling of the project.

“I am very happy because my people will now be comfortable while teaching and learning will be much more effective,” he said.

But he also admitted that Tolu Primary School was only one of many schools in the area with similar challenges and called on other private organisations to emulate SAP’s humanitarian gesture. “There are other schools around this area that need such intervention; there is a need for private organisations to be like SAP and invest in the education sector,” he said.

Primary schools in Ajegunle, also, are not the only ones with dilapidated facilities. In fact, it is a problem that is omnipresent in schools across Lagos, Nigeria and even in Africa. Recently, Premium Times published an investigative story on a school in Ese-Ofin, St. Philips Anglican Nursery/Primary School, describing an institution with no “functional toiler, tattered ceilings and an unfenced premises.”

While the government needs to do more to arrest the unfortunate decline in the quality of primary education, the private sector, as Aboluwodi suggested, must also rise to the occasion before the mites morph into monsters.