The relevant authorities could do more to make our schools healthy

Year after year, Nigeria has continued to record abysmal performances in human development indicators: be it in health (infant and maternal mortality rate) or education or per capita income. For a country with humongous human and material endowment, the recent death of seven students of Isa Kaita College of Education, Dutsinma, Katsina State, from preventable diseases again brought to the fore the rather parlous state of our health system.

The Katsina State-based school was recently shut for two weeks following the death of the students from suspected outbreak of cholera and meningitis. The deaths reportedly occurred due to overcrowding and lack of toilet facilities in most of the private hostels occupied by the students. Before the deaths at Isa Kaita College of Education, two students of a neighbouring Federal University Dutsinma had died in similar circumstances just as three students of Queen’s College in Lagos lost their lives due to the outbreak of gastroenteritis epidemic last year.

In the Lagos incident, facilities at the girls-only school had been overstretched beyond capacity and the education and health of the girls severely at risk due mainly to the large population of students, overcrowding of hostels, poor quality of water and sanitary conditions. The college reportedly had critical challenges especially in the areas of sewage treatment, water and the dining hall. But the authorities looked the other way while the situation festered. Unfortunately, the lives of the three students were cut short due to regulatory failure and the extremely poor sanitary conditions.

Such avoidable deaths in a country that boasts the largest economy on the African continent is not only shameful but rankling. It bears no repeating that the boarding system in schools, particularly publicly-owned ones, is nothing to write home about, both at post-primary and tertiary levels. In some cases, privately-owned schools, including those managed by religious organisations, have not fared any better. Indications have pointed to the fact that the rot in the nation’s schools occasioned by poor sanitary and other health conditions is not only a function of paucity of funds as is usually bandied about: corruption and regulatory failure most often account for the tragedies.

Regrettably, hapless students have been at the receiving end with parents and guardians having to suffer the regular heartbreaks associated with the frequent loss of their children and wards after huge investments in them. A visit to a number of unity schools, including those owned by the federal and state governments would reveal a tale of mind-boggling corruption and abject negligence.

Apparently due to the poor conditions of the hostels, parents and guardians are cleverly forbidden from having access to them, while students slip from one disease or infection to another, sometimes leading to avoidable fatalities. Many students have also lost their lives in what is best a game of subterfuge by school authorities that their schools have functional clinics. On many occasions, students had regrettably passed on from preventable deaths because they were not allowed to go back home for better medical attention by their parents and guardians.

The executives of parents-teacher associations (PTAs) in many schools have long become willing accomplices in the ugly corruption conundrum that has enveloped educational institutions across the country. In all the malaise afflicting our schools, the government takes the major chunk of the blame. Officials of the ministries of education at federal and state levels enter into an unholy alliance with authorities in schools for profiteering at the expense of the students.

We believe that it is time to check the rot in our school system and stamp out the inherent orgy of negligence, corruption and regulatory failure. It is time for the anti-graft agencies and other relevant bodies, and non-governmental organisations to intervene and save the lives and future of our children.