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Nigeria : UNICEF and partners create a model child-friendly school
The school’s turnaround began in 2002 when it was classified by UNICEF as child-friendly. Since then, a vigorous partnership between UNICEF, the Imo State Primary Education Board and the school’s parent-teacher association (PTA) has been in effect, making all aspects of the school environment welcoming to children.
A large compound provides ample playing space for the school’s 1,136 pupils. Girls outnumber boys by 6 per cent, with an enrolment of 53 per cent vs. boys’ 47 per cent. The pupils are spread over 52 classes, each with one teacher assigned. Twelve other staff members perform a variety of roles in the school. Demands for admission continue unabated as the school is the first choice of many in the community. The large student population has stretched the school’s facilities, and only 16 classrooms are currently available.
School and community work hand in hand
The key strength of the school is its active PTA, which is involved in many of the ongoing projects, including construction of a ten-classroom block. It has also helped beef up security in the school by installing burglar-proofing on doors. The PTA takes its role seriously. According to P.M. Okoro, the association’s vice-chairman, the group meets three times each term and at other times as needed.
Sir Sam Iheakama, second vice chairman of the PTA, points out that the World Bank Estate where the school is located is a community on its own, where residents share common strong sentiments about the education of their children. He reports that PTA meetings are always well attended: over 80 parents come to each meeting. According to him, the community has a positive view of the Model Primary School, and “parents all wish their children should pass through this school.”
The PTA has enhanced personal hygiene among the pupils by providing washbasins and stands for each of the school’s 16 classrooms, as well as items like soap, and toilet rolls for the latrines.
Model Primary School has a full complement of VIP latrines for both boys and girls. The water supply is adequate; the State Primary Education Board provided two water drums that are constantly refilled. During break time, excited pupils run to the pump with their plastic cups and bowls to fetch drinking water from the handpump-equipped borehole provided by UNICEF, in collaboration with the State Rural Water Supply Agency. The borehole is a key component of making the school child-friendly. It benefits more than the pupils and teachers in the school. Since it’s the most regular source of water in the immediate vicinity, the World Bank Estate also depends on the borehole for its water supply. Community members have praised its usefulness, and have expressed their appreciation to the school staff, especially the headmistress who they refer to as ‘blessed mummy’.
A good start through reading and play
Some 120 children are enrolled in the school’s early childcare section, which is divided into two. The emphasis is on psychosocial stimulation of the youngsters, who play and learn in an environment filled with pictures and toys.
Emelia Onyekwere is the section’s head teacher. Along with four other teachers, she leads her charges in classes that include singing, dancing, body movements and observations, especially of objects within and outside the classroom.
The PTA provides midday meals for pupils of the early childcare section three out of five school days. For some of these children, it represents a rare opportunity to eat a nutritious meal. With a little help from their teachers, the students also learn how to eat properly.
Some 1,360 titles are housed in the school’s well-stocked library, many of them provided by UNICEF. A full-time librarian trained in library management for primary schools oversees the collection.
“UNICEF’s presence is manifesting in our school” says Eugenia Chima, the school’s current headmistress. She noted that in efforts to make it child-friendly, the school had received desks, chairs, books, library equipment, sanitation materials, a borehole, early childhood care and first aid kits and other items. She said that running the school has changed her life. “The whole community calls me ‘blessed mummy’ because of the school. Even if I retire now, I feel fulfilled.”