5 pupils, one desk - 2,000 children struggle through school in Sene East islands
Magine pupils of varying ages belonging to classes three, four, five and six lumped up together in one classroom with very sparse furniture, and being taught the same topic or subject by a teacher.
In addition to that, there are neither exercise nor textbooks to enhance learning, and the pupils must figure out for themselves how to understand what is being taught.
Whereas that may sound preposterous, that is the situation children of schoolage in the island communities of Sene East District in the Bono East Region have to contend with on a daily basis, and at the end of their basic education write the same examinations with other pupils in well-endowed schools.
More than 2,000 pupils in five primary schools on islands in the district are studying in dilapidated structures which have become death traps.
The schools are Old Nkomi D/A Primary School, Akpoklikope D/A Primary School, Wayokope D/A Basic School, Okpalama D/A Primary School and Lala D/A Primary School.
The five schools are serving 35 fishing and farming island communities with a population of about 35,000.
Most of the school structures were erected by members of the communities through communal labour, and over the years the buildings have developed deep cracks because they were not constructed with cement and iron rods.
According to teachers in the area, on some occasions they had to also use their own money to buy basic teaching and learning materials to facilitate class activities.
A class three pupil of the Old Nkomi D/A Primary School, Sesi Yonah, told the Daily Graphic during a visit to the community that it was difficult and discouraging to learn under such poor conditions.
He explained that there were no learning materials such as exercise and textbooks and desks to enhance learning.
Master Yonah said pupils had to compete for space to do class exercises because there were limited furniture, explaining that the combination of two or more classes also disrupted teaching and learning.
He explained that class three pupils sometimes found it difficult to understand topics meant for class six pupils since they did not have previous knowledge of such topics.
Structure for both Nursery and Kindergarten pupils at Old Nkomi DA Primary School
Limited classrooms, no JHS
Indeed, a tour of the district showed that some of the schools such as Old Nkomi D/A Primary School, Akpoklikope D/A Primary School and Wayokope D/A Basic School have limited classrooms to accommodate all the pupils, which compels the school authorities to combine some of the classes.
It is common to see class four, five and six pupils in one classroom being taught by one teacher, while nursery, kindergarten and class one pupils are also combined in a class.
There is also limited furniture in the schools, and four or five pupils sit on one dual desk to learn.
Another troubling issue in the island communities is that there is no Junior High School (JHS) in the area for the pupils to pursue their education after primary school.
Thus, after primary school, the pupils are either compelled to stop schooling or risk their lives by using boats daily to Kajaji, the capital of Sene East in the Bono East Region or Krachi in the Oti Region to pursue JHS education.
During rainy seasons, students who travel to these towns to attend school have to study the weather condition every morning before making the journey and when the weather is bad after classes, they have to find a place to pass the night.
As a result, most of the children drop out of school after basic education to join their parents in fishing, farming and trading along the Volta Lake instead of being in school.
The situation has discouraged children from enrolling in school because after primary school, their chances of pursuing JHS is low.
This has led to a high level of illiteracy, child labour and low enrolment in basic schools in the area.
In addition because the schools do not benefit from the government’s feeding programme, pupils are discouraged from going to school, causing low enrolment in school in the areas.
It is, therefore, not surprising that only few determined students in the area dare to travel the one-hour daily journey by boat to attend classes, while those who can afford have rented rooms for their children to stay in Kajaji or Krachi.
The Head teacher of the Old Nkomi D/A School, Mr Isaac Domeh Keteni, told journalists that some teachers had refused posting to the area because of the challenges and the fear of crossing the lake without life jackets, as well as the lack of decent accommodation.
The community members, including the teachers, are also deprived of social amenities such as electricity, good drinking water and proper healthcare.
They have to travel on the Volta Lake to Kajaji or Krachi to access these social amenities when the need arises.
Commenting on the current situation in the island communities, the Assemblyman of the Old Nkomi Electoral Area, Mr Nathan Bafloe, accused successive governments of neglecting the island communities.
He said it was unfortunate that both the district assembly and the central government had failed to invest in the island communities, claiming that it was because they (assembly and government) thought there were less economic activities to generate revenue for them.
Mr Bafloe, therefore, appealed to the government and non-governmental organisations to come to the aid of residents in the island communities by constructing befitting classroom blocks to facilitate teaching and learning.
It is because of these appalling conditions in the district that national executives of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) led by its President, Ms Philippa Larsen, visited teachers, pupils and students living on islands last week Thursday.
The visit formed part of activities lined up to mark this year’s GNAT Week and the World Teachers Day commemoration scheduled for October 5 in Sunyani in the Bono Region.
During the visit, the association presented 100 life jackets and 10 solar panels to teachers, pupils and students living on islands.
In addition, the association also donated 40 dual desks and eight teachers’ tables and chairs to the Old Nkomi D/A Primary School to facilitate teaching and learning.
The Deputy General-Secretary of GNAT in-charge of Administration and Labour Relations, Mr Daniel Affadu, called on the government to provide more social amenities and provide incentives to motivate teachers to accept postings to such deprived communities.
For her part, Ms Larsen commended the chiefs and people in the area for taking their destinies into their own hands by putting up structures to serve as classrooms for their children.
"It takes committed parents to construct schools with their own resources," she said, and appealed to both the government and philanthropic organisations to provide the needed support to alleviate the plight of pupils, students and teachers on the Island communities in the area.
Ms Larsen also thanked teachers who are working in these communities for giving their best despite unfavourable conditions and pledged GNAT's commitment towards the improvement of education in the area.