For Khadijah Alhassan (eight years old) and her sister, Umi (four), going to school is fun and exciting. It is something they look forward to with joy and eagerness. They can learn and play, and, at the end of the day, get a decent free school lunch.
For Khadijah and Umi, two happy, bright-eyed little girls from Kaduna State, northern Nigeria, every day could very well be a school day.
“I like going to school,” Khadijah said with a beautiful smile. Asked what she would like to be in future, Khadijah smiled again and announced with great pride and optimism: “I want to be a teacher. I want to learn a lot so that I can teach little children when I grow up”.
Khadijah and Umi Alhassan are two of the 420 pupils in the Pampaida Community School (Makaranta) in the 2012/2013 academic session. The Makaranta is one of the two village schools established in May 2006 by UNDP and its Millennium Village Project partners. The second school is located in Ikaram/Ibaram community in Ondo State, south-west Nigeria. In five years, the schools have turned out over 2,000 pupils, some of who have gone on to higher institutions.
The two beneficiary communities have a population of about 40,000 rural dwellers. The MVPs aimed to address various aspects of the MDGs: to empower the local residents, provide basic social amenities and reduce poverty in the rural communities.
The Pampaida Community School has provided a conducive learning environment for the children in the community. Indeed, before UNDP’s intervention, a small, thirty-year old building with two classrooms served as a school for the community. The pupils sat on the bare floor to receive lessons. An abandoned door served as the chalk-board.
The UNDP-led partnership constructed new blocks of classrooms, fully equipped with desks, chairs and chalk-boards. Interestingly also, the introduction of an innovative school feeding programme which offers lunch to the pupils at midday has boosted school enrolment and curbed truancy among the pupils. Indeed, lunch time is a special time at the community school.
‘‘The school meal programme is providing the children with the incentive to come to school. Also, parents are encouraged to send more kids to school, rather than send them off to work all day on their farms,’’ says Mr. Ayuba Habilah, the school’s Head Teacher.
More girls are also going to school than ever before. There are currently 196 girls out of the 420 pupils – a remarkable leap in girl-child enrolment for a poor, rural community that customarily marries off its girls at the age of twelve.
The community members participate actively in supporting the education programme. Women volunteer as cooks in the kitchen while the men provide fuel-wood and contribute food items for the cooking of the school meals.
Overall, with the success achieved in the community school project, UNDP and partners have transformed primary education in the Pampaida/Ikaram communities in Nigeria.
And so, the children of Pampaida and Ikaram-Ibaram can look at the future with high hopes and big dreams. For Khadijah, Umi and the hundreds of other children in the community village schools, the future is very bright indeed.