Many children in urban slums are missing out on schooling; this was the situation in Makoko, a waterfront in Lagos State. One of the challenges in the community is that most children born on water do not know how to adapt to life on land.
Here, residents, majorly, live in wooden houses that are built on stilts or float on the water; and most children do not know how to cross roads, as they are not used to cars and lorries driving. They have only known canoes and water traffic.
As a result of this, the illiteracy level was high in Makoko, as many parents chose the perceived safety of their children over gaining an education on land.
Out-of-school children have been a concern in Nigeria. According to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), about 20 million children are out of school in the country as of October 2022. This figure is a far-reaching increase from the 10.5 million recorded by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2020.
This worrisome situation continued at the waterside until in 2016 when Makoko Dream Foundation came to the rescue. The foundation via its Makoko Dream School Project, erected in the community, a school that is breaking the barriers to education for all.
Makoko Dream School is one of the few schools on water in the area, but the only one where children learn Basic English Language, Arithmetic, and Communication in both native and a foreign language. This is because the settlement is made up of predominantly Egun-speaking people, with a good number of them immigrants from Benin Republic about 200 years ago. Hence, the prevalent languages there are Egun and French.
The Dream School Project is inspiring more children to be in school and learn relevant skills to reduce illiteracy. It ensures that children, whose parents cannot afford school fees, are nonetheless granted access to quality education via a tuition-free initiative.
“The idea is to ensure we reduce the illiteracy problem in Makoko and drastically reduce the number of out-of-school children in Makoko and beyond.
“Basically, I visited Makoko in 2016 and saw many things. In my mind, I thought of doing food, and books; they are good, but not sustainable. So I took the third order of erecting a school and it started that way, said Mr. Emmanuel Agunze, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Makoko Dream Foundation.
So far, more than 1000 children have enrolled in the school since its inception. Some of the children who had passed through the school are now in Junior Secondary School (JSS).
Though it is a tuition-free school, parents under the Parents/Teachers Association (PTA), however, agreed to a N2000 monthly levy or N100 daily for payment of stipend to volunteer teachers, who are sourced from the community.
“It is a tuition-free school. We do a lot of things. Apart from tuition free, we do free uniforms, free bags and free textbooks. So what we do is we arrange with the parents to create a PTA levy. It is the PTA levy that they pay to the Headteacher that helps the headteacher to pay himself/herself and other teachers in the school.
“The PTA levy is usually N1000 or N2000 per month or N100 per day. The idea of making N100 per day is to make it easy, as much as possible, for parents to pay, while we take care of other bigger things like building the school and things like that,” Agunze said.
The founder said the levies were not really enough in terms of helping to pay the teachers, but at least, it is a way to get regular income to sustain the school. In case the foundation stops running the school and stops supporting it with funding, the school can run itself.
Apart from having children in JSS, who are the first to go to secondary school in their families, many of the children also got scholarships to the university level.
“I think the major success is that children, who would have known nothing about education, are now dreaming and daring for greatness via education,” said Agunze, the face behind the project.
Volunteer teachers to the rescue
As a way of minimising the cost of running the school, volunteer teachers are engaged within the community to teach the children and earn a stipend at the end of the month.
Some of the teachers also have their children in the school, but do not pay the PTA levy to serve as an incentive for the commitment and the willingness to help teach others.
“We have all our teachers from the Makoko community. What we do is that we train people who are enthusiastic about helping fellow Makoko people. We train them to be teachers, so that they can help teach their people because most of them understand the language and they can relate with them.
“What we now do is that the teachers will come with their children and they do not pay for the PTA. That is a form of incentive to them.
“We also create a PTA waiver scholarship; whenever we have people struggling to pay the N100 or N50 levy everyday, we sensitise those who can help them to pay. So that a child who wants to be in school has no reason not to be in school if the child is ready to learn.
“Our goal is to set up a school, either we run it or we hand it over to the community so that they can continue the good work. So this third school started in January 2021.
“We have over 1000 pupils enrolled in our school from inception to date. Some just came for a short time to come and learn literacy and left; some came full-time. So some of the first children that we enrolled are now in the JSS. Some have been supported in their WAEC,” said the chief executive officer.
Mrs. Bidemi Kojah is one of the residents, whose children are benefitting from the dream school initiative. One of her three children in the school, Solomon, a Nursery I pupil now reads and writes, courtesy of the initiative.
“The school has really been helping. I have three children in the school and they are doing fine. One of the children was enrolled almost five years ago and he can read and write now.
“I have three children, who the school is helping to educate; Solomon Kojah is currently in Nursery I; Patience is in KinderGarten (KG) I and Jeremiah, a KG pupil,” Mrs Kojah testified.
Before the intervention of the foundation, she said, children would have to cross the waterside if they had to access education.
In spite of the free tuition fee, Mrs Kojah noted that the PTA levy proves difficult to pay sometimes, seeking, therefore, for further assistance from other Non-Governmental Organisations to complement the effort of the Makoko Dream Foundation.
Similarly, Hannah Mabawondu is a pupil in the school, who learnt the act of writing and reading through the initiative.
Mrs. Mary Mabawondu, who is Hannah’s mother and also a teacher volunteer in the school, explained that the project had helped to raise the literacy level among the children in the area.
“People in our area wanted their children to go to school, but they did not have enough money to send their children to school. So the school gathered them and introduced them to how to write and read.
“We teach literacy, numeracy, writing and oral reading. While other schools in the community charge for school fees, Makoko Dream Foundation School does not charge them,” she said.
As laudable as the dream school seems to be, the basic challenge remains the funding, some parents find it difficult to pay.
Similarly, the founder regretted that some parents are still not comfortable with their children going to school.
“We do a lot of sensitisation for them to know it is very important for their children to go to school,” Agunze said.
Also, the space available for classrooms in the community is very small and children are learning in cramped conditions. This suggests that more structure is needed to improve the learning experience of these children.
This story has been made possible by Nigeria Health Watch with support from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.