GONE are the days when students used to walk miles to access schools, thanks to the emergence of alternative means of transportation like school buses and private cars.
Unfortunately, many people may not know that even with these developments, a greater number of pupils and students in rural areas still trek long distances to school. For some, due to high transport fares, lack of nearby public schools and many other reasons.
Usually, the first thing that comes to the mind of parents and other adults about the choice of school for their children and wards, especially at the primary level in Nigeria, is the closeness of the school to the home.
But for those parents in the rural areas who are stuck with the only alternative of the nearest school, which might be in a neighbouring town, and which most likely will be very far from their home, they have no option.
Two weeks ago, Monday to be precise, I was going to a primary school in Ugbenu, a town in Awka North Local Government Area for an assignment. I was going in a company of a friend who has a car and who knows the area very well.
As we were passing through Ebenebe, a town in the same local government, we passed a number of primary and secondary school children on their way to school adorned in their different uniforms.
Initially, I thought their schools were nearby, until we met a group of six secondary school students, and my friend said, “let us help them”. With that, he stopped and they entered.
From there, he drove for a very long distance before we got to the outskirts of Ebenebe, and almost at the entrance of Ugbenu, that was when they started alighting at different locations.
The distance these children would have covered on foot, had we not helped them, and which is what they do every school day on a very lonely road is what really shocked me, and one cannot help but imagine the dangers these innocent children will be facing in their struggle to get education.
Further investigation proved that some children from Ugbenu trek to Ebenebe every morning, while children from Ugbene, (another town in Awka North), trek to Awba Ofemili, (yet another town in the same local government) just to get education.
Will it now be wrong for one to think of the negative effects these long treks will have on not only the health but the academic performance of these children?
Lamenting about the dangers of long trek to school,mostly for children in the rural areas, Nwanyidiuto Onyeso, a primary school teacher that is newly posted to in Ebenbe has this to say.
“Around here, and in fact in most rural communities, children walking long distances to school is not a new development. In fact, for them, it is a life style. But in the long run, the long trek causes fatigue and kills a learner’s concentration.
The lengthy footing of kids to school disorganises their concentration in class. Most of them arrive at school sweaty, stressed and exhausted both physically and psychologically, which compromises their performance.
Most of them also come to school after the first and the second subject of the day had been thought.Moreover, absenteeism can become a syndrome due to the long distance. Thoughts about how distant it is to get to school keep running in their minds whenever they wake up.
This, coupled with the pile of homework and assignments they came home with will demoralise them. Other consequential factors also challenge young people physically and psychologically as they trek to school.
The schoolbag must be carried longer, long distances also mean getting up earlier, doing some house chores; some of them end up going to school on empty stomach, and these in the long run reduce the children’s free time which is crucial for a balanced life.
Because children are more prone to stress and exhaustion, they constantly suffer from headache and other minor ailments associated with long trek.
“Again, minor things can distract children on their way to school. For instance, most boys move along with their balls, playing as they move on the road, while some other times, most of them skip school entirely due to unfriendly weather such as heavy rainfall. Some serious ones might eventually show up in the afternoon”.
Echoing similar sentiments on the dangers of children trekking long distance to school, Mr Emmanuel Umeh, a secondary school teacher has this to say: “Schools of any type are supposed to be easily accessible – this is particularly important for elementary and secondary schools.
For health considerations, the slogan, ‘Short legs – short distance’ must not be applicable only in elementary school stage. It must also be extended to students at secondary school levels. Only this way will it be guaranteed that children are not exposed to the stress and dangers of long journeys to school.
When schools are very far from home, parents tend to worry about the safety of their children especially the girl child and for this, they are often unwilling to let them go to school. All these hardships frustrate the girl child more than their male counterparts and thus, make them (the girls) perform poorly academically.
Again, long distances to school promote lateness and truancy among students. In some schools, especially primary schools, lateness guarantees punishment which is usually by caning. Girls would rather skip school for the entire day than risk this form of punishment which is painful and embarrassing”.
“Lateness also results in missing the early morning lessons which in many primary schools is mathematics. Mathematics is a hierarchical subject and when lessons are missed, it is difficult to join in at a later stage. Unfortunately, most schools are unwilling to change the time table to remedy the situation. Also, the girl child unlike the boys does face sexual harassment as a result of the long distance they walk to school.
They can easily be deceived by young boys and sometimes men and they end up being sexually abused. Very often, complaint of sexual harassment of girls is ignored and many girls do not report incidents whenever it occurs.
Some girls withdraw and become reclusive when they are disturbed as a result of sexual harassment. Once girls start withdrawing from people, their performance in school goes down. When the person sexually harassing the girl is along the way to school, she begins to skip school and ultimately drops -out ofschool.
“Government should as a matter of urgency build more primary and secondary schools in different strategic locations in the rural arrears to reduce the distance covered by these children in their quest to get education.
Alternatively, school buses should be made available to convey the pupils and students to and from schools to overcome the problems of late coming, tiredness and other problems associated with long treks, thereby enhancing their academic achievement.
Furthermore, the government should ensure that the available schools should be made conducive for effective learning so as to improve the academic achievement of the pupils. Again, pupils and students in these rural areas should be motivated as well as reinforced on regular basis to encourage them to attend school regularly”.
Again, Mrs Theresa Ukaegbu, a mother of two teenage girls, who happen to be among the students that trek from Ugbenu to Awba Ofemili, just to get education said “each morning, my girls leave home for school, I worry about their safety, knowing that the road they ply to school is so lonely and risky.
Even if I can afford their transportation fares everyday, commercial buses are hard to come by early in the mornings.
The state government has finally built a secondary school for us in this town, but it is not functional yet. We plead that the government will come to our aid, with school busses and more schools.
Mr Kingsley Ezeh, a business man, said, “I wonder why people are complaining about children trekking long distances to school as if it is an abomination. In our own days, we trekked longer distances to school, yet we did well.
We went to school on empty stomachs and we did not die. Children should be made to understand that the world is not a bed of roses. T
hey should be made to see that success does not just happen; success is achieved through hard work. After all, trekking should strengthen them and make them smarter.
If the school is far, wake them up early, help them to prepare and set them off early, and they definitely will get to school early enough.