Forty million voters went to the polls in presidential elections last weekend, the final stage in Nigeria's attempts to end military rule. But the winner, General Olusegun Obasanjo, will struggle to turn around years of neglect in education in Africa's most populous nation.
A survey by the World Bank has found that loss of funding has left most of Nigeria's 40,000 state primary schools in a terrible state. Learning materials are scarce and some pupils have to carry their own desks to school each day.
"Ravages, tear and wear, storms, vandalism, and theft have combined to reduce the country's classrooms by 40 per cent," says Uchenna Nzewi, an education researcher at the University of Nigeria, and member of the World Bank study task force.
The study Hard Lessons: Primary Schools, Community and Social Capital in Nigeria, found most schools are run-down. "Leaking or blown-off roofs, collapsing walls and floors, the absence of ceilings, doors and windows are the main features of classrooms," says Paul Francis, co-ordinator of the research. His team discovered schools left only half-built throughout the country. In addition, more than 75 per cent of schools are not fenced and in some areas school compounds have become grazing grounds.
About 60 per cent of primary schools have no toilets and in those that do, latrines are too few and in a deplorable state. Few schools have a permanent source of water. About 70 per cent of schools have no libraries or library books. Most rural schools lack blackboards and chalk, textbooks and teacher guides.
Inadequate facilities are not the only factor in the low standards of education given to Nigeria's 15 million pupils. Low pay and poor working conditions of teachers also play a part, with most of the 432,000 teachers not qualified to work in primary schools. And teaching effectiveness is further reduced by frequent mass staff transfers and the general decline in the prestige and status of the profession.