BY FRANCISCA EMEFA ENCHILL
The backgrounds of children, their upbringing and luxuries of life, surely vary but what makes this variation unfair is when all these children have to sit in examination halls to answer the same set of questions in the Basic Education Certificate Examination, a prerequisite to begin their formal career path.
And this unfairness becomes highly worsened when some children enjoy the right to use break time in school to play, visit the library or even just sit quietly and relax the brain, whereas others are denied that right by being turned into water-fetching machines to provide water to flush their school loo.
Pupils of Pig Farm Basic School in Accra are made to walk long distances in search of water for use in the restroom of their school because the water closet facility built in the school has no source of water.
And on many occasions, the pupils who had been turned into labourers missed classes because they failed to return early after scouting for water.
After spending days at Pig Farm, I did some observations that revealed that pupils of the basic school sacrifice their right to play, visit the library or rest during break time in order to fetch water for use in the washroom of the school.
The school, with 312 pupils, has a two-seater washroom serving both boys and girls and a one-seater washroom serving teaching staff. Though the washroom is fitted with water closet, which relies solely on water, the school has no pipe-borne water for flushing or a well or any other source of water.
To fix this lack, the school’s authorities have tasked the children to find a source of water which is not paid for and keep the mini reservoirs in the school always filled up.
The pupils have thus been instructed to bring gallons, bowls and buckets to school with which to fetch water every single day during their break time.
The school has two break periods: first break, 10: am and second break, 12 mid-day, and every class, from primary 1 to Junior High School, is required to take part in this daily labour while in school uniforms during both break periods.
This daily ritual has led to insubordination as some pupils in the school have vowed never to take part in the fetching of water, hence putting more pressure on the lower primary pupils to fill the reservoirs alone for the use of the entire school.
During the monitoring, I followed the children to where they fetch the water, which is located about 15 minutes’ walk away from the school’s premises. The location, which had many pits, exposed the children to danger as some of the children, in their narration, had fallen and got wounded a number of times.
The source of water is a dug hole which is not deep. The children fall in a number of times and return to school in wet clothes and shoes.
Right in my presence, a class one male pupil accidentally fell into the water, but the reaction from other pupils was surprising. They screamed in joy. According to them, he was not the first to fall into that source of water, hence it becomes a cause for celebration as it becomes an equalisation of a sort each time one of them becomes a victim.
As if that was not enough, the pupils disclosed that what I had witnessed was not a big deal as a bigger event led them into changing their location of fetching water to where they currently fetch it.
According to them, they previously fetched water from a well in a compound house not too far from their school but had to relocate for the fear of losing their lives after a class one boy one day fell into the well when they went to fetch water, and but not for the timely rescue efforts of a man the boy would have died.
They added that after that event, the boy was taken out of the school to a different one by his parents so those of them who are still in the school decided to relocate to a different source of water which had a lower risk.
“We stopped fetching water from there because we don’t want to die,” the pupils lamented.
A house owner who owns the well the pupil fell in and nearly died, in an interview, called on the government to come to the aid of the pupils who could even become victims of sexual assault.
Aside missing out on playing and resting, the pupils sometimes miss classes as teachers go on with teaching even when not all the pupils have returned from their water-fetching ‘expedition’ and refuse to take them through what they had missed.
Another observation was that the boys who got wet in the process of fetching water walked around the school in underwear after hanging their wet uniform on windows to dry, while the girls remained seated in their wet clothes.
The pupils, in an interview, called on the authorities to come to their aid as they wish they could use their break time to play, rest or visit the library. “I wish I had the chance to be at the library at this time,” one child said.
Interaction with teachers, headmaster
After the time spent with the pupils, I approached the teachers in the school over the plight of the pupils but each one of them declined comment.
I was then directed to the headmaster of the school but the head of the school, identified as Dominic Akole, also declined comment. He said the plight of the pupils could only be spoken about by the Ghana Education Service and not him.
I visited the school after three months, but the plight of the pupils remained the same although something different was on the school’s premises. There was a newly constructed toilet facility located just beside the one the school had been using. It was a 12-seater toilet facility with two Polytank-branded water tanks positioned as sources of water but was under lock and key.
I visited the headmaster, Mr Akoli again. This time, he was receptive, but still declined to speak on record as the rules and regulations of the GES ban them from speaking on issues in their schools to the media.
According to him, though there was a newly built toilet facility which was under lock in his school, he had no idea if the facility was meant for the school. He said he was not told anything about the facility and referred me to the Metro Office of the GES.
During a visit to the Metro Office, the director who also would not speak on record nor disclose her name, disclosed that the new toilet facility was meant for the school but would remain locked until they are ready to open it.