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Opinions of Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Columnist: Ayamga, Elizabeth Alampae

Slum Education: The Case of Abura St. Lawerence Primary/JHS

Elizabeth Alampae Ayamga

When a “slum” is mentioned in a statement, the first thing that comes to mind is access to good sanitation and clean water. Every segment of society is responsible for maintaining the environmental integrity of the community. But as young people, we have a special interest in maintaining a healthy environment because we will be the ones to inherit it. The connection between our health and the environment is clear. Access to clean water, sanitation, the right to housing in safe areas that are not contaminated by garbage dumps and factories, and access to basic cooking fuel and energy sources have an impact on our lives. Therefore, promoting sustainable development and protecting the environment are of high priority to our generation.
It is more of a worrying situation when the institutions that are supposed to educate people on environmental cleanliness are themselves plaque with sanitation problems. Education in the slum has never been easy in terms of infrastructure and quality of teaching and learning. As a result very few pupils come out of these situations to realize their dreams.
Abura St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Primary/JHS is one of such schools in a slum facing environmental and sanitation problems. There are times when it is very difficult to put all the blame on our political leaders because heads of these institutions sometimes blatantly ignore these situations because of their selfish interests.
Located in Cape Coast, Abura St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Primary/JHS is the oldest school in the Abura community. It serves not less than ten thousand people. The school in the Cape Coast municipality is noted for its prowess in student sports. Besides this, it has also produced great academics and other community and national leaders both home and abroad. Since its establishment, the school is yet to see any meaningful improvement in infrastructure although the population in the community keeps increasing.
Since its establishment, the school has never had a toilet facility till 2007. The school is very close to a public toilet (KVIP) with just ten cubicles (five for male and five for female) which serves the whole community. A new toilet facility that was started in 2007 has since been abandoned. Students who have money to pay to use the public facility will have to join a very long queue. Stench from the public toilet has never been conducive for learning.
I was going home when I met a pupil from the school who, instead of being in class, was walking barefooted crying. When I approached her and asked what the problem was, she told me one of her friends threw her footwear away while they were attending to natures call on a rubbish dump. I followed her to class only for the class teacher to tell me that the school authorities have warned all parents and guardians to make sure their wards empty their bowels before they come to school because the only option for the students is to use the landfill site.
My investigations later revealed that in 2007, the school was provided with a toilet facility with two cubicles. However, this facility has been locked and reserved for the use of only the staff. The students either would have to use the public toilet which costs GH 10p or use the landfill site which is about 1500 meters away from the school. Most of these students when hard pressed sometimes soil themselves in the queue or on their way to the landfill site. Others who don’t want to be in class use that as an excuse to loiter or play.
The problem now is that the landfill which was serving the needs of these children has been cleared to make way for the construction of a road through the community to the regional hospital. I am just wondering which other options the children have when their source of help has been taking away.
Clearly the authorities of this school have been insensitive to the plight of these children. Most importantly they did not consider the environmental and health hazards of the activities of the students. This is just one of the many environmental problems that the youth face in our day to day activities. In the short run, the Ghana Education Service should see to it that one of the existing toilet facilities in the school is opened for the students to use. Government should also try its very best to support schools especially in slums with adequate sanitation facilities to curb most of these avoidable environmental issues.
In the long-term however, government can initiate programmes and policies to protect and sustain our environment. There is the need to support and mobilise youth for environmental protection and sustainability by continuing to mainstream environmental education into school curricula. To achieve visible gains from environmental education, youth must have a role in this mainstreaming process. Integrating environmental education into school curricula and offering training programmes to teachers on the environmental aspects of their subject-matter may enable them to educate youth concerning environmentally friendly behavior.
There should be programmes to promote youth participation in tree planting, forestry, combating desert creep, waste reduction, ecotourism, recycling and other sound environmental practices. The participation of young people and their organisations in such programmes can provide good leadership training and encourage awareness and action. Waste management programmes and ecotourism in particular may also represent potential income-generating activities.
The government can increase production and encourage widespread dissemination of information materials illustrating the global dimensions of environmental protection, its origins and the interrelated effects of environmental degradation. Part of this awareness raising effort should include the creation of an awards programme to recognise young people for projects which demonstrate their commitment to the environment
We can also prioritise support for local projects that improve water availability and build capacity at the community level. The costs of inadequate access to water and basic sanitation are steep, especially for girls and young women. Lack of adequate access to water affects their privacy, dignity, health and hygiene and represents an economic burden for the country as a whole. The time and energy of young women and girls devoted to carrying water long distances translates into lost opportunities for education or paid work.
In order to enhance the role of youth in designing good environmental policies, a taskforce that includes youth and youth-led organisations needs to be established to develop educational and awareness programmes specifically targeted to the youth population on critical environmental issues. Such a taskforce should use formal and non-formal education methods to reach a broad audience. National and local media, non-governmental organisations, businesses and other organisations should assist in these taskforces.
Appointing a youth focal point or advisory committee in the Ministry of Environment, Science & Technology is also one way that can enhance the role of youth in designing good environmental policies. Such a role would fill the liaison gap by connecting young people and their organisations to local and central government initiatives on the environment; and
Lastly, the government should support and encourage the spread of environmentally sound technologies in the country, train the youth in making use of those technologies in protecting the environment and conserving resources.
These initiatives require cooperation among different areas of government and partnership with the private sector as well as the sharing of good practices and successful initiatives. These and many more are the reasons why the youth of Ghana are tirelessly calling on the government and all stakeholders to hear their voice which they have scribbled in the Youth Manifesto.