Ujoelen Grammar School
P.O. Box 24, Ekpoma
Bendel State, Nigeria
January 28, 1981
Ujoelen Grammar School was founded in 1960. It is a boys' school with a student population of about 1,000. At present, about 19% of the students are boarders however the residential system is being phased out. There are forty teachers on staff but a quarter of them are students doing teaching practice. Eight teachers, including the principal, are university graduates. Three of these are expatriates (an Indian couple and the CUSO). Another five teachers have the National Certificate of Education (one of them is a member of the National Youth Service Corps). Although the school is relatively well staffed, the turnover is high: in the past year the school lost four graduates when they became functioning principals in new schools. Three other senior masters went to England to obtain degrees and at least six others went for further training at various institutions in Nigeria. I have no doubt that the services of one or more CUSO's would be appreciated.
The school is located in the village of Ujoelen, about three kilometres from the town of Ekpoma which is the headquarters of Okpebho local Government Area. Actually Ekpoma is a group of villages. The area referred to as the town, where the market, Post Office, churches, and a branch of the First Bank (formerly Standard Bank) are found, is Eguare -- the home of the Onogie (a sort of senior chief),
A large market is held every fourth day and there is a smaller market every second day. Beef, goat, bush meat, fish, onions, tomatoes, rice, yam, gari, plantain, groundnuts, bread, biscuits, sugar cubes, green leaves (similar to spinach), and a limited selection of canned goods (mackerel, sardines, corned beef, tomato paste, oatmeal, margarine, etc.) are available. One can enjoy oranges, tangerines, grape fruit, pawpaw, pineapples, coconuts, and mangoes when they are in season; powdered milk, ovaltine, coffee, and tea are also sold in the market but they are much cheaper in Uromi (25 kilometres to the east, where the nearest branch of the Union Bank is located) or Benin City, 83 kilometres south of here via a good two-lane highway). Macaroni products and other "European" foods are not found in Ekpoma and they are usually less expensive in Benin City than in Uromi. Eggs can be purchased from the school farm.
There are two halves of a double house in the compound to accommodate CUSO's. Each half of the house consists of two bedrooms and a sitting room with a shower room, toilet, and kitchen in a separate section behind the living area. There has not been any running water since October 1979 but the house has a five hundred gallon water tank which is filled by a tanker during the dry season.
In preparation for the burial of the state governor's father in October 1980, Ekpoma was connected to the National Electric Power Authority. Since then we have had a fairly constant supply of electricity (the infamous NEPA functions about 70% of the time) -- of course, this is no guarantee for the future. The house has a large compound surrounded by a zinc fence which gives the occupant a good area for gardening.
There are no disco's in Ujoelen. Last weekend, the public address system that was being used by some evangelists thwarted my efforts to listen to the B.B.C, in my parlour but, usually, the place is fairly quiet. (One soon learns to ignore roosters, goats, children, and the occasional lorry.) However, there is no need to be bored; the students are very enthusiastic about extracurricular activities such as participating in the Press Club and the Literary, Debating, and Dramatic Society. For those with athletic inclinations there is a large sports field, basketball, tennis, badminton, and volleyball courts and a pingpong table. There is plenty to do if you still have the energy after teaching and marking books.
The opening assembly is held at 7:45 and the school normally closes at 1:30. There is a half hour break at 10:40. An average teaching load is about twenty periods of thirty-five or forty minutes per week. The regular routine is sometimes interrupted when students are called out to do labour (such as cutting the grass) or to make preparations for the annual inter-house athletics competition or Founders' Day festivities. The school year is divided into three terms (approximately thirteen weeks long), with several weeks off at Christmas and Easter, long weekends at mid-term, some Moslem holidays, and a few other public holidays (such as National Day - October 1st).
A teacher often feels the need for a vacation but all these breaks can be frustrating interruptions when there is so much work to be done. Most classes have between forty-five and fifty students, many of whom cannot write a coherent sentence by the time they reach Class IV. The pass rate in English Language in the West African School Certificate examination is only 37%. Many students become discouraged and this results in truancy and indiscipline. These are common problems and they are probably less serious in this school than in most others because of the dedication of the principal, Mr. Ifediora. At times,a teacher's efforts seem futile and unappreciated (that is probably true anywhere), but that is not usually the cases if you put up a poster, play, a cassette, or work a little drama into your lesson, the students respond with enthusiasm although some will remain suspicious until you explain how this is connected to the West African Examination Council syllabus. Teaching here, despite its difficulties, can be fun.
On the basis of my useful and generally pleasant experiences here I would rate Ujoelen Grammar School as a very good post; I hope that I will be replaced and that my successor or successors will enjoy working here as much as I have.
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