BY EMMANUEL UNA
FOR Three years, the roofs of two-storey blocks meant to take twelve classrooms each at the Pin Margaret Secondary School in Calabar South have been abandoned by the contractor.
All he could do with the millions of naira given to him was to erect the structures and place some wood on the roof which have been persistently battered by rain leaving as eyesore. Consequently, over one thousand of the two thousand students of the school study in makeshift structures erected around the collapsing perimetre fence leaving them at the mercy of putrid elements.
That picture reflects what the state of schools in Cross River State are as many of them particularly those in the urban centres have over bloated population with as many as seventy students occupying a classroom meant for thirty pupils. Seven students share a desk meant for three while in the rural areas, some primary schools are without desks with pupils making do with the bare floor as their seating item.
When Vanguard sought the views of some head teachers and principals in Calabar on the state of primary and secondary education in the state , the reporter was referred to the State Ministry of Education, “where officials there have the permission to speak; they will tell you all you want to know”. At the Ministry of Education, Professor Offiong Offiong, the Commissioner for Education in the state is full of praises for what he calls the “Cross River State Standard of Education”.
According to him, since the inception of Senator the Liyel Imoke’s administration in Cross River State in 2007, the educational sector which was tottering at the precipice of near total collapse following prolonged periods of utter neglect and abandonment has been revived through consistent innovation and remodeling.
Conscious of the critical role education plays as a catalyst for economic transformation and an instrument for socio –political advancement in any society, focus and emphasis was immediately placed on assumption of office towards repositioning the sector in the proper pedestal to produce the right results in spite of its sordid state. From the basic formative level which is the primary, through to the secondary stages up to the tertiary levels, comprehensive, rather than isolated transformation process was adopted through the institution of a three prong approach to rejuvenate this all important sector.
The first stage towards addressing the deplorable state of affairs was to assess the level of decay which subsequently proffered and adopted strategies towards combating the identified problems. An assessment process named Needs Assessment , was instituted and seventy five percent of the schools across the state, primary, secondary and tertiary were visited and monitored for six months to collate data and information on the state of affairs and the required measures to bring each school back to life. When the report came out it was so depressing that When Governor Imoke went through it, he was said to have taken ill because of the bad state of things. Without apportioning blame to any single individual or administration, he went straight to work since the bad state of affairs had accumulated for several decades which traverse many administrations. .
After a careful analysis of the report, a three prong approach was adopted in tackling the myriad of problems in the sector : Infrastructural Development, Capacity Building and Discipline. To leverage on the plethora of teething issues identified culminated in the establishing of a standard peculiar to the state and this became the Cross River State Standard in education where every primary school must have modern edifice, well designed classroom s, each with the capacity to seat at least thirty five pupils or students, fully equipped with modern desks , resource room, library, assembly hall for extracurricular activities, teachers room, and a laboratory for basic sciences. In the same vein, at the secondary school level, each school, apart from the modern edifices and standard classrooms, must have a fully stocked library, equipped laboratory for ICT and functional laboratory for each of the three major science subjects: chemistry, biology and physics.
Conscientiously, the infrastructure in schools such as the buildings, desks, instructional and learning facilities such as laboratories, libraries which were near absent in most schools were rehabilitated or installed While on capacity building, training and retraining was adopted with every teacher in the state’s school system made to benefit from one form of training or the other through workshops, seminars and those without the prerequisite teaching qualifications mandated to acquire same as the National Certificate in Education ( NCE) became the minimum standard for teaching in primary schools while first degree became the minimum for teaching in the secondary schools. On discipline, several disciplinary measures were adopted beginning from the local government level through zones up to the ministry.
Professor Offiong said the state has carried out comprehensive renovation of sixty secondary and one hundred primary schools across the state. The renovated schools are equipped with desks, libraries, physics, biology, chemistry and ICT libraries.
The tertiary institutions in the state, The University of Calabar and the Cross River State University of Technology, CRUTECH, which are now closed to academic activities following the prolonged strike by Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities, ASUU, were only “universities” in nomenclature as nothing or little took place there that really lived to the status of university where knowledge is impacted or acquired. A few years back, the University of Calabar was sanctioned by the National Youth Service Corps for mobilising below average graduates for national service; a hawker on campus was once mobilized for the programme but detected when she could not speak or write in the English Language in far away Sokoto where she was posted.
The class rooms are decrepit, the student number highly bloated, academic performance by most students below average and “sorting” the order of the day in most departments and faculties. “I know you were here some years back but what we have in this school now is a far cry from what it used to be. The classroom which fifty of you occupied and were complaining now seats over a hundred and yet nothing has been added in terms of desks or expansion of the space,” a staff at the Registry in the University of Calabar told Vanguard reporter.
According to her, basic facilities like desks, water, laboratory items like burner and tripod are not available for teachers to conduct experiments for the students. “Most of the students in the sciences are not familiar with the items in their course work and most often the teachers have to make do with substitutes or improvise and so when the students graduate and get out there, they confront a lot of issues”.
Mr Eyo Eyo, the Information Officer in the University said the current Vice Chancellor, Professor, James Epoke has done a lot in the past two years to bring changes to the University to meet international standards. “Many structures abandoned for many years have been completed to address the accommodation problem that faced the school and this has greatly assisted in improving the learning environment and the quality of the graduate from here”.
The school, Eyo stated, is ahead of its contemporary in the standard of teaching and average performance of the students. “Ekpoke has brought a lot of sanity to the system and I can assure that the picture you have of this school has changed significantly in the past two years”