The Chairman of the Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB),Kaduna state, Dr. BASHIR BALARABE,recently spoke with EMEKA MAMAH on issues affecting education in the state during an interactive session with some journalists in the state.Excerpts:   

What have been your major challenges since you assumed office as the Executive Chairman of the Kaduna state Universal Primary Education Board?

There are a number of challenges; but the most important ones have to do with the issue of dilapidated structures that this administration inherited. The structures were in very bad shape and were not conducive for quality learning to take place. We also have the problem of congestion as you find about 60 pupils in a class in some schools and sometimes, you find up to 80 in a class in other schools.

Dr Bashir Balarabe, Chairman, UBEB, Kaduna.

In that situation, the environment is not friendly for both the teachers and the pupils. No effective teaching and learning can actually take place in that kind of environment. We also have the problem of shortage of teachers because we have a very limited number of trained teachers in our schools.

The National Certificate of Education (NCE) is supposed to be the minimum qualification for teachers in our primary schools and without qualified teachers in the schools, certainly, the quality of teaching and learning will be very low and this has been something of great concern to the society. There is also the problem of the moral of the teachers which was not very positive.

Their pay package was not enhanced and they have been struggling for the payment of the Teachers’ Salary Structure (TSS) which the Federal Government actually promised them and that was a very serious challenge on our part because we realize that if the morale is low, the output will be low.

Then, we also had the challenge of improving the teaching and learning environment because we require instructional materials because without the instructional materials, the teachers cannot teach very well and the learner cannot learn very well. So, the situation becomes very difficult for both parties. Instructional materials are very vital.

A student will have to look at it, read it and understand it. But because of the absence of these instructional materials, the achievement in terms of learning was very low and not very encouraging. There is also the problem of uniforms. In view of the socio_economic situation of some parents which is not encouraging, some of them do not send their children to schools.

Even when they are sent, some of the children feel unfriendly and uneasy seeing their friends with good uniforms while they do not have good ones. Because of this, they cannot pay attention to what they are taught. These are some of the very serious challenges; but the state government is really addressing them.

In terms of addressing these challenges, when the present administration in the state came into office, the Governor, Mohammed Namadi Sambo directed that there should a survey of all our primary schools and even the secondary school, to know how dilapidated they are and what is actually needed for them to be improved and the number of classes that are required by the schools.

This was actually carried out and the report is being followed religiously by His Excellency and a number of schools have been established while a number of classes have also been constructed. In the same vein, a number of dilapidated structures are being rehabilitated. So, the congestion has been reduced.

More importantly, the congestion is being addressed by the action already taken by the state government to build more classes. Right now, we do not have any problem of congestion in our state. In any case, the issue of congestion was only in the urban areas and not in the rural areas.

When we talk about teachers, His Excellency was the chairman of committee set up by the Federal Government to look into implementation of the TSS scale. He was able to come up with a report of at least an additional 27.5 percent increase on the teacher’s salary. That has been approved and it is being implemented.

Very few states have actually implemented that salary structure and Kaduna state is one of the few states that have implemented this and even the arrears have been settled by the government. We have cases of omission of some teachers during the payment of arrears and even those ones are being addressed.

As for instructional materials, this is very important and His Excellency has provided adequate funds for that purpose and right now, there is a programme for free text books and instructional materials. Those textbooks are free and no parent is expected to pay anything for that. With that, the quality of teachers has to be improved and the environment has to be improved upon.

We discovered that once you have the books and read them, you have the opportunity to interact and instead of the teaching being teacher— centred, it is now pupil-centred. Each of the pupils now has instructional materials to go through and the enrolment has improved. At the moment, the enrolment figure is really high and this also has to do with the provision of uniforms by the government.

For example, there are a number of schools that when our tailors went there, they found about 200 pupils, but when they went back to distribute the uniforms, they will found about 300. That is a very big challenge for us. As for teachers, His Excellency has already directed all the 23 local government to recruit qualified teachers and that is going on right now. In addition to that, there is a special programme by the Federal Government which is called the Federal Teachers’ Scheme.

Under the scheme, the Federal Government employs NCE holders and posts them to various states across the country that require additional teachers like Kaduna. In the first instance, we had 1,800 and the Federal Government pays their allowances while the state government pays them N3,000 each in lieu of accommodation. That is very encouraging and it has helped the state to reduce the problem of unqualified teachers.

With the recruitment that is being done by the local government, the issue of unqualified teachers if further reduced. Those who are not qualified whom we inherited at the inception of this government; we have arranged a special training programme for them with the various institutions such as the National Teachers Institute (NTI) the Federal College of Education, Kaduna;  and the Kaduna state College of Education.

The courses are run on part time basis so that it does not affect their normal teaching and learning activities in their various schools. We have given them a time frame within which they have to qualify or be flushed out. So efforts are being made by the teachers and everybody concerned to make sure that they improve their teaching qualifications.

The Kaduna state government votes 27 percent of its budget for the education sub-sector. How has this impacted on your activities?

It has actually impacted very positively on education delivery system in the state because without this enhanced budgetary allocation, the state would not have been in the position to repair the number of classes that have been repaired at the moment or establish the number of schools that have been established or to increase the number of classes.

That has also made it possible to introduce the instructional materials which were not being supplied before as well as the uniforms.

All these are the benefits of the enhanced budgetary allocation that the state government has provided. This has also made it possible for the state government to establish a boarding school for the (child beggars) almajirai. This is very important because the Universal Basic Education programme is a programme that aims at ensuring that any child of school age gets access to basic education.

The number of the almajirai is very large. About one quarter of the total population of our children in Kaduna state are almajirai and are roaming the streets. They may not be our children. They may be children from other states because Kaduna is a very central place as the capital of the north; you find many of them coming from other states to settle here. The name of the school is Bi-lingual Boarding Primary School for Almajirai.

So, if a large segment of the children we have in the society are not actually captured in the UBE, then it is not actually achieving the desired results. It has to be at least 90 percent successful to achieve its aim. So, if that large chunk of children is out of the UBE programme, then something is wrong.

That is why the government is establishing the boarding primary schools to capture the almajirai. They will learn the Islamic or Qur’an recitation and also the western education because the teachers will be provided. In addition to that, we have Qur’anic schools in various villages and towns and have isolated about 40 of them on a pilot basis and we are planning to send them the teachers that will teach them western education and some important skills.

So, they will be reading their Qur’an and benefiting from western education. By so doing, their normal learning programme is not affected because there will be an arrangement between the teachers and the local government education authority on when the western education should be taught and when the Qur’anic education should be taught. We hope that as time goes on, we will capture more of them. The initial figure for the take off of the boarding primary school is 1,500 and we are starting from primary one.

How has the implementation of the government’s free and compulsory primary education programme fared in the state since it was introduced and what has been the response from parents?

The programme has fared very well because education is really free and no charges are made except certain levies which are some form of arrangement between the teachers and the parents. That has nothing to do with the government or any authority. That levy is allowed to be operational simply because no allowance is given to the headmasters as running cost and there could be some needs.

If you have about 1,000 or 2,000 pupils in a school, you definitely need some amount of money because a child can fall sick and you need panadol and you have to buy it. You do not expect the teacher to use his money or salary to provide for the child. The same apply to sporting equipment.

We need them because we need to encourage the children to exercise themselves. Therefore, some of these sporting materials have to be provided in the schools and we do not expect the teacher to use his money to do that.

Any minor financial requirement has to be settled by the school authority and not by the teacher and that is why allow this PTA levy to exist. Even at that, under no circumstance should a child be sent out of school for non-payment of that levy.

His Excellency has made that very clear and that is an order. Anybody that involves himself in any illegal collection will be dealt with.

The response from the parents is really very encouraging because we have been receiving lots of appreciation and commitment from the parents to assist in providing school facilities. New schools are being established across the state, more classes are being constructed and teachers are being recruited to ensure that everybody has access to the basic education programme.

Is a deliberate government policy not to give Headmaster over head cost?

You see, it is capital intensive for the state to engage in that kind of project. We have over 3,600 primary schools and before the government embarks on providing this overhead to the schools, the government has to prepare and plan very well. But the local government education authorities are expected to provide the basic items they need such as chalks, dairies, exercise books etc.

But apart from the almajirai,  are there other child beggars on the street?

You are right. This one is now on a pilot basis and gradually, it will be extended to other local government areas. But for the one that is being established now, there is the intention to establish one in each of the senatorial zones. But this issue must have a regional approach to the solution. If Kaduna state is providing this kind of facilities; what about Katsina? Almajirai from Katsina will be flooding in here, those from Kano will also be coming in and as time goes on, the Kaduna state government will find it difficult to accommodate them. So, there is the regional approach that is in the pipeline and everybody will emulate what Kaduna state is doing in other to achieve what we call the basic education programme.

Is the board also in charge of teacher’s welfare? What packages have you introduced to motivate teachers in the state?
Teachers’ welfare is an issue that is being addressed by both the state government and the local governments.

However, what I have not told you is about the houses that are going to be provided for the teachers. There is that intention to provide some houses for the teachers in the rural areas because, presently the teachers stay in the urban areas and travel to their schools every morning. That has very negative effect on the teaching and learning in the schools.

If these houses are built, the teachers will stay there and there will be interaction between the teachers and the parents as well as the students so that teaching and learning can actually improve. There is also the “End Well Scheme.” It is a scheme in which every teacher contributes at least N500 monthly from his salary. That will accumulate till his retirement when he is expected to collect whatever he has contributed plus 60 percent interest. No bank will ever give you 60 percent interest for money you kept with them.

It is very encouraging because by the time you retire, you have something to fall back on rather than waiting for your gratuity which takes sometime to come. Immediately you retire, you get your money within 24 hours.
Going back to the Almajirai School, in view of the recent Boko Haram crisis, how will you ensure that the children are not taught negative tendencies?

We have arranged seminars and workshops for the teachers across the state. This issue has been raised and discussed and they have been warned to desist from any negative tendencies and they are abiding by that. We do not actually allow them to participate in the programme if we feel that their characters and behaviours are questionable.

Do you have a particular curriculum that guides the almajirai schools?

We are using the primary school curriculum for them. I am sure that the brilliant ones will proceed to junior secondary schools as well as proceed up to the university or the tertiary schools because the teaching is going to be comprehensive.

In any case, I want to say that it is a blessing for us to introduce the western education into the almajirai system because the teacher that will be teaching them western education in those schools will be in a position to assess what is happening in that school and be able to report what is happening in that school and he will be in a position to give them what we call special guidance on what they should do and what they should not do.

Again, we have the Bureau for Religious Affairs and they are involved in the process as far as the learning of the almajirai is concerned. Within the board here, we have people who are very vast in Islamic education. If they visit these schools and find out that negative teaching is going on, they will warn the teachers and the authority to actually deal with the situation.

Last year, the Federal Government raised an alarm that most states were not coming to access their UBE fund by providing their counterpart funding and using the fund for the purpose it is meant. With Kaduna state, what is the situation?

In Kaduna state, our report is good in that respect because we have accessed up to 2009 and we are now waiting for the one for 2010. We are just waiting for permission from the Federal Government to tell us that the 2010 grant is ready and as soon as we get that directive, we will provide the matching grant and access our funds.

Many states have not even accessed up to 2006/2007 grant. We have accessed up to 2009 and we do not have problems with that.


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