By Olubusuyi Adenipekun
A new lease of life is quietly being injected into the education system of Cross River State. This revolves around infrastructural upgrading, capacity building of school personnel as well as attitudinal change in its school.
The state Commissioner for Education, Prof Offiong O. Offiong sheds light on this rejuvenation in this exclusive interview which held in his office in Calabar.
What have been the activities of your ministry in the area of educational development in the state?
We have a programme in the state with respect to comprehensive renovation of our school system which include infrastructural upgrading, capacity building as well as attitudinal change in our schools. Concerning infrastructural upgrading, which is one of the major challenges schools are facing across the country.
The state of our school system in Nigeria is, indeed, very deplorable. There is hardly any state you enter where you will find very standard schools across all the local government areas. In 2009, following a needs assessment across the state, we launched a massive intervention in infrastructural facilities across the state involving over 50 secondary schools out of the 250 secondary schools that we have as well as over 200 primary schools where we tried to upgrade their facilities to Cross River State standard.
What we mean by this is that our primary schools do not have adequate number of classrooms but we take not more than 85 pupils per classroom. We also built assembly hall, demonstration laboratory and Home Economics laboratory so as to enhance entrepreneural skills acquisition and other extra-curricula activities as the case may be. At the secondary school levels we also tried to have enough classrooms in our schools and to make it 35 students per classroom. In addition, to that we also have four laboratories for physics, chemistry, biology and ICT.
We also have library for all our secondary schools. We also have a number of staff rooms which we have decentralized unlike in the past when teachers were isolated from the students. We have decentralized staff rooms in our schools. So, in each school we have about four to five staff rooms and also to be equipped with furniture. In doing all this, we are mindful that we donâ€™t compromise recreational facilities in these schools.
We are also considering the fact that we cannot have the best school environment when attention is paid to only infrastructure. That is why we also give attention to teacher training and re-training. Since 2004 till date, we have been retraining our teachers. This is a yearly programme both at the primary and secondary school levels. During long vacations we subject our teachers to re-training exercise. We also know that we do not have enough teachers in some subject areas like physics, chemistry, mathematics, introductory technology and French. Hence we are constantly opening up opportunity for qualified teachers to be employed in these areas, especially in those we have intervened. We believe that discipline is very important to the efforts at putting in place standard schools. We have stepped up discipline and controls in our school system. We reinvigorated our inspectorate unit by deploying many more hands there and ensuring that we have inspectors who are resident in all the local government areas of our
state. We also empower them with the necessary logistics and mobility. Each of the local government areas has at least two vehicles for inspection of schools across the state. The inspectors are also yearly re-trained so as to sharpen their skills in the methodology.
That is about the formal school system. In the non-formal level of our education, we are also reaching out to the illiterate populace. We have on ground two major programmes. One is the literacy centres which we have across the state. We have about 250 of such centres spread across the 18 local government areas of the state and these literacy centres are heavily supported by both the state and local governments through hiring of part-time and full time instructors. In order to also reach out to those whom the literacy centres are not accessible, especially in communities which are predominantly inhabited by farmers, who find it difficult to disengage from their farms to attend the adult literacy programming at 4 p.m., we have come up with literacy programme on radio.
We have actually adopted the Cuban experience, which is literacy by radio and our state is one of the pilot states to kick-off literacy by radio in three of our local languages. This year we are stepping it up with two additional languages. We are collaborating with the Broadcasting Corporation that currently has two stations â€” one in Calabar and the other in Ikom and this station has been able to reach very remote areas of our state.
We are giving priority attention also to our primary education system. We have stepped up this sector in line with the 9-year Basic Education Curriculum. In doing so, we recognise also one of â€˜the major impediments for our primary school education, which has to do with the Early Child Care Development Education (ECCDE). In line with the Federal Government policy, we have literally ensured that all our primary schools have ECCEDE level of education. This has, to a great extent, enhanced the enrolment of our primary school pupils and has indeed made parents to cherish our primary schools. We have supported this also with book writing which the state launched. We have sponsored book writing for the use of our primary schools.
This was preceded by the successful launching of this initiative for the secondary schools level. And these books are made available to our pupils and students at very subsidized rate. We do not have as much money as our sister states which are oil producing. Otherwise, we would have been distributing these books free of charge. But they are affordable and accessible. We are not too comfortable with the level of our high skilled manpower. And that is why we are putting a lot of support behind the Cross River University of Technology (CRUTECH) in order to ensure that the university is able to produce globally competitive graduates in science and technology.
In addition to this, we are also sustaining our scholarship programme which seems to have been slightly threatened due to drop in our revenue. But we are still doing a very extensive scholarship programme in science, technology, medicine and information so as to build the desired high level manpower in these areas. We are committed as a team towards re-positioning education in Cross River State.
Teachers are very crucial to the successful implementation of the new curriculum. How do you prepare your teachers for this task?
Basically, there are several training programmes we have been running in the state. Some of these training programmes involve collaboration with the National Mathematical Centre in Abuja as we have been sending some of our teachers to that centre for training.
There is also the training of our teachers at French Language centres. We also collaborate with Science Teachers Association of Nigeria in training our teachers.
But there is an extensive training programme organised and funded by the state government for our primary and secondary school teachers which holds once in a year. We usually use teachers at the University of Calabar, CRUTECH and the College of Education in training the teachers. The training is done in a very interactive manner with the teachers. We first identify areas of difficulty which the teachers face before the actual training.
How much does the state government spend annually in training teachers?
The last time we anchored this training, we spent about N37 million, excluding the DTA for the teachers and the one for last year was expected to cost us about N45 million but we couldnâ€™t anchor it during long vacation. So that training is coming up during the vacation in April this year.