By Julius Oweh
It is an axiom universally accepted that education is the bedrock of any nation’s development. It is also acknowledged that the level of development, science and technology of any country is a product of such country’s educational programmes.
That perhaps informed the thinking of the Delta State government in holding the first education summit to chart a way forward for the state. But to put the issue in context, Delta state has 1,113 public primary schools with a total enrolment of 370,611,230.
There are about 446 public secondary schools including the six functional technical colleges with an enrolment figure of 262,242 students.
At the tertiary level, there are three colleges of education at Agbor, Warri and Mosogor. There are also three polytechnics at Ozoro, Ogwashi-Uku and Oghara. The Delta State University, Abraka as a multi campus nature has campuses at Oleh, Asaba and the main campus in Abraka to balance the three senatorial compositions. In the private sector, there are about 2,306 schools comprising 1,548 nursery and primary schools and 758 secondary schools.
There are two privately owned universities at Ogume in Delta north senatorial district and Oghara, Delta central senatorial district.
The education summit which was held in January 26 to 27, 2016 was tagged ‘leapfrogging education in Delta State‘. The summit was chaired by Chief Afe Babalola, a legal icon and founder of fast privately growing university, Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti.
The key note address was given by Prof Pai Obanya. Other notable speakers were Prof John Enaohwo and Prof Cecilia Okobiah. It is however to the credit of Prof Patrick Muoboghare, a professor of education and a former education commissioner who was the chairman of the planning committee.
Muoboghare observed that the essence of the summit was about identifying what was wrong with the education sector and proffering solutions so that Deltans would continue to reap the benefits of all inclusive educational system.
The education summit addressed critical issues as cross fertilization of ideas and projecting into the future, to transform education both in content and functionality, funding, curriculum development, inadequate infrastructures, the need for partnership with government from parents and other critical stakeholders and the gamut of teaching and learning
While welcoming the participants to the summit, the governor of the state, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa argued thus:‘The hosting of this education summit is a step forward in the fulfilment of my promise , upon assumption of office to examine , evaluate and re-engineer the educational system in Delta state with emphasis on teaching excellence , innovation, better learning outcomes, community involvement and social transformation.
The ultimate aim is to develop a more robust, student centred and transformative educational system that is responsive to the constantly expanding socio-political milieu‘.
It was also the burden of the state helmsman to explain the variables that informed the summit and the likely benefits to Deltans and other residents in the state. Governor Okowa took the salesman pitch: ‘In Delta State, our goal is to provide the best education available to every student. With strong emphasis on science, vocational and technical education, we hope to harness the power of technology to empower our children with rigorous , high quality, customised education necessary for them to thrive in today‘s dynamic market place.
But there are challenges. On top of that list is the ever expanding education budget amid the deepest downturns in the economy we have experienced in recent times….. This is the dilemma we face at the moment and I sincerely hope this summit will proffer innovative approaches for funding education in the 21st century‘.
The governor also harped on the need for excellence among teachers so that they could impart quality knowledge to their students. It is in this regard that the recent announcement by the government for award of contracts for the construction of Teachers Professional Centre, Owa-Oyibo in Ika North East local government of the state should be seen as one of the achievements of that summit.
A highly elated Patrick Ukah, the State Information Commissioner said that government was committed to the training and re-training of teachers. He observed that while some states were sacking their teachers, it was the cardinal policy of government to not only retain quality teachers but to attract the best and those with educational deficiency are upgraded.
He maintained that when the Teachers Professional Centre becomes operational, it would be different from the college of education or faculty of education in a conventional university.
It would be more of an intensive in-training service for teachers to upgrade their skills in modern method of teaching which is pupil centred and that all teachers in the state should be IT complaint to follow modern learning methods.
This reporter‘s investigation revealed that since the end of that summit, a lot of steam has been added to vocational and technical education. Hitherto, there was the general disdain for vocational and technical education. The Okowa administration has changed that perception. The Ofagbe technical college, Ofagbe in Isoko North local government area has been given a face lift with modern equipment and teachers who are committed to their craft.
There are workshops and students’ population has increased. The same is also true of the Sapele Technical College, one of the oldest technical colleges in the country. The Agbor Technical College, Agbor is not left out and there are plans by the government to extend similar gestures to the remaining technical colleges in the state.
And some nongovernmental organizations are already keying into the benefits of the education summit. One of them is Like the Stars Initiative which organized the Delta State Mental Mathematics Competition in collaboration with the State Ministry of Education.
The aim of the context is to stimulate the interest of children in mathematics, the foundation of all sciences. The executive director of the group, Miss Dele Dudusola explained the benefits of the competition :‘Solution to global and local challenges will require new knowledge, mathematical calculations and high mental intelligence especially from young boys and girls.
I am so delighted that today we have among our finalists‘ girls who have shown courage , knowledge and discipline in this competition and we will continue to encourage them to remain good moral ambassadors to other young girls in joining us to spread the message beyond mental power‘.
With the disposition of the government towards functional education from the primary school level to the tertiary level, breaking the taboo associated with technical education, these lines of the governor are quite instructive: ‘Finally confronting the challenges as highlighted is not only a moral imperative, it requires a timely and concerted response.
I believe that all children deserve a chance to achieve their full potential in life. This can only happen when they are given the right kind of education that is not only based on universal access but also anchored on innovation, rigorous standards, teaching excellence, digital learning and continuous improvement. That is our goal`.