By Festus Ahon
Mr Chiedu Ebie, a lawyer, is Delta State Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education. In this interview, he talks about the educational reforms of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa.
What do you consider as the administration’s achievements in the education sector?
The recent ministerial press briefing catalogued our achievements since May 29, 2015. They include overall repositioning of technical and vocational education in the state and the establishment of the Technical and Vocational Education Board (TVEB) to oversee technical and vocational education across the state and ensure linkages and partnerships, upgrade of the facilities in the six technical colleges in the state with three completed and three ongoing. To date over ¦ 2 billion has been spent on infrastructural development and supply (and in some cases refurbishment) of equipment to the technical colleges. We have also received full accreditation of all programmes in the six technical colleges by the National Board for Technical Education, NBTE.
Prior to the inception of the Okowa administration, the state last accessed the UBE grant in 2012. Since coming into office, the Okowa administration has accessed a total of ¦ 10,376,443,123.80 both as counterpart fund and matching grant from the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC.
Delta is one of the very few states to get to this level of funding in the country. The funds have been judiciously utilized in the construction/renovation of a total of 1,779 classrooms, provision of 34,694 pupil’s desks; and 7,354 teachers’ furniture and many other developments. To enhance access to education and in consonance with SDG 4, the UBE Act and new National Policy on Education, the Okowa administration has established 12 new primary and 34 new secondary schools, most of them located in places with difficult terrain. With the new additions, Delta State now has 1,125 public primary and 472 public secondary schools.
School sports is another area where we have performed exceedingly well. Inter House Sports is now mandatory for all schools, Principals and Headmasters’ Cups have been reintroduced, School Sports Festival has been approved and is likely to hold in the last quarter of 2018 or early in 2019. The State has hosted a number of National Sports Competitions too. We successfully hosted the finals of the National Milo Basketball Competition for Secondary Schools with Osadenis High School, Asaba emerging the overall winners of the male category.
In the area of extra-curricular activities, the State participated in the Awokoya Memorial Chemistry Competition organized by the Chemical Society of Nigeria with the State Contingent emerging 1st and 2nd overall winners nationwide for two years; in the 2016 SSCE NECO examinations, the State produced the 1st and 3rd best grade candidates in Mathematics in Nigeria.
What is the rationale for the proposed Teachers Professional Development Centre?
The problem of poor teacher quality is a national issue which requires a pragmatic solution that will ensure that jobs are preserved with teacher quality and morale boosted at the same time. This was discussed extensively at the Education Summit convened by the State Government in January, 2016 and the decision to establish a Teacher Professional Development Centre (TPDC) arose. The State Executive Council considered the recommendations of the Summit and approved the establishment of Centre to help to train, retool and upgrade teachers at various levels to ensure optimum output.
It is also expected that partnership and linkages with national and international teacher development partners would be worked upon to make it a Centre of Excellence once fully on stream. Already, discussions have commenced with the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), the National Teachers’ Institute (NTI), the National Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) and the Centre for Management Development (CMD).
Is it true Delta is about to commence an athletics competition for schools? Has it anything to do with the recently concluded African Senior Athletics Championship?
Yes, the Delta State School Sports Festival has been approved by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa whose passion for sports has been nationally acclaimed. As we reported earlier, the revitalization of school sports is one area where the present administration has recorded significant achievements. The implementation of the school sports policy was triggered by the outcome of the Education Summit. The recent hosting of the African Athletics Competition by the State was attended by over 6,000 students in the State as their entry tickets were paid for by the State Government. This has acted as a boost to their interests in sports and many are not only looking forward to the Schools Sports Festival but are considering making a career in sports.
Why was the Edumarshal programme abruptly scrapped?
First of all, it is wrong to say that the Edumarshal programme was abruptly scrapped by the Okowa administration. Just like other matters, we conducted an extensive review of the programme to determine its activities, structure and sustainability or otherwise. The review began in October 2015 and was not completed until the first quarter of 2017. The reason for the delay was the difficulty and near absence of proper documentation in respect of the programme. On the surface, the programme seemed viable and commendable but upon further scrutiny, we discovered that the programme suffered from weak recruitment procedures, unstructured remuneration/salary scale, improper promotion/advancement plan, structural imbalances and organisational gaps and absence of a legal instrument setting it up.
At the end of the review, it was decided not to retain it as a stand-alone programme but to unbundle it into the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education. As a sign of good faith, a ‘one-off’ payment equivalent to three months cumulative stipend of the 147 persons whose names appeared on the list of Marshalls was made by the state government. It is also important to mention that during the review period, members of the programme were kept abreast and series of meetings were held with them.
What about the free enrolment programme for both WAEC and NECO, which was also stopped by this administration. Why did the government take that decision?
Primary and secondary education in public schools in Delta is free. In addition, the state government used to pay fees for external examinations for SS3 students. However, we discovered that there was a very high rate of absenteeism in these examinations. The Okowa administration paid the fees up to 2016 until the high rate of absenteeism was discovered. Investigation was conducted into this and it was discovered that a high percentage of students was encouraged to register and sit for their examinations in ‘miracle centres’. Some paid far higher fees at these centres than the official rates, and even went to centres outside the state. This meant that the state government was wasting a lot of money on payment of examination fees for students primarily because the money was not coming from the pockets of the students or their parents or guardians. It must be noted that the examination fees of SS III students in technical colleges are still free.
How do you respond to the allegation that this administration abandoned projects initiated by previous administrations?
Government is a continuum and Delta State is no exception. In the education sub-sector, the administration of Governor Okowa has not discriminated between projects initiated by this administration and projects inherited from the previous administrations. We have focused and channelled a lot of resources in completing legacy projects inherited from the previous administration such as the model secondary school projects.
It is on record that the last administration of Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan commenced the construction/upgrade of 13 model schools across the State. When the Okowa administration came on board, two of such projects (Nana College, Warri, and St. Patricks College, Asaba – which was handed over to the Catholic Mission) had been completed. So far, an additional five model schools, namely Owa Model College, Boji-Boji Owa, Burutu Grammar School, Burutu, Ogbemudein Secondary School, Agbor, Alema College Abigborodo and Otu Jeremi College, Otu Jeremi have since been completed.
It is, therefore, mischievous for anybody to allege that the Okowa administration abandoned projects initiated by the previous administration. It was even Governor Uduaghan who commissioned the Ogbemudein school project and, very recently, witnessed the commissioning of Alema College in his ancestral home of Abigborodo where he commended Governor Okowa for completing some of the projects initiated by his administration.
Let me also say put it on record that work has reached an advanced stage at Government Secondary School, Ughelli and Emore College, Oleh and should be completed between the 3rd and 4th Quarters of 2018. In addition, work is ongoing at Ogini Secondary School, Oghara and Model Secondary School, Ashaka, while we are in the final stages of re-commencing construction work at Army Day Childrens School, Effurn and Ziks Grammar School, Sapele under an alternative funding arrangement. Since assumption of office the Okowa administration has consistently provided funds for projects awarded between 2010 and 2015 in annual budgets and have systematically made releases subject to the availability of funds.