Through steadfastness and a multi-dimensional approach, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State is running with a vision of creating a globally competitive model learning centres in the state. He has so far given education a new momentum that has moved the state ahead from the deteriorating standard of education in the country.
Nigeria’s educational sector has waited for decades for a major government intervention needed to rebuild the capacity for high-quality education in the country. In the absence of the needed intervention, educational standard has deteriorated from primary to tertiary levels of learning. Nigeria lacks the basic requirements for building an excellent academic community.
Funding constitutes a serious challenge to educational development in the country and this has been the case even in the peak of crude oil earnings. The poor and deteriorating quality of education in Nigeria was clearly unacceptable to Governor Okowa who, at the inception of his administration, took it upon himself to set an example for the nation, a model of government intervention in the educational sector. This he did by convoking an Educational Summit in the state where all stakeholders were brought together to discuss the challenges facing education in the state.
The Okowa-led Delta State government defined a vision of making the state a model learning centre in the country and has since then run with a new zeal unmatched anywhere else in the country to make it happen. The task was identified and a clear goal was set which is to place education at a level that is competitive worldwide. An effective strategy for solution normally requires a clear understanding of the roots of a problem.
Like a master craftsman, Okowa ensured a proper diagnosis of the problem of deteriorating standard of education in Nigeria and found that inadequate funding and lack of essential facilities are the significant variables. He then gave the two critical areas the kind of attention never seen any time in recent memory and hardly matched anywhere else in the country.
A reinforcement of the educational foundation, he discovered, needs to be done at the primary school level and that became a key element of the new engagement. Okowa insists on the need to lay a proper educational foundation for pupils at that level. This informed his administration’s drive to reposition primary school education for enhanced performance.
This is a message for the nation that for any measure aimed at addressing the problem of declining standard of education to succeed, it has to necessarily begin at the primary school level.
According to Chief Patrick Ukah, the Commissioner, Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education in Delta: “The ministry is charged with the onerous responsibility of formulating, implementing and regulating educational policies and programmes for the State, including overseeing the general administration of the Basic and Secondary school system in accordance with the goals and needs of the State and in consonance with the National Policy on Education and other relevant policies/programmes such as the Education For All, EFA, Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs and vision 20:20 goals as well as the SMART Agenda of the Okowa’s Administration.
“In a nutshell, it is the responsibility of the Ministry to provide Early Childhood, Primary and Secondary/Technical Education for the young ones as well as provide basic literacy and life skill education for adult learners who had earlier in life missed the opportunity of getting such education while they were children.
“We understand that a quality education system will undoubtedly foster the socio-economic development of the state and by extension the harmony, respect, discipline and productiveness needed for a cohesive society and a prosperous economy. As such we are sparing no resource and effort in providing the necessary inputs and processes inextricably linked to the making of a quality education system such as qualified teachers, IT-driven teaching, learning and administrative platforms, new and improved school infrastructure, relevant curriculum, appropriate legislation and an enabling teaching and learning environment.
For us nothing but the very best is good enough and that is what you get in every public and recognised private school in Delta State.” Delta State government, under Okowa has taken major steps to give primary schools development the priority accorded it under the millennium goals. World Bank’s grants are available for the development of primary schools but most states are not keen about it because they are not willing or are unable to provide the counterpart fund.
The government of Delta State ensured that the problem of funding did not hinder the attainment of the desired educational quality standard. The government sourced its counterpart fund for the UBEC grants for primary school funding through a term loan facility. With counterpart funding, the state’s Universal Basic Education Board gained access to the Universal Basic Education Commission fund.
This has enabled the state to overcome the usual problem of lack of funds for primary schools development. The state government has therefore been able to sustain effort in constructing new classroom blocks, renovating dilapidated structures, recruiting new primary school teachers and providing essential instructional resources, thus creating an effective learning system.
It is the desire of the Okowa-led administration to raise the capacity for quality education at all levels within the state. Okowa has so far sustained the drive to reposition primary schools in the state with a view to meeting current reality demands. With improved funding, his government has attained great landmarks in renovating primary and secondary schools in the state and in procuring essential educational facilities, including computer facilities and electric power generators for public secondary schools.
Education is an essential tool for touching lives and recreating destinies of people and societies. This is precisely what Governor Okowa has done with it so far in Delta State. It is one step forward by the government that has registered grassroots impacts in Delta State. A number of schools in dilapidated conditions have received facelifts across the state despite the revenue crisis that has hit government finances generally in recent years.
Government’s master plan for the development of education revolves around the provision of enabling learning environment to enhance teaching and learning at all categories of schools in the state. It is an integrated approach to lay a solid foundation at primary school level and ensure high-quality rollout of graduates at tertiary levels of education.
Teachers’ Professional Development Centre:
In line with the broad strategy, the state’s government has embarked on the construction of Teachers’ Professional Development Centre at Owa-Oyibu in Ika North East Local Government Area of the State. The Centre, when completed, will ensure proficiency in teaching as it will afford the state government the opportunity to train and retrain teachers.
According to Governor Okowa, “studies have shown that there is brain drain in the teaching profession and one of the decisions we took at the Education Summit we had in 2016 was to establish a Teachers’ Professional Development Centre for the training and retraining of teachers in the state as well as improvement on their efficiency and knowledge base.”
The Centre which has ICT Centres, Libraries, Laboratories, Conference Rooms, Hostels, Cafeteria and a Skill Acquisition Centre has the capacity to train 1,500 persons at a time, and will help to retool, upgrade, train and retrain teachers to meet extant and future challenges as well as improve the quality of teachers in the state at all levels.
Growing Population And Infrastructural Needs
With the establishment of 48 additional public schools from 2015 to date, Delta State now has a total of 1,126 public primary schools and 466 public secondary schools, one of the highest in the country.
However, the provision of a conducive environment for teaching and learning is critical to the enthronement of quality education, this made it imperative for the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education to embark on the renovation and construction of classrooms, science laboratories and administrative blocks. Between 2015 and now, the following interventions were made: construction of 1,251 classrooms, renovation of 2,225 classrooms, supply of 115,102 students’ furniture, supply of18,131 teachers’ furniture and the construction of 39 administrative blocks.“
Others are renovation of 27 administrative blocks, construction of 12 science laboratory blocks, renovation of 64 science laboratory blocks, construction of 29 block wall fence and the renovation of 18 block wall fence. As a result of the ability of the state government to pay her counterpart fund to Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUPEB) was able to access the commensurate marching grant.
This made it possible for the Board to construct/renovate 2,337 classrooms, supply of 35,294 pupils’ desks, supply of 7,354 teachers’ furniture, construction/renovation of 93 perimeter fencing and corresponding gatehouses, construction of 79 solar powered boreholes, construction of 271 modern toilets as well as several ongoing projects to facilitate teaching and learning in public primary schools in the state.
Presently, contract for the production of 3,800 students’/pupils’ furniture and 1,250 for teachers’ furniture in Delta Central Senatorial District, 3,868 students’/pupils’ furniture and 240 teachers’ furniture for Delta South Senatorial District and 4,800 students’/pupils’ furniture and 500 teachers’ furniture for Delta North Senatorial District have been awarded. In addition, contract for the supply of 1,000 student’s/pupils’ furniture and 100 teacher’s furniture for Warri Federal Constituency and 2,350 student’s/pupils’ furniture and 290 teacher’s furniture for State Capital Territory have also been awarded.
Infrastructural Audit of Public Schools
Because of the deteriorating nature of public schools and inadequate funding, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa in September 2019, commissioned a comprehensive school infrastructural audit and mapping of all public primary and post-primary schools in the state.
Ukah while explaining the imperative of the exercise noted that it will guide government in taking deeper and critical overview of its infrastructural inputs, adding that it will help in identifying shortfalls and possible gaps which would redirect its focus to untouched areas of infrastructural needs by the schools during the current tenure of this administration.
Ukah further stated that the perceived gap is not due to inaction on the part of government but the large number of public schools and the long years of abandonment contrary to information peddled on social media, adding that government in its commitment to promoting educational standards in the state, has extended the intervention beyond infrastructural developments with the recruitment of one thousand teachers recently.
He said that given the large number of public schools in the state and the various other competing demands in the social sector of the economy, no one would rightly expect that all schools would be attended to simultaneously by government, adding that intervention programmes are executed in phases until the entire the state is covered.
According to the Basic and Secondary Education Commissioner, at the end of the school infrastructural audit and mapping project, critical challenges would be identified which will inform government policies and actions in addressing the issues of duplication of projects, skewness in project locations, poor school database management and documentation, and economic wastages.
The exercise, which was awarded to an international research company with renowned pedigree in census and infrastructural audit, AC Nielsen, but the report is not yet received by the ministry. While awaiting the report, scooping has already been done for the development of infrastructure at Emadadaja Primary School and Adadja Secondary School both in Udu Local Government Area. Once the report of the scooping is ready, the Bill of Quantity (BoQ) will be forwarded to the Governor for approval.
Okowa’s vision for education has an inclusive dimension designed to increase access to quality education. To this extent, he is opening up centres for non-formal secondary school education in the state to ensure that every individual is given equal access to education.
Target beneficiaries are children who have no opportunity of continuing their education after primary school. By this move, the governor has created a new opportunity for an increased number of people to go to school.
Beyond ensuring improved quality of school leavers, Governor Okowa has initiated an elaborate programme of entrenching entrepreneurial culture among the youth in the state after graduating from various institutions of higher learning.
This represents a fundamental approach to addressing the problem of high rate of unemployment among university graduates in Nigeria and the resulting social evils arising from joblessness.