Overcoming the Challenges of Basic Education: the Restoration Paradigm (1)
Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resources----John F. Kennedy
It is universally accepted that education is the fulcrum of development, the torch that illuminates society and the catalyst for societal transformation. Efforts at development around the world are inextricable tied to education, beginning with basic education. Education is the Chinese wall that separates the advanced economies from the developing States.
Basic education also referred to as foundational education designates a whole range of educational activities taking place in various settings (formal, non-formal and informal), that seeks to meet basic learning needs of society. Basic education is defined as the education given in an institution for children aged 6-11 years. In Nigeria’s current 9-3-4 system, Basic education refers to the first 9 years years in school from primary 1 to JSS3. Indeed, the success and failure of the entire education system are determined by it and it is at the heart of the concept of basic education also defined as universalization of access of education According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), basic education comprises primary education and lower secondary education. In developing countries, Basic Education often includes also pre-primary education and/or adult literacy programs. Universal basic education is regarded as a priority for
developing countries and is the focus of the Education For All movement led by UNESCO. It is also included in the Millennium Development Goals as Goal number 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education by 2015.
The world over, primary education is been regarded as the most important as well as the most patronized by people. This is due largely to the fact that it is the foundation of the whole educational pursuit, which is expected to provide literacy and enlightenment to the citizens. The importance of primary education can therefore be seen in the sense that all beneficiaries of the other levels of education of necessity, have to pass through his level. Like the foundation of a building, basic education provides the building block for all other levels of education. Basic education is simply the soul of a society. It was for this reason that Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights makes basic education universal, free and compulsory.
In Bayelsa State, prior to the ascendancy of the Governor Seriake Administration, basic education was in less than edifying. Schools were dilapidated; infrastructure was at the last stage of dilapidation; laboratories were empty and often became havens of dangerous reptiles. Some subjects such as Introductory Technology were not taught because of paucity of equipment. The scenario was most disastrous in our rural areas where students had to sit on the floor during classes. Whereas most educational inputs were in acute short supply, the pupil –teacher ratio was so large that no effective teaching and learning could take place. In Nigeria, Bayelsa State comfortably occupied the third least educationally developed State and the last in the South South-South geographically zone.
Basic education was characterized by high attrition rate, lack of planning, inadequate funding, dearth of educational inputs, and demotivation of teachers, unmanageable teacher-pupil ratio, and inability to meet teacher salary obligations with the implication of so many children having no access to education to quality education. The most basic issues relates to the elementary fact that illiteracy and innumeracy are forms of insecurity in themselves. If a child is unable to read, communicate or do simple calculation, such a child is deprived and society is at a high risk, insecurity and poverty. Basic education was relegated to the background.
When Governor Henry Seriake Dickson assumed office, on February 14, 2012, he was faced with three main problems namely: an empty treasury, a bloated wage bill and an inexplicable debt burden. Added to these challenges was the “Ghost Workers Syndrome” which inundated the pay vouchers of the Universal Basic Education Board. It was also observed that corruption was so endemic that due process was never followed in the engagement of teachers.
Recognizing the importance of primary education, all governments in Nigeria across time and space have placed premium on it by making primary education the center piece of their educational policies. In spite of these seemingly daunting challenges, Governor Seriake Dickson considered education as a priority that required an emergency. Recognizing these challenges, Governor Seriake Dickson declared a state of emergence in education. This was contained in his inaugural address to the people of Bayelsa State. In that epochal address, the Governor demonstrated his commitment to tackle head-on the knotty challenges facing education in the State. Human capacity building was one of the principal campaign promises. The Restoration Administration kick-started the basic education revolution by setting up a task force, which after thorough investigation reported that Bayelsa State needed 237 primary schools, will require renovation and recommended the building of
additional 316 new schools. The taskforce also reported government needed to construct a total number of 515 residential quarters for headmasters, adding that some of such quarters are under construction.
The Bayelsa State Universal Education Board Bill was amended and a Board was constituted with Comrade Walton Liverpool as Executive Secretary. The State Universal Basic Education Board was inaugurated on 6th of August 2012. The overriding mission is “To partner with stakeholders to provide quality basic education that will enhance a sustainable level of literacy and numeracy that will enable the school age child to realize its potentials at the end of a 9 year continuous basic education”.
Bayelsa SUBEB started by embarking on a comprehensive renovation of primary schools, staff offices and building of quarters for school heads across the LGAS of the State. This was closely followed by the building of 25 Mega Schools. The mega schools are in Agudama-Epie; Otuoke; Odi; Amassoma; Toru-Ndoro; Toru-Orua; Aleibiri; Ekeremor; Nembe/Basambiri; Nembe/Ogbolomabiri; Oporoma ; Ogbia-Town; Opolo; Swali and Okpoama. Others are the mega schools in Zarama; Kaiama; Azikoro; Bolou-Orua; Elebele; Agoubiri; Igbeta-Iwoama; Gbarain-Ekpetiama; Amassoma; Sagbama and Ebedebiri.
They are called mega schools because of the sophisticated infrastructure provided in them. Every Mega School has 12 classrooms; 75 KVA Generator; a Water Scheme; Computers Theatres; and well equipped laboratories. Other facilities include Special Rooms for Intro. Tech and the Sciences a Library; 23 Toilets a Standard Store a Large Multipurpose Hall that can seat 2000 persons; an open play Ground and Sports facilities and Headmasters/Headmistress’ Quarters. To make sure, no category of Bayelsans are left out, SUBEB has built a befitting six classroom blocks and living quarters for the physically challenged at Opolo-Epie.
Staff training is a significant component of the education revolution in Bayelsa State. Thus in 2012, 2, 293 teachers in Primary and Basic Junior Secondary Schools and 347 education managers (Head Teachers, Principals, LGEA Education Chairman, and School Supervisors) were trained, bringing the total number of participants trained to 2,640. To complement Federal Government’s effort, the education -friendly Governor of Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson trained the remaining 3,000 teachers in the State. SUBEB has comprehensively renovated more than 150 basic schools. The renovation became necessary because of the devastating effect of the Great Flood of 2012, which destroyed school buildings, furniture and other infrastruture.
The thrust of basic education is to effect a smooth transition from the home to school; prepare the child for the primary level of education; provide adequate care and supervision for the children, while their parents are at work and Inculcate in the child the spirit of enquiry and creativity through the exploration of nature, develop a sense of cooperation and team spirit and learn good
From the Restoration paradigm, basic education has taken its pride of place in the nation. The educational revolution has assumed a life of its own and Bayelsans have realized that basic education plays a huge role in society and it is the premise of progress of every society. First basic education has been declared free, universal and compulsory. Secondly, it enforces all parents to ensure that their children or wards attend and complete their primary education and junior secondary school as stated in section 2 of the Act, which provides some fines for any breach of the Act. Thirdly, the fast fading glory of education has been revamped by Governor Seriake Dickson. Fourthly, Bayelsa has left the unenviable league of educationally disadvantaged States in the area of basic education. It was for this reason that Bayelsa SUBEB has won more than seven awards, the last being the award from the House of Representative Committee on Rural Development.
Now, Bayelsa SUBEB closely monitors contractors, school staff supervision, and ensures that school infrastructure iare optimally utilized to achieve the goals of quality education and the objectives of the National Policy on Education. The Board also ensures that teacher-student ratio is reduced as much as possible to make teaching and learning more meaningful. The thrust of the Board is to ensure that students learn in a conducive environment, with well-equipped facilities such as libraries, laboratories and a highly motivated teacher force. Now, a computer literacy programmes is ongoing in all schools to get teachers acquainted with ICT education. These were rarities in the past.
Finally, it cannot be said that the challenges of basic education have been overcome, but it can be asserted unequivocally that in less than three years, the Restoration Administration has redefined and placed basic education on a very high pedestal such that Bayelsa has become a source of envy to other States. As James Garfield said some time ago “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be maintained” True, the restoration Administration has given a robust account of basic education in Bayelsa State. Basic education can only get better in the glory of all lands.
Secretary, Bayelsa Public Information Management Committee