Bayelsa Subed:  In Pursuit Of Quality Education

Nelson Mandela – founder of modern South Africa holds that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Again education can be acquired by everybody. According to Albert Einstein Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”. This implies that education cannot just be bookish, it has to be practical. Perhaps the most realistic thing to know is the fact that learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardour and attended to with diligence. Ostensibly therefore, the solar-plexus of education lies in its ability to open the mind and expand the human horizon. This is what the Restoration administration set out to achieve at inception.

It is also universally acceptable that whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation. Viewed as a hierarchy, basic education can be conceptualized as the solid foundation upon which we build a house. From the perspective of development, education is the key that can unlock the golden gate of good governance, economic progress and technological development.

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) provides that “basic education should be universal, free and compulsory”. Since then, democratic countries around the world have adopted the declaration as an article of faith in pursuit of their developmental aspirations. In fact human capital theorists believe that no asset of factor of production can be greater that the educated man who has acquired skills to manipulate economic processes. It was for this reason that in Nigeria, we have had to try free and compulsory education several times but without success. There is a Chinese proverb that “A day of reading is a day of gain; a day without reading is ten days of loss”. Universal, free and compulsory education is in synch with the UDHR. Governor Dickson had pledged that the long term goal of basic education is to leave no child behind.

It is not surprising therefore that when Governor Seriake Dickson inaugurated the State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB, he urged the Board to give basic education a major push and facelift. The major components of the plan for the basic education are free tuition, improved infrastructure, free uniforms, writing materials, sandals and desks for all pupils. SUBEB was also mandated to take critical executive decisions on provision of infrastructure and other educational inputs, teachers’ recruitment, promotion and welfare. These were critical components of the emergency declared by the Governor Dickson in the education sector.

No sooner the Board was constituted than the Executive Secretary. Comrade Walton Liverpool hit the ground running. His major thrust was to revamp basic education and eliminate the rot in the system. His attention went first to the contracts awarded by the immediate past administration to build 25 Mega Schools cutting across all the LGAs of the State. On routine inspection, it was revealed that all the contracts were awarded to the cronies of those in power by the immediate past administration. The scenario was such that as soon as they received their mobilization fees, the contracts were permanently abandoned and the rendezvous of policy flip-flop continued. This unedifying policy failure and dislocation of school age children was clearly unacceptable.

The first step the Executive Secretary took was to hold a consultative meeting with the contractors and the Board. From the fall out of this interaction, it became obvious that most of the contractors would not continue with their jobs. Consequently, some contracts were canceled. Then an open and transparent bidding process was initiated and the contracts were won by competent contractors who were ready to work even without mobilization. In eighteen (18) months, the 25 mega schools the past administration could not deliver were completed and equipped with all educational inputs.

It should be recalled that the Great Flood of 2012 destroyed all educational furniture, so the Board was faced with the additional responsibility of renovating the schools and replacing all school furniture ranging from white boards, fumigation of school premises, supply of chairs and tables, chalks, dusters, and other audio-visual aids. The procurement of these inputs added to the quality of teaching and learning.

The other challenge was to prune down the over-bloated teacher force, which was a result of so many “ghost workers” found in the pay vouchers of the Board by the immediate past administration. Suffice it to say that sundry irregularities were found in the immediate past Board. The most buffeting was the payment of teachers and non-academic staff that never existed. This amounted to funding layers of inefficiency. To solve this problem, a staff verification exercise was conducted and about 380 teachers were found to be engaged without the requisite qualifications and without due process. This category of staff was weeded out and promises were made to re-interview them with a view to employing the qualified ones among them. The exercise whittled-down the wage bill of the Board.

Bayelsa SUBEB then carried out training and re-training of teachers to keep them abreast of modern trends in pedagogy. Because of the holistic concept of education conceived in the free education drive, the Board procured hundreds of Computers, as each school has two computer rooms. SUBEB has also brought computer professionals to teach the teachers and students alike to ensure they are computer literate. In addition, the Board conducts regular promotion interviews to ensure steady upward social mobility of workers. Such interviews are conducted by professionals. Teachers’ salaries and allowances were paid up-to-date until the economic recession set in. Pleasantly, has improved the motivational level of teachers hence productivity has increased tremendously.

The Board has plans to recruit additional teachers as soon as the finances improve. The Board has extensively embarked upon the renovation of dilapidated schools as well as build new classroom blocks. So far the board has carried out the renovation of 400 primaries and Junior School across the eight LGAs of Bayelsa State. Recognizing the plight of headmasters and headmistresses, SUBEB has also built 400 headmasters/headmistresses residential quarters across the State. Most of the schools now have excess classrooms and this has reduced the teacher-Pupil ratio - making for increased attention span. This is in keeping with the belief that instruction ends in the classroom but education ends only with life. With this thinking, technology development centres have been built around some schools and some of them have been put into use. These centres are designed to introduce technology consciousness in young minds.

In some designated centers, Model Primary Schools. Such model schools are centres of excellence, which will be replicated across the State as time goes on. The Model Schools are being equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and they can compete favourably with other private schools in Nigeria. Most of the educational inputs such as libraries, laboratories and computer rooms have been provided. Schools no longer use blackboards, but while boards with markers. This is done in line with the conventional standard and pursuant to the meeting of the Millennium Development Goals. The overarching goal is to ensure that no community or child is left out.

SUBEB has also strengthened the Inspectorate Division of the Board. School Inspectors visit schools regularly without notice to observe compliance. In the process, erring teachers are disciplined according to established rules and regulations. Initially, the Board faced the challenge of headmasters and principals who collected money from pupils/students even when there is free education. SUBEB ensures that the free education policy is implemented across the State. SUBEB does not only enforce compliance but also interacts with the students to ensure that they obtain their free uniforms, exercise books, biros and other educational inputs provided by the State. It was Clay Bedford who asserted “You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives” Education is still important because it opens the mind and expands it and expands the horizon of the recipient.

Today, Bayelsans can pride themselves of getting it right in basic education, by virtue of the financial commitment and determination of Gov. Seriake Dickson and the managerial acuumen of the Board headed by Comrade Walton Liverpool. Whereas it can be lavishly conceded that Bayelsa SUBEB is one of flagship Boards in the Restoration Administration, It is heartwarming that Bayelsa State which was the worst in basic education now ranks the best in the South-South geopolitical and comfortably occupies the 10th position nationally. This is no mean achievement.

The Restoration administration has turned around the fortunes of basic education in Bayelsa State. The same thing is applicable to other levels of education. What has made these monumental achievements possible are: prudence, a keen sense of priority, application of the concept of value for money, determination and passion for the well-being of children. In Bayelsa, we do not just believe that education is a right; we also believe that these rights must be pragmatic. Although, there is still much to be done in techno-vocational education, what has been achieved is unparalleled since the creation of Bayelsa State about 20 years now.

Benjamin Franklin once asserted that ‘if a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him, hence an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest” True to type the success story of the Walton Liverpool led SUBEB in Bayelsa State has become a source of elaborate discussion in some quarters, but it will continue until no child is left behind. We are witnessing the honeymoon days of basic education in Bayelsa State and it leaves no one in doubt that if the present tempo is sustained, the spill-over effect will be enormous.

The value added in the curriculum content of all the basic schools in the State is that almost everything is practical. This ranges from the computer theatres, the introductory technology and Science laboratories, woodwork to electronics are designed to impart techno-vocational skills. This aligns with the Chinese Proverb “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand” It is the techno-vocational content infused into education that gives Bayelsa Children the competitive edge. This is what makes the difference between the Restoration Administration and others and things can only get better.

Idumange John
Is a public intellectual
September 4, 2016

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Articles by Idumange John