Education in Bayelsa: Strides, Challenges and Prospects
The world over, massive investment in education has been identified as the driver of accelerated development. This view has gained prominence in this era of globalization when knowledge is the most important factor of production, hence the numerous success stories that characterize what is today referred to as service economies. Countries like the Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, India etc. fall within this category. Japan has a near 100 percent literacy rate. Adult literacy rate: female 99 percent; male 99 percent (Compared to 34 percent for females and 64 percent for males in India; and 99 percent for male and females in Russia, the United States, and much of Europe). Compulsory education in Japan is nine years for children aged 6 to 14. In January 2006, the government said it wanted to expand compulsory education from nine years to 10 years or 11 years. In addition, 97 percent of Japanese choose to go to high school after their compulsory education is completed. These are examples that should guide our policy-makers in the third world.
In the South-South geo-political zone of Nigeria, Bayelsa State which was created in 1996 from the Old-Rivers State is the only homogenous Ijaw State; this scenario presents its own challenges which originate from both the central position the State occupies among the Ijaws and environmental and sociological factors contending with the massive development of the young State. Basically, education has been widely accepted as the engine of development; this implies that four walls of the school house are built to nurture the transformers of our society. According to the political philosopher Claude Ake; “development is not given to the people, rather it evolves from the people”. This is the under-pining philosophy behind the educational policy of the present Bayelsa State government. In line with its Medium Term Economic Blueprint, the government envisaged a peaceful and secure state with the development strategy which bothered on Engagement, Empowerment and Enforcement. The triple E strategy is tailored to fast-track the administration's policy drive for sustainable development.
This article is intended to highlight the efforts of the Sylva administration in repositioning the educational sector as a mechanism for human capital development. Having identified earlier that education is a major tool; and a strategic lever for socio-economic transformation. This notion corroborated with the vision of the Ministry of Education which sees “education as a tool for the total socio-economic and political empowerment of every citizen of Bayelsa, irrespective of gender, age, geographical location or terrain and tribe and to make Bayelsa economically vibrant and politically stable.” In the same vein, the mission statement of the ministry implores the “provision of sound educational policy for effective and efficient management of our schools, the provision of the standard educational facilities to ensure equal access by all citizens and to reduce the level of illiteracy to its barest minimum.”
This conception enables the requisite environment for a virile economic growth. Despite the dwindling revenues accruing to the state, government has demonstrated unparalleled zeal and commitment in pursuance of theeducational policy objectives of Bayelsa State, which hinges on the provision of qualitative and quantitative education for all citizens. The government recognizes the critical role of the education sector in human capital development and a fundamental requirement for holistic economic transformation of the State. Government has manifested genuine commitment to providing the much needed infrastructure for the advancement of education and ultimately, the human capital which serves as the backbone of economic development.
The government masterfully sustained the foreign scholarship scheme introduced by previous administrations. This gesture has increased the stock of human capital in the State especially in our institutions of higher learning. Governor Sylva has also embarked on a comprehensive renovation of schools and building new ones. The several capacity building programmes you have mounted for teachers in the State are highly commendable. This is in line the educational objectives in the medium and long-term. These include; the promotion of a friendly early child care and development education in public and private schools in the State by 2012; establishment of model primary/secondary schools across the eight LGAs of the State, and the recruitment of 3000 teachers and retraining of 4500 teachers by 2012. These objectives are recording success because the state has already embarked on the upgrade of key infrastructure; i.e primary schools as well as the upgrade tertiary structures and facilities at Bayelsa State College of Arts and Science (BYCAS) model nursery/primary school.
The foresight and vision is of the present leadership has created an enabling environment for attracting Federal presence in the State. Today, Bayelsa State is home to the Bayelsa Campus of the Nigerian Law School as government embraced the task of constructing the structures; the Federal Government Polytechnic, Ekeowei; the Federal University in Otueke which recently raked in N3 billion for commencement its construction, in addition to the provision of land for the sitting the school by the Sylva administration.
Government had further reaffirmed its conviction for educational development by establishing the Bayelsa State College of Education in Okpoama. Facts revealed that the State University – the Niger Delta University (NDU) has received increased funding as is evident in the accreditation of programmes, while other Universities in Nigeria are experiencing acute crisis and industrial disharmony. These are enviable strides that have been recorded in spite of the dwindling resources accruing to the State.
Other policies being pursued by the government include the strengthening of facilities in selected schools and colleges with a view to provide all schools with teaching and learning materials and the completion of three international model secondary schools, one for each senatorial district. Efforts are in top gears to relocate the BYCAS Model Secondary School, upgrade existing secondary schools by 2012. While the existing scholarship scheme is being sustained, government is also providing assistance to deserving students in the form bursary, sponsorship of applied research and development scholarship. The education sector plays key role in driving the state towards focusing on her medium-term priority areas.
The Education Index measures a country or state's relative achievements in both adult literacy and combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment. It is a composite measure of adult literacy rate and gross enrolment ratio. At 0.67%, Bayelsa State has a lower-than-average education index when compared with the entire South-South average of 0.8% and the National average of 0.7%. This signals that education ought to be a priority area of concern in the State's development planning process. An overview of the current state of education in Bayelsa State reveals, there are 537 primary schools in Bayelsa, which spreads across the eight LGAs; Brass has 44 schools, Nembe 86 schools, Ekeremor 86, Kolokuma Opokuma 24 schools, Ogbia 73, Sagbama 62 schools, Southern-Ijaw 131 and Yenagoa has 59 schools respectively.
The teacher's population in the State totals 3031 qualified in the primary schools level, Ekeremor has 261 teachers, KOLGA has 247 teachers, NELGA has 161, OGBIA has 643 teachers, SALGA has 427 teachers, SILGA has 519 teachers, and YELGA has 638 as at 2009. From the above data, there is significant manpower gap; this lacuna requires training and retraining the teachers. With the present effort in the sector, still the education seems to be walking in the shadows; this implies that the next political dispensation will accelerate these efforts with a view to achieving 'education for all' by 2015. As we evaluate the present drive with a view to improving and achieving the vision of a secure, prosperous State, government may need to embark massive sensitization exercise to enable massive stakeholder participation in joining the league of educationally viable States. Like Japan and other service economies.
Finally, education is widely regarded as the route to economic prosperity, the key to scientific and technological advancement, the means to combat unemployment, the foundation of social equity, and the spread of political socialization and cultural vitality. As Sylva returns to serve his second tenure, it is believed that the administration sticks to its drive and remain focused on call to duty. Bayelsa State shall indeed be transformed into a united, secure and prosperous State.These achievements are expected to be consolidated as a lasting legacy. Let's go 2011!
Tonye Jackson, writes from Buguma in Rivers State