HOW WE'RE REVIVING PRIMARY EDUCATION IN ZAMFARA - ADAMU
The Executive Chairman, Zamfara State Universal Basic Education Board (ZUBEB), Hon. Murtala Adamu, was the immediate past Deputy Speaker of the state House of Assembly during the tenure of Governor Mamuda Shinkafi.
With only few months to the 2011 general elections, he left the Peoples' Democractic party (PDP) for the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), playing a significant role in the poll victory of Governor Abdulaziz Yari, who later appointed him to his current post.
He speaks with ABBA ABUBAKAR KABARA, on the challenges and measures taken to revive the ailing primary education in the state.
When you came on board, what were your first experiences regarding decaying state of primary education in the state?
When I came into the Board, specifically on September 12, 2011, I met a Board whose definite staff strength was not known, whose teacher structure was not officially registered, and a Board where the number of pupils enrolled in our primary schools was not known with certainty. It was a Board where salaries being paid to teachers fluctuate in an amazing degree. It was a board with very inadequate number of classrooms and where teachers don't teach, but only appear at the end of the month to collect salaries. The whole structure was just a manifestation of gross official indiscipline, indolence, moral laxity and general financial mismanagement.
You sound like you met a highly disorganised Board where even the administrative structure was … (cuts in)
Yes, you guess it right, because if the administrative organ was functioning right, all other sections are likely to be in order. It was just an unfortunate situation which was evidently responsible for the state's ranking as one of the most educationally disadvantaged states in the country.
So, what were the strategic measures taken to address the situation, particularly considering the human and huge financial commitment likely to be involved in the process?
What we did was first to study the problems, analyzing the nature and causes of the problems, and then how best we think we can solve them.
We begun by doing some verification exercise to determine the number of effective teaching staff and what the actual amount of their lawful earning was. In the process, we discovered that there were some teachers placed on very funny grade levels. Gross misappropriation was uncovered in which some teachers were receiving N1.6 million as monthly salary, but after a thorough investigation, it was realized that fictitious names were used by some individuals to loot the public treasury. We stopped this, and from this we saved for government, from that fraud, a sum of about N180 million.
A part from this, we also discovered that there were several leakages with the Board's monthly subvention for the payment of teachers' salaries, which was then said to be N33O million, but because of the discovery of gross fraud, the amount was drastically reduced to N288 million, a reduction of N42 million. In 12 months, we were able to save about N504 million. And you add this to the other N180 million, you get a sum of N684 saving from fraud within one year.
But apart from this challenge you discovered in the financial management of the Board, how did you tackle issues in the actual operation of primary education which, you admit, is in a state of decay?
Well, we decided to look indepth into the other aspects of running primary education in the state with a view to determining the extent of the decay of the system; in terms of infrastructure, instructional materials, teacher quality, pupils enrolment as well as all other factors identified as bottlenecks; and so we approached the government to allow us to set up a committee of experts to investigate the problems and recommend solutions.
Following the permission of the state government, we constituted a very powerful committee, comprising personalities of Zamfara State origin to come back home and serve in the collective effort to save the education sector from imminent collapse.
The committee has seven professors, 15 PhD holders, and other professionals from state polytechnics and colleges of education, as well as from within the state civil service, from female education Board, and from all other relevant institutions identified as significant to the success of the educational reformation programme. The numerical strength of the committee comprised of about 250 various professionals of proven integrity.
The committee was sub-divided into 17 smaller units that visited and assessed the situation on ground, as well as the physical condition of all primary schools across the state, no matter how remote the location of the school.
What were the discoveries by the committee and what were the recommendations?
The committee came up with very disgusting findings, particularly regarding the physical condition of primary school structures in which all the existing 1318 inspected across the state were in urgent need of rehabilitation, while many others exist either under trees, or in thatched huts and temporary uncompleted structures.
The committee also discovered a very poor school child enrolment, and near absence of teachers especially in remote areas, general shortage of qualified teachers and general lack of instructional and learning materials. Some of the schools were fraudulently registered as physically in existence, but were discovered that, in reality, they were only fictitious because there was no evidence to indicate building structures had ever existed in that area.
Apart from this, it was realized that for the past three years, the state government had not been able to access its funds from the Universal Basic Education Commission for the UBE programme. So on this issue, we approached the government and explained that we have arrears of over N1.6 billion with UBE, and advised the government to pay its counterpart fund, so that we could move ahead. Luckily, Governor Yari immediately released the counter fund amounting to N1.6 billion which qualified us to access our arrears and realized a total sum of N3.2 billion. In addition to this, the state government gave us additional funding of N2 billion to enable us to rehabilitate and provide more schools and classrooms across all the local areas of the state.
How did you utilise the fund to effectively reduce the challenges and numerous bottlenecks suffocating the development of primary education in the state?
We are utilizing the fund for the mass rehabilitation and construction of additional schools and classrooms in every nook and cranny of the state so that classroom over population could be reduced. We have now reached advanced stage in total renovation of 22 primary schools, and constructing about 319 new schools of one block of two classrooms, which gives you about 954 new classrooms.
We are also constructing some ICT centres, as information technology is rapidly becoming part of the curriculum of primary education. We plan to build these centers in 41 primary schools, and each will be equipped with 20 sets of computers, printers, processors, generators and offices for the systems administrators or instructors.
In addition, we are also constructing 24 hand pumps in some of these schools, and providing 28 Ventilated Improved Toilets (VIP).
Part of the major problems also facing primary education in Zamfara is the issue of classroom seats, which are very much inadequate so much that pupils have to sit on bare floor;
What are your plans to address this issue?
Yes, this is one of the major problems we have identified. When I came into office, we discovered that almost in all the primary school pupils were sitting on the floor and learning under very inconvenient atmosphere. So, we issued out contracts for the purchase and furnishing all the renovated and newly constructed primary schools across the state. The target is to provide a total of 19, 723 units of three-seater pupils' desk and chair, which is estimated to comfortably accommodate about 29, 169 pupils. We are also providing 3,280 units of furniture for the ICT centres. You see that the challenges in this reformation agenda is so great, but, fortunately, the programme appeared to be one of the topmost priorities of Governor Abdulaziz Yari's administration, and with his continued support, there is hope that in the next few years Zamfara State will disengage from the league of educationally disadvantaged states in the country.
Sir, you have talked so much about plans for improving the status of primary education; what about the early child education which is also vital in the process of child educational development?
Thank you. We did not forget about that important aspect of early child development in the form of nurseries. As part of the educational reformation agenda, we have so far constructed 24 Early Child Care Development Centres (ECCDC), and we are providing furniture for about 8,400 intakes into these classes.
You have earlier mentioned that the quality and quantity of teachers were very much inadequate for a successful handling of primary education in the state.
Yes. As we all know, the success of any educational development depends on the instructional quality. Unfortunately, we discovered that most of our primary school teachers are not qualified. On this premise, we have so far succeeded in giving short-term training to about 500 teachers as an interim intervention. We also designed another interim measure to improve the teacher quality. We directed that teachers holding a school certificate should, without any further delay, get enrolled into either College of Education, Maru, Federal College of Education (Technical) Gusau, College of Education, Sokoto, or any other teacher training institution to upgrade their instructional capacity and obtain an NCE Certificate. As for those who already possessed NCE Certificate, but lost their instructional skills, probably due to long years of dormancy, we have strategized a new initiative of a first of its kind in the country. So we came up with the idea of building an in-service Teacher Training Centre. We have acquired a land for putting up the centre in the state capital, Gusau, which will accommodate 400 intakes at a time. The Centre will be equipped with two blocks of hostels that can accommodate 200 students. The centre is also provided with ICT centre so that computer literacy could be enhanced. Also within the centre, a large theater is provided with the capacity of accommodating at least 300 people during learning and recreational activities. We have also constructed two units of three bedroom houses, a restaurant and a number of 15 classrooms. This centre is expected to be completed in the next three months. By the time this centre begins to function, we will be able to train our teachers on a regular basis.
Apart from the conventional primary education system, there has been a lingering problem of Almajiri education. What are you doing in this direction?
We have also made adequate provision for the Almajiri system of education. The construction is now going on about five units of type one Almajiri schools located at Gusau, with two, and one in each Bungudu, Talata Mafara, Kaura Namoda, and Maru local government respectively. These will go a long way in improving child enrolment into basic primary education programme in the state, while checking the increasing migration of small school age children into the cities under the pretext of almajiri syndrome.
I would not forget to mention that the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) is constructing a very large Junior Girls Secondary School here in the state capital, Gusau, costing not less than N250 million. The construction work has now reached a very satisfactory stage. We are happy about this development as it will greatly complement our efforts in our bid to revitalize the status of education in the state.