In line with the desire of the Anambra State Government to be among the three top states in Nigeria with the lowest illiteracy rate, the Commissioner for Education, Professor Kate Omenugha shared with Uchechukwu Nnaike the state’s efforts to ensure that no child is left behind, among other issues
Anambra State has over the years been known for the high rate of boy-child drop-out because of the commercial activities in cities like Onitsha and Nnewi, but surprisingly, the Commissioner for Education, Professor Kate Omenugha revealed that the state also has its share of girl-child drop-out in the riverine areas were girls are married off at the age of 12 and less.
The commissioner painted a gloomy picture of those riverine communities, which she said are mostly farmers and place little value to education.
She however said the state government is working assiduously to reverse the trend as several policies have been formulated to get the drop-outs enrolled in schools and provide lifelong skills that will equip the state to become one of the three top states with the lowest illiteracy rate.
“We promised ‘umu akwukwo ndi Anambra’ that we will give them education that will be comparable to any in the world. To be able to do that, we need to form a policy that no child is to be left behind; we need to give our students lifelong skills; we need to re-strategise and transform our education from the one where they do rote learning to the one that is more practical, where our students will begin to have what we call education for employment and where we need to have a bridge between schools and industries.”
To ensure that no child is left behind, she said Governor Willie Obiano made education tuition free no matter the school, whether inclusive or special school. The government also renovated dilapidated structure in the special schools and integrated the students.
For those riverine areas, she said the governor started paying some teachers 20 per cent of their basic salary as incentives for then to be retained in those areas. “We do what we call teacher engagement whereby I as the commissioner representing the governor will go to those areas, I travel by boat to the place and some of the people speak Igala so I will need an interpreter to communicate with them.
“These areas have been neglected over the years, but now we are refocusing our minds to them and the girl-child that is too disadvantaged in those areas we have taken interest in them. We have some consultants that have done a lot of research on those areas and they are going to present the report by the end of June, to determine the kind of intervention we are going to do so that we can integrate the girl-child into school.”
To attract the boy-child, she said the government now builds a school in any market is constructing “to catch the boy child that has dropped out of school that is probably in the market as an apprentice. Most importantly, we are trying to strengthen our children.”
According to the commissioner, having realised that ICT is key to providing education that will be comparable to any in the world, the government needed teachers to drive the ICT awareness, but regretted that when she assumed office, she noticed that teachers were kind of lackadaisical to technology.
Though the previous administration had made huge investments in education in form of ICT, technology, distribution of computers to schools, with some of the schools have up to 200 computers depending on the number of students; some have 15 or 20 depending on the number, the computers were not in use.
“The state government had formed some partnership with Microsoft and they had the Microsoft academy in place whereby we have access to vouchers that will make the students and teachers to have Microsoft certification. We saw a government that has good intention of integrating technology in education. When we came in one of the things we noticed was that the vouchers were about to expire and none had been used.
“What we did was to make some policy thrust because some of the laptops were beginning to gather dust; some of them had virus attacks, so we began to think of a way to make our teachers able to use the laptops. So we started an aggressive campaign and that came with some policy statements for example we told the teachers that they won’t get promotion unless they are ICT compliant; also no one will be promoted to the post of a principal unless they can drive ICT.
“We talked about the ‘one teacher one laptop’ policy where every teacher, even though it is a voluntary scheme, but teachers are made to understand that they must have a computer. When we started the ‘one teacher one laptop’ policy it was like a mayhem, people were criticising me, until other state governments started calling my governor to find out what we are doing and that gave me a kind of plus.
“We also did a lot of aggressive campaign and oral persuasion and made the teachers to understand that it is important for teachers to key into 21st century technology and they have accepted the policy, even though the high exchange rate is posing a problem.
“We began to put training component in our school calendar. For the secondary schools that already have laptops distributed and with the train the trainer session by Microsoft were about 52 ICT teachers were trained who will in turn train others. With the teachers that were trained, we started an aggressive training. It didn’t matter to us that about three teachers were sharing a laptop. The important thing is that teachers are beginning to understand the need to work with it.
“Many of them touched the laptop for the first time, many of the were so elated when they saw the laptop booting; many of them felt that something new was happening, even their children were involved, happy that their parents can now operate computers. When I look back from where we started and where we are now, it has been a slow progress, but there is progress.
“Currently, 30 per cent of our teachers have Microsoft certification, what is means is that the global competitiveness is promising, we are getting there; what it also means is that the lackadaisical attitude of teachers towards technology is waning, we are getting more converts, it is not an easy road but I know we will get there.”
On the distinguishing feature of the state education sector, Omenugha said it is global competition, “it is very important; that is what we try to do and to make our teachers and workers responsible and responsive. We have excelled in the areas of infrastructure development; we have a partnership with the mission which is working very well. The governor disbursed some funds to the catholic and Anglican mission depending on the number of schools they have, for them to renovate the schools that were handed over to them. The rest of the money will be used for our schools. Anambra State last year won the best senior secondary school in Nigeria and the second best primary school.”
She disclosed that the current debate champion in Nigeria is from Anambra state. “For two consecutive years, in the inter-school debate Anambra state has come first. The students went to Singapore and defeated other contestants to emerge the best team and best speaker. What we are doing is that we are trying to imbue them with a lot of courage and demystify science and technology for them so that they will begin to follow the 21st century.”
Asked if the impressive performance of the students can be attributed to ICT, Omenugha said: “It is partly that because during the debate competition, sometimes the students are given something to research on and they find themselves on the phones and other devices trying to get out information. If they are not technology savvy, it would have been difficult for them to do that because they will be given less than an hour to go and research a topic and come back and speak on that topic.
“Also, critical thinking, analytical thinking are very crucial to what they are doing; most importantly too, we are making the students confident by making them believe in themselves that they can do these things on their own. Each time Anambra students go to any competition, they will have it in their minds that they have to make an impact everywhere they go and everyone they meet and they want to be role models. We keep on drilling them on these because education is about ideology.”
Asked the extent the state has gone in the area of technical and vocational education, the commissioner said: “That is the area we have made a lot of impact. When Obiano came into office, we met 11 technical colleges, none of them had accreditation, the one that had accreditation, its accreditation expired in 2013 so by the time we came in 2014, none of the colleges had accreditation, some of them were dilapidated and we had a set of teachers that had almost lost it in terms of motivation and inspiration.
“The first thing we did when we started work in July 2014 was to send 23 of the technical college teachers to Singapore to learn the Singaporian model of technical and vocational education. They couldn’t believe that we could spend such an amount of money for them to go on a study tour and visit if the schools in Singapore, so they came back energised we divided them into groups and we were able to provide the document that has the mapping out of the step by step activities that we need to do to be able to re-energise and revamp technical colleges; to be able to give the teachers the desired local and international training; and to be able to get the courses accredited.
“So with the support of the World Bank we began to re-strategise on how we can move the technical colleges forward. So after the training which was funded through the World Bank STEPID programme, we redesigned our curriculum to be geared towards education for employment that is what we are working at. We also started the bridge programme where we thought of how to close the disconnect between the technical colleges and the industries so we need to begin to train children that will fit into the industries, the middle level human resources capacity building or manpower development.
She said the technical college witnessed an increased population when the governor awarded free tuition to all technical college students NCC one to NCC three. “That boomed the technical colleges because one of the greatest challenges we found out was the thinking of our people that those who go to technical colleges are second class. So we said if we make technical colleges beautiful, a lot of people will begin to go there and that is what is happening now.
“We followed up with the partnerships we have with the technical colleges and the industries, we started with Innoson Motors where the governor signed an MoU with the company, students of 10 of the 11 colleges that do auto mechanic were going there on a daily basis to be able to learn hands-on experience, that again made a lot of students to start coming school.
“We are moving on to construction industry, forming partnership with the artisans, even those who do furniture making, those who tiling, plastering, those are the people we are working with, even those that work in their homes, we are not looking for the big companies like Innoson, we are looking for the people who have the practical experience, which the students can go and get themselves exposed to and then with their intellect they can fine tune and do better.
“As a fall out of the partnership with Innoson Motors, we opened a vehicle body building maintenance workshop at the Nigerian Science and Technical College, Nnewi, we opened the catering craft department too and we invited the NBTE to come in December last year, they came for resource verification so that they could find out whether we have enough things to be accredited and surprisingly in April 2016, we got a letter from them that they have given us initial accreditation, they were supposed to come back for another accreditation but the state-of-the-art equipment they found in the vehicle body building maintenance and the catering craft was outstanding and they gave us interim accreditation.”
She expressed delight that companies are now employing graduates of its technical colleges, saying “it is exciting to me because it shows that our products are good; and the hands-on experience we are giving the students is paying off; and the zero unemployment which we want to have in Anambra is beginning to come to fruition because people can just be taken immediately they finish school and go into the job market, that is good for us.”
Asked how she wants to leave the state education sector at the expiration of her tenure, she said: “I hope the legacy Obiano will leave in the state ministry of education will be a ministry that has more responsible and responsive staff; a ministry that has been able to formulate policies that will continue to carry every child along so that no child will be left behind; and a ministry that would have provided the opportunities for people to improve themselves overtime and therefore will become one of the three top states with the lowest illiteracy rate.
“A ministry that would have imparted the right skills in the students and the future generation, which will take them all through life and that way we begin to have zero unemployment and most importantly, a ministry that would have through the state-of-the-art technology, been able to bring global competitiveness in our education system.”