As part of measures to avoid being classified as educationally backward, the Bayelsa State Government has taken bold steps to the reform the state’s dwindling education sector, writes Emmanuel Addeh
Up until now, Bayelsa State is still regarded as one of the Educationally Less Developed States (ELDS) by Nigeria’s education authorities and agencies like the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).
Though this comes with its own little advantages, including having a few concessions in terms of admission to tertiary institutions and other federally run public schools, it also comes with some form of stigma.
Ordinarily, no state would revel in being branded as educationally backward, which probably accounts for the reforms that are currently going on in Bayelsa State’s education sector.
Aside its current challenge leading to defaults in payment of teachers’ salaries, the incumbent administration in the state seems to be looking beyond the problems by bestowing a legacy of turning Bayelsa to one of the most educationally advanced before the expiration of its tenure.
And what better place to start building than the foundation, namely primary and secondary schools, which appear to have been badly hit over the years by sheer negligence.
To this end, the government says it believes that part of the problem has always been that the inspectorate arm of the Education Ministry may have been weakened over time, giving rise to policies that are poorly implemented.
Strengthening the monitoring of primary and secondary schools, it says would solve many of the problems, aside huge investment in infrastructure.
That is perhaps why the government notes that its newly built 11 model schools would not be left solely to school heads to administer.
Indeed, the Governor Seriake Dickson-led government has already commenced the reintroduction of boarding schools in its public school system to enhance the quality of education in the state.
In furtherance of this, the government announced that as from the end of this month, the 11 new model boarding schools would be opened in all the eight local government areas in the state, with highly populated councils getting more than one each.
With the new arrangement, Dickson, who was represented in one of the unveiling occasions by his Deputy, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John-Jonah, said that the quality of education in the state would improve noticeably and eventually lead to the advancement of basic education in the state.
The governor insisted that the principals of the model schools would be assisted by governing committees to ensure that the schools are effectively run.
In readiness for the take-off, he said the state government has already awarded contracts to Nigerian Engineering Works (NEW), for the construction of beds and desks for the students.
“The state government has got very grand plans of revitalising the school system and the plan is to make sure that by the end of September or sometime in October, boarding schools are reintroduced.
“Borrowing was made from banks to meet the construction and furnishing of the model secondary schools and government intends to commence these schools by the end of September or October to improve the standard of education in the state.
“Every local government would have one and we also have a sports institute ready in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, we are establishing more because of the population and vast nature of the local council,” he said.
He explained that work on all the sites would not stop even after schools have resumed, noting that it would be impossible to complete all the projects at once.
Also, the governor added that the re-introduction of boarding schools in the state is intended to engender unity and healthy competition among students.
With the take-off of the Teachers’ Training Institute at Bulou Orua, which is geared to produce qualified and competent teachers to man the schools in the state, things can only get better, he boasted.
The reforms did not just start. The governor had earlier declared a state of emergency in the education sector.
In fact a task force, which investigated the condition of educational infrastructure in the state reported that Bayelsa State needed 237 primary schools and require the building of additional 316 new ones, going forward.
The taskforce also reported recommended that government needed to construct a total number of 515 residential quarters for headmasters, but with a continuously expanding population, the government would definitely be needing more soon.
To encourage children in the state to go to school, school uniforms were distributed to pupils and students in all public primary and secondary schools in Bayelsa.
But what is different about the free, universal and compulsory education policy in Bayelsa is that it compels all parents to ensure that their children or wards attend and complete their primary education and junior secondary school and this is backed by law.
At a time, a contract worth about N600 million was awarded for the supply of books as well as provision of free sandals for students.
Contracts were also awarded for the construction of classroom blocks equipped with ICT libraries for primary schools as well as provision of accommodation for youth corps members who would be deployed to the schools.
Armed with a knowledge of the education needs of the state, the government commenced the building of 25 Mega Schools in Agudama-Epie; Otuoke; Odi; Amassoma; Toru-Ndoro; Toru-Orua; Alibris; Ekeremor; Nembe/Basambiri; Nembe/Ogbolomabiri; Oporoma ; Ogbia-Town; Opolo; Swali and Okpoama.
Other areas where other mega schools were erected were Zarama; Kaiama; Azikoro; Bolou-Orua; Elebele; Agoubiri; Igbeta-Iwoama; Gbarain-Ekpetiama; Amassoma; Sagbama and Ebedebiri.
They probably got the appellation ‘mega’ from the advanced infrastructure provided for them by the current administration.
For example, every mega school has 12 classrooms; 75 KVA Generator; a water scheme; computers, theatres and laboratories.
Other facilities include special rooms for Introductory Technology, a library; 23 toilets, a standard store, a large multipurpose hall that can sit 2000 persons; an open play ground, sports facilities and headmasters/headmistress’ quarters.
Little wonder then, that in the last West Africa Examinations Council (WAEC), Bayelsa appeared in the ‘A’ class among the first seven states out of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, taking a position just behind Lagos State.
No doubt these strides come at a cost, especially the financial burden that the free education policy places on government in the face of dwindling resources.
To this, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson responds that no cost is too much to pay for the future generations of Bayelsans.
“The comprehensive free education policy which is a major plank of the government’s declaration of state of emergency in the sector on assumption of duty in 2012, has since delivered bountifully in the provision of remarkable infrastructure.
“And this is quality education that is truly free, upgrading and bringing back the culture of boarding schools to all the senatorial districts in the state. It has cost a fortune, but the government feels fulfilled because the future is being assured,” he said.
Matter of fact, the Dickson’s administration has not and cannot claim to have surmounted all the problems in education in the state; the governor will be the first to admit that, but the important thing is that a lot is being done in the sector.
But despite the challenges , especially the slow-down in the tempo of activities due to falling federal allocation to the state, many believe that the government cannot bear to buckle under the current weight, given that it has set its hands on the plough and cannot afford the luxury of looking back.