Uchechukwu Nnaike

Over the years, one of the challenges facing the public school system in Nigeria is that of funding from government for their successful operations. From dilapidated buildings to inadequate facilities and quality of academic instruction, the Nigerian public school system has possibly been among the worst affected sub-sectors over the years, especially at the secondary school level.

In the past 10 years, an innovative private sector initiative on education in Akwa Ibom State has given a positive glimpse of the transformational powers of private sector engagement with the public sector in improving the quality of the Nigerian public school system.

The Inoyo Toro Foundation was established in 2007 to promote human capital development in Akwa Ibom State through the public secondary school system. Like many states in the country, the public education system in Akwa Ibom, was beset with a number of problems- poor teacher morale, outdated teaching materials, poor educational standards that placed children in schools in the state at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts in some other parts of the country.

According to the Chairperson of the foundation, Mrs. Ntekpe Inoyo “it was against this background that the Inoyo Toro Foundation was founded in the state with the objective of supporting government in extricating this sector from its downward spiral and inspiring a new methodology in teaching and learning.”

“We knew the journey to uplifting educational standards wasn’t going to be wished into existence; it would take years of strategic thinking, immense human and financial sacrifice, as well as passion from the teachers and students for whose benefit this seed was planted.”

To achieve its vision of ‘Eradicating Poverty through Education’, the foundation adopted an ambitious, multi-faceted approach using teachers as the focal point of its quest to help improve educational standards in Akwa Ibom. Ten years later, the foundation has had a profound impact on public secondary education in Akwa Ibom State through its various programmes and activities.

Among these are its investment in the development of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in Akwa Ibom public schools, its annual Awards for Teaching Excellence in Akwa Ibom State Public Secondary Schools, a mentoring programme for teachers, as well as an award for outstanding principals in secondary schools in the state.

According to the foundation, over 170 teachers have benefitted from the awards and the intervention trainings/workshops associated with the awards. The annual awards involve a competitive, merit-based process organised by the Award Screening Committee.

Teachers vying for the awards are first assessed on their productivity and professional competence, before taking a 40-minute aptitude test modelled on the West African Examination syllabus. The successful teachers after the test undergo an oral examination before the winners emerge based on the subjects of their specialization, including English, Mathematics, Biology, Physics and Chemistry.

The top three teachers in each of the subject categories are recognised in an annual awards ceremony during which they are presented with cash prizes and celebrated. The objective is to spur other teachers in the state to similar heights of achievement to the benefit of the public secondary school system.

Two years ago, the foundation included Fine Arts among the subject categories for the annual awards. “This subject has been discovered to be almost extinct in our schools,” said the Chairman, Award Screening Committee, Dr. Enobong Joshua, “Only a few schools present students for external examinations and yet in these days of dire need for job creation, it is in the subject one area that can provide self-employment more quickly than any other.”

Beyond the awards, the teachers are also exposed to trainings organised by the Science Teachers Association of Nigeria (STAN), the Organisation for the Women in Science for the Developing World, University of Uyo branch, while the award-winning teachers are sponsored to the Annual International Schools Conference, organised by American International and an annual mentoring workshop organised by Accenture, to help acquaint them with global best practice in secondary education.

In furtherance of its quest for teaching excellence, the foundation introduced the Grand Mentor Teacher’s Award in 2011 as a platform for previous winners of the Teachers’ Awards to mentor other teachers in their subject areas and over 100 teachers have benefited from this initiative.

The foundation also has a student mentoring programme through which professionals and organisations can adopt schools of their choice and mentor students in the selected schools on an ongoing basis.

The objective of the programme according to Mrs. Inoyo “is to broaden the participating students’ perspectives on life, enhance their self-esteem and motivate them to become better students, who will eventually become leaders of tomorrow.”

Of the 244 public schools in Akwa Ibom State currently, 60 schools are registered on the mentoring programme with over 1,600 students under mentorship.

The foundation’s innovative approach to its education sector advancement objective has attracted the attention of the Nigerian corporate sector, as evident in the support they have given some of its programmes. In 2011, Keystone Bank partnered the foundation in delivering three fully-equipped computer laboratories to four schools across the three senatorial zones of the state.

The foundation has also partnered ExxonMobil on the World Malaria Day Quiz Competition for Secondary Schools in Akwa Ibom State and is currently working with Seven Energy on an environmental awareness project for secondary schools in the state.

To ensure that its campaign for educational excellence reaches the widest possible audience, the foundation runs a 30-minute radio show through which teachers and heads of schools share their experiences “with a view to harnessing resources (infrastructure and human) to effect positive transformation in the secondary education sector of Akwa Ibom State.”

The foundation’s contributions to the Akwa Ibom State education sector have also not gone without recognition. During the 30th anniversary celebration of the state last September, Inoyo Toro Foundation was one of the two organisations awarded for “social and humanitarian services”, in recognition of the impact of its programmes on the education sector.

As the foundation marks its 10th anniversary next month, it is not resting on its laurels. “As a foundation committed to developing the quality of education in Akwa Ibom State and building the next generation of leaders, we will continue to seek more creative ways to achieve our vision of ‘Eradicating Poverty through Education’,” Mrs. Inoyo said.