By Nkem Ezugwu
T hrough steadfastness and a multidimensional approach, Hon Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Governor of Enugu State, is running with a vision of creating a globally competitive model learning centre in the state. He has so far given education a new momentum that has moved the state ahead from the deteriorating standard of education in the country.
Nigeriaâ€™s educational sector has waited for decades for a major government intervention needed to rebuild the capacity for high quality education in the country. In the absence of the needed intervention, educational standard has deteriorated from primary to tertiary levels of learning.
Nigeria lacks the basic requirements for building an excellent academic community. Funding constitutes a serious challenge to educational development in the country and this has been the case even in the peak of crude oil earnings.
In a ranking of the worldâ€™s top 800 universities in July 2015, only one Nigerian university â€“ the University of Ibadan made the list on the 601st position. Nigeria lags behind even in Africaâ€™s ranking of universities. In the 2015 university web ranking of top 100 universities in Africa, Nigeriaâ€™s best entry was on the 31st position.
The poor and deteriorating quality of education in Nigeria was clearly unacceptable to the Enugu State Governor, who at the inception of his administration, took it upon himself to set an example for the nation a model of government intervention in the educational sector.
The Ugwuanyi-led Enugu State government defined a vision of making the state a model learning centre in the country and has since then run with a new zeal unmatched anywhere else in the country to make it happen. The task was identified and a clear goal was set â€“ which is to place education a level that is competitive worldwide.
An effective strategy for solution normally requires a clear understanding of the roots of a problem. Like a master craftsman, Ugwuanyi ensured a proper diagnosis of the problem of deteriorating standard of education in Nigeria and found that inadequate funding and lack of essential facilities are the significant variables. He then gave the two critical areas the kind of attention never seen any time in recent memory and hardly matched anywhere else in the country.
A reinforcement of the educational foundation, he discovered, needs to be done at the primary school level and that became a key element of the new engagement. Ugwuanyi insists on the need to lay a proper educational foundation for pupils at that level. This informed his administrationâ€™s drive to reposition primary school education for enhanced performance. This is a message for the nation â€“ that for any measure aimed at addressing the problem of declining standard of education to succeed, it has to necessarily begin at the primary school level.
Enugu State government, under Ugwuanyi has taken major steps to give primary schools development the priority accorded it under the millennium goals. World Bankâ€™s grants are available for the development of primary schools but most states arenâ€™t keen about it because they arenâ€™t willing or are unable to provide the counterpart fund.
The government of Enugu State ensured that the problem of funding did not hinder the attainment of the desired educational quality standard. The government sourced its counterpart fund for the World Bankâ€™s grants for primary school funding through a term loan facility. With counterpart funding, the stateâ€™s Universal Basic Education Board gained access to the Universal Basic Education Commission fund.
This has enabled the state to overcome the usual problem of lack of funds for primary schoolsâ€™ development. The state government has therefore been able to sustain effort in constructing new classroom blocks, renovating dilapidated structures, recruiting new primary school teachers and providing essential instructional resources, thus creating an effective learning system. It is the desire of the Ugwuanyi-led administration to raise the capacity for quality education at all levels within the state.
Ugwuanyi has so far sustained the drive to reposition primary schools in the state with a view to meeting the demands of the millennium. With improved funding, his government has attained great landmarks in renovating primary and secondary schools in the state and in procuring essential educational facilities, including computer facilities and electric power generators for public secondary schools.
Education is an essential tool for touching lives and recreating destinies of people and societies. This is precisely what Ugwuanyi has done with it so far in Enugu State. It is one step forward by the government of Ugwuanyi that has registered grassroots impacts in Enugu State. A number of schools in dilapidated conditions have received facelifts across the state despite the revenue crisis that has hit government finances generally in recent years.
Governmentâ€™s master plan for the development of education revolves around the provision of enabling learning environment to enhance teaching and learning at all categories of schools in the state. It is an integrated approach to lay a solid foundation at primary school level and ensure high quality rollout of graduates at tertiary levels of education.
In line with the broad strategy, the stateâ€™s ministry of education has taken steps to train secondary school teachers. This is a very important step, according to Ugwuanyi because â€œthe teachers impart knowledge to the students and the update of their knowledge becomes necessary to keep abreast of the current issues in the professionâ€.
The ultimate goal of training teachers, he said, is to enthrone excellence at the secondary school level. Teachersâ€™ training is designed to complement intensive rehabilitation of schools across the state and provision of instructional materials.
Governmentâ€™s support to tertiary educational institutions in the state is part of the strategy to nurture quality graduates needed to actualize socio-economic development of the country. Infrastructure improvement in the tertiary institutions is a key aspect of government intervention.
Institute of Management and Technology [IMT] Enugu has been upgraded to a degree awarding institution. The government of Ugwuanyi engineered the necessary machinery for the realization of this objective. The governor has also provided financial support to the institution to meet its obligation for accreditation of some of its programmes by the National Board for Technical Education [NBTE] and to pay off salary arrears and boost staff morale.
Other decisive steps the governor has taken in the educational sector include the repositioning and revamping of the Enugu State Polytechnic, Iwollo where government has taken steps to ensure re-validation of old programmes and full accreditation of five new courses by NBTE. Government has released funds for procurement of workshop and laboratory equipment and other instructional materials required for full accreditation of all the institutionâ€™s academic programmes.
Ugwuanyi has made a special intervention at Enugu State College of Education Technical, which could not award certificates to its grandaunts for nine years due to non-accreditation of its courses. Government has provided the necessary facilities for the accreditation by the National Commission for Colleges of Education.
Ugwuanyiâ€™s vision for education has an inclusive dimension designed to increase access to quality education. To this extent, he is opening up centres for non-formal secondary school education in the state to ensure that every individual is given equal access to education.
Target beneficiaries are children who have no opportunity of continuing their education after primary school. By this move, the governor has created a new opportunity for an increased number of people to go to school.
Beyond ensuring improved quality of school leavers, Enugu State governor has initiated an elaborate programme of entrenching entrepreneurial culture among the youth in the state after graduating from various institutions of higher learning. This represents a fundamental approach to addressing the problem of high rate of unemployment among university graduates in Nigeria and the resulting social evils arising from joblessness.
This step is expected to induce universities and other tertiary institutions in the country to take greater responsibility for vocational training of students. The message from what Ugwuanyi is doing at Enugu State is that the effort to address the problem in the educational sector needs an integrated approach that must involve fixing the breach from the classroom to the job.
Ugwuanyi is one state governor that has lived up to his claim that education is one of the four-point agenda of his administration. The role of government in the development of the educational sector is of primary importance. How much importance that government places on education determines the quality of educational development attainable.
Nigeriaâ€™s poor ranking in educational standards even within Africa calls for a greater commitment to the development of education by federal and state governments as well as increased funding of the sector. If it can happen in Enugu State, it can happen in every state of the federation.
â€“Nkem, a public affairs analyst wrote from Ohodo, Enugu State