‘Okowa’s Administration is Addressing the Rot in Public Schools’

The Delta State Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, Chief Patrick Ukah, in this encounter with Raheem Akingbolu, speaks about various measures being embarked on by the Okowa’s administration in the state to address the rot and bring back the glory of the public schools, among other issues. Exerpt

Beyond lip service as common to some political office holders, Okowa’s administration appears keen about addressing the rot in the education sector especially in the primary and secondary school levels, what has been the feedback in the last one year?

Without denying any rot in the primary and secondary schools, you must appreciate that what happens in the education sector is a reflection of the society. The education sector is affected by the rot in the society. The feedback in the last one year has been eventful. The administration of Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa prioritised education. There has been massive transformation of the primary schools and secondary schools in the state through expansion in the number of schools infrastructural development, renovation, building of science laboratories, library services and development of technical colleges. The State government ensured through the Delta Teleclass TV and radio programme that teaching and learning process continued in order to minimise the disruption of the school system caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Public schools have become dumping grounds in many states and assumed to be for the poor, what is the situation in Delta?

Quality of teaching and learning in Delta public schools is quite high. In fact, in the next two years, people will be competing to enter public schools in the state. The scramble for admission into model schools is already a burden to the ministry. We are beginning to see the influx of pupils and students to public schools in Delta. Public confidence is returning to public schools due to the massive transformation of schools, improvement in teaching and learning due to recruitment of qualified teachers especially in the Sciences, Mathematics and English language, strict and consistent inspection and monitoring of teaching-learning in the schools. At the level of the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education; we are carrying out internal transformation programmes and projects to improve on the education service delivery and quality assurance. For instance, in order to drive efficiency and optimise resource allocation in the location of infrastructural facilities in schools, the ministry commissioned AC Nielsen, a reputable, international research company, to carry out needs assessment audit of all public primary and secondary schools in the state. Also, we have commissioned the Educational Management Information System (EMIS) to digitalise our education database and improve schools record storage and retrieval system. The examinations department of the ministry is not left out of this drive to improve our service delivery. We have installed a full integrated Optical Marking Recognition (OMR) system in the department to improve on time and complexities of marking, compilation and release of our examinations results especially Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE) and Cognitive Placement Examination (primary six). The continuous assessment of students in public schools is also digitalised and integrated with the EMIS. On December 29, 2020, we trained all our vice principals (academics) and examinations officers in our ministry on the new digital continuous assessment system. In all, we are improving our internal operating system to drive efficiency while at the same time upgrading and transforming the infrastructural facilities in our schools to improve teaching-learning outcomes. These are restoring confidence back to the public schools and making the schools attractive to learners and parents.

What infrastructural interventions have the state government embarked on in recent time?

For the records, there are 1,126 public primary, 1,839 private primary, 467 public secondary and 1,036 private secondary schools across the state. 15 public primary schools and 38 public secondary schools were established from 2015 to date. A total of 2,417 primary and secondary schools were renovated (2015 till date), while 1,389 primary and secondary schools had various constructions and renovations from 2015 till date. These are in addition to the interventions from the State Universal Basic Education Board ( SUBEB) at the primary school level. Also, we must acknowledge the interventions and support from the multinational oil companies, indigenous companies and philanthropists operating in the state. These are our partners in the transformation of education in Delta.

The recent workshop on curriculum revision, which your ministry championed, excited stakeholders because of the general belief that our school curriculum is outdated, what informed the move from the ministry?

The last curriculum review exercise in Delta State was held in 2012. Since then, there was the new national education curriculum and there have been trends in education especially in ICT. There is therefore the need to be in tune with modern reality in education. We took the initiative to organise the curriculum revision and development of schemes of work to update our teaching and learning process to be in line with the 21st century realities. The world is changing and education must change to serve the needs of this new world. I must say that the need for the workshop was earlier identified by the educational summit organised by this administration in January 2016, just few months into the life of this administration. The curriculum workshop attracted the best of international and local experts in education, retired and serving educationists, policy makers, entrepreneurs, teachers and other relevant stakeholders in education. The output of this workshop will be launched into the school system before the end of first quarter of 2021.

Examination malpractices has been identified as one of the challenges facing secondary schools in the last few years, what effort are you making to stop it in Delta?

It is important to state that the menace of examination malpractice is rampant in the country and at all levels of education. The report of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) over the years highlighted this menace. Candidates cheat in cognitive/placement examinations and the Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE) conducted by the ministry and even on external examinations such as WAEC, JAMB and NECO. Even the university system is not exempted from examination malpractices. We hear of sex-for-marks in our universities. Even parents aid their children in examination malpractices. It reflects the moral decadence in our society. All stakeholders in the educational system must rise to fight examination malpractice. However, the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education has adequate structures and policies in place to curtail the cankerworms of poor attitude to work by teachers and to tackle examination malpractice. The ministry has the offices of Chief Inspectors of Education (CIEs) in the 25 local government areas of the state who engage in regular instructional monitoring of teaching and learning in the schools to enhance the quality of teaching? Teachers who are found wanting in the discharge of their duties are disciplined. The Post Primary Education Board (PPEB), State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and the 25 Local Education Authorities (LEAs) are responsible for disciplinary control of the teachers. With regard to examination malpractice; an Examination Ethics and Disciplinary Committee (EEDC), chaired by the permanent secretary of the ministry, investigates and tries teachers accused of engaging in examination malpractices. Those found guilty are severely sanctioned to serve as a deterrent to other would-‘be offenders. Recently, some teachers were demoted and some had their promotions deferred for involvement in examination malpractices.

For teachers who get involved in other businesses, what measures have been put in place to encourage such people to show commitment to their primary assignment?

Regular promotions and payment of entitlements. No teacher in Delta State is being owed salaries or allowances. We have also taken the issue of capacity development of teachers to a higher level to improve their performances through training and re-training programmes. The Teachers Professional Development Centre in Owa-Oyibo in Ika North East Local Government, will soon open its doors to continuous capacity development of the teachers. Some of the programmes are already being piloted. The Okowa-led administration has revived the annual award for teachers to ensure positive mutual rivalry among teachers towards achieving better performance.

Governor Okowa came into office with robust profile that cut across health services sector, law-making and administration, how have all these impacted on his approach to governance?

Yes, all Deltans can testify that we have a robust state administrator and master strategist in person of His Excellency, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa. Every sector of the state, every senatorial district is feeling the positive impacts of the SMART agenda and stronger Delta mantra as prosperity for all Deltans and upgrade to the human capital development. The feeling around the state and beyond is that ‘we have never had it so good in Delta State’.

Delta State was in the news for the wrong reason last year when a primary school pupil was disciplined for non-payment of school fees. A visit to the school revealed a dilapidated structure. What step has state government taken to beam its searchlight on the primary schools too?

Am sure you are referring to Miss Success Adegor’s case in Sapele. It is a very unfortunate incident given that primary and secondary education is tuition free in Delta State and no teacher who understands the state’s education policy should drive a pupil or student out of school for not paying PTA levy such PTA which was agreed by the parents to support the school as joint partners with government in the development of the schools. The state government investigated the case in question and appropriate disciplinary punishments meted to the erring teachers and all concerned. The school involved like most schools in the state has received massive infrastructural facilities development and renovations.

Security is still a serious issue in Delta, what is the government doing to protect the citizenry?

Security issue is a general problem in Nigeria. Suffice it to say that Delta state has enjoyed relative peace because of the robust security measures put in place by the governor. In addition to the existence of the Advisory and Peace Building committee established by this government, recently, the state has launched the ‘Delta Hawk’ security outfit to further reinforce the existing security architecture in the state. At the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education level, we have set up an Advocacy and Mentoring Committee in each of the LGAs/wards in the State. These Committees are headed by the highest-ranking traditional rulers in the LGAs/wards. Members includes the community leaders/associations, police and other law enforcement agencies, retired senior civil servants and educationists. They are tasked to curb the rising menace of vandalisation of school properties and for quick response to emergency situations.

As one of the closest aides to Governor Okowa, what is your take about his governance style in the last five and half years?

I will say that it is fantastic, balanced and masses oriented. Every sector and section of the state has been touched in one way or the another. The march towards a stronger Delta is being realised.

What are the major challenges in your school system?

There are a number of challenges facing us in our schools such as overwhelming number of schools requiring one form of intervention or the other, insecurity, kidnap of teachers, theft and vandalism of schools facilities, uneven distribution of teachers particularly the refusal to serve in rural or riverine areas, and recently migration of SSS three students outside the state to sit for senior school certificates organised by WAEC and NECO and other externally organised examinations due to strict measures we have put in place to curb examination malpractices in Delta State. These challenges are there but are not insurmountable, we are tackling them one after the other given the resources available to us.

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