Dr. Eniola Ajayi, Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Ekiti State, in this interview with journalists in Lagos speaks on the state government’s efforts to address the rot in the education sector. TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE was there. Excerpts:
It is often said that most people in this part of the world don’t value anything free. So, why is Ekiti State talking of free education?
People will not value a thing only if they believe it won’t make positive impact on them. So, education cannot be one of those things. The free education policy is the fulfilment of Governor Kayode Fayemi’s promise during his electioneering campaign. The entirety of the programme is about quantitative and quality education from primary to secondary schools. And this is all encompassing involving the students, the teachers, the parents, the corporate and civil organisations and the public. It also involves good infrastructure, the conducive environment and every other value that can aid development in the sector. So, in Ekiti State, no student is asked to pay a Kobo as school or whatever fee. We have equally warned our principals and head teachers to comply, with a warning that, whosoever, goes contrary to the policy will be sanctioned accordingly. With this policy, we be-lieve every parent should be able to enrol their kids in school. The belief is that the moment sound education is provided; there will be a significant improvement in the education sector and the entire economy. That is why government is in investing huge resourc-es into the sector. Ekiti is known as the Fountain of Knowledge, and we want to remain as such.
How exactly would you describe the condition of schools infrastructure this administration met on ground?
There are no enough words to describe the situ-ation because there was just nothing tangible on ground when we assumed office. What we met on ground is better imagined than real. As regards phys-ical infrastructure, I had gone round many schools to access their situations. When we got to some, I couldn’t imagine they were in such terrible state we found them. So what we met on ground was so bad and that is why there is a serious intervention from the government not only to arrest the situation but to move the sector to an appreciable level. The plan is that before the expiration of this tenure, there will be total overhauling of our public schools, as well as education in general in the state.
How then is the state addressing these problems?
We are addressing them according to levels, starting with the basic education. The government wants to see that every school aged kid is enrolled in school. We have stopped automatic promotion of pupils from one class to the next. We have also commenced a unified Primary 3 – Primary 5 promotion examinations while the Primary 6 School leaving certificate examination will also be for only qualified students as against the previous practice, where private schools enrolled their pupils at primary 4.
For uneven distri-bution of students and teachers in secondary schools, we have decided to peg enrolment in each school at 200 students per session except for schools in Ado Ekiti and Ikere –Ekiti that were allowed to enrol 240 students because of their huge population. We have also decided on a maximum of 40 students per class. To instil discipline on students, especially in the area of truancy and absenteeism, we have designed a code of conduct for them to be signed alongside their parents and guardians. Sanctions are clearly spelt out in the document. We have engaged the use of some law enforcement agencies to ensure children go to school and remain there till closing time since education is not only free in the state but compulsory. On funding, the government is poised towards spend-ing about 24 per cent of the total annual budget on education.
For ICT education alone, the government has earmarked over N1.9 billion annually and to run for three years starting with this year. The governor has also flagged up Operation Renovate all Schools in Ekiti (ORASE). We will renovate and rebuild, where necessary, classrooms, laboratories, sports facilities, hostel accommodation in boarding schools and construction of toilets, as well as their perimeter fencing across the state. For poor teaching and uneven distri-bution of teachers in the sector, as well as automatic promotion of teachers, we have provided incentive for those in the rural communities.
We have also embarked on strategic capacity building for teachers in our schools across all levels. For secondary schools, we focus on areas where our students are mostly deficient such as Mathematics and English language and science subjects. Aside from the regular payment of their salaries and allowances, teachers will now be entitled to housing and car loan facilities. These should be able to boost their morale. We also engage our principals and their deputies as school’s admin-istrators in capacity building so as to make them more effective on their jobs. The government has also taken the inspectorate division very seriously. We want our teachers to be on their toes always. Another area that the government is concerned much about is on quality assurance and an agency has been instituted for that. On technical education, the state is now operating three technical colleges with a vocational centre in the state capital. The idea is to make this branch of education attractive to people.
Ekiti State was known to be one of the states in the federation that couldn’t access fund from the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC). Why is this so and what is the current situation?
It was before now that the state was unable to access the fund and I don’t know exactly why. Now, I can confirm that this administration doesn’t have the problem of accessing funds from whatsoever source. There has been consistent funding from UBEC and we administer the fund through SUBEB. In Ekiti State, every community has at least one functional primary school.
What is the implementation status of the recommendations by the Visitation Panel to the state-owned institutions?
The panel‘s work covered from pre-primary education to tertiary level. They investigated independently the state of wellbeing of each level and came up with some recommendations which we have started implementing coupled with recommendations from the subsequent education summit .
How will the state achieve the benefit of merging the three universities, namely: University of Ado Ekiti (UNAD), University of Science and Technology Ifaki (USTI) and the University of Education, Ikere (TUNEDIK) into only one-Ekiti State University (EKSU)?
The merger is simply to develop the university into a world class that the people of the state will be proud of. Although, this is not to say that three universities are too many for Ekiti State, the problem is that of adequate funding. And as things were, EKSU is be-coming a global university. The school is improving by the day. For this year alone, the government has earmarked over One billion naira for infrastructural development of the school.
What does this administration have in stock for teachers employed by the state?
These are many. We won’t owe them their salaries and other fringe benefits. We will always look after their welfare. We will also ensure that they are not starved of grants to run their schools. We will reward those that are exemplary among them with gifts, and we will regularly engage them in training and retraining programmes, among others. Even our expectation is to reward the best principal, the best head master, and the best teacher at primary and secondary schools with new brand car each at this year’s World Teachers’ Day celebration in October. But as long as we don’t fail in our responsibility to them, we will also expect them to reciprocate by carrying out their responsibilities faithfully.
What exactly does the state government stand to benefit by conducting assessment test for teachers in public primary and secondary schools in the state?
We have over 60, 000 teachers in the public prima-ry and secondary schools in the state. The Teachers Development Needs Assessment (TDNA) test is to examine teachers’ general knowledge on the use of English, Mathematics, the school curriculum and the teaching methodology. The assessment test is a policy of not only Ekiti State government but also of other states of the federation, as well as the Federal Government and it will be a periodic thing. It is designed to evaluate teachers’ proficiency and intellectual capability as regards their profession. The questions and the conduct of the exam are to be handled by an independent body, who are lecturers in the universities. They are also the ones to do the marking and scoring of candidates. The teachers’ scores would neither be used to humiliate nor be a condition to promote or sack them as the overall objective of the exercise is to lift up the state’s education sector to an appreciable height.
But what will happen now that the teachers have shunned the test?
Government is resolving that.
By Tunbosun Ogundare.
This story was first published in National Mirror on June 7, 2012
Last modified: June 8, 2012