At his inaugural address on the 14th of February 2012 at the Peace Park, His Excellency, Executive Governor of Bayelsa State, Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson declared free primary and Secondary education in Bayelsa State. This is the first time an all-inclusive pronouncement of free education has been proclaimed in Bayelsa State since its creation 15 years ago. The pronouncement was predicated on the fact that Bayelsa State has remained acutely disadvantaged since creation. This ugly situation must be turned around if Bayelsa State has to join the league of developing States.
The global commitment to Universal education was proclaimed in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which asserts that “everyone has the right to education”. Over 50 years since the historical declaration, Nigeria, like most nations is yet to grapple with the challenges of free education at the foundational level. Indeed, the 1980s saw more backward than forward movement in most countries of the world. It was at that point that a World Conference on Education for All was held in Jomtien, Thailand, for the purpose of forging a global consensus and commitment to provide basic education for all. The principal result of that conference was the adoption of the Universal Basic Education (UBE).
After Jomtien, several summits and declarations have re-affirmed basic education as a right. Central among such declarations includes: the Social Development Summit in Copenhagen 1996; the OAU Decade of Education in Africa 1997-2006; the Beijing Conference on Women and Development 1999 and the Rio Summit on Sustainable Human Environment 1992; among several others.
In Nigeria, free, universal and compulsory education is of immense benefit to the individual and the nation due largely to the high rate of illiteracy. Earlier attempts to implement a similar scheme in 1955 and 1957 failed to yield the desired result. In 2000, Nigeria’s literacy rate was 52 percent In 1998, only 40% of all heads of households in Nigeria had any education at all, 21% had only primary education, 14% had up to secondary education, while only 5% had post-secondary education (UNDP, 1998). Data from the Federal Ministry of Education, Education Statistics (1996) showed that only 14.1 million out of 21 million school-age children are enrolled in primary school. UBE was born from these startling statistics, to promote education for all citizens.
Nigeria has had to battle with bad statistics for the better part of four decades. About 22.1 million out of 42.1 million Nigerian children are in primary schools. Out of 33.9 million Nigerians eligible for secondary education, only 10.4 million are attending. Of all the students who sat for SSCE examinations from 2000 to 2006, only 25% passed with credits in Mathematics and English. Out of the 1.5 million Nigerians seeking admission to tertiary institutions, only about 19.5% get admitted. Results of the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) May/June 2010 released by WAEC showed that slightly less than 25% obtained credits and above in mathematics, English and the relevant subjects required for admission into the university.
Again, about 55% of Nigeria’s adult population is illiterate. There is the problem of accessibility to education facilities at all levels. This is amidst dwindling allocations to the sub-sector. For the past 15 years, Nigeria has not been able to meet even half of the 26% UNESCO recommendation of national budgets, the little allocated cannot be accounted for due to corruption, arising from outright embezzlement, misapplication of funds or bureaucratic leakages in the education system. Education index is equally poor. The Education Index measures a country or state’s relative achievements in both adult literacy and combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment. It is a composite measure of adult literacy rate and gross enrolment ratio. At 0.67%, Bayelsa State has a lower-than-average education index when compared with the entire South-South average of 0.8% and the National average of 0.7%.
An overview of the current state of education in Bayelsa State reveals, there are 537 primary schools in Bayelsa, which spreads across the eight LGAs; Brass has 44 schools, Nembe 86 schools, Ekeremor 86, Kolokuma Opokuma 24 schools, Ogbia 73, Sagbama 62 schools, Southern-Ijaw 131 and Yenagoa has 59 schools respectively. Over the years, these schools are characterized by a high wastage rate, low completion rate, and high dropout rate arising from inadequate teaching staff both in quality and quantity, dearth of educational inputs such as laboratories, audio-visual aids and the peculiar riveverine terrain which makes the deployment of teachers in rural schools very difficult. Besides, whereas the schools for migrant fishermen only exist in the statute books, they are non-functional. The same ugly fate has befallen the vocational and adult schools in the State.
These challenges have reduced the morale of teachers, attenuated educational standards and consequently increased the illiteracy rate.
The teacher’s population in the State totals 3031 qualified in the primary schools level, Ekeremor has 261 teachers, KOLGA has 247 teachers, NELGA has 161, OGBIA has 643 teachers, SALGA has 427 teachers, SILGA has 519 teachers, and YELGA has 638 as at 2009.
From the above data, there is significant manpower gap; this lacuna requires training and retraining the teachers. With the present effort in the sector, still the education seems to be walking in the shadows; this implies that the next political dispensation will accelerate these efforts with a view to achieving ‘education for all’ by 2015. As we evaluate the present drive with a view to improving and achieving the vision of a secure, prosperous State, government may need to embark massive sensitization exercise to enable massive stakeholder participation in joining the league of educationally viable States.
In Nigeria, the desire for better quality of education is a generally shared feeling in Nigeria as in many other countries. Though quality production is the responsibility all of stakeholders, the schools, in particular, play key role in the quality process. If we want children, and all citizens to acquire literacy, we must provide reading materials the abundant and pleasurable reading materials found in libraries. If we want learners to develop skills for lifelong learning, we must give them opportunities to enquire, to search, to explore, to practice, to solve problems - such as are found in libraries. If we want to introduce them to the world of knowledge and teach them to handle information in many forms, we need the resources of a well-equipped library.
Education inherently serves both public and private interests. It addresses public interests by preparing the young to assume adult roles that promote civic responsibility, embrace a common set of economic and political values, and share a common language. Education serves private interests in promoting individual development, understanding, and productivity that contribute to adult productivity and well being.
It is against this background that the pronouncement o free education by the Seriake Dickson administration in Bayelsa State is hailed by the progressives as one of the best strategies to accelerate the development of the State. In this endeavour, government needs to take some practical steps towards the realization of free education in Bayelsa State.
Firstly, government has to set up a 5-man Committee to undertake a comprehensive study the Education Sector with a view to identifying the challenges and prospects. This should include fleshing out the details of the school population at both primary and post-primary levels along age and gender lines. Whatever statistics arrived at can then be used for projection for the next ten years.
FREE EDUCATION IN BAYELSA STATE: WORKING THE TALK
Secondly, the administration has to investigate the manpower needs of the State in terms of the number of schools needed to be established to accommodate the teeming population of students as well as the teacher requirement to ensure effective teaching and learning. Thirdly, government has to work out recurrent expenditure component of free education. These components include: Staff salaries and allowances, instructional equipment, repair to buildings and equipment, maintenance of classroom blocks, procurement of books for the library and maintenance of hotel accommodation.
In the final analysis, government should identify local and international development partners such as UNESCO, the British the World Bank and other Non-Governmental Organizations to facilitate collaboration and partnership in pursuit of this goal. The State Government has to work in synergy with the oil multinationals as well as the Organized Private Sector to meet critical funding requirements.
There is no doubt that the Seriake Dickson administration has mustered-up the political will to vigorously pursue human capital development and he has taken the veritable first step in this direction. It is only through active partnership and collaboration that the goal of free education can be realized. The framework for the partnership should be domiciled in the Ministry of Education, with expert support from external bodies. When the programme comes on stream, institutional mechanisms for adequate supervision, monitoring and evaluation and above all quality control must be firmed up to ensure effectiveness and efficiency. It was James Garfield who said ‘next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained” This is why Governor Henry Seriake Dickson deserves commendation for making education ala human capital development a priority on the RESTORATION AGENDA.