By, Nick Dugba
If there is any policy area in Taraba state that needs ‘rescue,’ it is primary education. This is not because it is in a more sorry state compared to health, agriculture, sports and so on, but because of the place it holds in the developmental trajectory of the society.
The society is as developed as its education. By implication, the best way to assess the level of development in a society is to look at the standard of education.
Elementary education comes to mind because it is the foundation of the educational system.
We have spent resources in both secondary and tertiary education without a correspondent investment in primary education. By so doing we have succeeded in ‘putting the cart before the horse’.
In spite of the collaboration between local, national and international actors, through the UBE and the global agenda for education which the MDGs sought to achieve, the impact could best be described as a mere drop in the ocean. In fact, the situation in Taraba is a classic example of the decay in the educational sector in Nigeria.
An investigation by this reporter which took him to one of the primary schools within Jalingo, the state capital, revealed that the state of primary education in the State is substandard. This particular public primary school located along Danbaba Suntai Way is a case study and a classic example of the decay in the system.
The reasons are not far-fetched. Firstly, it is situated in the state capital and a few miles to the Board responsible for primary education in the State. Therefore, if a primary school in the state capital could be this substandard, what becomes of its peers in Sardauna LGA, Wukari or Karim Lamido LGAs which are hundreds of miles away and almost inaccessible? By deductive reasoning, it is logical to conclude that public schools in the rural areas are even worse off.
Taking a look at the situation in that particular school would show children sitting on the bare floor with some crouching on what is left of the few dilapidated desks. Morale of teachers is low with most of them looking dejected outside of the classes. The school premises have not been fenced, and there are severe cases of trespassing within the facilities of the school. The pupils did not demonstrate any spirit of exuberance probably as a result of poor nutrition or lack of motivation by teachers.
How did we find ourselves in this condition? What has the Universal Basic Education (UBE) been able to achieve since creation? These are questions that need answers.
The UBE programme is a nine-year basic educational program which was launched and executed by the government and people of Nigeria to eradicate illiteracy, ignorance, and poverty as well as accelerate national development, political consciousness, and national integration. It was flagged off on 30th September 1999 by President Obasanjo, and the UBE Bill was signed into Law on 26th May 2004. The UBE Act 2004 makes provision for basic education comprising of ECCE, primary and junior secondary education. The financing of primary education is the responsibility of states and local governments. However, the Federal Government has decided to intervene in the provision of basic education with 2 percent of its consolidated revenue fund. For states to fully benefit from the fund, criteria were established which states are to comply. The Act also provides for the establishment of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) to coordinate the implementation of the program at the states and local government through the SUBEB of each state and Local Government Education Authorities(LGEAs). The UBEC was formally established on 7th October 2004.
However, it seems the decay in primary education in Taraba is systemic and inherited and cannot be traced to a particular regime, past or present, even though negligence and bad leadership can be attributed to factors to the problem.
According to the Chairman, Taraba state Universal Basic Education Board,(TSUMEB), Yakubu Agbaizo, “the poor state of primary school is what was inherited by this government and we also have a problem in our school management system, whereby many of our schools don’t have security men. It is either they are retired and not replaced. Most of the furniture have been stolen”.
The issue of counterpart funding is a contending issue between the Federal Government and the states, whereby the states were accused of not paying their counterpart funds to access the resources from the pool for the development of schools. But according to Agbaizo, Taraba has been able to pay its counterpart funds for 2015 totaling over N800 million and that he was sure the governor, Darius Dickson Ishaku, is trying to make sure due process was followed in the use of the funds. He disclosed that Taraba was among the best in the Federation and the top ten.
On the issue of ghost workers, sharp practices in the system and the high liability incurred as a result, the SUBEB boss had this to say. “The reason why our salary bill is high is that we have ghost workers. When I came, our salary bill was N730 million for teachers alone. I remember Taraba gets only about N2 billion from the federation. We discovered that we had about 1900 teaching staff that were inappropriately brought into the system. For the ghost workers, they do not even know that their names are on the pay list. Their employment letters were reading 2012, and they just collected their first salary. So who has been collecting all these monies from 2012? We believe we have salaries of teachers that have been padded. It means if your salary is said, N30,000, they ‘pay’ you N60,000 and when you come, they pay you N30,000 and take the rest. People who were not due for retirement were asked to retire, and then they stop their salary and meet somewhere and share their money. These are anomalies we are trying to tackle”.
‘A problem known is half solved,’ so says a popular adage. If the Board could identify the problem in the system, which is scientific anyway, and with the political will, the solution might not be far away.
“The steps we are taking now is to ensure that our schools are adequately managed, and we have security systems there. In our submission for intervention for 2016, we are going to stock these structures. There is provision for furniture”, he stated.
He then added that “the vision of this government is to bring back the glory of primary education and what we plan to do is to make our schools updated in infrastructure and furniture, collaborate with UBEC at the national level and the training of teachers and quality assurance officers. If we don’t have quality, we are wasting our time we try to enhance their welfare by blocking these leakages and ensure that salaries are reasonable for the government to pay them consistently.If people are properly retired, it creates room to employ more staff”, Agbaizo concluded.
Whether all these promises would be translated to practical reality or end up as mere lip service as experienced before, only what time will tell.