X-raying Abia education sector

Recently, Remanda Flawless Ltd produced a 32-minute documentary video which chronicles Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia state work in the state’s education sector since his administration started in May 2015.

The documentary also featured some major stakeholders, as well as some teachers who play one role or the other in the education sector of the state.

The documentary started with Abia pupils singing in the background. Later, one of the interviewers began with a rather audacious statement: “Every child has the right to a free basic education.” The interviewer went on to present a demoralising statistics about Nigeria’s education reality. The interviewer stated that, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), only 61 per cent of 6 to 11 years old regularly attend schools, adding that, “One in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria.”

The interviewer also looked at the history of Abia State education, especially those of the 1920s and 1930s, like schools such as the Government College, Umuahia, which produced icons like Chinua Achebe, Jaja Nwachkwu, Achike Udenwa, among other. “But, how has the education fare since then?” the interviewer asked. At this point, the rest of the documentary focused on Governor Ikpeazu’s administration since May 2015, as regards the challenges, prospects, and interventions in Abia State education sector, especially in the basic and secondary levels.

Speaking on why he took the job as governor, Ikpeazu stated that it was because he saw gaps and needs to intervene in various sections of the state’s socio-economic sectors. He further stated that pupils’ population in public schools in 2015 was 150,000, and that they were having problems vis-à-vis private schools, and that they could not speak to them because they did not have a good example of what an ideal school was.

Iheoma Ohaju of Abia State Universal Basic Education Board (ASUBEB) spoke on the challenge the state government faced in accessing funds from the federal government for several education interventions. Ohaju stated that for such funds to be accessed, the state government had to pay 50 percent of those funds from 2012 to 2014.

“For the governor to start accessing those funds, he must pay; and since it is something that must be done sequentially, he paid for 2012 – 2014 first,” Ohaju said. “He had to pay for those years first, before he started paying for the ones under his administration.”

On teachers and their empowerment, Ikpeazu stated that this administration setup a Continuous Education Centre, with the aim of bring teachers and educators from outside the country and the state to teach and interact with Abia teachers to enhance their capacity, expertise and morale.

“To expose these teachers, we need to bring educators from outside of Nigeria,” Ikpeazu said. “Through the continuous education programme, we have trained about 4,500 teachers.”
Ngozie Miriam Nwaogugu, the chairman of Abia State Continuing Teacher Training Centre (ABCTTC) shed more light on the continuous education programme. She stated that the teachers are already trained, that they are only giving them up-to-date information and knowledge in their fields.

On the School Feeding Programme (SFP), some of the teachers and the cooks that spoke about it stated that it has helped with the students’ education and nutritional needs, and that it has also helped to increase students’ enrollment into public schools. Some of the cooks on the SPF programme stated that the programme is a source of livelihood for them to support themselves and their families.
Still on the SPF programme, Ikpeazu stated that Abia is perhaps the only state in Nigeria that feeds pupils from primary one to six, adding that, “The federal government supports us from primary one to three, but we are doing one to six, because we cannot afford to leave any of our children.”

Susan Ikwunze, a headmistress in a school in Umuahia South, expressed some level of satisfaction on the renovation work and on the supply of plastic desks to many of the schools in her area. “The pupils now balance well while learning,” she said. On the SFP programme, she added, “That one is extremely wonderful. The kids are enjoying it. Malnutrition is no longer there. When the kids see the food vendors coming, happiness will be all around.”

On the challenge of classroom and school expansion, Ikpeazu noted that since 2015 his administration has invested close to 50 billion naira, and that they had build over 600 classroom blocks. “The student population, as at 2019, when we last checked, was 650,000 from 150,000 in 2015. So, we are moving forward in that direction,” Ikpeazu said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown in the state and the challenges they posed to the education sector, Ikpeazu stressed that Abia was one of the states that responded promptly to the pandemic by organising radio education programme for primary and secondary school students. He stated that he was one of the radio education programme teachers, and that he taught biology. He noted that the programme was effective to the point that after the lockdown, the students performed well in their internal and external examinations.

Kanelechi Nwagwa, Commissioner for Education of the state; Christopher Osuagwu, Acting Executive Secretary of the Secondary Education Management Board (SEMB) of the state; and Juliet Orji, the Registrar of SEMB, concurred that, given the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, the state government was still able to conduct both internal and external examinations, and that the students did well, without any report of them or their examiners contracting the virus.

At the university level, the Commissioner for Information of the state, John Kalu, stated that most of the challenges of the Abia State University are being addressed and that currently, four additional facilities have been added to the university. Kalu added that the university now has a stable academic calendar, and that it is now the second best state university in Nigeria.

Furthermore, the chairman of Abia State Scholarship Board, Ambassador Empire Kanu, spoke on some of the challenges and successes of the board in sending Abia students abroad to countries like India, Sweden, Australia, etc. to study on full and partial scholarships.

“Everything you do in Abia, you must apply equity. Abia state has very educated children,” Kanu said. “The scholarship has to be on merit, and it has to spread across the seventeen local governments.”
In conclusion, a former Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education, MacJohn Nwaobiala, gave opinions, advice and recommendations on how the governor and other stakeholders can further address some of the challenges facing the education sector of the state.

“In terms of policy, the Abia state government should give priority to technical and vocational education, so that our teeming youths can have skills, and they can also engage in entrepreneurship activities,” Nwaobiale stressed, adding that, “Any government that is coming in place, in terms of fund allocation, education should be a priority for a new government.”

Alumona writes from Ibadan, Oyo state.

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