By MUKHTAR GARBA MAIGAMO
“Education is the key that unlocks the door to modernization. It is a form of human capital that needs to be harnessed for individual and national development” (Prof. Adejoh Odoh ABU Zaria)
“Education is a priceless gift any worthy government or nation should bestow on her citizens” (Comrade Shehu Sani 2009)
“Education is the key to the future of any individual, community or nation” (Bishop Mathew Kuka, Sunday Trust August 17, 2014: page 56).
Walking down the memory lane from 2015 to 2019, the journey of “making Kaduna great again” embarked upon by Malam Nasir Elrufai in Kaduna when he mounted the mantle of the state had been very tortuous, with so many bumps on the road because what PDP handed down to APC in 2015 was little more than a silhouette. There was virtually nothing left in the state that suggested Governor Elrufai inherited a working government because no sector was in good shape as at the material time. The state was just akin to a rickety car that baldly needed a total overhaul. In all the artificially-induced moribund sectors, education sector was the worst both functionally and structurally.
The Restoration Master-plan of the governor that was set to redress the inherent problems of the state were encapsulated in his five-point agenda (Education & health, security, public service reform, development of infrastructure and promotion of agriculture and food security). But education, as an important element of human capital, was the first and top priority of the governor because of the extent of its decadence in the state due to many years of neglect.
Kaduna state has 4,250 public primary schools and 560 secondary schools, all of which in terrible conditions as at 2015, compounded also by the absence of both teacher-quality and functional structures. In this same period, more than half of public schools in Kaduna have no furniture, doors, roofs, and windows. Students used bare floors to take lessons. There were also no water and toilet facilities in most of the schools. Some of the schools were overfilled with more than the required number of students.
A particular case that instigated the decision to take remediate action was a school in Rigasa that was just an eyesore with over 29,000 pupils who sat on the bare floor and under trees while taking lessons. These are what galvanized the Governor to quickly declare state of emergency on education on the October 1st, 2015.
According to him “Education is freedom from want and disease. The provision of free basic education in decent schools and with skilled teachers is one of the priorities this government will accomplish in its four-year term.”
We have spent the past few months planning school repairs, the provision of school furniture and the training of teachers. Today, we move to declare a state of emergency in education. We ask for your support as we begin to implement extraordinary measures in the educational sector.”
By declaring state of emergency on education, it means that government was not only going to rebuild and rehabilitates the dilapidated public schools in the state, but also to address the systemic problems of education in general which creepily cumulated to malignancy due to many years of neglect by the successive administrations.
The first action item was to start up with declaring free, education at basic level, followed also by renovation of 600 primary schools and 200 secondary schools, and with the supply of 186,000 units of school furniture across the state. But as mentioned earlier, the problem of public education in Kaduna was systemic. It was just like a tree that was rotten from root to stem. Apart from the twin problems of teacher-quality and functional structures, there has been a problem of attendance.
Even after the governor made education free at basic level, many poor parents refused to respond to the gesture. They’d rather sent them off to streets for hawking or begging. For those that could afford, rather sent theirs to private schools because of what public schools have become and that clearly further created a gulf between public schools and privates schools in terms of standards. One curious irony that depicted the depth and profundity of the rot of our public schools was when the teachers themselves, rather than enrolling their kids in the school they teach, they preferred taking them to private schools because they too have no confidence in the schools they were employed as teachers.
On 16th January 2016, the governor unfolded a one-off strategy for attracting pupils to schools, known as “Free Feeding Program”. School feeding program was another APC’s change agenda, which it promised to implement if elected. Governor Elrufai trailblazed the project as an initiative to, not only expand access to education, but to also carry off children from streets whose parents sent off for hawking and begging instead of schooling, while at the same time also providing them with good nutritious meals that will improve their well-being and learning abilities.
The gross effect of this multi-prong approach at the short time was that, the number of school enrollment in the state increased astronomically, especially in primary schools. The school enrollment increased from 1.1 million to 2.1 million as at September 2016.
However, from 2015 to date, in all the state’s budgetary allocations, education has been getting the larger chunk, signifying how the governor places high premium on education. In the recent 2020 budget of N257.9bn, education alone got N64.64bn, 25.07% of the entire budget. The governor is determined to maintain the UNESCO’s threshold of 26%.
2017 marked a watershed of the reform when the governor scale up the pace of the process to another phase by taking a decision to address, head-on, the most important component of the reform, which was teacher-quality. Teacher quality was the kernel of the problem of public education, which came about for many reasons.
Over the years there have been cases of malfeasance in the recruitments of teachers into the public schools in Kaduna to the effect that teaching job became the only easy job given to people as a recompense for their participation in politics or on account of their affinity with the authorities concern. That was how our public schools became a locus and a dumping ground for all manner of people, many of whom with either fake certificates or lack of capacity to teach.
On June 3rd, 2017, government took a stand to remedy the ills by conducting a competency test for the primary school teachers in the state in which 22,000 teachers out of 31,000 failed. When the decision to sack them was taken by the governor, he unsurprisingly bumped up against reactionary forces, including labor unions who despite conceding that the sacked teachers have no requisite qualities, but insisted they should be offered clemency. But the governor, as someone who straddled through public education to attain this height, believed that the children of the poor should have that opportunity through decent qualitative public education.
22, 000 primary school teachers were finally sacked against fierce criticisms and replaced with 25,000 qualified ones, while also recruiting 2,500 teachers of English, Mathematics, Science and ICT to bridge the gap in the secondary schools. This also followed up with many far-reaching policies and incentives that aimed at making the learning environment conducive, improving the welfare of the personnel thereby expanding the scope of the access also. The new qualified recruited teachers got salary increment alongside other civil servants in the state, and were assured of an improved working conditions
The net effect of this depicted in the sudden surge of private school teachers to public schools, a situation that was envisage by the governor. The governor wished to make public school to stand competition with private schools, and the mass exodus of private school teachers unto public schools was only the beginning
Promoting girl child education was, (and still is) the focal point of the government of Kaduna state under the administration Malam Nasir Elrufai, hence many policies biasedly made in their favor. In September 2018, the government declared free education for all female students in public secondary schools, a policy aimed at removing all the encumbrances of girl-child education (about 191,445 of them at the beginning of the policy).
To also further give girls the impetus to study seamlessly, the government distributed the use of 15,000 tablets computers to girls in secondary schools. That unprecedented initiative was also aimed at equipping the girls with IT skills that could put them on proper footing in the ever increasing competitive world.
We opened this year with the full implementation of free and compulsory education for all the citizens of Kaduna state, meaning that the free education previously enjoyed by females is now extended to fully cover both males and females. This is the most costly, but yet most important and fruitful public policy ever to be implemented in Kaduna state. Giving free and qualitative education to the children of the poor is the sum of the governor’s ambition, as someone who also passed through public education to become what he’s today.
More reforms on education would continue until Kaduna reached the international baseline.