• Friday, April 19, 2024
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takeStrengthening human capital development in Rivers

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Rivers State, which has emerged as one of Africa’s frontline states in educational development, recently unveiled a new education policy handbook expected to secure the infrastructural investments made in the past five years with hundreds of billions naira.

The commissioner of education, Alice Lawrence-Nemi, who unveiled the new policy handbook, said education had been guided in the past by pieces of rules and regulations scattered in several chambers.

New frontiers have opened up in education requiring an update in the laws. For this reason, a team of experts were assembled by the ministry of education to draw up the guidelines mostly from existing sources to form a handbook to be known as the Rivers State Education Policy 2012.

On March 11, 2013, the proposed policy divided into nine sections was thrown open to education stakeholders and experts within and outside the state. Experts made it clear that education is made up of hardware (school buildings, facilities and infrastructure) and software (management system, financing system, laws and quality assurances in teaching) components.

The State has excelled in these areas with the building of world-class facilities and schools that have attracted foreigners. The commissioner said this is the aspect Rivers State Education Policy 2012 is aiming to address; to have in place a management system, new agencies, and new laws that could ensure that the infrastructure found in the State would be matched by top management and teaching that would enthrone international educational standards in the oil-rich state.

Rivers State under Governor Chibuike Amaechi uses town-hall policy making system, public forum platform style of administration. By this, the governor allows each sector to hold a public forum where problems are highlighted and possible solutions agreed upon.

This was how the state of emergency was declared in the education sector in 2008 and steps to save the sector decided too. To drive the new task, the governor pulled the fiery lawyer formerly heading the ministry of housing to pilot the affairs of education and drive the emergency rescue mission and the revolution.

Key developments which have taken place in the state’s education sector in the last five years include launching an infrastructure revolution (building and equipping of primary, secondary schools and the relocation project of the state’s University of Science and Technology), establishment of a University of Education to train highly qualified teachers, retraining and recertification of teachers with the involvement of the British Consul in Port Harcourt, takeover of primary payment of salaries primary school teachers to about N2 billion monthly to eliminate strike actions and recruitment of 13,000 teachers to rescue the classes.

Other development include establishment of Quality Assurance Agency to replace inspectorate department in the education ministry, free education to secondary school level and abolition of any all fees in schools, annual oversees scholarships in strategic branches of knowledge, establishment of skills acquisition institutions and outsourcing the management of schools in the state.

Interestingly, new rules are required to cement these achievements. Highlights of the education policy handbook include minimum standards for the establishment of new schools by government, agencies or private investors.

Key point in the new policy includes the need for strict approval processes and compulsory of provision of playground for children. This has led to the creation of Rivers State Quality Assurance Agency (RSQAA) which is expected to enjoy some autonomy but would act to maintain standards in all schools. Private school owners are already fretting over this, in a state where every parlour is a school.

There is a provision for the Agency to regulate fees payable in private schools and to categorise schools according to facilities and qualifications of the teaching staff. In place is a strong policy on special needs education to give special attention to gifted children, physically challenged children, mentally retarded pupils, the orphaned and vulnerable children, and children living with HIV/AIDS.

This seems to be in response to outcries by the association of physically challenged persons in the state over non-inclusion in design of schools and public facilities. There is huge policy attention to adult and non-informal education with education at this category now free, according to the policy handbook.

There is a section on women education and this is said to focus on “basic education provided for adult women outside the formal school system”. Graduates of this level (1-6) would now proceed to vocational centres to improve their skills. There is now a huge attention to science and technology education but this is based on the national curriculum.

A critical point seems to be on how the state is to view examination fraud. The state since the declaration of emergency has declared additional war against the rubbishing of its image as a state with free exam fraud. The new policy has prescribed strong sanctions against implicated schools, communities and teachers.

On the other hand, clean schools for three years shall be given awards and certificates. There is no more external candidates in the May/June examinations and there is a total ban on the National Examination Council examination (NECO).

A major policy thrust is the outsourcing of management of all schools. The state has created a new approach highlighted by a proposed ‘school-based management system’. Schools in the state would now be managed by teams appointed from immediate communities and other interested groups.

The policy, according to the handbook, is to decentralize management by the government, ensure effective participation and inclusiveness of all stakeholders, give a sense of ownership, control and spirit of community self-help, create collaboration with the government, ensure accountability and transparency, and above all create speedy response to school problems.

The 24 model secondary schools are to be managed by international experts. The government pays the equivalent of school fees to the managing teams and allow them free hand to maintain and sustain standards. The policy creates what it calls citizens report card system to enable return of feedback by end users of education services.

Stakeholders have welcomed most of these policy measures but some pointed out loopholes. The principals complain of delay in payment of impress in the face of ban on collection of any form of levies.

The truth is that many of them are collecting levies but the governor metes out stiff sanctions on unlucky ones. The policy ceding 70 percent of admissions to indigenes seems class with another clause that guarantees ‘free and compulsory education to secondary school level’ to all children resident in Rivers State.

School operators are wondering why government would regulate fees charged by private schools while the same has not done to other sectors such as hospitals, hotels, etc. The policies would be fine-tuned by March ending and the final policy would be unveiled as laws of the state. Then, education would never be the same in Rivers State and the journey to a knowledge-driven economy would have taken off fully.

It has been severally written what Amaechi met when he came to power. The survey outcome of a researcher, Sunny Israel-Cookey, was submitted at the 2008 public forum; Public schools in Rivers State were characterized by ‘crisis of system crash’ including inadequate infrastructure (leading to overcrowding), lack of laboratories, libraries, computer rooms, and inadequate sporting avenues, poor funding, lack of maintenance, low morale, inadequate teaching aides, lack of environment conducive for learning, etc.

Many believed that the schools had turned to obsolete factories producing nothing but oil bunkering experts and militants. More studies carried out by those worried about the decay in the education system in the state indicated that by 2007, the state had 133,688 students but lacked enough tutors, with some local councils such as Soku boasting of not more than 10 tutors to go round.