Determined to reposition his state’s educational status and give better meaning to academic studies, Rivers State government may have finally taken the bull by the horns by collapsing over 1300 public schools
For those who are in Rivers State it may no longer be news that the 1,300 primary schools in the state
that they are used to are being pulled down. For the rest of the country, however, it is news. It is not common to hear that a state government is deliberately pulling down schools that have over the years trained and nurtured generations of its indigenes.
The good news is that the 1,300 public primary schools in Rivers State will give way to 750 modern primary schools. The state governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who was in Lagos recently told a select group of journalists that the challenge his administration met on ground when he came to power, would make one to wonder whether the state was newly created.
“We shouldn’t be building primary schools at this stage. We should be rather renovating or expanding the ones we have but you can’t believe that we are building primary schools just because the ones we met on ground are either dilapidated or not up to the standard we want. We had a situation where you had classrooms but no offices for teachers and headmasters,” the governor said.
He said the state government set up a committee headed by the deputy governor. He said the committee had somebody from the World Bank and Takena Tamuno, a former vice chancellor of the University of Ibadan, among others, as members. It was the committee that recommended the demolition of the existing 1,300 schools and the building of 750 schools as replacement, he said.
Each of the news schools, Amaechi said, would have a number of facilities including library and auditorium. In addition all the classrooms are connected to information technology. “We don’t teach ICT, we teach each course using ICT; the child now learns ICT and learns the course, that way it is easier to learn ICT. It is challenging and tasking. That is the vision but my commissioner for education is quite wonderful, she is transparent, she is honest, she is tough. She is doing a wonderful job and I praise her for that,” he said.
Considering that primary education falls within the purview of local governments, the governor said even though that level of education is not the constitutional responsibility of the state government, “all we said to the local governments is that we know the responsibility is yours but just concession it to us to manage on your behalf. We have already awarded contracts for the building of 350 primary schools out of 750. We will soon award contract for another 150 to make it 500,” the governor informed.
Amaechi disclosed that 100 schools have been completed and that primary school pupils would soon move in after the state government has finished furnishing and equipping the schools. “They have everything, basketball pitch, then a farm and a playground. By August/September, we will do another 150, so we should be having 250 before our third year anniversary. The governor’s third anniversary will be in October ( and not May) owing to the Supreme Court decision that brought him to power. People don’t know that we don’t have enough funds, that is why when the president came (to Rivers State on a state visit recently) he asked me personally ‘where are you getting money to do all these things?’ and I told him up till now I have not taken a loan despite our rating of B and B+. We got B from S & P and B+ from Fitch but we are the first state in Nigeria to be rated by two companies and we are the first state in the country to be rated by S & P. All the others got from Fitch,” he said.
Amaechi said his government also turned its searchlight on secondary schools. “We looked at the secondary schools. The graduands of the primary schools impact negatively on the students in the secondary schools. If they produce poor pupils at the primary level there is no way you can transform them into wonderful graduates at the secondary level. It is the foundation that determines the substructure. The foundation is very important to us. They are working on the foundation. We are constructing a secondary school and I dare you to come and see it. I have invited other governors, my colleagues to come and see it. In fact one governor told me that the university in his state has provision for six students per room but this school has two students per room, compulsory boarding with all the sanitary facilities, everything complete. All the fixtures – wardrobe, reading light, etc – are in place. When the president came there he was very impressed but the president does not believe that two children alone should be in a room, he says we should have more than two children.
“My argument is that I have seen my children in their rooms. By accident of the political crisis in Nigeria, my children are schooling abroad. I had vowed that my children will school here (Nigeria). There is a particular thing that you learn here. If you are not grounded in the challenges of the Nigerian environment, when they bring you back, your father will continue to carry you until he dies. Don’t forget that I was chased out of the country, my children were also chased out of the country and since then they have moved on. I believe that if we are having oil money then we should lay a strong educational foundation because if you don’t produce qualified graduates that can compete anywhere in the world, there is no way as a state we can grow. For me education is primary and if we are going to do that there are two things you must look for, content and environment. So we went to build this kind of secondary schools. It has capacity for 1,000 students, two children per room, 25 children per class. It has auditorium, sports field, hall, two wonderful dining halls, accommodation for all the teachers, offices for all the teachers, library, workshops and labs.” The governor said. He informed that the first one has been completed at the cost of N3.6 billion.
There was a sign of bewilderment at the mention of the amount used to complete one secondary school but the governor defended that, saying that the state-of-the-art facilities in the school justify the amount. Each of the secondary schools to be built would cost the same amount, he said. At the tertiary level, Amaechi is also building a new world class university. “We will transfer the existing university to the new one. Currently they are building the infrastructure, road, drainage, power, sewage, etc. This one will be built on 200 hectres of land,” he said.
He reminded his audience that every year the state government sends 300 students overseas on scholarship fully paid in the areas of medicine, law, oil & gas, engineering. He noted that the first set of graduates that went during the administration of former Governor Peter Odili would graduate this year.
The state commissioner for information, Ibim Semenitari, who was with Amaechi, corroborated that in Port Harcourt, the state capital, some parents have started pulling their children from private schools to public school on account of the transformation in the education sector.