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Inspiring excellence in public primary schools through CSR

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Primary school education, which is for children whose ages range between 6 and 11 years, is very pivotal in the Nigerian educational system. FRANK UZUEGBUNAM writes how ExxonMobil, through its corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative, is inspiring excellence in public primary schools in its immediate host environment.

Except in some cases where we have pre-nursery and nursery school system, primary school is the recognised foundation level of the educational system, which runs for six years and aimed at developing basic literacy, numeracy, communication skills and transmission of the culture of the people to younger generations. It is the only link to secondary education system and also regarded as the very foundation upon which the other strata of the educational edifices are built.

Primary education is the first level of the nation’s 6-3-3-4 education system; 6 years of primary education, 3 years of junior secondary education, 3 years of senior secondary education, and 4 years of university education, respectively.

Primary education in Nigeria was made free, universal and compulsory throughout the country with effect from September 1976 through the Universal Primary Education (UPE), which helped to expand primary education. In 1999, 23 years after the launching of the UPE scheme, primary education was made an integral part of a 9-year basic education programme. Five years later, in 2004, the National Assembly passed the Universal Basic Education Bill.

Available statistics from the Roadmap for Nigerian Education Sector has shown that there are 54,434 public primary schools in the country based on the figures adapted from the 2006 National Personnel Audit of the sector. However, according to another data from the Universal Basic Education Commission 2006 School Census, Nigeria is said to have 87,941 primary schools.

Since, independence, primary education has, for most of the times, been placed in the concurrent legislative list. Both the federal government and the state government have the right to manage it. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1978) also states that the functions of a Local Government Council shall include participation of such Council in the government of a State with respect to the provision and maintenance of primary education.

It is obvious that the last one decade in Nigeria has witnessed great involvement of the various tiers of governments in the management of primary education system. The Federal Government has the Federal Ministry of Education. This Ministry has the Department of Primary and Secondary Education. Besides, there is Universal Basic Education Commission. At the state government level, there is a Ministry of Education having a Department that has oversight function over primary education.

In addition, there is Universal Basic Education Board. At the local government level, there are the Local Government Education Authority and the District Education Committee.

In spite of the efforts made so far, primary education in Nigeria remained a system of low quality. Without a sound foundation from the primary school, the educational system cannot meet the yearnings and aspirations of the nation. In order to reverse this trend, there is need for corporate bodies to step in and direct some of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts towards inspiring excellence in the public primary schools system.

The ExxonMobil model

As part of the efforts to demonstrate its commitment to the development of qualitative education, ExxonMobil has directed some of its CSR efforts for delivery of excellence in the public primary school through its recent launch of ExxonMobil Academic Excellence Reward Programme for public primary schools in Akwa Ibom State.

The academic excellence reward programme is aimed at supporting and encouraging academic pursuit by children in government-owned primary schools by identifying those who are performing well and rewarding them.

Through this initiative, ExxonMobil has provided school bags with mathematical sets, pencil pouches, water bottles and exercise books to the best 10 academically performing pupils in each class from primary one to six across 85 schools. The selection was transparently done in conjunction with the State Ministry of Education and Akwa Ibom State Universal Basic Education Board.

According to John Arkely, general manager, Joint Venture Operations, Mobil Producing Nigeria (MPN), “no fewer than 5,100 pupils selected from the 85 public primary schools of the four catchment local government areas of ExxonMobil’s operation- Eket, Ibeno, Esit Eket and Onna benefited from the scheme.”

Arkely said the “programme is aimed at supporting and encouraging excellence in public primary schools by identifying high performers, recognising and encouraging the achievers.”

ExxonMobil has a long history of partnership with the government and people of Akwa Ibom State in the area of education. In the last four years, the company committed over N57 million to the NNPC/MPN JV secondary school scholarship, targeting indigent students from Akwa Ibom State.

In addition to that, over N4 billion has been spent on the NNPC/MPN JV undergraduate scholarship to Nigerian students 50 per cent of this amount or N2 billion devoted to students from Akwa Ibom State.

Other achievements of ExxonMobil in the area of education include over N1 billion spent on provision of NNPC/EEPNL (EEPNL is Esso Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited – an ExxonMobil subsidiary company) international postgraduate scholarship to Nigerian students in the last 2 decades; 500 undergraduate scholarship yearly, over 8000 benefitted in the last 2 decades. Over the last 7 years, more than 200 people have benefitted from the NNPC/EEPNL national postgraduate scholarship.

Aniekan Akpan, Akwa Ibom State commissioner for education, speaking during the launch of the Academic Excellence Reward Programme for public primary schools, noted the consistent commitment of ExxonMobil towards raising the standard of education in the state over the years.

He said the support by the oil giant in sustaining free and compulsory education in the state through various sponsorship programmes was an illustration of good corporate social responsibility.

“Government acknowledges and appreciates these partnerships and commends the effort of organisations like ExxonMobil and others who are lending support in various forms to our children. Together, we will leave positive foot prints in the sands of time and a good legacy for generations of Akwa Ibom children,” Akpan said.

He expressed satisfaction with the academic excellence reward program and said that it would encourage pupils in public schools in the state to compete favourably with their contemporaries in the private schools.

Etentuk Edukere Etentuk, chairman of Primary School Head Teachers of Nigeria, Eket, equally praised ExxonMobil for recognising brilliant children in public primary schools in the state.

There is no gainsaying the fact that education is very vital to the pace of social, political and economic development of any nation. Achieving qualitative and better education begins in primary school and public primary schools require more effort from government and its agencies. Part of the effort should be devoted towards engaging in serious and genuine development of educational policies and implementation of the policies afterwards to make the primary education system adequately prepared for the challenges of producing the leaders of tomorrow. The government also needs to address some of the serious and pervasive institutional shortcomings, many of which are linked to dysfunctional incentives for administrators and teachers.

It is quite clear that for primary education in Nigeria to achieve its stated objectives, some of the contemporary issues in primary education management such as funding gaps, institutional capacity gaps and expansion of the curriculum to cater for early childhood care can be ameliorated through interventions and concerted efforts by some corporate bodies to improve the quality of public primary schools and make the primary education curriculum richer and more elaborate. This is why other corporate bodies should emulate the ExxonMobil example across Nigeria.

FRANK UZUEGBUNAM