Education and Beyond

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Students Benefitting from the 5-free Textbook Scheme Initiated Under the Saraki Administration

Over the years, the state government has shown passionate commitment to the primary social responsibility of providing affordable qualitative and quantitative education for its people. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has formulated and implemented general policies and strategic ‘reform agenda’ aimed at saving the sector from total collapse.

The major activities of the Kwara Education Reform were built around increasing pupils’ capacity to learn at every educational stage. This goal forms the basis for the state’s Learning Outcome Benchmark, which prescribes exactly what pupils are expected to learn at each level, helping both the government and the parents monitor school achievements.

One of the key drawbacks of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) was the introduction of automatic progression, which allowed children to continue to move up the school year by year just by attending the school. As part of the reform, the administration introduced examinations at various levels, making it mandatory for all children to pass before moving up to the next level; if they fail, they are required to undertake special coaching classes before sitting the exam again.

Increased focus on real learning achievements also required greater effort in ensuring the integrity of examinations. So the government took various tough measures to prevent any malpractice by introducing potential legal prosecution for offenders – the first state in Nigeria to do so. As a result, the Federal Minister of Education commended the state, in a letter from September 2009, for its “fight against the malaise of examination malpractices and efforts at sanitizing the examination sub-sector.” Similarly, in a September 2010 letter, the WAEC commended the “laudable role played by the State Government in reducing examination malpractice rate in the State.”

Another major challenge to improving teaching in the schools was teacher truancy. Prior to the reform, the education problems had forced those that would have excelled at teaching, to become traders and politicians to earn a wage, while teaching was relegated to a part-time occupation. However, the enforcement of school attendance, additional recruitment and redistribution, especially among rural and urban schools have since dramatically reduced actual pupil-qualified teacher ratio from 34:1 in 2006 to 13:1 2009 for primary, 50:1 to 19.1 for junior secondary, and 45:1 to 16:1 for senior secondary.

In 2008 the state started an initiative called Teacher Development Needs Assessment (TDNA), under which 23,000 teachers sat for a competency test in basic literacy and numeracy to determine the level of retraining they needed. It was the first time this kind of test was conducted for serving teachers of Nigeria.

The result was shocking. Only 75 candidates, less than 1% of the teaching profession, achieved the required competency threshold. Suddenly, and dramatically, the decay in the education sector came into the national consciousness, and in response, a needs-based professional development system was developed for teachers, head teachers and advisory staff. The State Schools Improvement Team (SSIT) was formed to train and support School Support Officers (SSOs), who in turn began to provide ongoing support and training to teachers in the classrooms. Manuals were also developed to provide prescribed guidelines to teachers in the instruction of literacy and numeracy.

Another initiative to improve the quality of teachers was the refocusing of the Oro College of Education on basic education teachers, thus ensuring that all incoming teachers have the required competencies and commitments. The curriculum was completely overhauled and made directly relevant to the primary education curriculum, a process that was soon adopted by the National Commission for College of Education (NCCE) as the model for the reform of all other Colleges of Education in Nigeria.

The present administration certainly recognises the weaknesses in the old method of school inspection and finds it ineffective in supporting educational improvement in the state and across Nigeria. Consequently, Kwara State made a change from ‘inspection’ to Whole School Evaluation (WSE), a system that aims at improving each pupil’s achievement as well as analysing the quality of a school’s overall performance. It is based on the ongoing self-evaluation of schools, which is complemented by external evaluation to determine what support is needed and how to deliver it. Unlike the inspection system, which is seen as punitive, this system of quality assurance is both advisory and supportive and again, Kwara was the first state in Nigeria to make the transition and establish the Quality Assurance Bureau, which other states have since been studying.

In fact, Kwara has avoided many educational errors that so often affect the school system, such as the treating of infrastructure and textbook supply as achievements in themselves. The administration in Kwara has recognised the need to provide these for the sole purpose of facilitating learning in schools. As a result of massive construction and renovation of classrooms, pupil-class ratio in the State was reduced from 51:1 to 34:1 in 2009 for primary and kept at 42:1 and 35:1 for junior secondary and senior secondary respectively. Investments in procurement of core textbooks also led to a 1:1 textbook-pupil ratio for primary schools in 2009 from the 4:1 ratio of 2006. The Book Revolving Initiative for Schools (BREINS), introduced in 2005, has also continued to ensure access to textbooks for all junior and senior secondary school students.

School enrollment has been addressed too, although there has never been a serious problem with children not registering for schools. Despite this, however, the government wanted to ensure that enrollments and retention figures are kept up at well above the national average. And they have achieved this, pushing up the Gross Enrollment Rate for primary from 78% in 2006 to 115% in 2009, with a gender disparity of less than 1%. Similarly, Gross Completion Rate was pushed up from 72% in 2006 to 95% in 2009. On top of that, the transition rate from Junior to Senior Secondary school was raised from 78% in 2006 to 81% in 2009, with a gender disparity of 5%.

Due to the state’s obvious commitment to improving education, the World Bank IDA credit pledged to support the financing of the state’s education sector plans, to the tune of $16 million for a 4-year period. The British Department For International Development (DFID) also helped out through its Capacity Building for Universal Education (CUBE) to support a series of projects in the state. The launching of the ‘Every Child Counts’ initiative in 2008 brought additional funding from the DFID through its Education Sector Support Project in Nigeria (ESSPIN), which has for a long time been a close collaborator in the implementation of the state’s education reform. Funding such as this, from organisations such as the World Bank and the DFID, only serve to emphasise the fact that, in terms of education reform, Kwara is an acknowledged flagship state and a leader in its field throughout Nigeria.

Finally, the real high point of the administration’s educational legacy was the establishment of Kwara State University (KWASU) as a response to the growing irrelevance and dwindling capacity of tertiary education in Nigeria. KWASU, opened in 2009, has a mandate to balance global perspective with community relevance and therefore to demonstrate its capacity to drive progress by producing global citizens for community development. To its credit, the University has creditably led the way in reversing the ‘brain drain’ that has up until now affected the Nigerian tertiary education sector. Within its first year, it brought home some first-rate Nigerian scholars from Harvard, MIT and Princeton, enabling ensuing collaborations with these institutions. KWASU became fully operational in 2009 with five colleges across three campuses.

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The state’s younger generation has been given top priority by the present administration through programmes targeted at them by the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development, the main goal of which is to reduce the level of poverty and social vices. In doing so, the government has undoubtedly demonstrated the value it places on the intellectual needs of young people, but it also recognizes their need to develop their potential and realize their dreams in other fields, most importantly sport and entrepreneurship.

This has culminated in the establishment of integrated Youth Farm Settlement Schemes. These are designed to create a new generation of farmers by bringing educated young men and women together at a camp in Malete, about 45 kilometers out of the state capital, to be trained in a wide range of agricultural practices from soil and animal husbandry, irrigation and maintenance of farm machinery, to crop harvesting, finance and marketing. If the Youth Farm at Malete leads to the future of farming, then the Zimbabwean experts are the bridge to take young people there. It is their knowledge and techniques that have laid the foundation for the agricultural revolution that the government envisages.

In addition to this, the state government decided to establish a world-class Integrated Youth Skills Acquisition and Empowerment Centre at Yikpata in Edu LGA, to help young people, women and artisans learn new and useful skills. The foundation was laid on 8th June 2008. Governor Bukola Saraki also gave his full support to the National Youth Council, Kwara State Chapter. After all, it is a Kwaran who has held the presidency of the National Youth Council of Nigeria for two consecutive terms, as well as the presidency of the African Youths. On the Council, young people are appointed to hold cabinet responsibilities and receive advice from Commissioners from the Ministry, including Senior Special Assistants on Employment Generation, Youth, Sports and Student Affairs, as well as a Youth Empowerment co-ordinator for each of the 16 LGAs. The government has also consistently continued to renovate facilities at the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Permanent Orientation Camp at Yikpata, which today is ranked second best in the country.

Sport in the state has also received serious attention from the administration, with a substantial sum being injected into the Kwara United Football Club by paying 70% sign-on fee to officials and players for the 2008/2009 Football Season, a gesture that contributed to the promotion of the club from relegation to the top of Division A.

This and other initiatives have already paid off and proved the wisdom of Saraki’s investment, as the state’s representatives have recorded a series of impressive victories in local and international sporting competitions. For instance, DE-JAYCE Football Club in Kwara won the trophy at the National YSFON Soccer Competition at Enugu. The state’s Darts and Scrabble Players participated in the 6th Edition of North Darts Tournament in Gusau and National Paralympics Championship in Ijebu Ode, and won a number of medals, while Miss Tosin Dawodu won gold at the 2nd New Era Wheelchair Tennis Championship held in Lagos. Also the Baseball and Softball Little League of Sapati International School won the William Sports Summer Competition while representing Nigeria in Dubai in July 2004.

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Kwara Football Academy students and visiting officials from the Confederation of African Football

As part of its game-changing efforts in the arena of sport, the present administration established the first ever football training institution in Nigeria, namely the Football College of Excellence, now the Kwara Football Academy (KFA), at a cost of over N300 million, to identify and train young talent. The Academy was officially opened on 24th May 2007 and has since been described as a miniature Nigeria, because of the way it brings together young people from every part of the country. Following the success of its early years, the Academy is now looking to bring in young talent from other parts of Africa for mentoring and talent development in the beautiful game. And this is very much in keeping with the policy of education and empowering future generations, achieved through the development of sometimes non-conventional programmes that give opportunities to those who have that extra bit of talent. But it’s not just about the football.

Set out across 35 hectares of lush green land, the KFA has four standard football pitches, as well as tennis and basketball courts, a formidably equipped gymnasium, student hostels/dormitories with common rooms, kitchens and cafeteria, a fully functioning medical centre, staffed with a dedicated medical expert and physiotherapist, and classroom blocks. Entrance to the Academy is currently limited to boys aged 13 to 19, and demands a written application and satisfactory performance in an aptitude test, as well as a demonstration of football skills or sporting potential, of course. The aptitude test is important, as the Academy requires full-time attendance of classes, so that students continue to learn off the field as well as on it. There is a unique and tailored programme, following the Nigerian and British curricula, where students are grouped by age into appropriate classes and are taught English, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Agricultural Science, one foreign language and the humanities.

The KFA remains one of the administration’s greatest investments in young people. Students from diverse backgrounds go there to develop friendships, skills and talents in a kind of study-play and learn-train way of life designed to shape the future of the students, and channel their innate potential into useful causes for the future as they mature into professional footballers. This is confirmed by the fact that one of the college’s players has been sold to Chelsea Football Club and eight others have been sold to other clubs across Europe.

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