BAYELSA IS FAST OVERCOMING ITS EDUCATIONAL CHALLENGES – Stella Peremoboere Ugolo

0
222


 

4
Dr. (Mrs) Stella Peremoboere Ugolo, a former lecturer at the University of Benin, was drafted by Hon Henry Seriake Dickson’s government of Bayelsa State, to serve as Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the governor on
Education Inspectorate and Policy and later with an added portfolio as
Chairman, Education Supervision Committee.  Dr. Stella was born in 1957
to Thankgod Koroye of the great Kpadia Royal Heritage of Toru-Orua
Community. As an astute educationist, she obtained the TC 2
Certificate in1974, Associate Certificate in Physical and Health Education, Afuze in 1977, NCE 1984,  Afuze as best graduating student, B.Ed Honours Degree (PHE) with 2nd Class Upper Division in 1989, M. Ed Education Management in 1999 and in 2010, she obtained the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph. D) degree in Educational Planning all from the University of Benin (UNIBEN). She is a teacher, sports woman, and politician. Stella is married to Mr Samuel Ugolo.

She bares her mind to National WAVES Bayelsa State correspondent, Philip Eke, highlighting the challenges and the several educational development impacts made by the Governor Dickson’s led administration of Bayelsa State. Excerpts

As an educationist of high repute, can you tell us some of your
activities in Bayelsa State?

As SSA to the executive governor on education inspectorate and policy,
I work directly under the governor. I am also a member of the state’s
education team and so work in collaboration with other officials and
organs of education but primarily concerned with inspectorate duties
to revitalize the system towards acceptable levels of functionality
using inspectorate tools to invigorate teaching and learning.
Specifically, As chairman of the education supervision committee, I
work first and foremost with the members of the committee and other
co-opted professional school supervisors drawn from the state’s Ministry
of Education, Post Primary Schools Board and the State Universal Basic
Education Board. I integrate persons from all these organs because I
see school supervision as a corporate task for which the job is too
big for any one organ alone. So, we organise for scheduled and
unscheduled inspection and supervision of teaching and learning
activities primarily in all public schools, but by extension, private
schools and even tertiary institutions in some aspects.

To me, the main function of any inspectorate is to ensure the
monitoring of schools with the aim of sensitizing or if need be,
re-orientating schools towards functionality using data obtained from
the field for informed judgement, decision and policy. The job is
highly enormous and challenging, not only because the State has 544
primary schools and over 320 junior and senior secondary schools but
because supervision had been lacking in the past, making the otherwise
old concept strange and new to many teachers. This situation has its
implications and obvious difficulties we are contending with.

Moreover, we are also mandated to inspect and supervise the numerous
education projects awarded by the Ministry of Education and the
Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), to ensure that the
infrastructural development efforts of government are not frustrated
by contractors.  Government needs accurate information for decision making and so our reports are submitted straight to the governor so that there
will be an informed basis to enforce contract compliance and this has
been yielding positive results. So, you can see that the job we are
doing is broad and all encompassing. Look at some of the voluminous
project reports there.

How would you describe the educational development of Bayelsa State in
this present dispensation?

Well, the efforts we have made towards improved and sustainable
educational development within this short period in governance is
commendable and marvellous. This assertion is critically based on the
knowledge of where we started from. When we came in, the educational
system was in a state of distress or stupor. Most teachers came late
to school or absented themselves from school with impunity. I say so
because they seemed not to have seen anything wrong in that. Many
head-teachers were not conscious of the opening and closing time of
schools as there were discrepancies from school to school and from LGA
to LGA. Teaching-learning activities were at the lowest ebb as
teachers were virtually not teaching and pupils were not learning. The
state of infrastructure was frustrating and embarrassing in most
schools. This was the situation we inherited.  We had this type of
first hand information because when we came in, the governor
inaugurated committees and even a task force to go round all the
schools in the state to have an on- the- spot assessment of the existing
situation to have accurate information to work with. You will agree
with me that feasibility study at entry point is a right step that can
direct a good take off. So we started working very hard as a team.

It is quite cheering to inform you that apart from the several
successes made with respect to infrastructure, our efforts towards
ensuring improved teaching and learning have started turning the
situation around gradually. I must be honest to say gradual because
the problem we are trying to fix concerns the changing of peoples work
habits and attitudes formed over the years which is a difficult task.
You know, it is easy to build houses when funds are available but to
change people’s habits in a political environment takes will and apt.
However, by our last supervisory visit (I don’t want to score myself
high) we have started having some feeling of fulfillment because the
trend is reversing commendably. For instance, when we visited some
schools even in far away Brass, as early as 7.45am assembly had
started. We also saw some appreciable level of seriousness in teachers
and students in teaching and learning.

We have started recording success because my supervision teams are
usually well guided through instructions and seminars on practical
supervision methods. I sensitize them to open the children notes to
check the learning activities affected because my idea of inspection
is not limited to checking lesson notes and vital school documents but
also on checking learning activities carried out by pupils. As a
system person from childhood, I know that some teachers may write
lesson notes and not teach them. Notes copied by students and
assignments given and marked in the various subjects must be checked.
This is the only way we can ascertain to some extent, the seriousness
of teachers and students. Before I accept that a teacher’s lesson note
is up to date and has achieved its purpose. I have to see it in the
children’s note or activity somehow.

Like I said earlier, apart from working to ensure the improvement of
teaching and learning in schools, the government has awarded over 400
infrastructural projects to improve and enhance educational delivery.
The state government is undergoing a sort of prototype renovation of
school buildings as well as new structures and headmasters quarters in
almost all primary schools in the state.  We just came back from
project inspection tour to even  as far as Ogbeintu,  Agge, Bilabiri,
Lobia,  Koluama, Furupa, Obioku, Brass, Beletiama, Fantuo just to
mention a few. Some of these schools have not seen school supervisors
for years but we have visited them several times and they are happy to
see us. I have mentioned a few of these communities in remote areas to
show you that this government is very serious at adequate education
delivery. This is not a government that fends for only schools at the
centre. The numerous education projects going on are scattered all
over the nooks and crannies of the entire state. Whether a school is
in the rural area or in a migrant camp, projects are going on based on
the needs assessments we had made at take off.

I want to also tell you that of the several projects awarded, some are
already completed and are in use while others are on-going. Worth
mentioning is that, even the rural people are appreciating the
educational development efforts of the governor as we often hear them
say that they have never seen it like this before. I like working
in the rural areas because they are truthful.  They usually applaud
the governor for the good works he is doing while appealing that
contractors should be compelled to complete the projects they are
undertaking. It is very refreshing to work in a performing government
because we enjoy the feed backs we receive from the public. In turn,
we also encourage the community leaders and school heads to monitor
the project execution status in their schools and give us feedback. We
have deliberately employed a system or model of collective project
monitoring because this is a people oriented government and hence the
inspectorate has two public telephone lines tagged “whistle blowers” to
enable people to contact us easily. The governor is resolute that the
era of absconding from completing contracts is over and so we work
towards achieving that goal.

Education has become a big business in Bayelsa state and so
supervision of learning and projects has also become highly tasking
and eventful. Despite the enormity of the job and risk involved, we
are motivated because we are serving our state positively. We work
with confidence because contractors are not owed. As soon as a contract
is awarded a good percentage of the contract sum is advanced to the
contractor and we have these records.

How would you describe the standard of education in Bayelsa State
compared to other states in Nigeria. Are teachers up to the required
standard to impart the needed knowledge to pupils and students
in the state?

Well, there is a general and disturbing notion everywhere that the
standard of education is falling. This belief or assumption is not
peculiar to Bayelsa state. But as a critical educationist, I do not
totally and always agree with that notion because good or high
standard of education is a product of many variables working together
in unison towards achieving educational objectives. What I am saying
is that good standard of education is not merely a product of teacher
quality alone neither is it limited to the issue of measuring
students’ academic performance but on the other hand, it is academic
performance that is a product of the level of educational standards a
particular educational system has attained. For instance, when people
say standards are falling, are they talking in terms of: poor
education policy and curriculum; inadequacy in teacher quantity,
quality and specialty; poor infrastructure and funding; poor school
administration and management; low or faulty enrolment dynamics;
faulty teacher/pupil interaction in class, wrong socio-cultural and
socio-political interplay with the education system; or low labour
market acceptability and usability of educational outputs. All these
are hydra-headed indicants of high standards that could lead to poor
performance if not controlled. So these are the issues.

If we may compare what standards are now and what they were in the
early days of formal education, one may confidently claim in some sort
that the indicants of standards are actually improving. For instance,
prior to recent times, schools were run without any proper education
policy; the curriculum was narrow and restricted; teacher
qualification was very low as persons with primary, modern, TC111,
secondary,  and TC11 certificates were teaching; people were learning
under trees or in mud buildings; enrolment was selective and
restrictive because most parents could not take all their children to
school while some villages did not even  have a school. Moreover, even
of the selected few that were given the opportunity to have access to
education, not all did well academically either at that time.

I can contend that the reverse is now the case today in most of the
areas mentioned. Look, we now have a well thought out and usable
education policy that is reviewed regularly to meet the needs of
society by experts; the National Certificate in Education (NCE) and
above is now the minimum teaching qualification; every available and
or qualified child is now enrolled and given opportunity to learn; the
curriculum is now robust, comprehensive and diversified with frequent
and several improvements for adaptation; government is fast improving
infrastructure in public schools; books are now more available;  and
schools, colleges and universities are turning out graduates in instalmental increase yearly, so what are we saying? Even though, we have not reached a state of shouting hurrah, there are obvious gains or improvements made.

Having said this, one will not shy away from mentioning the several
problems the education system is saddled with today that are directly
confronting the expected outcome of standards established. All over
the country, we are confronted with problems of lack of commitment by
teachers, over-population of schools and classrooms particularly in
urban areas, lack of readiness or willing of children to learn;
general apathy of parents towards education, and vices such as
examination malpractice and cultism that have become the bane of
schools with all the carry over effects society is grappling with. You
can see that issues of standards are several, delicate and contentious
matters to discuss and so I don’t want to go farther than this if I do
not want to be in error of intellectualism.

Let me say quickly also that this government is working hard to
address most of these national issues raised. We want to ensure that
teachers are teaching and children are learning. This has to be
invigorated through a sustained process of value re-orientation to
achieve desired results. We have to re-orientate teachers to know and
accept that their main function is to impart useful knowledge to
pupils and students.  This is why they are employed and paid. The
issue is, if I as a teacher teaches you all my best, you will have
sufficient knowledge to carry on and even correct some of the few
errors I may have made as you climb the educational pyramid. So, the
major difference between today’s teacher and that of the good old days
is commitment and not quality.  So, the worst situation is when
teachers are not teaching and children are not ready to learn. Where
this is the order of the day, the outcome is low output in spite of
high standards established and this general apathy must be stopped or
corrected to save our society from endemic backwardness.

On the issue of the right type of teachers, we do know that the
standards set are ok but it is so sad that some unqualified persons
have infiltrated the teaching profession with fake certificates or
half backed certificates due to defects in the admission and selection
process of new entrants. Selection by merit, specialty, and need had
been sacrificed at the altar of the Nigerian factor in most cases.
These are anomalies that directly affect teaching and learning. There
is also the problem of getting the best brains to read education
because high performing students in this modern era prefer more
enterprising courses making education faculties to make do with more
of second choice candidates that reluctantly opt for teaching and so
are never interested. Practically speaking, if you have an NCE
certificate and you cannot read the primary three English textbook,
that certificate is questionable. We have seen some of these problems
and hence, we want to use the teacher retraining programme to correct
some of these anomalies and improve the quality of teaching. We need
to grow our teachers internally by enabling them to possess the basic
knowledge needed to transfer learning materials to the students.

Often, I see children as raw materials or inputs to the educational
system. It is the duty of teachers to transform them to desirable
assets through teaching and learning. Therefore, the children at entry
point have no basic fault for not doing well. I see every child as
important and intelligent and so even when a child fails an exam, I
still do not write him off because I know that there was an error or
problem somewhere- the error of not getting the needed learning
experiences to pass the exam.  I want everybody to see children as our
great assets, who  when conscientiously put into the productive lines
(schooling process) will be appropriately  fine tuned to quality
outputs that are acceptable and sell-able in this new world driven by
knowledge economy.  We are determined to put all our energies together
to achieve higher output quality. The inspectorate believes that we
can re-invent the educational system to a better one in Bayelsa State.

If it is intelligence, Izon children are very intelligent. They eat
fish which is one of the best proteins from beginning. The average
Izon man is creative, intelligent and highly resourceful and so we
don’t have problem of lack of intelligence in the Izon nation.

You said training of teachers would soon start.  When are we expecting
the commencement in the state?

The school for the teachers retraining programme is being built at
Bolou -Orua. If you visit the site, the structures are of university
standard. We are building hostel accommodations, befitting classrooms,
library and so on. The programme will start soon because already, the
Director of the school has been appointed and the infrastructure is
going on speedily. Even last year, we started doing some retraining of
teachers but the governor said that only one or two weeks training is
too short to be effective. To do it right, government has signed a
memorandum of understanding with the Canadian government to assist us
train our teachers. In the civilized world, even if you hold a Ph.D,

Degree, you must write a certifying examination to be a teacher.
This is what the Bayelsa state government is about to do in trying to
revamp the educational system by improving the quality of teachers in
the State. The governor is so passionate about this and so, there are
plans to send some teachers to Canada for training to upgrade their
technical and professional capacity.

The teachers are government employees and so the onus is on us to
arrange the training time table. I think it will be in batches for
either two or three months and at the end, they will be tested and
certified as teachers.

There are issues borthering Bayelsans that education is not as free as
pronounced by the executive governor of Bayelsa
State?

Well, as a rational person, I like opposition but opposition needs to be
sincere and constructive. It is not right to say that education is not
free in Bayelsa. I told you that when we came in, we conducted needs
assessment and so we know where we started from. For instance, we saw
that building headmasters’ quarters was necessary and so we are doing
that. For the children to enjoy schooling in a favourable environment,
we are improving schools infrastructures through massive renovation,
reconstruction and construction of new buildings all over the state.
We are not taking fees from anybody.  We are providing books and
uniforms for children and they have been distributed to schools. When I
visit schools, I demand to see the government textbooks for english,
mathematics, science and so on and the children do gladly show me.
When government who provides the teachers, build the infrastructure
and fund schools do not collect fees or levies from pupils but in
addition gives them books and uniforms free, what else? Is that not
sufficient free education?

The plans and actions being put in place for a better secondary
education are very appropriate and adequate. For instance, there are
special projects such as the 8 LGA model secondary schools with an
additional two at Otueke and Toru-Orua respectively and the 25
constituency boarding secondary schools of which some are almost at
the level of completion. If you visit these schools, you will marvel at
what is going on. The governor wants all children to have quality
secondary education and so we want to send them to free boarding
schools. No parent will pay anything because government will be
responsible for everything including feeding.

At the primary school level, we want them to still enjoy parental
care, warmth and upbringing because this is very important at that
stage. When you take them over at the secondary school stage, they are
fresh and can be easily monitored and mentored to become responsible
and successful adults. To achieve this, we will give them the best
teachers and principals. The strides of the governor are likened to
some who is working in the counsel of the biblical saying that, train
up a child the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart
from it.

We all know that despite all these general efforts, the governor still
went an extra mile to send over 250  Bayelsans on foreign scholarship
to read various courses at the  Ph. D and Masters degrees level while
about 300 children from public primary schools were sent on full
scholarship to choice boarding secondary schools in the country to the
extent that government is even responsible for their transport from
schools in Lagos and Abuja. The government did this to help the
intelligent children of the poor.  That is why only children from public
primary schools were allowed to write the qualifying test. Recently
government is again preparing to send another batch of students on
scholarship to Lincoln University. Tell me, how else can education be
free?

We are all here in Bayelsa state and the truth must be told. I have
travelled to all the nooks and crannies of the State and I am very
impressed with the performance of this government that is led by a
focused and committed young man. I am not praising him because I am a
part of the government or because he is my blood brother. No, that is
not the case but the reality is that the man means well for Bayelsan
children and their educational empowerment. Let me tell you. When he
was briefing us on the free education programmes he has lined up to
execute, I was scared of the possibility of achieving the package
meaningfully and so I advised him even publicly to take it in stages.
I did so because I know that free education is a huge venture. But he
insisted that he will go head long because it is education or nothing.
So let us join the well meaning people of the State to thank him, wish
him well and guide him to even higher levels of success because the
interest, commitment and efforts he has made are startling.

So education in Bayelsa is free and it is compulsory. When I see
children hawking, I do tell them that I will arrest them and their
parents. When I visit communities with high population but few
children in school, I encourage the headmaster and the community
leaders to take the free education campaign to every home and enroll
the children. I use to tell them that if I come back to see that they have not registered more children I would express my displeasure. This is because free education is costly and the only way we can make it to be cost effective is to increase enrolment to reduce unit cost since education spending is measured on the bases of per unit cost. We all need to help the government to enhance aggressive school enrolment in every community because the infrastructure is now there to cater for the qualified to be enrolled and should not be wasted.

I am happy that enrolment has increased significantly in Yenagoa. So
many parents have withdrawn their children from private schools to
public schools. Due to the previous neglect of the system and the
present increased enrolment, we are faced with the problem of
furniture. To cater for children in Yenagoa, government had wanted to
build big structures before providing chairs and tables. However, now
that this problem has become obvious, we are hopeful that chairs and
tables will be provided very soon as the commissioner of education
assured me that contracts have been awarded to that effect. The
executive secretary of the State Universal Basic Education Board,
(SUBEB) also said, over 5000 chairs are already in place. The thing is
that, the critics do not realize that the educational system had been
neglected to a large extent for years and so, no matter the efforts being made today, everything cannot be perfect over night.

What is the State doing about the low level of computer education?

We have plans for computer education. All the new structures have ICT
centres, library and headmasters’ office but you must agree with me that
before you can bring computers to any school, there must be teachers.
I have visited some schools that were provided with up to 50 or 60
computers by oil companies but they are not put to use because there
are no teachers. Recently, when I visited the college of education and
the registrar took me to the computer laboratory, I marvelled because
there were over one hundred and fifty computers. I urge you to pay a
visit to our new college of education at Sagbama. We have a standard
computer laboratory to teach trainee teachers. We are doing so because
even if somebody is a professor and does not have the knowledge of
computer education, he may not be competent to teach the students to
acquire the required computer knowledge.  Computer is not something
you ask every teacher to teach nor can it be taught in the normal
classroom because there are technicalities. With these plans on
ground, we will soon overcome our defects and give every child the
opportunity to learn computer at school.

The governor has done much to bring the new Jasper Adaka Boro College
of Education at Sagbama to standard both in terms of infrastructure
and student enrolment. When it was at Okpoama, there were only about
145 students. As a specialist in educational planning, I was very
worried when I saw what was on ground. Think of it, a situation where
you have over 1,000 workers training just about 145 students is not
only abnormal but too costly because the unit cost of educating each
student amounts to abuse of public funds and extreme wastefulness. In
operating the education system, we must think of educational
accountability in terms of cost effectiveness and product
accountability. Thank God that we now have over seven hundred students
in our new college of education, and when the 2013/2014 intakes are
added to the present figure, a planning mind like mine would
definitely start to feel better. The governor is in the right direction in teacher preparation for supply and retraining.

In the state, we have one library, what is the government doing concerning
library development to meeting the need of the teeming population?

Well, I must confess, that I don’t have sufficient idea of state
library issues. I am so engrossed and concerned with school matters
that when we talk about libraries, I think other persons can take care
of that because state library affects the generality of the population
and not schools per se. State libraries can be useful to children,
adults and researchers. However, I must say only one library cannot
actually serve the entire state. For my constituency (which is
schools), when the various building projects are completed, libraries
would be provided because there is provision for school libraries.

Making Izon language compulsory in primary/secondary schools, what
is your view, do you think it will be achievable in Bayelsa state
educational system?

It is very easy to understand learning materials when the mother
tongue is used for instructions particularly at the primary level and
so making Izon language compulsory in schools is a right step in the
right direction. Apart from enhancing learning, making the mother
tongue compulsory promotes and revives the culture of a people.
Culture is a great asset we must all embrace. So, this is very
commendable indeed for the Izon nation. The relevance of the mother
tongue is fast growing everywhere. Even in the civilized world, some
countries are struggling to revive their culture and language. Wales,
Scotland and many others now teach their children their native
language and culture. My junior sister schooled there and I was
surprised to see that her master’s degree certificate is written in
the Welch and the English language. That shows they honour, prefer and
respect their language. So, if we don’t teach our children the Izon
language, time is coming when our own language and culture will go
extinct, but when people who understand the Izon language are
available, our culture will be difficult to eliminate.
Moreover, language is very important for identity anywhere you are in
the world.  Language brings assurance, warmness and oneness. There is
a visible problem because when I go to even some rural villages the
children are speaking Pidgin English.

How do we overcome this ugly trend?

We have to consciously teach our children Izon language in schools
like the Yoruba’s and other places where this is done perfectly. The
Yoruba language is very important to the Yoruba nation and it is seen
as part of their corporate development because they can even use their
language to read and write.

Such a wide office bestowed with several responsibilities, can you highlight some of your challenges in managing this office?

Well, this office is just an inspectorate office and our duties had been stated earlier – ranging from inspection and supervision of teaching and learning as well as projects and using inspectorate findings to facilitate decision and
advance policy. In terms of finance, we derive funds from approvals
made by the governor but as a daily activity organ, we have seen that
we need a standing order which the governor has been informed and I
believe will be accepted

Therefore, the biggest challenge I face is to get teachers in all the
nooks and crannies of the state to do their job. We are talking of
covering over 800 schools and be able to re-orient teachers to do
their jobs conscientiously and dutifully.  Actually, as an SSA to a
governor who is interested in education, the challenges I face are
minimal because the education loving governor is there to meet our
needs and so my main concern is to try my best as a technocrat to make
the system a success.

How would you describe the former educational policies of the previous governments compared to the present restoration educational programmes?

The previous governments? I will not talk about that because I was not
part of it. What I can tell you are the practical problems we met that
we are working hard to solve as well as the efforts we are making to
improve the system because education is dynamic. The educational
system was comatose. Teachers were not eager to teach, children were not learning, most of the schools were in bad shape such as lack of teachers, lack of infrastructure, dilapidated buildings, and low enrolment. Closing and opening times were not uniform while some took Friday as burial holiday. Prior to this restoration government, many headmasters, principals and teachers did
not even go to school but live in Yenagoa. But now, many things are changing for better through our efforts although much still needs to be done. This is a better approach than judging policies of someone else.

Finally, what is your message to parents and care-givers in reviving education in Bayelsa State?

Well, that is a fine question. What do I tell parents and care-givers?
First and foremost, I will tell them that Bayelsa State is fast
overcoming its educational challenges and so they should start to develop
faith in the public school system. Secondly, I will tell them to
please send their children to schools because education is a
fundamental human right. It is a tool for individual and national survival and development. The world today is surviving on knowledge economy and so, selection is based on excellence and merit in any productive sector. I will tell them that if their children are not educated, they will be by-passed by the gains of modern development.
We are living in an intellectual world, a world, whereby you survive
by what you know and so, having the right information has become a
necessary tool that we must acquire to free ourselves from illiteracy,
ignorance, disease, poverty, injustice and oppression. More so, as a
disadvantaged people and region facing many developmental problems,
the capital each individual has in Bayelsa state is the development of
our inherent potentials to enable us strive and compete by merit in
this highly competitive world. So, we must ensure that our children
consciously learn and build capacity. In today’s world, anyone that is
not properly educated will definitely manage ignorance. The girl child
should not be left out. Parents should not encourage or subject their
daughters to early marriage in other to collect dowry. Time will come
for that. Education improves the living standards of girls and will
make your daughter a bigger asset to every prospective suitor.

 

 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here