Since the inception of the administration of Governor Rotimi Amaechi in Rivers state, no one has been left in doubt as to his determination to revitalize the education sector. In fact, one of the series of summits that were organised by the administration at the outset to fashion a clear road map for the building of a strong platform for balanced development was that on education.
Arising from the summit, a number of vital ad-hoc and standing committees were set up to fashion blue prints that would form the foundation of the new direction. This is because of the governor’s belief that education is the bedrock of development. The committees include: School Handover Committee, State Education Policy Committee, Public Purchase Committee and Scholarship/Bursary Award Committee. The school handover committee has since concluded the critical aspect of its assignment which is the hand over of some schools to the missionaries who established them before they were taken over by the government for effective management and funding.
In line with Government’s vision for quality education and Education for All (EFA) before 2015, the Ministry of Education joined the rest of the world in celebrating the Global Education for All week from 21-27 April 2008 and again in 2009. It has also commissioned Micro Science kits supplied by UNESCO in collaboration with SKILL G’ to 50 Secondary Schools in the state. Over 107 Science teachers have so far been trained in partnership with SKILL G’ on the use of Micro-Science kits to enhance pedagogical skills. The ministry of education facilitated the payment by government of N4.2m for state indigenes writing NABTEB Examination in 2008 and again in 2009.
In the early part of the administration, new governing councils were appointed and inaugurated for the state’s tertiary institutions namely: The Rivers State College of Education, Rumuolumeni, The Rivers State Polytechnic, Bori and the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Nkpolu. The government has also reorganised and reconstituted the scholarship board and increased bursary awards to students of Rivers State origin in tertiary institutions. Overseas scholarship programmes have been doubled in the last two years with the result that hundreds of Rivers State students in various technical and scientific fields of study are currently benefiting from the programme. In addition to the oversea scholarship programmes, the Rivers State Scholarship board, in 2008 alone, disbursed Ninety-five million eighty-one thousand, one hundred and seventy-four naira as (N95, 081, 174.00) bursary to deserving students of Rivers State origin with the result that students now pursue their academic programmes in the various Universities and tertiary institutions across the country with little no financial stress.
All courses in Rivers State University of Science & Technology have been accredited by the National University Commission (NUC). This is as a result of increased funding and provision of desired facilities for teaching and learning by the state government. Though a proposal to relocate the State University to a more conducive environment is not entirely new, what is new is the zeal with which the Amaechi administration took the lofty idea off the drawing board. Already a large expanse of land has been acquired at Omagwa as the new site of the institution. The project is to be executed under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement to ensure its early realisation. The government earmarked N8billion in the 2008 budget. A similar amount was also earmarked in the 2009 budget as part of government counterpart funding. While addressing the state House of Assembly on his stewardship in the first 24 months of his administration last Thursday, Governor Amaechi disclosed that work had effectively commenced at the new site of the University.
The same level of attention is also paid to the state college of education with the result that over 15 courses on Bachelor of Education degree have been accredited in the in the institution. Not only that, just a few days ago, the Amaechi administration upgraded the college into a University of Education by signing into law a bill recently passed by the House of Assembly to that effect.
The Commissioner for Education Dame Alice Nemi listed some of the benefits of the upgrading to include production of high level man- power for all categories of need, consultancy services and greater opportunity for Rivers people.
As it is at the top, so it is at the bottom. Another pointer to Amaechi’s zeal to transform education was the decision to establish a model secondary school each for the 23 local government areas and two for Port Harcourt city, in addition to building 250 prototype model primary schools in the state.
Though the primary and secondary schools transformation programmes continue to attract wide acclamation from far and near, it is indeed, the historic take over of the payment of primary school teachers salary that clearly sets Amaechi’s education programme wide apart from those of his contemporaries across the country.
As part of his efforts to reduce the burden of funding the education of Rivers state students on parents, the administration of Hon. Amaechi also reconstituted the state’s scholarship board.
This action has made payment of bursaries and scholarship awards to Rivers state students not only regular but stress free.
Other achievements which the administration has recorded in the education sector include: Computerizing and networking of the Central Administration of the education ministry, verification of teachers and non-teaching staff in Junior and Senior secondary schools across the state, creation of a data bank of verified teachers and non teachers, Review of the National Policy on Education with a view to adapting it to suit specific and peculiar needs of the state, revival of the Rivers Readers Project in order to encourage reading culture among the people, the establishment of cluster library projects with the idea to have one standard library in each local government area. This again is done in partnership with the private sector. To boost the morale of teachers, especially those posted to rural schools very often avoided by teachers, government introduced special allowances for teachers posted to such areas. With the special incentive, schools in the rural areas no longer complain of lack of teachers especially in key subject areas. A similar step was also taken to encourage science teachers. While the government plans to build new technical colleges, existing ones have been re-equipped.
Currently, the government is perfecting the necessary legal framework to create an Educational Development Fund (EDF). The fund when operational will provide an opportunity for the private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and public spirited individuals to make their contributions to the funding of education in a sustainable manner and eliminate the lack of funds syndrome in the system.
Another innovative education programme of this administration is a hitherto neglected area – early child education. Until the wife of the Rivers state governor, Dame Judith Amaechi, launched her pet project the Empowerment Support Initiative (ESI), kindergarten education was seen and practiced as an exclusive privilege of urban residents and mainly by private schools.
In a bold attempt to bridge the huge gap between the affluent few and rural poor in the area of qualitative child education, ESI launched a number of pre-nursery schools across the state.
With ESI, children in rural communities now enjoy the benefit of early child education in their very impressionable ages. On the last count, no fewer than 21 local government areas have enjoyed the birth of such pre-nursery centres for which permanent sites are already being planned for next year.
Indeed, it can be said that the Amaechi government has in the past two years revamped the education sector, set new standards and brought hope to thousands of Rivers children who otherwise would have wallowed in utter ignorance for a greater part of their life. The formal take over of the funding of primary school education will ensure that children receive a solid foundation that would enable them embrace learning, pursue higher education and be able to contribute meaningfully to the growth and development of the state and Nigeria.
The expectation of Rivers people is to be bailed out of decades of economic social and political subjugation and backwardness as soon as possible. The Amaechi administration appears poised to leave for the present and future generation of Rivers people a lasting legacy of total salvation from these bondages by laying a strong educational foundation for the people.
Although a lot still remains to be done, in view of the level of decay which the education sector suffered in years, within just two years, Amaechi’s drive evokes hope for a better future.