By Usama Dandare
Education plays a great role throughout the entire life of every man. Qualitative education is on the other hand a requisite for success and a happy life, it develops personality of the people, provides them with physical and mental standard and transform their living status. It promotes the feeling of physical, mental and social well being by opening the door for a better life, in fact, a good and qualitative education is constructive in nature which help to shape our future forever. Education helps a man to improve his/her status of mind, body and spirit, it provide lots of confidence and impact men with knowledge in many fields. In a nutshell Education is the backbone of everyone’s life and perhaps the foundation of any prosperous society. A society without education is rather meaningless and in a society where the level of illiteracy far outweigh that of literacy, then backwardness is absolutely guaranteed.
The ultimate aim of any society is to equip its people with the numeracy, literacy and wider skills that they need to realize their potential, to be productive and help in economic growth. This has not been the case with the North-eastern and North-western states of Nigeria where the level of illiteracy is assumed to be higher that their counterpart regions. A case study of Sokoto State will leave any spectator in deep shock: the state has the highest percentage of children who have never attended school, the lowest literacy rates in the country and the highest percentage of children not able to read or write. The Nigeria Education Data Survey conducted in 2012 and presented by the National Population Commission (NPC) reported that Sokoto State is among the top ranking states with the worst girl child education and health indices in Nigeria. And a group of nongovernmental researchers also reported that Sokoto State has Nigeria’s worst girl child education, highest female illiteracy, highest adolescent girl marriage, highest under 15 child bearing, and the highest risk of maternal mortality, all as a result of a non performing educational system.
A recent survey conducted by UNICEF indicates that 80% of Sokoto’s Grade 3 pupils cannot read a single word hence they have gone through years of zero value-added schooling, and over half of the state’s primary school age children are out of school, while a handful of those lucky enough to attend primary school wouldn’t have the chance of making it through to the secondary school level. Again, Sokoto has the highest percentage of females aged between 15 and 24 years who cannot read or write.Thus becoming one of the state with Nigeria’s highest gender gaps in education.
It’s against this backdrop that the State Governor, His Excellency RT. Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, on Wednesday December 9, 2015, declared a state of emergency on the state’s education sector with a pledge to totally turn around the fortunes facing education in the next four years. The declaration was aimed at implementing extraordinary measures to reverse the negative trend of education for the benefit of the state, improve school enrolment and teaching quality at all stages – basic, secondary and tertiary. To actualize this, a committee headed by Professor Attahiru Jega was set up to dig deep and come up with a long lasting solution on how to revitalise the educational sector in the state and report back to the government within a specific time-frame. But to everyone’s dismay, the state government bypassed the committee and went ahead with its own interest without caring to wait for the committees’ final report – the construction of a ₦1billion secondary school at Gudu town is one. Several commentators and opinion leaders have continue to debate on or against this project, but no matter from which prism one may want to look at it, this school project has yet again substantiate the assertion that the government of Governor Aminu Tambuwal has lost its bearing and completely lack the requisite idea to overhaul the state educational sector.
The reason that lack of a single secondary school in Gudu Local Government was what prompted the state government’s decision to build this so-called international secondary school is more or less a whitewash: Gudu Local Government has a junior secondary school that was left to deteriorate despite having the capacity to accommodate senior secondary school education, we also have a secondary school a stone’s throw away in the nearby town of Tangaza. Instead of building a new school, why don’t we refurbish the dilapidated existing ones and upgrade them to accommodate both junior and senior secondary education? Why must we have schools scattered everywhere before we must be educated? It’s evident that we have more qualitative education in the olden days when we have fewer schools than today.
In a state like Sokoto, provision of new schools won’t add any value to the state educational sector, rather, the state government will only waste taxpayers money at the detriment of other schools in dire need of an urgent intervention. The problem facing education in Gudu Local Government and indeed the state as a whole isn’t lack of schools as Governor Tambuwal was meant to believe, there are several compounded problems that need to be dealt with decisively without any further delay, but definitely not building new schools when we failed to maintain existing facilities.
Governor Tambuwal needs to wake up and face the reality, the major problem ravaging education in Sokoto State is not in any way connected to lack of schools but rather government’s inability to provide a conducive atmosphere for education to prosper, coupled with government’s insensitivity to the plight of the masses: poverty, inequality, corruption, and other economic hardships are perhaps the main challenges facing the education industry. Poverty plays a major role in discouraging parents from sending their wards to school especially in a locality like Gudu LGA where western education is given less or no priority at all. Many children in that area do not attend school because their labour is needed to either help at home or bring additional income into the family, since government has failed to provide basic amenities for the people – clean drinking water for example. Therefore, parents would prefer to send their children to help in fetching water for the household and assist them do some house work rather than sending them to school.
Household poverty also forces many children out of school and into employment to cater for themselves, while many of these parents in rural settlements cannot afford the associated costs of sending their wards to school such as uniforms and textbooks. Those that were oppurtuned to enroll theirs ended up not having the necessary benjamins to sponsor them through the primary cycle, and only 30%-53% of them transit to Junior Secondary Schools. Reasons for this low completion rate include child labour, early marriage for girls and other economic hardships. Another major keys issue responsible for having low completion rate is largely due to under performance from the students. Parental illiteracy: the vast majority of our children in the rural areas come from illiterate homes, missing the right to education, they also lost the privilege of early reading, language and numeracy skills that can provide a platform for learning, as students in struggles upandan to cope through primary school while their parents cannot provide support with homework. Despite lacking the required parental support they needed to succeed educationally, many of these poor children cannot perform well academically and are in course for failure as a result of preschool malnutrition which profoundly has a lethal effect on the memory and motor skills that make effective learning possible throughout the life of an individual. For this reasons, over half the population of the primary school-age children in Gudu and the State as a whole had their education opportunities blighted by hunger. An issue Governor Tambuwal need to look into before any success can be achieve educationally.
Gender roles on the other hand is another barrier especially to the girl’s child learning. The practice of removing young girls from schools to collect water or nurse their siblings is another deterioting factor that Governor Tambuwal need to confront outrightly, and the practice of making young girls become brides before they have finished primary school should also be look into. It’s evident that the School system in Sokoto State is inevitably affected by the social and economic environments in which the system operate. Let’s tell ourselves the truth, we cannot expect an aged father to send his children to school first thing in the morning and then trek about three kilometres away to fetch water that will be use in preparing breakfast, or send his boys to a boarding school leaving nobody behind to help him in the farm or someone to fetch firewood for home cooking. So an adequate provision of clean drinking water to both urban and rural communities, and providing enough mechanisms for mechanised farming will not boost food production and generate more income to the local farmers, but will go a long way eradicate poverty and increase school enrolment. An advice Tambuwal and other governors need to key into.
Away from enrolment, the weaknesses of the school system in Sokoto state is also a detrimental factor to the overall development of the state. The state government seems to have concentrated more on school enrolment alone while thousands of our talented children studying in public schools continue to pass through years of zero value-added schooling. The declared state of emergency policy is focusing more on enrolling children into schools without giving a damn about teaching quality, which has long ago proven to be the heart of the educational crisis currently ravaging the state: the higher the number of unqualified teachers the higher the educational sector keep demoralising. The amount of what a teacher knows is perhaps a reflection of why so many students perform higher or lower in their examinations. Believe it or not, only fewer than half of teachers in Sokoto could pass a test designed for primary school pupils. However, the teachers are not to blame as most of them are products of the same epileptic systems in which they operate. The only solution to this issue is for the state government to audit the entire teachers and make sure only those with genuine qualifications and other required skills remain in the system. They should frequently be train and retrain to receive all the necessary support and advice they need from more experienced teachers so as to meet the demands of contemporary teaching challenges. Their salaries, pensions and other welfare packages should be improve to motivate them focus more on their duties. The teachers as well as their students deserves latest apparatus and tools for practicals and research, and the government must provide for them (teachers and students) a sustainable environment for growth and development. Equally, the idea that only low qualified and low profile teachers are been deployed to primary and secondary schools while the most qualified ones are deployed at the tertiary level is lethal and should henceforth be corrected, a reason our children always find it almost impossible to succeed at the tertiary level having lost it all at the earlier stage.
Similarly, the genesis of all these problems and beyond must be confront with all forces. Corruption, is indeed the major force given rise to almost all these issues affecting education in the state today, with those in the position of trust cornering the lion’s share of the funds budgeted for education. Sokoto State is and continue to rank top on the table of states with highest number of unschooled children, being home to about 10% of the country’s children but about 50% of them are out-of-school despite the higher rate of public spending on education, even higher than many states in country.
As unsolvable as the problem of education in Sokoto state appeared to be, the solution isn’t far from reach if proper measures are implemented and well monitored. More children will be enrolled into schools, and the number of school drop-out cases will be reduce to its lowest minimal if not completely eliminated. There should be adequate funding of the education sector so as to meet the demands of contemporary challenges; regular payment of teachers’ salaries, allowances and other welfare packages should not be taking for a ride which will not only eliminate the frequent strike actions over non-payment of teachers’ salaries and allowances but will go a long away to prevent further lost of interest in schooling from both parent’ and students’ after an unreasonably long period of strike. Therefore, timely payment of teachers’ salaries and allowances would perhaps increase the level of school enrolment and checkmate the menace of school drop out; Also, a free and quality education for all policy should be implemented as provided under section 18 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution, because only very few parents can afford to educate their children by enrolling them in schools. For this reason, the cost of acquiring qualitative education must be brought down by all means humanly possible in order to motivate poor parents to enroll their children, for the lower the cost of acquiring education the higher the rate of school enrolment and the easier for both poor parents and students to develop interest. Hence reducing the rate at which children drop-out of school or being pulled out of school on financial grounds.
Albeit the standard of education and the entire system in Sokoto State has been damaged long ago, for many of us whom were lucky to have gone through it – though things were a little bit okay then – are still paying the price of passing through that system but nonetheless, there are still arrays of hope. But before then, we need to move on from praise singing and tell ourselves the bitter truth for our own good, education in the state today has been endangered to a stage of near extinction and no amount of media propaganda in the form of one so-called State of Emergency can resurrect it . Governor Aminu Tambuwal must move on from being a popularist to an actionist, he should in the spirit of CHANGE deploy all the arsenals at his disposal and make life easier for the common man. We all need to do something, we have to do something and we must do something, else, the future development and progress of Sokoto State will have no footprint to leave behind in the sand of time.