Yobe State is home to about a third of Nigeria’s 13.2 million out-of-school children. To address the problem, Governor Mai Mala Buni convened the state’s first education summit , reports DUKU JOEL.
Thirteen-year-old Yahuza Ali is an orphan and a Primary Four pupil of Nayinawa Primary School in a low class settlement of Damaturu, the Yobe state capital. He is also a trash collector. He was doing his business at the front of August 27 Stadium, when The Nation bumped into him.
He initially gave attention to this reporter but something ‘bigger’ soon distracted him – a trash-filled polythene bag. Abandoning his fully trash-loaded Kuskus (a wheel barrow), he took two hurried steps to reach his target. Its content turned out to be his meal for the day
Abandoning his trash-loaded Kuskus (a wheel barrow), he dashed for the bag and busied himself with its content.
He later said he traverses trash heaps in Damaturu after school hours to fund his education and support his family. On weekends, while not in school, the young Ali spends his day combing trash heaps and garbage dumps. At times, on weekdays, he misses school and pounds the streets for food when the family’s stock is depleted.
In some of the trash collected by him, apparently those from rich homes, he said he is lucky to find breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes, he even takes some home to his siblings and mother, who sells Kayan Miya (soup ingredients) from the proceeds of Ali’s sweat.
“I get N600 for every Kuskus that is full. I rent the Kuskus for N100 from the people that I sell the garbage to. I do this every day after I come back from school. But weekends, I come out very early in the morning to make sure that I fill two Kuskus. Sometimes I have to miss school to do this if there is no food at home for me, my mother and brothers to eat,” he said.
He admitted that he got his stunted growth from hard labour and heavy burden he has been subjected to at a very tender age. When he noticed that people doubted his age, he said: “My father died when I was very small. Since then I have been involved in more adult tasks than my age. I have a younger brother that is 10 years, but he looks bigger than me. You will think he is my elder brother.”
But he is not daunted by his predicament, assuring that he would pull through school and become a police officer as long as he lives.
Ali’s story represents hundreds of thousands of children in Yobe State passing through difficulties to acquire education, just as many others are not in school – roaming the streets to beg in the traffic and other public places with their disabled or aged parents in tow.
Nigeria has about 13 million out-of-school children – most of them in the North. According to UNICEF, one out of five out-of-school children in the world is a Nigerian. According to Eduplana, an education research organisation, Yobe has about 403,100 children not attending school.
For the likes of Ali and other vulnerable children in Yobe State to get quality education and achieve their dreams in life, the government has to evolve and implement policies that work.
To address the problem headlong, Governor Mai Mala Buni convened the first ever Yobe Education summit in Damaturu recently.
The summit gave him the opportunity to share concerns about the development indices of the Northeastern state – the concerns he had years before he was sworn in as governor last May.
Buni said the state’s education sector needed urgent attention.
“Revitalising education in our state is a fiercely urgent goal. It is a momentous imperative that can no longer wait. It must begin right now!”
He added: “Most importantly, it is a commitment to do all that is necessary to reverse the present order of things; and to suspend the bureaucratic impediments and other bottlenecks that stand in the way of achieving our urgent goal – the goal of providing the best possible education for our children.”
In solving the state’s out-of-school crisis and education problem as a whole, Buni said the state would do things differently – the first of which would be not to spend money without identifying and solving the state’s humanitarian crisis.
He said: “First, we must avoid the temptation to assume that our education challenges can be addressed simply by throwing money into the problems in the sector. If we do not have good ideas, if we do not identify specific medium-to-long term trends that affect overall outcomes, our schools would remain in the same place even if we budget everything we have in the State into them.
“We also know that education is a human development imperative. It is therefore, pertinent that we explore other human development challenges that often impede our capacity to provide a qualitative education for our children. Issues such as good nutrition for children are important, because a malnourished child is simply ill-equipped to internalise learning patterns. As Professor Kole Shettima said: “If children are malnourished, their brains will not develop no matter the number of classrooms we build, teachers we recruit, or stationaries that we purchase.”
Buni also shared his plans for teachers’ development, involvement of community in boosting enrolment figures, infrastructural development, and partnership.
He said: “I want to assure you that my administration is committed to reinventing teaching as a profession in Yobe State. So, in the coming weeks and months, we intend to roll out different incentives to equip our teachers to do better. This will entail, but will not be limited to, providing more opportunities for those who need re-training to re-train, organising workshops and seminars on global best practices in teaching, and making the school environment more conducive for teaching and learning.
“I know that there are a lot of complaints about some teachers, who are not qualified to teach, and complaints about some teachers who are not able to speak or write well in English Language. While we do not plan to retrench any teacher, we will insist that they must get their acts right. We will insist that they must re-train and meet all relevant qualifying criteria for them to stand in front of the classroom as teachers.
“Thirdly, we will partner our traditional rulers and community leaders to make sure that school enrolment improves. This is because across Yobe today, overall school enrolment for children between the ages of six and 10 is significantly lower than it should be when you take population growth and other demographic factors into consideration. This has to change.
“And, finally, parents must be actively involved in their children’s education as well. They have to show interest and let their children know that they are following their progress in school.”
Regarding infrastructure, Buni unveiled plans to build three model primary schools in the three senatorial zones of the state – with a long term plan to cover the entire 17 Local Government Areas all in an effort to re-position Yobe on the global educational map.
He said: “Currently, our school infrastructure is overstretched, especially in the urban areas such as Potiskum, Nguru, Gashu’a, Gaidam and Damaturu.
“To get our schools fully retooled and redesigned for the success we want them to achieve, we must make huge investments to improve teaching and learning facilities and to renovate classrooms, hostels, libraries and laboratories.
“We also plan to establish two model primary schools and two model junior secondary schools in each of our three senatorial districts to expand access to education by our children. In the years to come, we will further extend this to cover each of our 17 local government areas.
“We will also seek partnerships with the federal government, the United Nations and other governmental and non-governmental organisations so that together, we can bring all the much-needed investments to turnaround Yobe’s education system.”
In his paper titled: “Adopting and implementing best Practices in Routine School Management Activities for Optimum Performance, Attendance and Learning Outcomes”, Prof James Audu Ngada of the Department of Education, Yobe State University said: “Education should prepare functional people, who are fully integrated with their community for earning gainful living and promoting rural transformation through peaceful co-existence. This is what Nigerians need most at this time of democracy. It is also what Nigerians should aspire to have as a product of functional education. It is expected that education should enhance professional competence and good habits, which will eventually promote functional self-reliance, mutual trust among individuals in learning and working environments, family cohesion, social justice, alleviation of poverty and stable polity.”
Audu said the gap between what is on ground and what should be could be bridged through “leadership and effective school management; Teacher quality and quantity in schools; infrastructure; equipment and learning materials; security; monitoring and supervision of schools; community partnership in school management and students’ feeding”.
Executive Secretary, Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Abuja, Dr. Hamid Bobboyi, in his paper titled: “The Basic Infrastructure and Facilities Essential for Meeting the set Objectives of Basic Education in Yobe State”, said the state should use the community-based approach to solve its educational problem.
He called for “community mobilisation and community action among all stakeholders to build a sustainable educational system, broaden access and tackle the phenomena of out-of-school children, UBEC”s Self-Help project Yobe and the Almajiri issue”.
Other thought-provoking papers presented at the summit included; Tsangaya/Qur’anic Education as a Strategy for Revamping Basic Education and Addressing out of School Children Syndrome; Capacity Building and Motivation of Teachers towards Optimum Performance in Attainment of the Objectives of Basic Education, among others.
With Buni constituting a technical committee to revitalise basic and secondary education in Yobe State, headed by the former Vice Chancellor of University of Maiduguri, Prof Mala Daura, to implement some of the recommendations from the summit, better days surely lie ahead for education in Yobe State.
Culled From Thenation Newspaper