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Corruption, one of our major problems —Anambra Commissioner for Education, Prof. Kate Omenugha

By News Express on 29/12/2015

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A teacher, writer and motivational speaker, Prof. Kate Azuka Omenugha, Anambra State Commissioner for Education, in this interview with News Express Senior Correspondent PAMELA EBOH, speaks on her achievements and the mandatory computer training for teachers in the state, among other challenges. Excerpts:

News Express: How would you describe the state of things in the ministry when you assumed office, and what innovations have you made so far?

Prof. Kate Omenugha: Thank you very much. Let me say that I took office about a year and some months ago, and within the period, I have started making remarkable improvements in the ministry of education and in education sector in general. For Dr Willie Obiano, education is a very strong enabler, because education is seen as an energiser. Without education, his four pillars will not even stand. What I mean is that the governor and government of Anambra State take education very seriously. This government is a government of continuity: one of the things we do in the ministry is to begin to improve on what we met on ground. There are some areas that were grossly neglected, and we started to build in those areas. We started working on our strategic objective, which is to ensure that the learning needs of all are met through equitable distribution of resources and to ensure that we are one of the top three states with lowest illiteracy rate in the country. To achieve that, we found out that we have to ensure that everybody is carried along, irrespective of where you come from, your disability or ability.  For us, education is approached from three angles: one, infrastructure, which does not mean just building, it includes state-of-the-art equipment. Second, teachers’ welfare, which involves capacity-building of all sorts, enhancement of teachers’ package to make sure that teachers are bringing in their skills and professional behaviour into education. Third, students’ and pupils’ welfare is also paramount.

So, what did the ministry do?

We started with our Special Education Centre. When we came in, we saw that our physically challenged students were neglected. We went to Isulo, and it was obvious that the place was not fit for human habitation, so we started by rehabilitating the whole place. Her Excellency dug a borehole there for the physically challenged. At the Special Education Centre, Isulo, we have mentally retarded, we have people with visual and hearing impairment. So we started the renovation of that Isulo.

Also, we noticed that many pupils who finished their primary 6 were actually repeating because they had no place else to go for their education. We started the junior secondary school there. We have posted teachers and a principal to the school. His Excellency also gave free tuition to physically-challenged pupils and students in the state, no matter where you are schooling. We have given teachers who teach core subjects, such as English Language, mathematics and some science subjects monetary incentives. For teachers who are posted to rural areas, we have given them increment of 20 per cent of their basic salary as a motivation, for deployment and retention in the rural areas for a minimum of six years. Of course, you are aware that in January, Dr Willie Obiano increased teachers’ salary by 15 per cent without them asking for it. Earlier this year too, the Obiano administration has sponsored 23 teachers and education officers of technical education to Singapore, to learn the Singaporean model of technical and vocational education. They have come back better equipped technically, so that our technical schools will be handled by professional technical teachers in order to stand the test of time. I want to let you know that when we came in, we had 11 technical colleges in the state and none has got accreditation. We intend that by the end of 2015, Government Technical College, Onitsha will get accreditation in all subjects. Subsequently, accreditation of other technical schools will be pursued. It is because of this accreditation process that we went in partnership with Innoson Motors for our technical and vocational students who are doing auto mechanics and vehicle body maintenance. These students go to Innoson Motors for practical experience. The state government is now setting up Auto Mechanic Body workshop at GTC Onitsha, to serve as a place to train our students and for generation of IGR.

 Then we came to pupils and students’ welfare. Through ASUBEB, we have embarked on various renovations in schools. As I am talking to you now, we have renovated above 1,500 classroom blocks across the 21 local government areas in the state and are still doing more. This is a government of continuity too. We know that the previous administration of Peter Obi handed over some schools to the missions and we have been supporting them to continue in the renovation and reconstruction in the schools. His Excellency has given cheques worth N433 million and N300 million to Catholic schools and their Anglican counterparts respectively, as determined by the ratio of schools each mission got. This was to combat infrastructural decay and dilapidations. We have what we called Safe School Initiative. You know, because of the Chibok Girls issue, we started to fence all girls’ boarding schools in the state. We started with 10 schools first, which include Mater Amabilis, Umuoji; Ojoto Girls, Uga Girls, Anglican Girls Onitsha, Oraifite Girls, among others. Through MDGs, we started digging boreholes, building toilets and we recently  gave out N1million to all the  secondary schools in the state for sick-bay and sports equipment. We have again doled out N500,000 to 256 secondary schools and N250,000 to 1,044 primary schools in the state, for The School Based Management Committee to improve the schools, which was recently published in one of the national dailies.

 Every school is supposed to have School Improvement Plan, and will be meeting with the School Based Management Committee constituted by the state government through the Ministry of Education, which shall be getting approval of money from ASUBEB and the ministry. We have done that in 2014 and hoping to do the one of 2015 before the year runs out. We have done a lot of training for teachers on emergency preparedness through partnership with UNCEF, and we produced handbook containing the training.

What are your current challenges?

Part of our problems is how to fight corruption; how to make private schools fit in into our policy on education. You know, His Excellency is fighting criminality, including educational sector in general. We are on top of the situation in the ministry of education.

How was the dreaded Ebola scare managed in schools in the state?

When we started Ebola fight, we trained two teachers each in every school; made available all the necessary equipment that will facilitate their work, including infrared thermometers, sterilisers, among others. We recall too that part of our safe school initiative was the procurement and distribution of whiteboards to all schools in order to phase out blackboards, which pose a potential health risk to our students, particularly those of them who are asthmatic. All the schools are getting whiteboards for all the classes as a result of this intervention. We have expended over N350 million on scholarships for indigent students; for people who have done us proud: those that performed excellently in their academics; survivors of Boko Haram; teens who have lost their parents as a result of accident, such as the recent one involving the Odinigwe family and the ones that impressed the governor in one way or the other, such as the five-year-old child that recited our anthem. Our children came first last year in the SUBEB debate when Nigeria marked her 54th independence anniversary and His Excellency gave them some cash prizes. As I am speaking to you now, five of our students are representing Nigeria at the World School Debate in Singapore, where other 56 countries including Pakistan, the United States and Malaysia are also in attendance. His Excellency sponsored our children to the competition, and from the information I got, they are doing well. In fact, Nigeria was declared by judges as the overall second best in Cultural Costume. We try to energise our children with incentives to spur them to do more.

How far have you been able to monitor the N1million distributed to schools for the sick-bay and sport equipment, particularly given widespread concerns of  mismanagement?

No, we were able to monitor them well. We gave them the list of what to procure and we gave them till the end of the ongoing holiday to put everything in place. I have been to some schools - one at Abagana, one at Oraukwu and then the Eastern Academy Onitsha - and what I saw really impressed me. They were utilising the money very well. This is one area I would say we are doing well, I mean monitoring, because one of the things we did when we came on board is to strengthen our monitoring mechanism. His Excellency has approved six vehicles for monitoring, and we are soaring high in that direction. We go for on-the-spot monitoring to see how the schools are complying with our policies and directives.

What is your reaction to the alleged misappropriation of Ebola funds by your ministry?

 I don’t think there was misappropriation. In my ministry, all the things we said should be purchased and distributed were actually bought and distributed. Why should the money be embezzled? If you go to all the schools in the state you will see equipment purchased during the Ebola crisis. The Ministry of Health helped us acquire the equipments distributed to the schools. I can tell you to the best of my knowledge that the Ebola fund was not misappropriated.

 Where does tertiary education fall in the policy framework of your ministry?

 Thank you very much. Basically, we have two tertiary institutions in our plan; Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University and Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe. When we came, there has been no visitation panel for these two institutions. While Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe had never had a visitation panel, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu University had none for the last 10 years. And you know that you cannot run a tertiary institution without a visitation panel. So, we proceeded to set up a visitation panel for the schools. It took the Visitation Panel constituted by this administration about six months to complete their job and submit their white paper, and one of the recommendations in the white paper is that Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe be made a university and His Excellency is working seriously to actualise it.

Did the white paper also recommend sacking of some people?

Not at all! It recommends that due process should be followed in appointment and employment. Generally, we will implement most of the recommendations in the white paper. His Excellency has directed that they be implemented to the letter.

Are private schools included in your policies and actions?

We have the challenge of private schools not willing to comply with our policies and standards. Some of them feel that being private means that they are free to do anything, irrespective of government’s directives. However, we are making sure that they key into our core values: that they follow our curriculum and school calendar. It is a full monitoring process. Those who fail to comply are closed down, though they resurface soon after, we still close them again. But we are now partnering with the presidents-general and the igwes to ensure that illegal schools do not continue to operate. We have been trying our best to beat them. For instance, recently we closed three schools at Ozubulu for examination malpractice-related offence. During the mathematics examination in the last WAEC-SCCE, we sent our monitors to the schools and they beat them up such that they were taken to hospital. The schools are City High School, Comprehensive Secondary School and Varsity Secondary School, all in Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State. We have directed students schooling in these three schools to use this long vacation to find another school of their choice, because the three schools must remain closed.

Despite the fact that Anambra State is at the top lately in WAEC exams, a lot of students, in a bid to pass their papers in one sitting, still register for GCE ‘O’ Level in special centres outside the state. How does your ministry intend to check this?

We are more concerned about those that come into the state to write their exams. What we now do is to insist that the number of candidates you register for exams must not exceed the number you have in your schools. For schools that have small populations and use that as an excuse to register candidates from outside, WAEC and NECO have made it possible for such schools to merge with others for the purpose of exams while retaining their centre number. So with that, the issue of external candidates is settled.

The compulsory teacher’s computer training and N90, 000 price tag on computers they’re expected to acquire has generated diverse reactions. What is your take on that?

From primary 1, teachers are expected to teach ICT. This is in line with the nine-year Basic Education Curriculum Structure. Such will boost the knowledge of students. Time has gone when the teacher has a monopoly of knowledge.  Now, for the N90,000 computer for all the teachers in the state, a decision was reached in 2012 by the National Council on Education (NCE) – the highest policy making body in education –  which instructed all state ministries of education to acquire adequate number of laptops for teachers on soft loan basis. We have directed teachers to be ICT-compliant by January 2016. The previous administration acquired $1million worth of vouchers from Microsoft, for certification of teachers. But, unfortunately, teachers have been reluctant to use them. In fact, it was to expire in July 2015. But thank that God for the quick intervention from ministry of education; we were able to get revalidation of the voucher, which will now elapse in July 2016. We designed a scheme that would help teachers voluntarily acquire laptops. The scheme costs N90,000, but it is not just for the computer, it is for a full package encompassing training for the teachers on ICT. Now, this N90,000 will be paid within 18 months of supply. The laptop is HP, Intel with 4 gigs memory; a memory stick, tutor software and other components.

I found out initially that some rumour mongers deceived some teachers into believing that the acquisition of the computer is compulsory. You know, it is hard for those that are used to the analogue system to migrate to the digital system. That reminds me, recently, when we were doing our training at Igwebuike Grammar School, Awka, there was jubilation by some teachers who touched computer for the first time in their life. They were so excited just for being able to turn on a computer.

If fact, they began to understand the essence of the whole thing. They even rushed the form, but we insisted that we will settle those that have filled and submitted their forms first. Still on the ICT front, our government has given out 15 laptops each to 250 private schools in the state. This is to ensure that learning needs of all are met and that there is equitable distribution of learning aids.

Since you came on board, the ministry has experienced a boost in internally generated revenue (IGR). What is the secret?

I blocked those loopholes through which money was being siphoned from the ministry. The policy now is that nobody should collect cash from anybody. And it is working for us. That is why we witnessed the rapid increment of internally generated revenue in the ministry of education. Also, we now insist on recovering all debts owed to the ministry. Any private school that invites us for anything, we first check their debt profile and make sure everything they don’t owe the ministry, if not, we will not honour the invitation.

•Photo shows Prof. Kate Azuka Omenugha.

Source News Express

Posted 28/12/2015 10:28:50 PM

 

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