As the 2023 Governorship race in Akwa Ibom State nears, Akwa Ibom people are desirous of a leader who understands the local economy and possesses an impeccable record of service in the public and private domain. They want someone with daytime track records in previous engagements as well as ingenuity and willpower to adopt local solutions to solve local problems.
The educational sector is one of the critical sectors that Akwa Ibom people are yearning to be rejigged particularly in infrastructure, and training of workforce among others in order to have an edge at the national level.
Previous administrations have done remarkably well in the primary, post-primary, and tertiary levels. It is imperative to up funding for the sector beyond the single-digit currently earmarked to the sector in the yearly budget. The increasing number of pupils/students in primary and secondary schools in the state has pressured existing infrastructure and adversely impacted the teacher-to-student ratio.
These concerns and more are some of the salient points Senator Albert Bassey Akpan has captured in his roadmap for revamping the educational sector in the state when he emerges governor in 2023.
A review of the roadmap indicates a short-term/medium-term plan of raising the budget of the sector to double-digit in terms of budgetary provision, in line with the United Nations recommended threshold of 15 to 20 percent. This explains the reason why Anambra and Kwara States for instance are more visible in the performance of their students in public examinations.
Notwithstanding reports that at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic Nigeria plunged into recession, Kwara State still allocated 25.5% of its budget to the educational sector in 2021, reflecting a 36% increase from what was obtainable in 2020. It was significantly higher than the national budget for education which stood at 6.7% and almost twice what was budgeted for social services in Akwa Ibom (13.1%) in the year under review.
As part of his plans for the sector to guarantee quality output in terms of excellence and competitiveness, the free and compulsory education policy will receive a huge boost. Aside from infrastructural deficit, another identifiable challenge is in student-to-teacher ratio. The recommended national benchmark is 38:1 for primary schools, meaning a teacher should minimally be responsible for 38 students, while 40:1 is allocated to secondary schools.
As at December 2020, data from the Ministry of Economic Development in Akwa Ibom State shows that the teacher-to-student ratio for Obot Akara Local Government is 182:1, whereas the state average is 104:1. Using Obot Akara as a case study, 4 out of 5 pupils in public primary schools in the area may likely not have access to a teacher.
Senator Akpan’s blueprint proposes to adopt a bottom-to-top approach to identifying the staff need of public schools and recruiting the right personnel with a touch of professionalism to enhance the student-to-teacher ratio in the state. The needs assessment will create appropriate opportunities for the employment of youths in the state.
The free and compulsory education policy launched more than a decade ago is ultimately responsible for the influx of students in our primary and post-primary schools, with a significant number from neighbouring states. There is a need to expand existing infrastructures to guarantee efficiency in terms of access to requisite facilities.
Having supervised more than 6,000 developmental projects in the educational and health sector as chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Direct Labour Coordinating Committee, during his tenure as Commissioner for Finance, Senator Albert knows what to do to rejig all the critical sectors including health and education.
Beyond plugging the gaps, monitoring and evaluation are key performance indicators for the educational sector. As captured on his roadmap, the cluster of education monitors he intends to create will checkmate laxity, and truancy and promote efficiency, devoid of sentiment while strengthening the inspectorate division through the engagement of IT solutions for ease of monitoring.
An overview of his roadmap shows an all-inclusive programme for training and retraining teachers periodically to update their knowledge and skills to align with national and global trends. As a channel to motivate teachers in the rural areas for enhanced service delivery, a special incentive package is captured in his roadmap which in addition guarantees them access to basic health needs, shelter, and other amenities through his integrated plans for the total development of rural communities in the state.
In sum, with the roadmap towards revolutionizing education in Akwa Ibom, a new era is indeed beckoning the state with the emergence of Senator Bassey Albert Akpan as governor in 2023.
By: A public commentator