Princess Catherine Oladunni Odu is the Chairman of Ondo State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB). In the interview with BABATOPE OKEOWO, she speaks about the implementation of guidelines of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and the effect on primary school teachers’ salary, the challenges facing the development of primary school education in the state. Excerpts:
Could you give more insight to some of the projects recently awarded and executed by the state government in primary schools across the state?
Let me start by saying that the state government is doing everything within its disposal and possible to improve the standard of public schools, especially the basic education sub-sector. In view of this, the government under Governor Rotimi Akeredolu awarded some projects, which include the renovation of schools; supply of pupils’ furniture and computers, as well as construction of perimeter fence in some of the schools in order to provide adequate security for both pupils and teachers.
The government also awarded contract of provision of boreholes in some schools to ensure potable water supply to the children. Under the contract award, about 700 projects were awarded across all primary schools in the state. In the next few weeks, another set of 314 projects will be awarded.
In all, we have over 1,000 projects to be awarded in our schools. The projects include construction of block of six classrooms, four classrooms and three classrooms in some schools, while we have contracts for the supply of pupils and the teachers’ furniture, supply of computers to the schools for the training of the pupils in Information Technology. Apart from all these, the government also awarded contract for the provision of boreholes, as well as the supply of agricultural equipment and materials because we want to encourage agriculture in our schools.
In the next few weeks, some of the schools will benefit from the various projects, while we are also trying to encourage sporting activities in our schools through the supply of sporting facilities and kits. How have these projects impacted on school enrollment in the state? Well, with these projects, children are being attracted to the schools because pupils’ enrollment has continued to increase tremendously and besides more children are coming to our register in public schools since the school environment has been attractive due to the various projects being executed by the government. Another factor that is aiding improved enrollment is the Home Grown School Feeding Programme introduced by the Federal Government. In fact, we have noticed that the one meal per a day is also attracting children to public schools, and through this the population of our school is really increasing steadily.
But, with the shortage of teachers in the state schools, what is the Board doing to meet the increasing enrolment in the public primary schools?
This is one of the challenges we have because since 2006, the state government has not employed a teacher. The last time teachers were employed in the state was under late Governor Olusegun Agagu and since then many of our teachers have retired, died or changed jobs without replacing them. But, the governor promised on May 1, this year, that the state government would soon commence recruitment of teachers and we are still awaiting the official directive of the governor. This is because if a verbal approval is given like this, we must ensure that properly things are done and we should follow due process. So, we are still trying to put the papers forward for formal approval and directive for the recruitment to begin. But in the meantime, we are looking inwards to know how many people have the Nigerian Certificate in Education (NCE) or the Bachelor in Education (B.ED) in the system so that we can bring them into the primary education sub-sector to teach because of the paucity of funds to recruit new teachers. Given that scenario, if for instance we employ 2,000 teachers based on the current salary structure, the wage bill for one year will rise up to about N1.2 billion and we don’t know what that will come to with the new N30,000 minimum wage. Apparently, the state government will not want to put more burden on the system, knowing fully well the governor believes strongly that if we employ workers they must be paid as at when due. You will recall that the present administration inherited seven- month arrears of workers’ salaries and the governor has been able to pay six months out of this remaining only one month. We need to recruit teachers because there is no point having those magnificent structures with increasing enrollment without teachers that will actually impact knowledge on the pupils.
Are these projects funded solely by the state government or is there contribution from Federal Government in view of the fact that basic education is the responsibility of local and federal government?
What we do in the State Universal Basic Education Board is that there are counterpart funds from that states must provide, while the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), the federal agency supervising basic education will also provide its matching grant. For instance, the UBEC said that for this year, it is going to give the state about N1.2 billion, but the Commission is expecting the state to pay another N1.2 billion as its counterpart funding. At the end of the day, the Board will have N2.4 billion to work with. But the state has to pay N1.2 billion to access the UBEC matching grant. The Commission as part of conditions to access the matching grant will give the state some guidelines guiding the use of the marching grant. I mean UBEC will give us guidelines as to what they want the funds to be used for, in terms of project execution. In most of the time, between 40 and 60 per cent of the funds go for construction of new projects, while between 30 and 50 per cent will go for renovation of existing structures, and two per cent for supervision, three per cent for provision of water and sanitation facilities, five to 10 per cent will be for supply of school furniture for both pupils and teachers.
Under the new policy that Local Government Council allocations will now go to the local government councils account directly, will this not affect the payment of teachers’ salary?
I don’t know how it will work out because I think the local government areas have been handling the payment of teachers’ salaries in the past and it was problematic. Presently, we don’t pay in SUBEB, the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs handles the payment of teachers’ salary. Though, SUBEB prepares the salary vouchers and the ministry handles the payment. I think it is being flawless because there has been e-payment directly to the teachers’ account. When the teachers were being paid by taking envelopes, there were some problems and that was why the government directed that payment should be made directly to each teacher’s bank account, and this has been very flawless. The teachers were happy then, but this time we are talking of payment directly to the local governments. I think they needed to really sit down and discuss how we can work it out because it is going to be problematic at the local government level.
What is your expectation about the quality and development of primary school system in the next few years?
We are working hard to ensure that the sector is properly developed because we know the importance of primary school education as the foundation of education. Importantly, it is very germane that everything must be put right in that sub-sector since it is the foundation and if we don’t put the foundation right everything we put on it will not be able to stand.
That is why it is a very critical sector, where proper and adequate attention must be paid. It is a sector everybody must put in their best and all hands must be on deck to ensure that basic education sector is actually put right. This is so because that is the beginning of a child’s life and hence we want the children to get it right from the foundation level. I can remember when we were in primary school in those days.
A Primary Six pupil could speak fluently simple and correct English, but that is no longer so nowadays. We are going back to the drawing board in Ondo State to see where we missed it and what we thinking we needed to do the right thing in terms of training and retraining of our teachers. We also observed that most of the teachers are no longer committed the way they used to do in the past. Indeed, you will agree with me that the training of teachers was not as solid as it used to be, and of course, we also noticed that the world is changing in terms of technology.
The world is becoming a global village and teachers have to be abreast of the changes and to brace up, but many of them do not know anything about the use the computer. We have to see how we can organise regular computer training for them, as it is now compulsory for them to be Information Technology complaint. We are doing all these to ensure that we get it right from the very foundation of the child’s education.
Since UBEC covers basic education (primary and junior secondary schools), what is the Board doing concerning the junior secondary schools?
We are working across primary and junior secondary school (JSS) simultaneously since UBEC’s projects are supposed to cover the first nine-year of a child learning life in school. That is, the first six years in primary school and the first three years in secondary school. There is a percentage we give to the junior secondary schools in terms of infrastructural development.
What has been the reaction of private school owners to some of the government policies?
Well, it has been a normal reaction. It is competition. Even among private schools, we have private schools that are more productive than others; some have more students on their enrolment than others. Now, that we, the original owners (government) of education are taking the back pupils to public schools, they don’t have a choice than to give in.
It is even better for parents, to bring their children and wards to public primary schools because for now we do not charge fee in our primary schools, while private schools are for business and they are working to make profit.
Let me also add here that because we have quality teachers in public schools, I am very sure that parents would prefer these schools where we have minimum of NCE as teaching qualification in our schools, whereas in some of the private primary schools we have holders of Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) as teachers.
The difference between a public and private schools is that there is proper supervision and monitoring in the private schools, but this is what is lacking in the public schools. But by the time we put adequate measures in place, there will be officials that will supervise and monitor the teachers.
And, by then our teachers will be more committed, dedicated and disciplined. Besides, when the teachers are well trained and disciplined, we will be able to tackle truancy in our schools and you will find out that parents will be ready to enroll their children and wards in public schools given adequate modern structures, teaching and learning facilities, conducive environment, adequate security provided by the government, as well as a well-remunerated and motivated teaching force.
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