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Ihedioha and challenge of education in Imo

By Luke Onyekakeyah
04 June 2019   |   3:03 am
The inauguration of Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha as the 6th civilian governor of Imo State on May 29, 2019, has thrown up many challenges for the Governor, who, however, appears prepared to, squarely, face them all. With a vision to make Imo become one of the three most developed states in Nigeria by 2025, as…

Swearing in of Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha. Photo/ Twitter/EmekaIhedioha

The inauguration of Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha as the 6th civilian governor of Imo State on May 29, 2019, has thrown up many challenges for the Governor, who, however, appears prepared to, squarely, face them all.

With a vision to make Imo become one of the three most developed states in Nigeria by 2025, as well as ranked among Africa’s top ten economies by 2030, Ihedioha has definitely given himself a tall order.

This lofty vision is achievable if pursued vigourously and with commitment. All the ingredients to make the vision realizable are available in Imo. These include abundant trained human capital base and natural resource endowment.

Ihedioha’s goal is captured in his mission statement, which is to rebuild, reposition and transform Imo into “a modern ecosystem” for education, agriculture, industry, tourism, culture, sports, entertainment, human capital development and technology. This comment is focusing on education, among other issues, for the fact that education is the bedrock of human and economic development of any society.

With education, there is enlightenment among the populace. People get to know their rights; understand their dos and don’ts and could easily be led to identify with governance. It is easier to manage educated citizenry than otherwise. The challenge of education in Imo State was highlighted at the inauguration lecture held at the Ahiajioku Convention Centre, Owerri on May 28, 2019.

Chief Nnia Nwodo, President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, in his keynote speech titled, “The Problems confronting Governance in Today’s Nigeria: The Imo Challenge,” didn’t mince word to say that Imo State has the highest number of educated citizenry in the South-East zone. He said no other state in the zone can compare with Imo in terms of education. “Imo State is the most educated state in Igboland, so I hardly need to canvass here the need to democratize education. But I need to challenge you to change the emphasis to education leveraging and technology,” Nwodo stated.

He further said “Imo State has the highest number of higher institutions in Igboland and, therefore, the highest number of educated youths. This huge population of youths could be a waiting time bomb if undeveloped and unharnessed.”

He noted that the days of theory based education is gone, advising Governor Ihedioha to retrain teachers and give skills to our children, skills that count in today’s world.

The foregoing underscores the critical importance of education in Imo State.

It would be recalled that one plank upon which former Governor Rochas Okorocha promoted his government was a “free education” policy, which, to many, was a fluke. That notwithstanding, the mere fact that a free education concept was conceived is noteworthy. What Ihedioha should do now is to look at the programme more closely, with the aim of making it better.

Consequently, the free education programme should be made more realistic and functional in order to achieve its desired objective of mass literacy in Imo State. The promise of Ihedioha to review Okorocha’s free education programme is reassuring.

To this end, Ihedioha has already set out to accomplish the following in the education sector:
Establish an Imo State Education Trust fund to promote free and qualitative education.

Massively retrain, reorient and motivate teachers and recruit new ones.

Cut teacher/student ratio to 1/40 from 1/60.

Provide grant-inaid to relevant stakeholders to upgrade the standard of their schools.

Establish a Technical/Trade School in each local government council.

Ensure adequate subvention to Imo State University and Imo State Polytechnic, and

Introduce postgraduate scholarships to outstanding indigent students.

Obviously, the free education programme has been run in a haphazard manner. There is no consistency in its implementation. For instance, while it is claimed that the free education covered primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education, there is mass discontent and disenchantment among the populace, as children in these levels of education are still compelled to pay sundry fees.

For instance, a couple of months ago, some Imo State University (IMSU) students were chased out from examination halls over non-payment of school fees. What school fees under a free education regime? Students who had graduated were required to pay various sums of money before they could be cleared and called up for the National Youth Service corps (NYSC).

The “no school fees no examination” policy of IMSU ran contrary to the claim by the Okorocha government that there is free education from primary to university level in the state. The policy, which the management of the University implemented, prevented many undergraduates from doing their examinations. Where then is the free education?
The same thing applied to students in primary and secondary schools who also pay sundry charges.

For example, my investigation showed that some schools, in the course of the on-going 2019 WAEC Senior Secondary School Examinations, candidates were charged various sums of money ranging from N1000 to N1500 per subject even after paying the registrations fees. Candidates offering science subjects paid more. The parents of the affected candidates lamented the ordeal amid the biting economic hardship.

To make the free education effective, Governor Ihedioha should focus mainly on pre-tertiary level education. In other words, the free education should cover only primary and secondary school students, while tertiary level indigent students should be given bursary. Emphasis should be placed on qualitative rather than quantitative education.

Ihedioha’s promise to refurbish the four existing technical colleges in the state and have them re-equipped with trained and experienced teachers is commendable.

The importance of technical education cannot be over-emphasized, yet this aspect of education has been neglected for too long. Technical education is needed to train competent craftsmen in different trades like carpentry, block-molding, furniture making, painting, etc.

It is baffling that nowadays, tradesmen from neighbouring Republic of Benin, Togo and Ghana are the ones hired to do sundry building construction activities in Nigeria. Ihedioha will do well to revive this sector of education in Imo State. That will distinguish the state.

The inhuman treatment meted out to teachers, both on-the-job and retired ones is pathetic. The Okorocha administration appeared to have deliberately set out to punish teachers in particular and civil servants in general. Non-payment of salaries, pension and gratuities to teachers made the government notorious. Pensioners were left in penury and many died from poverty. It was a traumatic turn of events for the unfortunate folks.

There is no doubt that Ihedioha’s commitment to education will rob off on teachers. Without doubt, the days of suffering are over. Training and retraining of teachers is the hallmark of a progressive education policy. Once the condition of teachers is improved, once the teachers are treated well and are happy, the education objective would be achieved.

Following that is the dilapidated infrastructure in many schools, especially in the rural areas. Decrepit school blocks and classrooms should receive attention. Teaching aids, including libraries, laboratories and other essential equipment should be provided. Asking students to pay money to buy chemical reagents is condemnable.

The teaching profession should be made attractive in order to attract the best hands. The abject state of teachers has made the teaching profession a dumping ground for rejects by other professions and job seekers.

The registration of qualified teachers should make dregs and rejects to be done away with. Teachers should be made to be proud of their profession since the success or failure of any education policy or programme depends on them.