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Enugu dilly-dallies while GTC rots

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
14 May 2017   |   3:41 am
To strengthen this objective, some skilled Nigerians were sent abroad for further training after which they returned to the centres to work.

One of the decrepit workshop in the school

In 1945, when the Federal Government established crafts centres in the eastern, northern and western regions, the idea was to provide outlets for the rehabilitation of some of the tools and machines that were used during the Second World War.

The centres were also meant to train Nigerians in various skills, including mechanical and electrical engineering, furniture works, crafts, building, plumbing and pipe fitting etc, so that the knowledge derived could be applied to growing the manufacturing and technology sectors, using local resources and materials.

To strengthen this objective, some skilled Nigerians were sent abroad for further training after which they returned to the centres to work. As a result, products of the centres were highly sought after by industries and establishments needing skilled manpower in various fields.

Ikechukwu Ukoma, who trained at the Enugu centre, which served the entire eastern region in the 1980s, told The Guardian that government ensured that the centre lacked nothing, as it believed that technology and science were necessary ingredients for the development of any society.

Over the years, however, buildings and machineries at the different centres became dormant, and regional governments converted them for their use.

Consequently, the Enugu centre was renamed Government Trade Centre (GTC), and it continued to serve the entire old Eastern Region, which included present day South South and South East geo-political zones. Subsequent creation of states, saw Enugu State being carved out of the erstwhile Anambra State.

Upon its creation, Enugu State, inherited the Government Trade Centre and renamed it Government Technical College (GTC), and saddled it with the mandate of continually training skilled manpower in the aforesaid areas, as well as, in painting and decoration, hospitality, trade and computer studies among others.

The school admits technically inclined students, who are successful in their Junior Secondary School (JSS) examination for a three-year practical training programme in science and technology.

But a visit to the school located along Enugu-Abakaliki Road, within the precincts of Enugu urban area, leaves one wondering whether the state government is actually committed to the promotion of science and technology education, as the school has become a shadow of its old self, despite producing ex-students who have made impact within and outside the state.

Former governor of Imo State, Ikedi Ohakim, and former chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Enugu State, Vita Abba, are among notable products of the school.

Right from the school’s entrance, the picture of an institution in dire need of attention is painted, while the entire ambience appears disorganised.

Missing or broken down windows and doors are commonplace, while sundry fittings in the thoroughly decrepit buildings are a confirmation of the fact that the school is almost abandoned.

In fact, the general decrepit and squalid nature of the school also makes it very difficult to hazard a guess as to when last the school had any form of facelift.

Erosion, on its part has seriously ravaged large parts of the premises, even as some buildings get submerged during heavy rains. Classrooms do not fare better as broken, old and disused tables and chairs are strewn about carelessly. Many workshops, which have been converted to classrooms due to inadequate space, are without ceiling boards even as their roofs leak profusely.

Inside the workshops, are obsolete and dysfunctional machines and tools, which are either vandalized, or completely out of order. This scenario leaves one wondering how a technical school that should impart practical skills could continue to fulfill the mandate in the condition it has found itself.

However, while the school wallows in gross lack of functional and modern equipment, in one corner of the school compound lie two containers of science kits and equipment supplied to the school by the defunct Education Trust Fund, now Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) over three years ago.

The kits and equipment valued at above N20m in 2014, could not be mounted due to lack of space and funds, even after some teachers were trained to handle the equipment.

Divided into 15 sections, which includes, mechanical; foundry; motor vehicle; plumbing and pipes fitting; building engineering; estate management, furniture and crafts; carpentry and joinery; radio and television; business studies; painting and decoration; electrical installation and maintenance among others, most of these sections are under lock and key due to lack of instructors.

Apart from being old and with leaky roof, the school’s dormitory is an eyesore as it lacks modern facilities. In fact, the stuffy and crowded nature makes the place very uncomfortable for its inhabitants. To date, students still take their bath in the open as most bathrooms have collapsed.

Shockingly, Junior Secondary One students were recently posted to the severely dilapidated school to begin their secondary education, after the last common entrance examination. This was never in the original mandate of the school.

This development has shot the students’ population to over 3000, with majority of them coming from home due to space constraints in the dormitory.

A senior technical instructor in the school, Emmanuel Agudiegwu, who lamented its deplorable state said: “We are experiencing serious infrastructural decay here. Almost every facility here is outdated as most of the machines here date back to the 1940s, and you know these machines have expiry dates.

“Most of the hand tools needed are also no longer there, and spare parts for the repair of these machines are either not there, or have been vandalised. So you have a situation where students brought here for skills impartation, end up leaving empty. I pity them because they go about claiming that they attended a technical college without technical knowhow,” he lamented.

The instructor continued: “It is lack of government’s attention that has killed this place because governments have not paid adequate attention to technical education. Although past governments have always talked about it, they have not demonstrated the seriousness that it requires to turn the place around. In the last two years, we have not done practicals, and because of the growing number of students, which has caused the school to become highly congested, some workshops have been converted to classrooms. It is not practicable in engineering because it could be dangerous to health. Using workshops as classrooms could also lead to students vandalising some electrical fittings. Some very well-trained instructors are no longer here, and not much is being done to train those that should replace them,” he alleged.

To accord technical and science education the needed attention in the state, government created the Science, Technical and Vocational Schools Management Board (STVSMB) some years ago, but the existence of the board has not helped matters at all for the school.

According to principal of the school, Fidelis Awuka: “I do not think the board has been empowered enough to deal with the kind of problem found here. What we have now on ground regarding training is no longer the same as it was during our time. The introduction of junior secondary school as a feeder programme has actually watered down the nature of training carried out here. With the increasing number of students, it became quite difficult for the various trades to come up with the required skills. The number of students became so high that machineries and space became grossly inadequate. Now, most of the machines are so old and cannot train the number of students that are here.

“The second challenge is the general look of the compound. The entire place is so old; the roofs are so bad and almost every classroom is leaking. Most of the rooms are made of asbestos, which have become so bad that the students are uncomfortable staying in them.

He added: “We are also plagued by inadequate teaching staff and we almost do not have technical staff. Those of them that came from the university hardly fit into these technical areas because they don’t have the skills. Most of those who have the skills have retired. So, it requires the state government to act fast and I think it is even much better to recruit students that pass out from this school as junior technical instructors than absorbing university graduates.

“I therefore recommend that the federal and state governments should be more serious in maintaining these technical colleges, especially the GTC, Enugu as this is the only school of technology, East of the Niger.”

Worried by the situation of the school, Ohakim last December gathered old boys to explore ways of turning around the situation. The meeting resolved to ask government to hand over the school to them for the next 10 years, freeze the junior secondary school, construct internal roads and drainages, as well as construct a light engineering and hostel block among others.

Efforts to get comments from the STVSMB proved abortive, but the state Education Commissioner, Prof. Uche Eze, maintained that government was committed to improving the standard of learning in the school, as well as, create an environment for science and technology studies to thrive in the state.

He said: “If you go to GTC and enter their workshop, you will know that number of equipment have been taken there and efforts are being made to put things in order as all the problems there cannot be solved in one day. There is a plan to actually do a lot of work in the place and government is doing it gradually.

“We believe that getting the students involved in practical works is much more important and that is why we are looking at bringing and installing equipment at the school. That is what makes it a technical college. Government has plans to improve the place and it is doing something about it. We want to ensure that the teachers are capable of handling the equipment when installed.”
Eze refused to comment on the kits and machineries locked up in containers in one corner of the school for years now.