THE Bayelsa State government has deployed 2000 qualified civil servants drawn from ministries and agencies to the state’s primary and secondary schools. To facilitate the smooth takeoff of the programme, the government had recently set up a committee headed by the state deputy governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (retd) to ascertain and collate data to guarantee that the affected workers were deployed to their fields of specialisation after undergoing further skills acquisition training at the Teachers’ Training Academy at Bulou Orua.
The fact is widely acknowledged that education constitutes the catalyst for any society desirous of greatness, prosperity and stability. It is the bedrock of the human capital that is so critical to sustainable growth and national development. Regrettably, the education sector in the country is fraught with problems of frightening dimensions and proportions largely occasioned by the lacklustre approach by governments at all levels. The crises in the sector manifest in abysmal funding, policy somersaults, egoistic politics and, even more tragically, the dearth of teachers that constitute an integral part of the engine for national growth and development. It is for this reason that the policy of the Bayelsa State government to deploy some civil servants in the state to public schools should engage the minds of concerned citizens.
We believe that the Bayelsa model recommends itself to other states and levels of government in the country. The precarious state of the education sector needs to be addressed. Why the initiative is commendable is that it finds accommodation for the overly large population of workers in virtually all government ministries, departments and agencies. It is certainly a fact that the country’s civil service is yet to divorce itself from the era of bloated workforce, red-tape and stereotypes and embrace the pace of modern technology. No doubt, there is a need for more teachers in public schools across the country. Many schools lack teachers in core subjects, especially in science and technology, necessitating ad hoc arrangements like parents hiring teachers to handle such subjects to secure the future of their children. The lack of qualified teachers in public schools is most pronounced in rural areas that suffer the most wicked and insensitive abandonment by the government. According to the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), the teacher-students ratio in Nigeria is 1:80, as opposed to the global standard of 1:35. It is no surprise then that well-meaning individuals and groups consistently champion the advocacy for the declaration of a state of emergency in the education sector.
A World Bank Group in its World Development Report for 2018 titled ‘ Learning to Realise Education’s Promise’ noted that millions of young students in low and middle-income countries, including Nigeria, face the prospect of lost opportunities and lower wages in the future because their primary and secondary schools fail to educate them to succeed in life. It observed that millions of children could not read, write or do basic mathematics several years after being in school. Citing Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda “where third grade students find it difficult to make a sentence,” the body found empirical evidence in Nigeria showing similar weakness. More than three-quarters of fourth grade students could not solve simple two-digit subtraction problems.
While the federal authorities and other states should key into the Bayelsa template, it is imperative that teachers be made to undergo periodic retraining programmes based on contemporary realities, developments and standards. The constant change and dynamism in the world makes such retraining and updates in knowledge and skills imperative. On its part, the Bayelsa State government must make the school environment conducive in order to encourage the new teachers to stay. Access to the basic things of life by teachers posted to the rural areas should be a priority. They should be given incentives and be treated in such a way that they do not see their redeployment as a conscription. The Federal Government should adopt the same measure where applicable: it makes sense to meet scarcity needs with surpluses. For example, it is a drain on scarce public resources to create new ministries with all the concomitant staffing requirements, obligations and challenges at an austere time such as the ongoing excruciating economic moment in the country. But the Muhammadu Buhari administration did precisely that. It is time for change.