In this interview by WALE AKINSELURE, chairman, Edo State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Dr. Joan Osa-Oviawe, speaks about the strides of EdoBEST over the past two years and addresses notions that Governor Godwin Obaseki has not done enough for the education sector.
What is Edo Best and what are those gaps in the Edo education sector that the programme set out to close?
EdoBEST stands for Edo Basic Education sector transformation and as the name implies is targeted at a total transformation of the basic education subsector. For several decades, the educational system across the board in the state and country has been degraded. So EdoBEST represents the totality of managing the basic education system that can deliver quality education to every child in Edo State. EdoBEST has five pillars.
The first pillar is the system, government and institutional strengthening. This is aimed at building the capacity of every staff, both teaching and non-teaching staff. The second pillar is teacher professional development and quality assurance aimed at revamping the school inspectorate division of our basic education sub-sector so that the quality assurance officers can deliver their work in an effective manner. The third pillar is curriculum and learning outcomes which focuses on the pupils and how they are able to learn well so that they can grow and graduate to be useful members of the society. The fourth pillar is community engagement and private partnership where we shall involve the private sector, NGOs, religious bodies. The fifth pillar deals with the provision of school infrastructure and facilities. By the time we successfully implement the five pillars, we would have transformed education in Edo State.
Over the course of the past two years, to what extent will you say that the aims and objectives of the programme have been achieved?
I think we have made a lot of progress, although, we still have a long way to go. So far, we have trained 11,000 teachers, renovated 234 schools. Also, we have trained 400 education managers, quality assurance officers, social mobilisation officers, learning and development officers. In line with pedagogy and learning outcomes, we abolished corporal punishment in our schools. Children are therefore excited and want to go to school. Furthermore, teachers have been given tablets. We have lesson notes that were centrally developed so that schools, whether in urban, semi-urban, rural, remote or riverine areas give exactly the same content.
We have brought back extra curriculum activities to the school. Several of our schools now do inter-house sports, some for the first time since founded over forty years ago. Our pupils now go on excursions to different places in and outside the state. Also, we are bringing back school clubs, school gardens and have started ‘open day’. We have introduced technology so that we are able to trace when our teachers come to school and when they leave. Because we are holding our teachers accountable and rewarding those who are performing beyond expectations, teachers’ truancy has reduced. The same thing also applies to pupils. We are able to track pupils because we have their records such as names I.D., photograph, contact, information of their parents, or guardians address. So, we are building a system that works. We are changing the mindset of everybody that is involved in basic education that so long as the school is open every day, children are in their classrooms, learning.
What is the place of SUBEB in the implementation of EdoBEST?
Basically, SUBEB is EdoBEST and EdoBEST is SUBEB. EdoBEST is simply putting a framework to the responsibilities at SUBEB. By law, SUBEB has about eighteen core activities or responsibilities and the five pillars at EdoBEST encapsulate all. So EdoBEST is not separate from SUBEB. But in all sense, we are basically giving a name to the works of SUBEB and that is EdoBEST.
Teachers are critical stakeholders in implementing programmes like this. What form of incentives do you give teachers for them to achieve set goals of the programme?
Governor Obaseki is very keen about restoring the dignity of the teaching profession. In the days of yore, to be a teacher was a prestigious thing. Teachers were amongst the people that you look up to in the society. However, over the years, because of the bastardisation of the profession, people who are not qualified find their way in, just to be on the government payroll. So, Governor Obaseki is very keen on restoring the dignity of that profession. His way of doing this is not necessarily sanctioning or sacking any teacher even if they are not qualified. His plan is to train all the teachers and give them all the tools that they need to perform. Those that are not able to perform will be given additional assistance and if they are still unable to perform, then we have to prioritise the many needs of the children and that person will have to leave the system.
We are prioritising competency over anything else. You have to be a competent person; you have to be a professional; you need to have emotional intelligence; you have to be capable to discharge your duties. As a way to encourage competency, his Excellency gave a brand new house to the best health teacher/headmistress in the state. Also, several teachers have been sponsored abroad to attend conferences. Some of the best teachers in the state have been invited for a luncheon with the governor so efforts are being geared towards restoring the dignity of the profession.
Distribution of teachers is lopsided, such that teachers are concentrated in urban areas compared to rural areas. Do you plan to redistribute or engage more teachers?
We have settled the issue of teacher redistribution. When we did a redistribution of teachers, there was an uproar because many teachers did not want to be deployed to rural areas. However, we maintained that someone had to go and teach the pupils in rural areas because we want the standard of students in rural areas to be on par with that in urban areas. We are looking at sustainable ways to tackle this issue. One of the things we are looking at is how indigenes of these communities who are qualified as teachers can teach in their communities. Due to the fact that they are already home, the issue of accommodation, cultural differences will not arise. We recognise the fact that quite a number of teachers have also retired, so we have gaps that we want to fill. Filling these gaps will not be business as usual. We will not give room for nepotism or criminality. To fill these gaps, we will recruit the best of trained teachers for our schools in Edo State.
With the world going online, how has digitisation been injected into the implementation of EdoBEST?
Well, in this current COVID-19 global pandemic era, where things are either shut down or partially shut down, one is compelled to embrace digitisation. As a result, there is the online version of EdoBEST, for teaching and non-teaching staff, known as EdoBEST at home. We hold a lot of our conversations now using zoom, a teleconference call. We use Google documents to have multiple people work on different documents as well as using email to share documents. We use an app to interact with visitors who will visit our website and have set up basic available technology, like WhatsApp, to deliver virtual learning this period. We develop the lessons centrally and put it on our website and make it accessible in different sizes to our pupils across the state. Our teachers in urban and rural areas are learning to be proficient in the use of technology. They are learning how to create virtual classrooms so that they are able to deliver lessons to their pupils this period.
There is a tendency for government initiatives to fizzle out at the expiration of administrations. What is unique about this programme that will make subsequent administration want to sustain it?
The five pillars of EdoBEST encapsulate all the core mandates of SUBEB. What makes EdoBEST unique is using technology to track lessons, teachers and their audience. So even if another administration comes on board, they will know that these are key aspects of what SUBEB is supposed to. We are therefore very confident about EdoBESTis a programme that will be sustained because it is targeted at strengthening the basic education sub-sector.
What do you make of the notion that, in spite of all you have said, the Governor Godwin Obaseki administration has not done well enough in the education sector of the state?
I think that notion is false and anybody that is saying Governor Obaseki has not done enough in education really doesn’t understand the nature of the work we have done. Mr Governor is somebody who likes to work without making any noise. So, instead of spending millions to do publicity, he would rather pump that money into the system.
We are seeing the effects and impacts of EdoBEST. We are seeing those we have been able to reach. Before now, we had so many pupils in primary six that could not read effectively. Before the COVID-19 lockdown, we had actually set out on an operation where pupils from primary one to primary six must be able to read and we were already seeing positive results. We are not where we want to be yet but our goal is that a good percentage of our kids, even those with learning disabilities, should be able to read and write at the basic level. All efforts are hinged on the five pillars of EdoBEST. So, we are making progress and the kind of progress we have made is not something that cannot be seen. The data and evidence are in our schools, so anyone who says otherwise should also come out with such pieces of evidence.
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