SCHOOLING IN FEARS

 

The management of State Universal Basic Education Board in Benue State, led by Rev. Dr. Phillip Tachin raise alarm on the plight of children displaced from school as a result of herdsmen terrorist attack in Benue State as it intensifies activities to surmount obstacles against good delivery of child education in the state.

BY TOBS AGBAEGBU AND JOHN IDOGA.

He clearly did not envisage that the challenge would be so tough and enormous as he is presently experiencing. What he met on ground upon appointment as Executive Chairman, State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) in Benue state, in 2015, appears to be a child’s play compared to what he came face to face with. An aspect of his job involving travels to  find solution to problem of pupils in schools facing deadly attacks and devastation from  herdsmen terrorists  is itself life threatening. The job which Philip Tachin, a reverend gentleman and the board is doing is not an envious one.

In supervising the activities of SUBEB, an agency of Benue State government created to run the Universal Basic Education program of the federal government in the state and provide “a free basic nine-year un-interrupted educational program which targets education for all children of school going age irrespective of gender, poor economic background, disability, orphans and vulnerable children.’’ Tachin told verbatim that he inherited a total number of 2,753 schools across the state.

In many of the schools, according to him, “their structures were in dilapidated shapes, and sometimes when you go to some of these schools you will see cracks on the walls and their roofs open, because of the wind or something. This is because of many years of neglect and lack of maintenance which made the buildings become so terrible – some floors were very bad, and they operated without seats, the children sitting on the floor to learn’’

The situation is terrible now. Many of the schools have now been shut down as a result of terrorist attacks from herdsmen. Surviving pupils are now living in IDP camps with their parents in various parts of the state. Giving details of the level of destruction in the state, Tachin told Verbatim that some of the schools that were renovated or constructed have been destroyed by the armed Herdsmen.  “We can’t even access those places again -like Guma L.G.A, part of Logo L.G.A, part of Makurdi L.G.A. Gwer West, and even part of Agatu. These places are highly unsecured now’’, he said.

Given further details on the situation report at the affected areas, he said: “Right now, schools in those places had been shut down and ten IDP camps spread around the state. The total number of school age children that have been affected is 80,000. At Agatu alone, we have a total number of 16, 000 children. We have a major crisis situation’’.

Tachin and his management team are not given up, nonetheless. They are doing much, with full support from Governor Samuel Ortom, to rise up to the challenge. He gave insight on what is being done. “When this happened, I sat with the management team and decided to set up an emergency education committee for children in IDP camps because we don’t want a situation where these children’s future will be totally affected and they won’t have anything to do. We also saw that it is an opportunity for other children who hitherto, were not going to school. We could take the schools to them in the camps, compel their parents to have them register, for after all they are not paying school fees’’

He confessed that the population is staggering and the situation is almost overwhelming. Classrooms will have to be erected and facilities provided for over 16000 children. The children will also have to be fed, and provided with health and other facilities.

With resources available to them, Benue SUBEB has kicked off the process of providing education for the children in IDPs. This has led to the establishment of ten (10) Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps. The idea is to ensure that the displaced children continue to receive formal basic education.

As at press time last week, the Benue State Government has already set up an emergency education committee to cater for the needs of the children of school going age in the camps. The committee is made up of staff from State Ministry of Education, Benue SUBEB and some NGOs. Within the period, the Benue State Government through the emergency education committee has carried out the following; establishment of Emergency Education Schools in 10 camps across the affected Local Governments across the state and recruitment of about 100 qualified volunteer teachers and care givers who are also victims.

The committee has also established temporary structures to accommodate pupils, procured assorted school uniforms and shoes for pupils/students and distributed 40,000 exercise books and literary texts. It also procured and distributed chalk boards & white boards and also procured and distributed other instructional materials like chalk, biros and pencils.

Tachin further explained the reasons for the exercise: “We can’t abandon them; we can’t let them go through this kind of traumatic experience. Some of them could be great citizens of this country, which is why we refuse to give up. We have decided that no matter what it takes, even the little we have we must invest and so we bought uniforms for them, at least for 5, 000 of children we bought over 40,000 exercise books, we bought chalks and all kinds of instructional materials that we are going to donate to all these IDP camps so that these children will have opportunity for learning’’.

There is a clarion call for global support here.  In the words of the Chairman of Benue SUBEB: “the Federal government has a role to play through UBEC. We also need efforts from International agencies like the World Bank, Bill Gates Foundation and all other foundations that will see our situation as critical. Let them come in and intervene so that these children will also have a better future. What we have now is a general humanitarian crisis. It is a monumental challenge that we are facing at this moment in Benue State.’’

Before Benue SUBEB was confronted with the crisis of taking care of children in IDPs, it had lesser challenges which it was gradually tackling, using N7.6billion which came into its purse when the state government released its N3.8billion counterpart fund to earn a matching grant of N3.8billion from UBEC in Abuja. With the aid of the huge sum, it embarked on series of projects, touching lives in the education sector. And that came, after it carried out impact assessment to ascertain challenges confronting SUBEB. The report identified the following as challenges:  inadequate classroom structures, dilapidated classroom structures, shortage of teachers, inadequate training of teachers in needs based areas and low pupil enrolment in schools in Benue state.

The Board of SUBEB also carried out massive construction of 832 out of 861 New Classrooms, as well as renovation of 1,134 out of 1182 dilapidated classrooms. Other projects it executed included Drilling of 88 out of 101 Boreholes, Procurement of 21,384 Ultra-Modern plastic chairs/desks for pupils/students and procurement of 612 Teachers’ tables and 612 chairs.

Contracts were also awarded for procurement of 158 computers/accessories, procurement of 9 Hilux vans for monitoring of the school projects and use by staff at the State level and procurement of 81 Motorcycles for use at LGEA level.

Not all contractors were diligent in doing their work. Tachin told Verbatim that 89 contracts for construction of classrooms, rehabilitation of dilapidated structures and drilling of boreholes were terminated by the Board due to inability of contractors to complete projects within the stipulated time. Some of the contractors were also reported to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for necessary action.

Attention was also paid to Teachers welfare. With the inauguration of the Governor Samuel Ortom led administration, minimum wage for teachers and the twenty seven and half percent teachers’ salary structure were said to have been paid, despite the dwindling economy which led to short fall in monthly allocation in the state.

SUBEB also embarked on state wide enrolment drive campaign. It discovered in October, 2015 that low enrolment of pupils in public primary schools, UBE Junior Secondary Schools and Early Childhood Care Development (ECCD) centres were the teething challenges confronting Basic Education Schools in the State. On account of its campaigns in the period of 2008 – 2015, it was discovered that the pupils’ enrolment figure reduced drastically from 1.1 million to 338,451, hence the need for a revolutionary approach to boost enrolment in public schools in the state.

A quick response approach which it embarked upon led to Samuel Ortom’s flagging-off of Enrolment Drive Campaign at Gbajimba Town (Guma Local Government Area) on Friday, 19th February, 2016. Also on Thursday, 16th March 2017, SUBEB Management met with Zonal Officers, Education Secretaries, Leadership of AOPSHON and PTA on the formation of School Based Management Committees (SBMCs) to pave the way for increase in Pupils’ enrolment into Basic Education schools. This yielded positive result as the school census conducted for the 2016/2017 academic session showed an increase to 431,825 pupils.

Town hall Meetings with critical stakeholders to tackle the menace of out of School Children in Benue State later took place. According to the Demographic and Health survey Report of the National Population Commission (2013) and made available by World Bank, there are 12.2 million basic education school-age children (i.e, 6 – 12 years) that are out-of-school. Statistics available shows that Benue State fell in the group with the highest number of out-of-school children which is projected at 3.5 million. Therefore, Management of the Board organized Town Hall Meetings in the three Senatorial Zonal Headquarters of Kwande, Makurdi and Otukpo on 29th, 30th and 31st August, 2017 to canvass support of critical stakeholders to bring back out-of-school children into Basic Education System and send their school aged children to Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) Centres and Public Primary Schools. This awareness yielded fruitful results.

The Board also embarked on Early Child Care Development Programme (ECCD) which is  a new trend in basic education recently introduced and approved as a component of the 1 – 6 – 3 – 3 – 3 – 4 Educational system in Nigeria. Under the ECCD policy, it is mandatory for a child to attend one year ECCD training before transiting to primary one.

In compliance with the Federal Government’s directive that every public primary school must have an ECCD Centre attached to it, the Board began the implementation with the establishment of 530 centres in 530 public primary schools.

So far 64 care givers/pre-school teachers have been trained on Reggio Emilia Approach to furnish the caregivers with new trends in teaching and learning. The Board also procured assorted Toys Production Materials, Swings, Abacus, Charts, Readers, etc. (for indoor and outdoor play) for the 530 ECCD centres in the State.

UBEC, as part of its intervention activities, supplied 50 Mega Building blocks, 150 Medium sized building blocks, 350 original Mathematical Sets,200 large sized wall globes and 150 counting cards for ECCD centres in the state which have been distributed to the centres.

The Board also established an ICT Centre at SUBEB Headquarters. The ICT centre contains data of all SUBEB headquarters Staff and Primary School teachers in the State for school data collection, collation, analysis, internet services, e-payment among others.

The Board organized training for all Accounts and Audit staff to enable them be ICT compliant so as to furnish them with ICT skills to effectively carry out their duties.

The Board Management made a policy that all staff of SUBEB Headquarters and LGEAs become ICT compliant latest December, 2016.

Teacher training which is one of the major policy thrusts of the present Board Management has been given attention to. Bearing in mind that no education can rise above the teacher, the Board decided to retrain the teachers, upgraded their skills, keep them abreast with current trends in teaching pedagogy and expose teachers to practical ways of handling classroom teaching to enhance and motivate children to learn.

Consequently, the Board with support Funds from UBEC from 2015 – 2018 embarked on the following training programmes for teachers; Cluster Model Training of 583 Teachers/Education managers (2015), Training of 170 teachers on strengthening Mathematics and Science Education (SMASE) 2015 and Training of 270 Teachers on SMASE (2016).

It has also taken care of Training of 859 Teachers on Jolly Phonics 2017,Training of 200 Teachers SMASE (2016),Training of 1100 Teachers Jolly Phonics (2018), Cluster schools Training Model 580 Teachers (in 11 LGEAs) 2016 and Cluster school Training Model of 848 Teachers (in 16 LGEAs) 2017.

The Board,  with the approval of UBEC Abuja also officially approved the conversion of Almajiri Model Primary School Katsina-Ala to a conventional Model Primary School Katsina-Ala in April, 2016 .The gesture  has not only promoted peace in the area but also given room for children of the Katsina-Ala community and beyond irrespective of gender, tribe or religion to attend. The school built by the Federal Government has been provided with state of the art facilities such as computers, plastic chairs and lockers.

Tachin is truly leading the Board of SUBEB in Benue to greater successes. He is also a record setter. To his credit, the teaching of sciences in the native languages of Tiv, Idoma and Igede which he initiated by setting up science teams for the respective languages is fast taking root in Benue State.

It was him also who served as the internal supervisor of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a former President of Nigeria, for the PhD that he graduated with this year. Tachin is a man of many firsts, a renowned educational administrator and academia of repute.

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