The issue of out-of-school children has always generated deep-seated interest and robust public discourse globally. Nigeria is no exception and Bauchi state retains a fair share of this continuing global concern.
That the trend remains relevant, despite the concerted effort of Governor Bala Mohammed’s administration at tackling the problem, coupled with the enormous progress made in the sector generally, is perfectly understandable. Reasons for the unabating interest include but not limited to the genuine and patriotic recognition that, whereas education (primary, secondary, and tertiary) is the bedrock of all development, primary education remains the critical foundation upon which all educational pursuits and by extension, all development revolves. Therefore, establishing an educational system without a solid primary education base would be akin to building a house on the sand; it would collapse.
The second reason is the propensity of some politicians, particularly in the wake of the ongoing gubernatorial campaigns seeking to gain political advantage by discrediting Governor Bala’s administration as not doing enough in the area of education. But the evidence suggests the contrary.
Such detractors adopt the dubious methodology of subjecting what is a dynamic situation to static analysis in a vain effort to hoodwink the unwary public into believing that they possess a magic wand for performing wonders.
For such people, the school enrolment argument is presented to the public as a static phenomenon whereby the state government, by some magic wand, can halt childbirth and place a lid over demand for school enrolment to clear the existing backlog.
As experience has shown, resolving the problem of out-of-school children is not as simple as that. To achieve holistic development which is the main purpose of government, the effort to redress the out-of-school problem must logically progress side-by-side with other contending priorities, not only in the education sector but other sectors of the economy. What is important is to have in place a policy that continually bridges the gap between demand and access to the educational system. That is precisely what Governor Bala’s administration is doing.
It should be stated that, as fundamental as primary school enrolment is, to regard it as the only significant variable for measuring performance or success in the education sector would amount to a grotesque deformity of the entire concept of educational development.
Studies show that at inception, the administration met between 1.4 and 1.5 out-of-school children. In the three years of school enrolment, since the advent of the administration, this figure has dropped to below 1.2 million. And that is even though new pupils were being added to the attendance register. Given the robust recovery programme of the administration, this figure would have dropped drastically but for the adverse consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic that undermined the effort at solving the out-of-school problem. This happened in two significant ways: For one, the long period that schools were closed meant that new registrations were completely halted while the population continued to grow. For another, some pupils did not return after the closure, as they had to support their parents to meet the economic challenges of the post-COVID-19 era. This would seriously obscure the gains arising from the efforts of the government.
It is important to observe that before the pandemic, baseline studies conducted before the Bala administration assumed office in 2019 had identified four critical variables that fuelled the situation:
Firstly, there was a huge infrastructure deficit characterized by dilapidated school buildings and unhygienic environments, non-availability of classrooms (some with leaking roofs and collapsing walls), toilet facilities and water among other critical provisions for a conducive learning environment.
Secondly, in addition to limiting available spaces, the above scenario discouraged genuinely interested parents and guardians from sending their children and wards to public schools while many parents could not afford the fees charged by private schools.
Thirdly, poor school administration resulting in maladministration, absenteeism and fraud perpetuated in the main through ghost workers that fleeced the system of much-needed funds while denying it critical manpower further exacerbated the problem of access.
Fourthly, there was the failure of previous administrations to engage development partners in a win-win relationship that would have provided much-needed funding and supported efforts at ameliorating or reducing the problem to the barest minimum. For instance, due to failure to remit its counterpart funding, the state had not accessed the UBE funds for 2017 and 2018 before Governor Bala assumed office in 2019.
So for the administration, the starting point for tackling the problem was to address the fundamental challenges of infrastructure, discipline, stakeholder buy-in, financing, and the political will to initiate bold recovery efforts. These measures are further examined below.
In addressing the challenge, the governor adopted the mindset that the conditions preceding the out-of-school scenario had accumulated over several years; thus, it was obvious from the onset that unless the causative agents were stoutly addressed and removed, efforts at solving the problem would amount to window dressing.
There is also the need to guarantee their livelihood so that parents wouldn’t perennially capitulate to the pressure to withdraw their children from school. In the face of this, did the government consider itself as confronted with an intractable vicious circle? No. The salutary effect is that through a painstaking approach, the administration identified and constructed its education revival policy around the tripartite responsibility architecture critical to tackling the out-of-school challenge namely the family, the community & the government.
As earlier stated, the government’s first task was to aggressively ramp up critical infrastructure in the schools. In the process, it renovated over 400 schools, drilled and installed hand-pumped boreholes and provided VIP toilets in many of the schools. The reality is that many parents and guardians not only attest to but indeed applaud the administration for the over 5000 either newly built or fully renovated classrooms without which their children would either learn under trees or be out-of-school completely.
While memories may be short, it is important to recall that in some cases, such as the Government Secondary School Katagum in Zaki local government area and the Special School in Kafin-Madaki in Ganjuwa local government area, the infrastructure had decayed so badly that the schools were abandoned by both teachers and pupils. Undaunted, the government had to undertake a complete makeover of the schools before the pupils could return.
The introduction of biometric capturing of staff, signing of daily attendance register and insistence on a strict governance environment especially accountability has refocused school administration in a manner that has boosted the morale of parents in sending their children to school. And while government does not hesitate to impose sanctions on erring staff, the introduction of motivational packages also led to the renewed dedication on the part of staff and students.
The outcomes have been quite salutary. For instance, the state recorded a sustained improvement in WAEC and NECO examinations in the period since the onset of administration. Particularly heart-warming is the unprecedented transformation of the educational system as revealed by a former commissioner for education Dr Aliyu U Tilde, a foremost educationist and one of the architects of the administration’s education policy.
Quoting data from WAEC, last August 31, Dr Tilde wrote, “It is with great delight that I announce the tremendous improvement in the performance of the Bauchi state in WAEC under the administration of His Excellency, Senator Bala Mohammed.
“The result shows a remarkable increase in the percentage of candidates with five credits and above from 37.4 percent in 2019 when His Excellency took the mantle of leadership to 65.5 percent and 68 percent in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
“Simply put, the reform measures that the administration introduced are hitting the target.”
With such attestation, some would say chest-beating, from a strategic participant and undeniable catalyst in the silent revolution sweeping across the broad gamut of the educational sector in Bauchi state, it would not be out of place for the Bala administration to adopt the lawyer’s mantra by simply saying: “We adopt of Dr.woul Tilde’s brief”. But that would do great violence to the tremendous achievements in various other areas of the educational system. For instance, much progress has been recorded in the tertiary education sector such as the renaming and upgrading of the Bauchi State School of Nursing & Midwifery to the Aliko Dangote College of Nursing Sciences and the Aminu Saleh College of Education Azare, which were bold steps designed to bridge the yawning gap in the production of executive and management cadre personnel for the state and elsewhere.
Similarly, the government demonstrated great foresight when it established the School of Petroleum and Vocational Studies Alkaleri which is affiliated to the Petroleum University in Warri. By looking ahead, the government had created a huge opportunity as products of the institution would form the arrowhead of the pioneering workforce of the companies prospecting oil in the Kolmani Oil fields of Bauchi and Gombe states.
All in all, reelecting Bala Mohammed for a second and final term is the surest bet to consolidate on the gains recorded so far in the first term of the administration.
Prince Taiwo Oyekola Oyerinde, an Abuja-based businessman and policy analyst, is of the Iresa-Adu Royal House, Ogbomosho in Nigeria’s Oyo State.